Policing the Xbox Community

I don’t have much commentary about this, and I must have missed it from earlier in the month.

Kyle Orland writes about Stephen Toulouse, the head of Xbox Live’s community moderators. He is the guy who is over the guys who ban accounts for clipping through walls in Call of Duty or whatever the hell thirteen year olds are doing on the console internet these days.

What is interesting to me is how the cops in the digital world reflect the cops in the real world; people try to avoid them, and when they are around, they suck all the life out of everyone.

Enforcement wasn’t just a matter of reacting to complaints, though. Sometimes, Toulouse’s enforcers would serve as “beat cops” on the Xbox Live scene by jumping in to do spot checks in games that tended to contain the most problem players. More than actually catching rulebreakers red-handed, Toulouse said this kind of active Internet policing provided a valuable visible reminder for players that they needed to stay on their best behavior.

“I can’t tell you how many times I joined games and people would quiet up or go away. Those are the people who were misbehaving… I never had a problem with the entire game going silent, but I’d join a game and then hear one of the players go, ‘Oh, now you shut up’ to the other player.”

The way that it is written, it seems as if Toulouse plays the part of the old Western sheriff. He walks into town and everything goes dead quiet. The law is in town. Ain’t nobody gonna do nothin’ he wouldn’t like. Along with this, there is the implication that before Toulouse, there was rampant cursing and offense running around unchecked by the heathen masses of children that play online shooters.

And yeah, it is true. I stopped playing Xbox 360 shooters because of the playerbase (and the exorbitant cost of Live). But the point of police in meatspace isn’t to hold the populace in fear; it is to provide a service and to protect. Let me be clear: I understand that the police do exactly that. The police, as a broad entity, are basically a concentration of every problem in American society.

However, Live’s ToS enforcers don’t ever have to be visible. They can always be back in the digital static, doing things that we are never privy to. As Toulouse says, most of the time they are mistaken for automated processes, and this is one example of a time that I think it is important. Panopticism in the digital space of Xbox Live is infinitely better than player-avatars of the ToS.

Obviously management of online communities is difficult, and Toulouse seems to have made some real strides forward in bringing Live into the 21st century, but I’m not sure that enforcement should be attached to a brutal figure.

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