Xbox Live’s new standards try to define acceptable trash talk

Xbox on Tuesday introduced a new set of “Community Standards” for online conduct — i.e. what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. While Microsoft has always had a conduct policy (and sanctions for violating it) for Xbox Live, the examples and casual tone the Standards document uses lets players know how to talk a little trash without going over the line.

“A little trash talk is an expected part of competitive multiplayer action, and that’s not a bad thing,” the document begins. “But hate has no place here, and what’s not okay is when that trash talk turns into harassment.”

To further draw the distinction, Microsoft calls trash talk “lighthearted banter or bragging that focuses on the game at hand.” Harassment is when someone gets personal, disruptive, “or likely to make someone feel unwelcome or unsafe.”

In a series of examples that have traveled Reddit and social media in the past few days, clear themes emerge: Anything using profanity, racial slurs, physical threats (including “kill yourself”) or insulting someone’s national origin (“get out of my country”) crosses the line.

Here are two examples of on-point, fair-game trash talk that Microsoft would allow:

  • “Only reason you went positive was you spent all game camping. Try again, kid.”
  • “Cheap win. Come at me when you can actually drive without running cars off the road.”

It’s not just about chat or DMs. In a section marked “Keep it legal,” Microsoft makes it clear that setting up clubs that promote drug use or underage drinking are off limits. Custom gamerpics showing animal abuse or support of a terrorist organizations also a hard no.

Naming a club for “a highly controversial figure” is also going to violate standards, along with “[using] your activity feed as a platform to promote controversial politics.” Inevitably, someone will try to push at that boundary. With this language, Microsoft is effectively saying it reserves the right to determine what is an expression and what is a provocation.

The guidelines also list what’s not permitted when it comes to content spam, or borderline content — such as screenshots from M-rated games. “Mature content that makes sense in a game might not be appropriate elsewhere on Xbox,” Microsoft says. Also, “Everyone appreciates a good joke, but if your content is designed to trick others into thinking they’re reading or seeing something inappropriate, we’ll have to treat it that way.” In other words, no tossing up your hands innocently when that visual double-entendre is taken as a dirty joke.

The update tries to give as many real examples of good and bad behavior without restricting them to hard-and-fast rules. Obviously edge cases will abound and a lot of situations will depend on the eye of the beholder (which in this case is Microsoft).

As a guide for permitting all kinds of social interaction while taking a clear stance against toxic behavior and harassment, it’s rather fair and equitably worded. A statement from a Microsoft representative noted that “the standards are not a new set of rules, but are a call to action that empowers every player to evaluate their behavior and adjust accordingly in order to be a force for good.”

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