Xbox head Phil Spencer sounds call for inclusivity in gaming

May 21, 2019 | 10:24

Tags: #child-protection #gamer #gamer-culture #gaming #phil-spencer #photodna #toxic #xbox #xbox-one

Companies: #microsoft

Microsoft's Phil Spencer, head of the company's Xbox gaming arm, has announced a plan to make gaming accessible to all - including a pledge to share safeguarding technologies openly with the rest of the industry.

That gaming can, sometimes, have a bad reputation is no secret: Even discounting the hand-wringing over violence in games, the behaviour of some players is often described as toxic - particularly when trash-talking, popularised by Id Software's John Romero at the original launch of first-person shooter Doom, crosses the line from a bit of fun to aggressive personal attacks, racism, homophobia, and even murder. It's something companies the world over are looking to address, and now Microsoft's Xbox arm has gone public with a list of ways it is looking to both protect its players and broaden the appeal of gaming in general.

'I believe in two fundamental truths about gaming,' Microsoft's Phil Spencer, who was first introduced to gaming on a Sinclair ZX81, claims in a blog post. 'First, gaming is for everyone. No one group “owns” gaming. Instead, whether you’re new to gaming or are a diehard e-sports fan, you are welcome to play and welcome to all the fun and skill-building that comes with gaming. In this way, when everyone can play, the entire world wins.

'Second, gaming must promote and protect the safety of all. Gaming must be a safe environment. Creating community is shared work, and protecting community is essential work, so, we all carry part of the payload of community safety – game industry and gamers alike. This widespread embrace of gaming and its global communities have turned video games into the world’s leading cultural industry, bigger than movies or music. But it also comes at a time when digital life includes a growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny.

'No different from rock and roll, books and TV before them, video games are often dismissed or maligned as frivolous, fraught with violence or filled exclusively with hate-mongering. But gaming is uniquely designed for equality. We don’t just walk in someone’s shoes – we stand on equal footing, regardless of age, education, socioeconomics, race, religion, politics, gender, orientation, ethnicity, nationality, or ability. Gaming doesn’t just bring stereotype-defying gamers together; it unites us through our universal language of fun and answers our human need to play. Research has shown an effective way to battle polarization and prejudice is through relationships with people outside our own groups, known as intergroup contact theory. This is where gaming excels: forging unexpected friendships with people we might never meet in real life.'

To protect that, Spencer has announced an plan which will see Microsoft uniting with the rest of the gaming industry not only to protect the Xbox platform specifically but all gaming platforms in general. This, Spencer explains, will include the launch of workshops at Microsoft Stores to help parents understand the tools available to restrict children's access to unsuitable content and the sharing of technological innovations with the broader industry - in much the same way as the company freely shared its PhotoDNA technology to help police the spread of child abuse imagery.

'The gaming community continues to grow rapidly, and the imminent roll-out of new game services such as Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud, will make gaming available to even more people worldwide. Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety,' Spencer concludes. 'We invite everyone who plays games, and industry partners, to join us in following these principles to help unify the world and do our part: make gaming accessible for everyone and protect gamers, one and all.'

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