Sexism is not okay! Simple concept, right? Yet every time I sign onto Xbox LIVE, I encounter sexism the likes of which I would never see anywhere else. Entire lobbies erupt into riotous cat-calls of “show me your boobs” and “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich!” Guys who get headshotted by a female player throw around the nastiest and most disgusting misogynistic slurs, slurs that wouldn’t be acceptable if uttered anywhere else in the civilized world. There’s no denying that the online shooter community has become one of the most disgusting cesspools of bigotry and prejudice the modern world has ever seen, and the Halo 4 dev team is stepping up to say that this is not okay.
First of all, let’s make it clear that women played a key role in the creation of Halo 4, and those women don’t take sexism lightly. Halo 4 executive producer Kiki Wolfkill and 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross publicly denounced sexism in a recent interview with Gamespot. Not only did they say that this rampant sexist behavior is flat-out unacceptable, they also instituted a zero tolerance policy toward anyone found behaving in a sexist manner. Offenders will be banned for life! Yes, those little sexist slurs that you find so funny can now get you a lifetime ban from Halo 4. So watch your mouths!
"It can be dangerous to give adolescents a broadcast mechanism," Wolfkill said. "There are always going to be jerks out there, and if you give them a way to express that side of their personality without being seen, you're going to see this type of behavior manifest itself."
She is entirely correct. Studies have shown that socially unacceptable behavior, especially intolerant behavior, increases dramatically when placed in an environment with no consequences. In fact, that’s how the online community became so saturated with sexism in the first place. So the Halo 4 team’s solution to this problem is to associate consequences to these actions. When the threat of a lifetime ban constantly hangs over your head, gamers might start treating each other with more respect.
Ross and Wolfkill believe that developers have a personal responsibility to “think about how their games come across.” Essentially, every developer should be working to reduce the amount of sexist stereotypes in their game, as well as the avenues for sexism that their multplayer modes allow. "With Halo 4, we were very deliberate in thinking about who should be female and who should be male in the game,” Ross said. “And if we came off stereotypical, we went back to question what we were doing and why."
Part of the issue is that video games are looked at as male-dominated. "Most people look at a franchise like Halo, and automatically assume it's run by a guy," Ross said. "People are surprised to learn that it's a woman who's running the Halo 4 show.”
This assumption causes a primarily masculine voice to be heard both when developing and playing games. This is why you hear so many apologists saying “it’s all just a joke” or “trash talk is part of the experience” or “don’t let it offend you so much.” To me, this all just sounds like victim blaming. “It’s not our fault for tossing around sexist slurs. it’s your fault for being offended by them.”
Do you see how crazy that sounds? It’s almost as if people are claiming that language cannot ever be offensive and that it’s always the responsibility of the listener to not be offended by what other people say. I’d dare any of these apologists to go into a crowded city and shout the slurs they shout in a game of Halo at the top of their lungs. Let’s see if they stick to their “it’s your fault for being offended” viewpoint when the police show up.
Changing the perception of video games as a male-dominated industry can help change all this. Not only would it bring more female gamers into the fold, but it would also reduce the amount of offensive female stereotypes we see in games and make gaming society more conscious of a female presence in online interactions.
Of course, this issue doesn’t stop with sexism. Online communities also have a habit of fostering racist and homophobic behaviors as well.
Try to get through a game of Halo without someone calling you some homophobic slur and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Hopefully, the zero tolerance policy toward sexism in Halo 4 will also extend to other intolerant behavior as well.
If so, then Halo 4 will be a much more pleasant online experience for all of us—or, at the very least, all of us who aren’t sexist, racist, or homophobic.