Aftermath

Sep 1st

I’ve been intending to sit down and write this post for a while now, but quite frankly just did not feel up to revisiting this topic so soon after it wrapped. I also needed some time to sort through a lot of the reactions I received to my story; including the flood of negative ones. In an attempt to make this more readable for people new to the story, I’m going to be reformatting the timeline of initial events, as well as writing about the aftermath of what happened when I spoke up about a rape threat I received on Xbox LIVE.

This is my story, from start to “finish”.

On July 26th, I was playing Black Ops 2 on my Xbox 360. Another player in the lobby took issue with me being there, and basically started attacking me over my gender. He kept asking if I was on my period, implying that I was fat or a lesbian, and making jokes like “Hey, ya’ll know why uh, women shouldn’t have drivers licenses? Cuz there’s no highway between the bedroom and the kitchen.” It’s all documented in this entry.

After the match concluded, he sent me a text message that said “slizzy” (which is, apparently, slang for “slut”). I replied, “Keep digging yourself into a hole dude.” He then proceeded to send me a voice message that said, “I’m gonna impregnate you with triplets and make you have a very late term abortion. Strict mental abuse. Hahaha.”

You can find a recording of the voice message here.

I filed a complaint against the player using Xbox LIVE’s in-system setup. I believe I also reported him through Treyarch’s report system as well.

I let it go, because I thought they had to act on something this gross and creepy. I check Call of Duty’s ELITE website about a week later, and saw that the player in question was still active on the game. I tweeted at Xbox and Xbox Support, sending them the link to the video and saying again that I was upset about it. They just restated that I should file a complaint.

Fast forward to today, I check ELITE again and see that the offending player was still active in game as of Saturday, August 10th. I tweeted at Xbox again, because I was shocked that seemingly nothing had happened two weeks after I received the message. They essentially replied that they couldn’t give specific details on any case, and that was that.

I tried contact Activision (parent company of Treyarch, the makers of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2) to see if there was anything they could do on their end. One of their agents I contacted through text chat support seemed honestly appalled, and even went so far as to recommend that I contact the police. I called Activision customer support as well, and they said that they can only handle in-game harassment (which there was), but it can sometimes take them a few weeks because of the volume of reports they field.

Activision’s response made me realize that the ball was truly in Xbox’s courtI repeatedly asked if there was a way to get in contact with the Enforcement Team, after @XboxSupport indicated that they would be able to field my issues. However, the Enforcement Team does not have a social media presence (as far as @XboxSupport was aware). They pointed me towards this forum and told me that was the only way to contact the Enforcement Team. But that forum is users to ask about their own account suspensions/bans, and nothing more (in fact, the forum is actually called: “15 – My LIVE account was suspended”). Every time a question that doesn’t fall under that category is asked, the person inquiring is told that they can’t be helped, and the post is apparently deleted after a period of time.

After a period of time, they even recommended that I contact law enforcement if I felt it was necessary. Throughout this time, though, they continued to be vague and largely unhelpful (and even snarky) to myself and others who were trying to get more information. It took them forever to even say that they didn’t condone rape threats on a gaming console (or as they referred to it, the “other users’ actions”). It turns out that the Xbox Support on Twitter is only able to give tech help… But if the only option you have for reporting users is to press buttons on the console, isn’t that a tech issue?

At this point, I sat down and began writing my initial post documenting what was unfolding. People began retweeting and sharing my story, until it reached bigger sources. Jill Pantozzi of The Mary Sue signal boosted the story on her personal Twitter, and quickly became frustrated by the runaround Xbox Support agents were giving her and others who were attempting to get more information on the matter. She decided to write an article on the events.

Someone noticed on day two of trying to get some answers from Xbox (August 13th) that the profile of the user who had sent me the message was now marked CODE OF CONDUCT, which implied that action had been taken against him (either an account suspension or ban). Jezebel GroupThink had posted about my story at this time.

Some people began questioning if this is an isolated incident that slid under Xbox’s radar somehow. Given that I received this message in early 2012, and the user was still active as of April 2013, I don’t think that’s the case. This seems to be a general problem with lack of proper reporting systems (you are given only a few broad categories under which to file a complaint), and not enough people to moderate the complaints they are receiving.

By the evening of the third day (August 14th), Penny Arcade had posted about my story. Additionally, I received an email from “Xbox Customer Support” saying they wanted to contact me regarding the recent issues I had been experiencing with an Xbox LIVE player. They asked for my phone number, and claimed that they did not seem to have a number on file for me. I know I have my current number connected to my Microsoft account, which in turn should be linked to my Xbox account, so I was not inclined to believe it was real until I was further reassured.

Luckily, this was one case in which Xbox Support on Twitter actually WAS able to help me out. They looked into it, and stated that I was actually being contacted by a real Xbox Support Agent.

By the fourth day (August 15th), my story had hit Kotaku. The original YouTube video of the rape threat I received began having a multitude of comments posted on it; many of them victim-blaming, saying that I was thin-skinned, asking for it, or trying to receive special treatment.

I had a phone call with the customer service representative from Xbox LIVE on the evening of August 15th. The topics we covered over the course of our phone call included the initial incident that set this off (the rape threat I received), and the response by Xbox Support on Twitter to my inquiries. I told her I felt that the Xbox LIVE file complaint system was not effective enough and needed to have more options, and she said that that making the system less broad and with more options was something they were working on currently. She stated, “That is something we realize needs to be in place in order to be able to categorize these complaints in a better way.”

