The gaming industry tackles toxicity.
Video games have oft been blamed for normalizing – even rewarding – violence and desensitizing players to toxic behavior. But as an increasingly liberated consumer base demands acceptance and inclusivity from brands, peers and leaders alike, tolerance for negative and exclusionary attitudes in gaming is reaching a breaking point. In response, torchbearers in the gaming industry are baking anti-bullying messaging and objectives into their community guidelines and storylines for a more welcoming future.
Microsoft is working to build a more positive gaming community with their new anti-bullying filters. Announced on October 14, 2019, a new Xbox Live feature will allow players to set filters on in-game messaging. The update will give each individual the power to decide “what’s acceptable and what isn’t in the text-based messages you receive across Xbox Live,” explained Microsoft. The controls can be customized on four tiers of filtration: Friendly, Medium, Mature and Unfiltered.
“You see stories of…female gamers in competitive environments being called all sorts of names and feeling harassed in the outside world, or members of our LGBTQ community feeling like they can’t speak with their voice on Xbox Live for fear that they’ll be called out,” explained Dave McCarthy, head of Microsoft’s Xbox operations. “If we really are to realize our potential as an industry and have this wonderful medium come to everybody, there’s just no place for that.”
Released on October 8, 2019, Concrete Genie is bringing a new perspective to gaming by encouraging players to turn to art as an outlet for bullying. Created by Sony’s in-house studio Pixelopus, the game is designed to inspire players to counter negativity with creativity, offering a new framework of positivity in the gaming community. The goal, explained Pixelopus’ game designer Jing Li, is to help the player feel “like they’re the light of the world, and they’re the magician of the world. And we want them to feel like they’re filling the world with art and creativity and positive energy.”
The game follows Ash, a bullied teen who “escapes his troubles by bringing his imagination to life,” saturating his dark, polluted hometown with his vibrant artwork, aided by mischievous genies and a magic paintbrush.
While bullying is most commonly addressed among students, Pixelopus hopes that Concrete Genie’s message will resonate with players of all ages. “Bullying isn’t something that stops once you leave school. There are different flavors of it in all walks of life, all different stages,” explained Pixelopus’ creative director, Dominic Robilliard. “While, yes, we think kids will get a lot out of it, we think there’s a lot for adults to digest and take in as well.”
Shredded Secrets aims to build awareness and acceptance by putting players in the shoes of both a student being bullied and the bully himself. The game was created in 2018 by four middle-schoolers at Girls Make Games, a summer camp and workshop series that trains and inspires rising generations of women in the gaming industry. “There’s two aspects of bullying,” said Gracie Clauson, one of the Shredded Secrets creators. “The first character you unlock is your main character, Isabella, she’s the one who’s being bullied. Once you get through the levels, you unlock the character of the bully.”
The team behind Shredded Secrets – Crystal Nelson, Gracie Clauson, Isadora Tiffe and Keira Munko – were honored as Groundbreakers during Today’s 2019 celebration for International Day of the Girl for their creation, which is now available for free download on PC and Mac.
“Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety,” said Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. “We invite everyone who plays games, and industry partners, to join us in following the principles to help unify the world and do our part: make gaming accessible for everyone and protect gamers, one and all.”