Xbox head Phil Spencer spoke with Stevivor about Microsoft’s Gaming is for Everyone initiative; one that seeks to ensure games are inclusive, accessible and safe for everyone.
“It’s kind of a tale of two kind of stories for me,” Spencer said at London X019 when asked to assess the program.
“I feel really proud of the work that the teams have done, from the hardware work around things like adaptive controller, the community work around content filtering and clubs and… getting to stand here and be part of Tell Me Why.
“So those kinds of things make me proud and yet I still know there’s so much more work for us to do in all three of those areas.”
Gaming for Everyone as part of Xbox’s culture
“I care about this a lot; it’s become organic on the teams,” Spencer stressed.
“I do wear a [Gaming is for Everyone] shirt a lot — but I don’t have to come in and tell people what to do. I didn’t mandate that the adaptive controller happened. It was a Hackathon project that teams did on their own and all of a sudden it becomes a thing. I didn’t go out and say, ‘hey, let’s go find Tell Me Why and let’s go build a game with a transgender male as the lead character.’ That’s just what the teams came back with; they wanted to do it.
“That’s when you know it’s kind of in the culture of the teams — when you don’t have to scorecard it, you don’t have to prod it. It just happens. I have a lot of promise and hope for where we’re going.”
Arguably, Microsoft’s biggest win on the accessibility front – and perhaps on the inclusivity one as well — is its Adaptive Controller, one specially designed with remappable buttons and a series of 3.5mm jacks that support a range of additional accessible controller options like PDP’s One-Handed controller, Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro Joystick and Quadstick’s Game Controller.
There’s still work to be done, Spencer continued.
“In terms of accessibility, we’re focused on hearing-impaired, sight-impaired gamers and what can we do [for them] — text to speech, speech to text and audio cues. That’s been a really great space that the team is focused on,” he said.
Player safety is “a constant effort,” Spencer admitted. “I kind of wish it didn’t have to happen, but regretfully it does.”
Spencer reflected on two recently deployed tools designed “to help filter out bad actors so that you can know that you and your family can be safe when they’re online” in the seemingly never-ending battle.
The first, the Microsoft App & Game Limit tool, is designed for parents to better understand and analyse their child’s screen time in an effort to develop healthier digital habits. Available across Windows 10 PCs and Xbox One, it lets you monitor and set screen time limits. Microsoft told Stevivor it encouraged children to use the tool to negotiate with their parents; finished your homework? Ask for an extra hour of Minecraft as a reward.
The second tool is one Xbox described to Stevivor as “proactive text filtering,” which is a set of message safety settings designed to filter bigotry and hatred from your Xbox messaging feed. From my point of view, it’s been successful — I’ve already seen it blocking malicious messages calling me a “fag”.
“When Rod Ferguson made the decision that pride flags were going to show up [in Gears 5],” Spencer said, “I don’t know that we knew we’d end up with nineteen.”
But nineteen there were, representing those who identify as homosexual, queer, gender fluid, polysexual, homosexual, transgender and more. Those who wanted a flag (or two, or nineteen) could craft them using in-game resources earned through play.
“I didn’t know there were nineteen pride flags,” he admitted with a laugh. “But they’re all there.”
Tell Me Why and its transgender protagonist
“We all have our own life experiences and they don’t necessarily give us all perspectives,” Spencer said, moving onto Xbox’s collaboration with GLADD in preparation for DONTNOD’s Tell Me Why, an episodic, narrative adventure with a transgender protagonist named Tyler.
“Why is it even remarkable that a transgender man is a lead character in a video game? But here we are, and I want to do [this] in a thoughtful way,” Spencer said.
“Is a transgender man gay or straight? That’s actually – obviously — a different question. I just thought it was an awesome discussion for us to be having as a leadership team, as we thought about how we wanted to talk about the game. It gave us a platform to have these discussions.”
Xbox kicked off meetings with GLADD to discuss the finer points of queer culture in order to understand it from a different perspective. The process ended with GLADD’s glowing endorsement of Tell Me Why upon its announcement.
“We talked about LGBTQ — what those letters [mean],” Spencer said. “There’s gender, there’s sexual orientation letters. They don’t all mean the same thing.
“The person that we we’re having this discussion with from GLADD happened to be a transgender man; he was great at just being very authentic about his transformation. It’s been really insightful as a human to be part of it. Then I think, ‘okay, we get to do the same thing with the community.’”
Tell Me Why will be released over three chapters — though all at the same time — in the Australian winter of 2020. The title will be offered on Windows PC and Xbox One, and is also part of the Xbox Game Pass program.