I also explained that I wish you would be notified if action were taken on a complaint you filed. She responded, “We do have a system in place where we will notify sometimes, feedback stating that an enforcement action has been taken on your complaint. The problem is is that when it comes to notifying every single person, there are privacy concerns and also concerns with retribution being taken if people are realizing that it’s specific complaints against a specific user, action has been taken. So we want to find a way to find a middle ground, where our customers can feel that they’re safe, and that when they make a complaint that we’re acting on it, while at the same time respecting the privacy of everybody on the service and not creating a culture where people are going to want to go ahead and file complaints for retribution or just against people they don’t like, or things like that. It’s hard to find that middle ground.”

She went on to tell me that my story was really helpful to them, “because it helps [us] mold a system that’s going to work really well”.

I was also informed that when I contacted @XboxSupport, they passed it on to the enforcement team (although I don’t know which contact was being referenced). She said, “Enforcement action was taken at that point. I can’t give you specifically the kind of enforcement action that was taken, but I can let you know that an enforcement team did act at that point. That’s not always going to be visible for you, it just kind of depends on what they did, and what kind of enforcement action they set in place.”

She said as well that she understood my initial concerns that action was not being taken, and my complaints were not being heard.

Regarding the Twitter team’s basic lack of any meaningful response, she commented: “I understand their policy as far as communicating too much, but at the same time, I completely agree with you in that it should have been very apparent from the beginning that rape threats are not something we tolerate. We want the service to be safe for everyone, and enjoyable for everyone. Now obviously there are always going to be people online and on the internet that are out there to cause trouble, but we want to be creating a culture where you’re able to report those people and feel like you’re going to be safe going forward.”

She continued, “I do want to apologize that, in this instance, you weren’t reassured of that. And you weren’t provided that confidence from us. Because even though we did take enforcement action, it doesn’t sound like we gave you that assurance. And so that’s only half of the job done, if we’re not reassuring you and making you feel safe going on to the service and playing. So I definitely do want to apologize for that, and let you know that we are receiving your feedback and that we are making changes going forward and trying to find ways to make sure that customers feel safe and see how we can reassure the person that’s putting forth the complaint, while like I said respect the privacy of everybody else.”

She emphasized that “…It’s pretty great to just be able to hear your story” and went on to say “it’s something that we need to hear, you know, I’m sure lots of customers go through situations and they never reach out and they never tell us, and if we’re not hearing it and we’re not receiving that information, then we can’t really improve.”

I was happy that I was finally able to speak to an actual human being who could address my concerns. I’m still just disheartened that it took this much time and effort, which frankly, it shouldn’t have. The fact of the matter is, I had the exact right set of resources and contacts with people who knew other people capable of getting the ball rolling; the majority of gamers do not have these same resources. The original post I created detailing this whole thing was shared almost 700 times on Twitter alone.

There is so much room for improvement and change in the system. It sounds like Xbox is working towards that in the future, and I sincerely hope that is true, although I remain very burned out on this whole thing. I want to remain optimistic, but the fact that it took several days of trying to contact someone who could talk to me was just a huge customer service failure on the part of Xbox LIVE.

It seems as though the story should have stopped there, but it didn’t.

Over the entire week of August 12th-18th, I received an outpouring of support. My story spread further than I had ever hoped, and I met so many incredible people during this period of time. When my website was crashing under the sudden influx of traffic, both Minicore Studios and Gamers Against Bigotry stepped up and offered to host my original post until things stabilized. I received enough donations to increase my bandwidth and keep my site running. The Facebook Page for my website exploded with messages, posts, and comments from people offering their support, their thoughts, thanking me for choosing to stand up and talk about this, and so forth.

The spread of my story even encouraged others to begin speaking out about experiences they had had in online gaming; one woman even shared on this website a story of how she had received rape threats, and the guy actually made moves to find her in real life. She had to get the police involved. One of her closing points was, “I have incredibly thick skin, and in this situation, it almost backfired on me. There’s a limit to “putting up with it”. And guess what? We shouldn’t have to. No one should have to.”

Another very real part of the story was the negativity aimed at me for having the audacity to speak up about this whole thing.

Threat

Some were even posted on my own site.

A lot of the reactions seemed to imply that I was “asking for it” by using a feminine gamertag, having a woman’s voice, choosing to play Call of Duty, choosing to play on the Xbox, choosing to play online at all. Many suggested that “this is just how gaming is” and to “deal with it”. Some other common comments were that I must be thin skinned, weak, or attention starved. A few seemed to feel that I was a bigger problem than the person who had sent me the rape threat in the first place.

Here is an (incomplete) album of comments made about my story, on various sites (whether it be here, Kotaku, YouTube, etc.).

The fact of the matter remains that there is a very serious issue with the way the gaming community deals with harassment. It’s to the point where not only are gamers being threatened and harassed, but the very people who make the games are being targeted. And there’s this sense that discussing it is a bad thing, or seen as blowing it out of proportion since “it’s just the internet”.

Attitudes need to change, and being open to discussion is a part of that. The way that many people seem to dismiss this as “typical gamer behavior” is insulting, and very untrue. This sort of negativity continues to stem from a very loud minority of assholes- we should not treat it like this is okay, or typical gamer behavior.

We as a community are so much better than this.