The Darker Side of Xbox Live

Dave Zatz —  October 31, 2007

Major Nelson, the voice of Xbox LIVE, is taking a hard line and reminding folks not to share accounts or tamper with acheivements:

As you can imagine, we know how to find out if you do this and we do take action. Even worse, you might have your account and/or console banned from Xbox Live.

I’m all for fair play but, in the grander scheme of things, who really cares how Achievements are met? Especially in light of Microsoft’s much bigger Xbox LIVE problem… I’m talking about the profanity. It’s primarily a verbal problem, but I’ve also encountered questionable Gamertags. Dropping F-bombs in the heat of battle doesn’t bother me (parents may feel differently) and I know I’m guilty of the occasional curse word slip, but hearing tweens/teens repeatedly using the N word or from others wanting to kill Jews and homosexuals is just unpleasant. Regardless of intent (No, Junior. You’re not funny.), it takes away from my gaming enjoyment. I wish I could say these incidents were unusual but, in a casual calculation, 1/4 – 1/3 of Shadowrun Live rounds contained a notable amount of adult language and/or verbal unpleasantries. In fact, if I had children, I wouldn’t let them anywhere near Xbox LIVE with a headset.

Bottom line: Achievement hacks don’t negatively impact other participants the way inappropriate in-game behavior does. I realize solving this “problem” isn’t entirely Microsoft’s responsibility, though they could help educate both parents and children that LIVE is largely a public space (like a coffee shop or mall) and thus certain behavior/language is unacceptable.

10 responses to The Darker Side of Xbox Live

  1. I don’t have a good explanation, but I do recognize the apparent disconnect – It’s OK to run around killing each other, but graphic language is frowned upon?

  2. XBox Live has a problem. However, this problem is mitigated somewhat (but not entirely) by the content available on the platform. ie: Small children probably shouldn’t be playing Halo 3 in the first place. Most concerning for a parent would be for the “12-18″ demographic where the parent believes the game is acceptable, but some of the language is not.

    Maybe segmenting the population would work? ie: You can play with “family friendly” people or with “anything goes” people? I don’t know. I’m guessing most teenagers making that choice would pick “anything goes” anyways..;) Another mechanism would be to separate by age. This would prevent the younger crowd from using language designed to impress the older crowd.

    I hope they don’t try to attempt to be language police. I don’t think that would work very well. As a parent, this is an issue for me. However, I see it more as my child’s interaction with society in general through the magic of the internet, and not an issue with Microsoft providing a communications medium. For Microsoft, it is clearly a business issue. I could choose to not allow my kid to play because I didn’t like what occurs on that medium.

  3. Dave, what do you mean by achievement hacking? Is this bending the rules of within a game just to make your gamer profile appear better?

    Xbox Live can be annoying given all the gamers under 18.

  4. Tom, Yes, it’s about abusing the system to increase your “Gamerscore” or gain an unfair advantage. I’m not actually sure of the technical details though. I know there are some game “glitches” which are abused (inaccessible areas of a map is one I’ve seen) and I’ve heard rumors of products that might provide those “nefarious techniques to artificially increase your Gamerscore or obtain achievements by manipulating the Xbox software without playing the game” – but I don’t have any first hand information.

    Spark, I agree there isn’t an easy solution and it could become a business problem. (The Wii is selling like hotcakes.) I also agree parents should place more weight on game ratings, and many probably have no idea what these things do anyway.

    My solution was to dump Shadowrun. Too bad, because I enjoyed the game. But Microsoft seems to be encouraging the silliness – click the link above to read about the “corpse humping” (aka “tea-bagging” – a phrase I haven’t heard since college) achievement. As an adult, I found it slightly amusing. Listening to the kids chatter on about it was kinda sad. In Halo 3, I usually play as a Loan Wolf (every man for himself, no team chat) to avoid the BS. Which also works well with my less skilled shoot-anything-that-moves technique.

    The other thing that got me spun up this AM is that Major Nelson also seemed to be coming down on folks duped into sharing their Live accounts with people (who they don’t know). Seems like that should also be handled via education. And it seems like the folks who should be on the receiving end of MS’s wrath are the social engineers making it happen, not the victims.

  5. Corpse Humping. Too funny. This has been a very enlightening post today!

  6. Not just any corpse humping. Microsoft-endorsed corpse humping! ;) It’s their gaming system and even their online forum.

  7. Hey! Corpse-humping is a time honored Halo tradition — and Halo, by the way, is an M rated game, so it should only be responsible gamers over 17 participating in it.

    That said, there are plenty of ways to work around some of these issues. Anyone being obnoxious or racist can be permanently muted from the 360 guide button. It can be a pain in the middle of a match because the guide is so sluggish, but it works. Halo 3 has an even easier solution you can do without going to the guide – hold the back button to bring up the scoreboard during a match, then use the right stick to highlight the offender and hit the X button for an instant mute.

    Secondly, feedback works! Anytime you get matched with someone you never want to play with again, go to that player’s gamercard and select submit player feedback. Here you can choose to avoid the player, although it makes you give a reason such as trash talk or poor gameplay. You can also prefer players here, so if there’s someone you liked but didn’t want to commit to adding to your friends list, you can tag them with a smiley face and it increases your odds of being matched with them again.

    If someone is clearly violating the TOS for XBL, you can report them. The Live team monitors those reports and can issue suspensions and bans, or make people with offensive gamertags change them.

    And of course, you can always turn off voice entirely from the guide/dashboard. But mutes make terrible teammates, so please keep that in mind.

  8. Well, the only suggestion I can make is limit your playing to groups dedicated to the same cause, e.g., http://www.gamergeezers.com zerocommit.com http://www.xmg360.com .

    All of these are geared towards avoiding the n-word, f-bomb crowd.

    -p-

  9. RDW, Yup – Good points on avoidance and peer reporting – I’ve employed all of them (other than totally turning off voice). Fortunately, I haven’t had many unpleasant incidents in Halo 3 (366 games). Perhaps my skill level is high enough that I’ve graduated past the riff raff?

    Patrick, Oh no – I’m a geezer now!

  10. Well Dave, I am too. I got the original NES in ’86 for my 10th birthday. I’m on Gamer Geezer (haven’t logged in in a while) but this is a pretty common complaint among the gaming crowd.

    If anyone sees I’m online, I’m happy to play an n-free game of whatever, I don’t TK, and I certainly don’t teabag. Gamertag is: Lazl0 H0llyfeld (those o’s are zeros).