Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Games Punish Players for Swearing. WTF?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Dec. 4 2013 2:46 PM

Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Games Punish Players for Swearing. WTF?

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The Xbox One hears all.

Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for Xbox

It sees you when you’re sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good, for Xbox’s sake.

Microsoft’s new video game console, the Xbox One, has been greeted by privacy hawks as a “twisted nightmare.” The impressive Kinect technology that powers it can sense your motion, recognize your voice, even monitor your heart rate by training its infrared cameras on you. But the real nightmare may be when the console makes you wash your mouth out with soap.

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A YouTuber named randomfrankp has uploaded a video that appears to show NBA 2K14 slapping him with a technical foul for cussing. That is, his player on the court gets penalized because randomfrankp said the F-word aloud in his living room.

(Warning: “Foul” language.)

Deadspin, for its part, has unearthed a second example of Kinect-powered scolding: a FIFA 14 player getting an in-game letter from his soccer team beseeching him to “Please be aware that you are an ambassador for this football club and the language you have used puts us all in a bad light.”

These instances of video-game tsk-tskery may set off your fakedar, in this age of Internet hoaxes, but game-maker 2K says they’re real. And as fans of the NBA 2K series know, this isn’t even new.

“This was a feature we incorporated to NBA 2K13 that we felt brought both realism to the game, and a more civilized online environment for our players,” 2K told me in a statement. “The result was so positive we have continued it in NBA 2K14.”

And sorry, Sony fanboys. The Xbox One isn’t the only spy in your living room. The PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14 will also penalize you for cussing, via the microphone on the PlayStation Camera. Your living-room Big Brothers are always listening.

What’s happening here isn’t entirely new. Video games have acknowledged gamers’ profanity long before they could actually hear it. Old text-based adventure games, which required you to type commands like “Unlock the door,” would make jokes if you included profanity. Cuss at 1986’s King’s Quest III, and the game would write back, “Obviously, you were raised by a naughty wizard.” (Almost 30 years later, cuss at Siri and she’ll say, “Hey! I don’t think I deserve that.”)

What’s new is video games reacting not to specific game input, per se, but what’s passively happening around the act of gaming. Which is a bit absurd. To give your player a technical foul for you swearing assumes your player is also running down the court saying, “How do I do a head fake, again? Oh yeah, hit A.”

This is also the first instance that I know of, at least, of a game punishing you for cussing, rather than making a joke out of it. (If you can think of an earlier one, put it in the comments.)

2K’s innovative use of the sensory arrays accompanying the new generation of consoles is well-intentioned, and kind of funny, but we don’t play video games to be scolded; we play them to escape the world of scolds.

An exasperated randomfrankp put it best: “I can’t curse in my own house. I spend $530 for an Xbox One, and you’re gonna penalize me?”

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Vogt is a Slate copy editor.

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