Rejoice, girl gamers on Xbox Live! In an industry first, the sexist behavior that kept you from using your mic all these years is now being publicly decried on record by video game developers.
In an interview with Gamespot ahead of the release of the widely anticipated game Halo 4, 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross and Halo 4 Executive Producer Kiki Wolfkill both strongly denounced the rampant misogynistic slurs and bullying that happen on Microsoft servers. “This is behavior that is offensive and completely unacceptable,” said Ross. In fact, they say that Microsoft bans for life anyone caught engaging in such derogatory behavior.*
For years, women who complained about sexist behavior online have been met with derision or deemed “fat, ugly, or slutty.” The general consensus from the gaming community seems to be that if women don’t want to be harassed, they should keep their voices to themselves. It’s especially common on Xbox Live, where players often wear headsets with microphones so they can talk to one another—just hearing a female voice on the line can prompt slurs, insults to one’s gaming skills, or requests for sexual favors and pictures.
Funny, then, that Wolfkill and Ross—both women—head up Halo 4, the latest installment in one of the most profitable video game franchises. Their leadership roles in a male-dominated industry often criticized as hostile to women surprises many. “Most people look at a franchise like Halo, and automatically assume it’s run by a guy,” said Ross.
Wolfkill and Ross went even further by saying said that game industry executives have a “personal responsibility” to address treatment of women and girls in online gaming, a community that has had an especially rough time of it this year.
As a female gamer, I am no stranger to sexist comments. To combat the comments telling me to get back in the kitchen and make sandwiches, or denying that I exist or must be really chunky and lonely, I use a male-sounding handle and only use my mic when playing with friends. Happily, I’ve noticed the sexist behavior on PC games has dropped off considerably, which I attribute to the average age of the gamers increasing. Over on Xbox Live, however, sexist and derogatory behavior is still rampant, and I am horrified whenever I hear my 11-year-old brother mimicking phrases like “Raped, idiot!” just because older “cool” teens said it. He has female classmates on his friends’ list, but when I ask why none of them speak while they’re playing together, he says their mics are broken or they don’t have one. Right.
I can’t listen to my younger sibling all the time, but I worry about what he is picking up from young adults who, until recently, wouldn’t face any repercussions for their derogatory behavior. Hearing Wolfkill and Ross denounce this behavior so firmly puts my mind at ease considerably. Maybe soon, my brother’s female classmates will all magically get working mics—and, most importantly, feel comfortable using them.
Update, Nov. 1, 6 p.m.: This sentence has been updated to clarify that Microsoft will ban users who don’t meet its behavior standards.