Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halo 4 rolls out zero-tolerance policy for offensive speech

Posted By on 11.01.12 at 04:30 PM

Halo protagonist Master Chief greets a new day in gaming
  • Halo protagonist Master Chief greets a new day in gaming
Just a few days from now, on November 6, Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries will release Halo 4 for the Xbox 360. While the popular perception of video games is still that they're just for your basement-dwelling, soda-swilling, neckbearded cousin, the reality is that Halo and other ongoing franchises (Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed, the multiple series with Tom Clancy's name in the title) are among the most popular and profitable media properties in existence—even in the middle of an economic slump, video game sales in the U.S. exceeded $16 billion in 2011, more than Hollywood and the record industry combined.

Considering that first-day sales of Halo 3 in 2007 exceeded what any movie before The Avengers brought in during its whole first weekend, Halo 4 stands to be the biggest money maker of any entertainment product released this year. And considering that online multiplayer gaming has become the single most important aspect of the console-video-game industry, it's surprising—not to mention ballsy—for 343 to announce that Halo 4's online multiplayer mode comes with a zero-tolerance policy for sexist and discriminatory speech.

While gamers are justifiably proud of the giant steps gaming has taken out of the Dorito-strewn cultural basement, there remains a vocal element in the community that apparently considers video games the exclusive jurisdiction of straight, white, and (maybe most important) male users. And until now there's been little to keep them from making the experience unpleasant for gamers who might be gay, nonwhite, female, or simply uninterested in maintaining the status quo, other than the barely enforced codes of conduct that various online gaming services have offered.

Halo 4, on the other hand, is shipping with a guarantee that users who engage in offensive communication in its online modes face temporary or permanent bans from networked multiplayer play. The fact that this move was announced by two women—who just so happen to be the head of 343 Industries and Halo 4's executive producer—will doubtless only further rile up the sexist gamer faction.

There are two obvious potential outcomes to the ban: either gamers are going to boycott Halo 4 or they'll swallow their trollishness and abide by the rules, even if they're still sexist/racist/homophobic/et cetera at heart and are only behaving in order to pwn n00bs or whatever. Prejudiced gamers and the troll apologists who confuse First Amendment rights with the ability to say whatever you want in whatever publicly or privately run forum you want with no consequences—for instance, everyone who's defended Reddit ubertroll Violentacrez on the grounds of "free speech"—will likely consider this a case of enforced political correctness and a violation of their freedoms.

The rest of us will be glad that someone's working to shut them up.

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