Microsoft can't buy a break this month.
All they probably wanted out of their keynote presentation at the E3 gamer's convention in Los Angeles this week was to show off their new Xbox One to the gaming world. The new box was heavily criticized by gamers after its initial introduction emphasized its new always-watching Kinect system (how's that for bad timing?) and its multimedia prowess (cable box replacement, anyone?). Meanwhile, it left gamers in the cold. So Microsoft's plan was probably to put a month of bad press, spying scandals, and negative reception behind them and show off the Xbox One's computing muscle and its sweet new controller.
Instead, all hell breaks loose.
Microsoft's presenters at E3 included a male/female duo, with the guy being a far superior game player and unfortunately a haphazard trash-talker. While demonstrating the gameplay of the newest incarnation of Killer Instinct they had an exchanged that sounded a lot like something you might hear during a sexual assault.
You can hear some of the crowd react (mostly laughter it sounds like) after he says, "Just let it happen, it'll be over soon". And then things get really awkward.
This is where the Youtube video would be if I could get video to work on this damn page. Instead, it's here - http://youtu.be/P75YQHFnyKY
How's that for showmanship? Microsoft V.P. Phil Spencer later apologized in a statement to Huffington Post:
"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.”
So why is this even an issue? It was awkward and ill-advised, but Microsoft issued an explanation and an apology and we should move on right? Not so fast. Female gamers of the world have put up with a lot of crap for a long time and they're not in a mood to easily forgive this newest slap in the face. Here is an open letter to Microsoft from a Kansas woman named Cynthia Sharpe that's making its way around the web right now:
I'm a gamer. I'm a gamer who happens to rock 2 X chromosomes. I have owned a computer since I was 5. I'm 40 now, so you can calculate just how freaking much of an early adopter family I'm part of. My husband is also a gamer and, perhaps unsurprisingly, so is our 10 year old son. Name the type of game, and we own it. From FPS to sandbox, side scroller to MMORPG, and just about everything in between. Our kid is part of the hyper wired generation, and while he can't freakin remember to use shampoo when he showers, he remembers the screen names of every single one of his friends.
This 'holiday season', we'll be buying a new console. But it's going to be an upgrade of our PS. Because much as I, an experience designer, would love to get my mitts on a Kinect system, there is no way I am supporting your Interactive Entertainment Division by buying an Xbox. Guess what- it's not about digital rights. It's not about the short-sightedness of the mandatory online authentication, or the lack of back compatibility.
It's about that division's attitude towards women. Because as if perpetuating the stereotype of ha hah, women gamers, they suck, by setting a vastly unprepared female employee up against a producer wasn't belittling enough; as if having a cavalcade of trailers without female protagonists wasn't exclusionary enough; the rape crack he made certainly was horrible enough. I have a big enough fight on my hands vis-a-vis the rape culture (1), and raising a boy to be aware of what male privilege is, and arming him to never, ever perpetuate that kind of absolute bullshit. I don't need to give money to a corporation that puts rape culture, puts anti-woman culture, right there, in the middle of the biggest forum they have.
"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." The fact that your employee felt it was fine to make that kind of comment in the first place speaks volumes about your attitude towards 47% of the market.
Look at this kid in the picture [above]. I've already told him why we will not be getting an Xbox this year. His response?
"I wouldn't want to give them money anyway, if they think it's okay to make fun of women because they're women."
With an absolute lack of respect,
PS: One small bright spot: with that 'off the cuff' and 'offensive' comment, you may have actually found a way to supplant Clippy as my most despised Microsoft entity.
Ouch. That's got to be bad for business.
Apart from the fact that the evil sh*t you say to your bros over headset as you're sniping them into oblivion isn't really appropriate for public, on-stage, international consumption, there's another problem. Was this employee really the best player Microsoft could find to demonstrate their product? Believe it or not, women (and in this instance women gamers) have pride in their skills. They don't want to see themselves represented by amateurs. And no woman anywhere wants to see another woman hectored on stage by a neanderthal with a controller. I'm not saying Microsoft needed to find the Billie Jean King of gaming, but almost any woman in that audience could've made a better showing than that.
However, if Microsoft did want to pick up their game, if they did want to do a full 180, and if they did want to bring on a Billie Jean King of gaming I've got just the woman for the job (assuming Cynthia is unavailable).
I want to see this guy get his ass handed to him by Aisha Tyler.
If you don't know, Aisha Tyler* (photo above, note below) is an actress and comedian whose credits include the Stephanie Miller Show on progressive talk radio and voicing Lana Kane from the spy cartoon Archer on Fx . And she sings. Girlfriend is seriously, like, a quadruple threat. A smart, sexy, assertive, and preternaturally tall woman like Aisha may be just the woman for this mess. Here's what she said on her podcast, Girl on Guy a few months ago talking with Felicia Dey about growing up a gamer-girl:
"Let's talk about the internet and how it's full of haters...I love gaming so much, I'm a console gamer and I play shooters, that is who I am. ..I got to do this Ubisoft thing [video game company event] and some comments were positive and some were negative. I didn't care people that said I was ugly or people said I wasn't funny, I just hated when people said I didn't game. It just stuck in my craw for days after that...like I'm going to come to your house, take a controller and I'm going to shove it into..."
You see where this is going. Now usually, TC|TW is all about peace, love, and understanding. But today I'm going to instigate.
In this moment, out of this completely boneheaded situation, Microsoft actually has an opportunity to reach out to women gamers like never before. Not just with an apology, but with a competition that signifies their respect for the female gamers of the world. The 47 percent if you will.
I'm dropping the gauntlet. Let's see if Microsoft is going to "just let it happen". This probably won't be over soon.
(1) Defininitional note - "rape culture" usually refers to the theory that the function of blaze attitudes toward rape and violence against women serve the functional purpose of creating a space of unaccountability toward perpetrators
(2) - Aisha Tyler is also the woman with the fake chainsaw/assault-rifle in the main photo. And it's fake, so please don't get offended. This blogger is still a strong supporter of gun reform legislation.
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