Microsoft Aims to Make Gaming Spaces that are Safe from Harassment

Phil Spencer Xbox One Family of Devices E3 2016

Phil Spencer reveale the full Xbox One family of devices at E3 2016

Way back in 2011, the women of Fat, Ugly or Slutty teamed up to show the world just how hostile Xbox Live users could be to women who dared to play online. Those were more innocent days when some of us could still believe that online harassment was isolated — something that mostly happened when you played games dominated by adolescent boys amped up on high-intensity media. Nothing to take all that seriously.

Content warning: Many of these links contain graphic and violent language.

Five years later, harassment and threats are everywhere. People are harassed and threatened with violence for playing games, for making them, for writing about them, for participating in politics, for making any other kind of art, for criticizing media, for drawing the attention of the wrong people or for drawing the attention of their fans. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum or even how public your life is — if you’re accessible online, you may find yourself on the receiving end of waves of anonymous hatred.

Yes, it’s a hostile world out there, and gaming is at least as bad as ever. But Xbox Live, the first place many of us learned how unfriendly online gameplay could be, is aiming to change all that for its users with an initiative it calls Gaming For Everyone.

As Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox team, explains in a recent blog post, Gaming For Everyone began as an internal project that asked a few big questions:

  • How do we ensure a safe and supportive environment – for all gamers – on our Live services?
  • How do we make product decisions that give gamers more choice in how and with whom they play, while respecting developers’ creative choices?
  • How do we help our engineers better understand the needs of those with varying levels of physical ability?
  • How do we build even more diversity in TEAM XBOX talent so we can better understand, relate to and reflect the variety of gamers and needs in our community?

The first public steps toward answering those questions have arrived with Clubs and Looking For Group. The first lets gamers unite in groups of like-minded individuals. Spencer jokes that one group might be “dads who don’t like profanity and go to bed at 10.” Clubs are basically clans or guilds, in other words, but bringing that functionality to a service as large as Xbox Live will do a lot to help people who don’t want to play with total strangers but do want to play online. No longer will you need to brave the angry, scary wilds of matchmaking if you don’t have a premade to roll with.

Looking For Group will similarly let you put yourself out there, filtering for groups that meet your criteria.

Again, these aren’t groundbreaking innovations. Five years ago, few people would have seen this as a win for people who want to play online without being harassed — we just would have been happy that universal clan support had finally arrived. Today, though, it’s harder than ever to function online if you’d prefer not to be threatened or insulted by waves of anonymous strangers, so features like this are badly needed. Hopefully it’s just the start of what we’ll see from Gaming For Everyone — and with luck, it might make gaming a little safer for all of us.

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