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New Xbox gaming safety tools will allow parents to limit play time and block chats with strangers

New Xbox gaming safety tools will allow parents to limit play time and block chats with strangers

From left to right: Yik Wai Yi (Communications Lead, Microsoft Singapore), Richard Koh (Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft Singapore), Nina Bual (Co-founder, Cyberlite Books), and Dr Jiow Hee Jhee (Media Literacy Council).

Microsoft has announced a suite of safety measures aimed at bolstering the gaming environment for young gamers on Xbox Live. These controls enable parents to tailor their child’s gaming experience by limiting playtime, filtering language, and managing social interactions on the platform's library of over 100 games.

The need for such tools is pressing. The online multiplayer realm is fraught with challenges, including exposure to hate speech, profanities, and the presence of predators targeting vulnerable young players. The toolkit, created with input from local entities focusing on digital dangers, is a stride towards addressing these concerns. It not only reflects the growing demand for secure gaming spaces but also Microsoft’s response to increasing regulatory expectations to mitigate anti-social behavior online.

The centrepiece of this initiative, the Xbox Safety Gaming Toolkit, can be accessed through the Xbox Family Settings app. It represents a multi-faceted approach where parents can regulate their child’s communication options, ranging from allowing contact with approved friends to barring all online interactions. The tool also lets parents review their child’s friend list and excise any questionable connections.

This update aligns with the unfortunate uptick in cases where gaming platforms have been leveraged for nefarious purposes. In Singapore, a troubling report by the Internal Security Department spotlighted the radicalization of teenagers through in-game chats, illuminating the darker corners of online gaming platforms traditionally perceived as harmless.

The urgency of this situation is echoed by Nina Bual, co-founder of Cyberlite Books, who, during the toolkit's unveiling at Microsoft’s local office, recounted an incident where a child was deceived into disclosing sensitive financial information. Her publication, alongside the Media Literacy Council and SG Her Empowerment, has backed the toolkit’s development, emphasising the necessity for preventative measures in the digital domain.

The toolkit extends its protective shield to game visibility, with age-appropriate filters restricting access to mature content, a measure that seeks to shield young users from inadvertently stumbling upon games unsuitable for their age bracket. In a concerted effort to clean up the in-game dialogue, Microsoft’s evolving lexicon of offensive terms powers a censorship feature that blocks the transmission of harmful language.

Furthermore, for repeat offenders who flout the community standards with unacceptable conduct, consequences include communication bans, service suspensions, and in the most egregious cases, permanent expulsion from the Xbox Live services.

Parental controls extend to financial prudence as well, with features that oversee spending and require authorisations for purchases made on the young gamer’s account. Screen time management is also a key component, where parents can enforce gaming durations and possess the ability to grant extensions via the app.

In light of a Microsoft study indicating that a significant portion of Singaporean parents are yet to employ parental controls in gaming, compared to the global average, there's a concerted push to boost consciousness about gaming safely. Courtney Gregoire, Microsoft’s chief digital safety officer, said: “We hope that the toolkit will go some way to bridge the gap and empower parents to be involved in their child’s gaming experiences.”

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