Xbox Head Addresses "Toxic Stew of Hate Speech, Bigotry" in Gaming

Phil Spencer_Headshot_color- Microsoft Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Microsoft

Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

In a new op-ed, Phil Spencer details his company's plans to combat toxicity, inclusivity issues and the growing challenges facing the gaming industry as it continues to grow.

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, penned a striking op-ed on Monday addressing the growing range of the video game industry's audience, inclusivity and the "growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny." 

"I believe in two fundamental truths about gaming: First, gaming is for everyone ... Second, gaming must promote and protect the safety of all," Spencer writes.

As video games continue to grow as a medium and a business (global revenue for the games industry grew to $43.8 billion in 2018, and analytics firm Newzoo has reported that over 2.3 billion people play games worldwide), Spencer argues that the perception of what a "gamer" is has changed.

"No one group 'owns' gaming," he writes. "If you imagine gamers as predominantly men and specifically teen boys, think again ... Most gamers today are adults; nearly half are women."

Amid continuing talks of games being an influence for real-world violence, Spencer relates the industry to more established forms of media. "No different from rock and roll, books and TV before them, video games are often dismissed or maligned as frivolous, fraught with violence or filled exclusively with hate-mongering," he writes. "But gaming is uniquely designed for equality. We don’t just walk in someone’s shoes — we stand on equal footing, regardless of age, education, socioeconomics, race, religion, politics, gender, orientation, ethnicity, nationality, or ability."

Spencer also heralds gaming as a an "effective way to battle polarization and prejudice," a stepping stone to STEM studies for teen girls and a tool to help children with autism form new friendships and seniors with Alzheimer's improve their memories.

"By uniting as an industry, we can thoughtfully and deliberately continue building a safe and inclusive gaming environment for everyone," Spencer writes.

To help combat "toxic experiences" for players online, Spencer lays out a number of principles and actions he and his Xbox team are committed to. 

"We commit to be vigilant, proactive, and swift," he writes. "Because hate and harassment have no place in gaming, we recently published a refreshed version of our Xbox Community Standards to communicate how each of us can keep gaming fun and safe for all and detail the consequences when any of us break these standards."

Spencer then promised to "continue to roll out new programs for the health of our entire gaming community."

Secondly, Spencer vowed to "commit to empowering you to safeguard your gaming experience the way you want." The team plans to roll out new content moderation experiences for its Xbox Live service this year as well as making it easier for parents and legal guardians their children's experiences online.

Finally, Spencer committed to "working across the gaming industry on safety measures," stating that his team will "openly share safety innovations with our industry."

As the games industry stands on a precipice of a new age of digital streaming and cloud gaming services, Spencer notes that soon an even larger audience will be introduced to video games. 

"Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety," writes Spencer. "We invite everyone who plays games, and industry partners, to join us in following these principles to help unify the world and do our part: make gaming accessible for everyone and protect gamers, one and all."