Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Dr. Phil takes on XBox Live

A few days ago, I read a report at Eurogamer that Dr. Phil was going to take on racist bullies on XBox Live on his show. Well, tackle the issue of cyberbullying in general and discuss a particular case involving an African American gamer who was taunted with racial slurs and threatened while playing online.

Now to me, I compare this particular individual's appearance on the show to this: if someone told you that wading in a septic tank would fix a problem you are having, would you do it? I mean, there is a small chance that yes, whatever your problem was, wallowing in a big container full of effluence would perhaps remedy it, but even if it did, well, you'd still smell awful, and you'd probably be left with a bigger problem than when you first jumped in. And when you think of Dr. Phil, you certainly think of a huge part of the Xbox Live demographic, don't you?

Yes, the person in question does indeed have a problem, and I truly sympathize with what they are going through. But bringing Dr. Phil to be your advocate on this particular issue may seem like a good idea in the short term, but in the long term, well, it doesn't really help. It is like a bandaid solution, because over the course of that discussion, well, it turned out that this has been going on for years for him, so this isn't an isolated problem because, unbeknownst to me, it turns out that somehow anonymity plus voice chat abilities equals unfettered stupidity and highly inappropriate comments, and that is something that an internet veteran like myself is really unfamiliar with. I mean, what are you going to tell me next, that I can get pornography online too?

But the thing that stood out for me wasn't just that these sort of highly inflammatory racist comments were so common (as someone who isn't an Xbox owner, I suspected that yes it happened a noticeable amount, but from what I've read, it is a much bigger problem than I could have ever suspected). Alas, there is a kicker to all this. You see, the system that the crew at Microsoft have put into place allows for those who are, how shall I put this, troublesome to be disciplined... if people complain about their behavior. However, it appears that for quite a few players, they don't file complaints about these players, rather they simply mute them, which allows them to continue to be a menace to others.

So in essence, this particular individual shouldn't be mad at Microsoft, but rather his fellow players who are allowing this type of conduct to go unpunished because as a community, no one wants to put their foot down and report people who are acting in a manner that makes things less fun for everyone else. It isn't a matter of free speech, as it is a private network whose sole purpose in existing besides a purely financial one is so that people can have fun, and if that means reporting very abusive people, well, that is something that should be actively encouraged, and I don't think Dr. Phil is a good emissary for this particular message. Truth be told, I don't think he is a good emissary for any message really.

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