I do not envy Xbox Live's enforcement moderators. They have an endless and thankless task policing the service's notoriously juvenile user base. And mind-numbing, too, if the experience offered by "Enforcement United" — Xbox Live's new crowdsourced tattling system — is any indication.
Announced last week, Enforcement United is going to be part of a self-policing strategy designed to tame Xbox Live around the time Xbox One hits the stores. Microsoft has already mentioned that matchmaking and reputational algorithms will be introduced to provide for a more pleasant experience, and potentially ghettoize the real trolls to their own little hell corner of XBL.
But a third prong appears to be this, a community thumbs-up or -down to user content exposed to the general population. Gamertags are the first thing anyone sees about you, and it's often the feature that most abuses the content guidelines in the code of conduct. That's where Enforcement United — what a fantastic, authoritarian title, by the way — comes in. It's already going, asking Xbox Live gamers (who meet certain qualifications) to examine real Gamertags that have been reported to the moderators.
Out of a prurient interest to see just how many variations on pot-smoking, homophobic and your-mum-having-sex-with Gamertags were out there, I signed up for the beta yesterday and got in. The experience definitely trended more boring than hilarious. Enforcement United reminds you to read up on its 1,700-word code of conduct before jumping in to pass judgment on others. I didn't and I doubt others did either, so the system will incorporate your feedback into a larger algorithm that sorts out whether someone gets sanctioned. No one person, in other words, can simply jump in and rain misery on reported gamers.
As the beta uses real Gamertags that may not have been officially judged offensive, I'll describe what I saw obliquely so as not to give out personal information of a real individual. (The image above is a sample provided by Microsoft).
As I suspected, there were a lot of pot references, which should be no surprise. Just wander into the lobby of any edition of Call of Duty. "Illegal drugs/controlled substances," are a no-no under the code of conduct, so if you see one while playing Enforcement United, fink on them with impunity.
After that, it got a lot more subtle. One Gamertag had the word "mum" between the usual alphanumeric fruit salad. It made me feel like a substitute teacher: "What are you kids trying to get away with here?" I hit "skip" on it just before time expired, even though I felt the guy was trying to symbolise your mum getting double-teamed, and not in the basketball sense. I did not see any ASCII boobies or penises in my two tours of duty.
What do you do when someone's Gamertag says they have herpes?
As for sex, I saw more overt references to herpes than anything else. (Is this a "meme" that's gone "viral" with you "kids"?) I saw two Gamertags that indicated the user was infected with the sexually transmitted disease. In one case, I'm guessing the guy did it to ask someone to read his gamertag aloud over chat. In the other, I heard myself mentally arguing with a 13-year-old insisting his tag simply said "I got her Pez."
A third guy must have really enjoyed health ed, calling himself Simplex and following that with a reference to masturbation. Sorry, but "topics or content of a sexual nature" is a violation as it applies to a Gamertag. You can mention your sexual orientation using any of five terms in a Gamertag, but your sexually transmitted disease history is off-limits.
The majority of tags I was served would either fall into the "why did this get reported?" or "what is this person really referring to?" brand of edge case. For example, if someone's Gamertag uses the word "holocaust," is this guy really an anti-semite or is he bragging about all the death he deals in Gears of War 3? Another gamer made a reference to fried chicken, a food sometimes used in racial stereotypes. It's also a damn delicious food enjoyed by many people of all ethnicities. I voted not offensive on both of those. The code of conduct, however, says "sensitive current/historical events," are a violation, so the holocaust gamertag should have gotten the heave-ho regardless of intent.
But what are you supposed to do when confronted with someone who has "Gary Glitter" in his tag? Gary Glitter performed "Rock and Roll Part Two," one of the most famous stadium anthems ever (it's on the Madden NFL 11 soundtrack.) He's also a registered sex offender who did time in prison on child porn charges.
A jury of your peers will determine if that reference to Gary Glitter is offensive.
Numerous others were just downright head-scratching. Crazy or psycho were sprinkled among the Gamertags I saw. There's no ban on references to mental illness in the code. A guy named Ted with four completely innocent numbers after his name got reported. Poor Ted! He must have run afoul of someone who sought revenge by tattling to the Xbox Live cops.
Some of the Gamertags I noted were invalid when I went and looked them up later. (Some were still in use on real accounts.) I don't know if they had been real and their users were forced to change them, or if Microsoft is also putting in fake tags (or ones that were rejected in the past) to aid in calibrating Enforcement United's system. At face value, we are told these are real Gamertags.
Enforcement United will only let you scan a certain number of tags per day and also limits the number of tags you may skip within a session. I guess this is to prevent the kind of Gamertag tourism I've described above, but I never bagged my limit.
The point isn't to offer a kind of police ride-along, or necessarily to teach users about the code of conduct (you're given 30 seconds to make a decision, and never told if your choice is right or wrong) or generate sympathy for the hall monitors of Xbox Live. It appears more or less like Microsoft is trying to assemble a supercomputer of human judgment to handle the low-level complaints that come through the door every day, giving the paid staff time to deal with things that are more serious or require stronger action.
If you want to give it a try yourself, you need to be an Xbox Live Gold subscriber, be 18 or older, and meet undefined gamerscore requirements and tenure as a Gold-level subscriber. For the beta, only those in the Xbox Live Ambassadors program may participate. If you're not signed up, you can apply for that here. If you're accepted, it might take several minutes before the beta recognises that you're an Ambassador.
Take Action and Improve the Xbox Live Community [Xbox Wire]