Last week, Sony announced it would be rolling out a new feature that allows users to change their PSN name — the ID that follows you throughout the Playstation gaming world — freely and openly.
It’s a big step for Sony, since Microsoft allowed XBOX users to do it for years. While gamers are very excited about the change (not being bogged down to one name while you’re owning people in Overwatch is very exciting), there’s one issue. The new feature has the potential to stir up one of the gaming world’s oldest problems: hate speech and offensive language.
Sony recognizes the problems that allowing people to change their PSN names more frequently could bring, and the company is trying to get ahead of it.
A company blog post last week outlined that any PSN names using racial slurs, profanity, or any other offensive language that breaks Sony’s terms of service would be automatically changed to “TempXXX.” This punishment is actually light, considering that Playstation used to ban people altogether for using offensive language in their PSN names, as The Verge’s Stefan Etienne pointed out.
Offensive language and hate speech have long been a problem in the gaming world. Last year, Twitch had to update its policies regarding harassment and hate speech after a string of incidents on the platform. One in particular included a man releasing a spam bot that allowed racist and homophobic messages and comments to spread to users.
In some cases, white nationalists can also use the gaming world as a tool for recruitment, as Megan Condis, a professor at Texas Tech pointed out in her April column for the New York Times:
Rather than waiting for targets to find them, recruiters go to where targets are, staging seemingly casual conversations about issues of race and identity in spaces where lots of disaffected, vulnerable adolescent white males tend to hang out. Those who exhibit curiosity about white nationalist talking points or express frustration with the alt-right’s ideological opponents such as feminists, anti-racism activists and “social justice warriors” are then escorted through a funnel of increasingly racist rhetoric designed to normalize the presence of white supremacist ideology and paraphernalia through the use of edgy humor and memes.
-The New York Times
Getting ahead of potential problems concerning hate speech and racism on its platform is smart of Sony.
Changing PSN names isn’t the answer to all of the gaming world’s issues with toxic content. However, a company considering the problems its product could cause from the outset and addressing them before they happen is a step in the right direction.