When it comes to tech and gaming, boys will be boys...and apparently some people at Microsoft appear to think a joke about rape is a good way to drum up interest in the Xbox One. A demo hyping the Xbox One at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) seems to have included a joke about rape, and Microsoft is now backing away from it.
As part of a demo of the game Killer Instinct to promote the new XBox One, Microsoft had a male producer of the game (a Microsoft employee) battling it out against a woman. The Atlantic Wire noted: "In this scripted event the man, of course, kicks the woman's ass at the fighting game." And then the problems start.
A video of the gameplay, including what the man and woman were saying while it happens, shows this exchange took place:
Woman: "I can't even block correctly, and you're too fast."
Man: "Here we go. Just let it happen. It'll be over soon."
At this point the audience laughs at what appears to be a joking reference to rape. Just in case anyone missed the point, the banter continues:
Woman: "You have a fight stick!"
Man: "Wow, you like those."
Woman: "No, I don't like this!"
CBS News noted that people on Twitter immediately reacted. Here are just several of the tweets it quoted:
"Wow. This is really gross. Male overpowering a female in a game, so of course, rape joke. Good one, Msoft," tweeted @Vahn16.
"Oh my god. One of the people just made a rape joke onstage and the audience actually liked it. That's sick," tweeted @IatosHaunted.
"Even if it was unintentional, Microsoft should've realized they shouldn't make a rape joke in an environment already toxic with misogyny," tweeted @stillgray.
Microsoft later claimed that the event wasn't scripted, and blamed the employee for the inappropriate comment. Microsoft Studios corporate vice president Phil Spencer issued this statement:
"Yesterday, during the Xbox E3 briefing, one of our employees made an off the cuff and inappropriate comment while demoing 'Killer Instinct' with another employee. This comment was offensive and we apologize. At Microsoft, being open and respectful with others is central to our code of conduct and our values. Bullying and harassment of any kind is not condoned and is taken very seriously. We remain committed to make gaming fun for everyone, and in that effort, we must lead by example."
Microsoft was right to apologize, of course. But the event brings up a secret long in plain view: The gaming community is generally hostile to women, as are parts of the wider tech community. Devin Faraci at Badass Digest sums up the situation succinctly:
"What makes this a big deal isn't the fact that it happened, but that it's indicative of a larger cancer eating away at the gaming community (and, to be fair, many other geek communities, but it seems most horrible in gaming). This, basically, is what institutionalized misogyny looks like."
The Killer Instinct demo certainly fed into that. And Microsoft didn't absolve itself of all responsibility by issuing an apology. From what observers saw, it sounds as if the company purposely chose an experienced male gamer to go up against an inexperienced female one, ensuring that the man would "kick the woman's ass," in the words of the Atlantic Wire, and so feed into stereotypes of men, women, and gaming. As for it devolving into a rape joke, it certainly seems as if Microsoft hasn't spent enough time sensitizing its employees about the issue.