Language, Xbox, Suicide, and Stigma | Mindfully Minded
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Feb 23

Halo, Stigma, and Language

Content warning. This article covers suicide and stigmatising language.

Those of us involved in mental health advocacy are deeply aware of the power of language. A misbegotten word here; a thoughtless phrase there can have a powerful impact on someone who is experiencing mental ill health.

Such language builds upon the foundation of discrimination that we find ourselves surrounded by daily, forming additional obstacles that need to be overcome as it twists the attitudes of neurotypical people.

 I call such language a common currency of casual catchphrases. These are the throwaway words and expressions that we exchange in our conversations every day. 

Casual Language: Committed Suicide 

One expression that proves to be stubborn is “committed suicide.

The wording rolls so naturally off our tongue that trying to use an alternative feels awkward.

There are alternatives, such as “took/ended their own life” or “died by suicide,” but until they are fully ingrained into our collective consciousness commit and committed suicide will still have a place in daily language.

Remember

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    Took/ended their own life.
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    Died by suicide

What's Wrong?

By now some of you are wondering why this phrase is frowned upon.

The implication of “commit” is that a crime or sin has been perpetrated. Suicide was decriminalised in the UK in 1961: as for it being a sin, well, personally, I feel that it doesn’t help anyone by labelling it as being immoral.

Survivors of suicide attempts and the families and friends of those who have died by suicide deal with enough pain and sorrow without them having to deal with the moral judgements of others.

Pain and Suffering

Take a moment and think about this.

Suicide is often the result of ill health, mental ill health* to be precise. Pain and suffering are at the core of suicide: an escape from pain, be it physical, psychological or emotional.

 That does not necessarily mean that someone wants to die.**

If we stay with the idea of ill health, would you say someone committed a heart attack? Of course not, it would be insensitive and nonsensical.

So why say that someone committed suicide?

It’s archaic language that needs to be removed from our personal and public lexicons.

Wake Up John

So, when playing a local multiplayer match of Halo 4 (Part of  The Master Chief Collection)  I was shocked to see that an accidental player death causes “You committed suicide” to pop up on the screen.

I’ve played Halo but not in recent years: my chronic illnesses mean that multiplayer is not wise.

Too much for the old blood pressure and, as a result, too much pain. Give me Skyrim for a nice stroll through the woods and I’m good.

I was shocked. There it was bold as can be on screen: “committed suicide.” How are we going to eradicate this phrase if it is making its way into a flagship IP of a company like Microsoft?

Halo Screen Capture showing stigmatising language.

Click for full picture

What About Halo?

And here is the good news. I emailed Mr Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson – if you don’t know who he is he is one of the public faces of Xbox.

Mr Hryb is Director of programming for Xbox Live and, undoubtedly, a very busy man.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting my email to be seen, let alone replied to. A couple of weeks later I got a reply telling me he would share my email with 343 Industries, the current developers of the Halo franchise.

It was great that my concerns had been acknowledged and, hopefully, some action will be taken soon to rectify the problem.

"The way we commit every single day to making Microsoft a safe and inclusive place for all."

– Phil Spencer DICE 2018

Confidence in 343

343 Industries have taken great steps in recent years to stamp out toxic behaviour in Halo multiplayer matches.

So, it is with confidence that I look forward to them tackling this issue too.

The recent speech made by Xbox boss Phil Spencer also gives me hope that the inclusivity they are aiming for will ensure that these changes are made.

Thank you IGN for the YouTube video.

Below is a section of  Microsoft’s Code of Conduct Explained for Xbox Live Customers

I have bolded some words for emphasis.

CONTENT IN XBOX LIVE

What is considered content in Xbox Live?

Content is anything you create, share, use or promote that another person could see or hear or otherwise experience, like Gamertags, profile information, in-game content and videos.

What are examples of content that is prohibited in Xbox Live?

(Note: the examples below are just a few examples of Content prohibited by the Microsoft Code of Conduct. Just because something isn't on this list doesn't mean it's OK.)

Content that could harm or harass a person, including yourself, or an animal. For example:

Profane words or phrases

Suicide-related content

(Note: the examples below are just a few examples of the type of behaviour prohibited by the Microsoft Code of Conduct. Just because something isn't on this list doesn't mean it's OK.)

Negative speech (including hate speech or threats of harm) directed at people who belong to a group, including groups based on race, ethnicity, nationality, language, gender, age, disability, veteran status, religion or sexual orientation/expression

"Noise", which is excessive speech intended to interfere with or disrupt another person's or group's ability to enjoy a game or app on Xbox Live

Content showing or promoting animal abuse

Of course, the above code is aimed at players interacting on Xbox Live, but it does show that Microsoft is aware that certain subjects are harmful when discussed inappropriately.

Erase Harmful Language

I know it might seem insignificant to some. I can already hear the braying howls of sections of the gaming community, but this is the pain, heartache and loss of countless families whose loved ones have died by suicide.

It needs to be addressed whether it’s in Halo or another IP.

This is the wrenching agony of losing a child. The hopeless despair of losing a spouse. The grieving of the child who wants to  be held one last time.

Suicide is real. Help fight the pain. Help us to crush the stigma.

I look forward to hearing more from either 343i or Major Nelson.

Update


2nd April 2018

I have played through the whole of The Master Chief Collection and discovered that all versions of Halo in it have the same problem.

However, Halo 5  the latest in the series, and not part of The Master Chief Collection,  doesn't have this issue. It looks like during the development of Halo 5 343i became more aware of the issue of inappropriate language.

I have yet to hear anything else from Microsoft or 343i.

Update


18th April 2018

Eurogamer have announced that Halo: The Master Chief Collection is getting an update this Summer. Amongst the changes it lists: 

  • UI & UX Updates (Main Menu, Title Screen Video, Button States/Highlight States)

Although not mentioned above, hopefully we might see a change to the player state messages on accidental death too.

*Not all those who die by suicide experience mental ill health.

** As mentioned at Samaritans there is a subtle difference between wanting to die and not wanting to live the life you have.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments below. I will read each comment and together we can beat this. 

  • Linda says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. As a former Samaritan it was drummed into me through training that we do not use the term committed, for the reasons you state in your article. It’s wrong and deeply insensitive.

    I would like to add my own thoughts and experiences on the word suicide if I may?!!

    As a Mom of a 10 year old it shocked me to find out how much, and how often the word ‘suicide’ is used by this age group and even younger. I’m guessing they don’t know the real meaning of the word as they band it about quite freely, the term ‘they suicided’ is a frequent one, and refers to someone (usually on a game) who has fell and died, but, not intentionally! It’s as if the actual word is somehow being diluted by their childhood naivety and misunderstanding of the true meaning of the word, leading it to become another throwaway word, one which has little or no real depth, when in fact the word has an enormous amount of pain, confusion, sadness and fear attached to it.

    I don’t feel any of this will help end the stigma of either mental health or suicide, and as it comes at a time when we are trying to encourage people to talk more I can only see it having a negative impact on this.

    Well done for caring enough to try and do something positive about this. I’m with you all the way on this one!!

    • Rishin says:

      Hello Linda,

      Thanks for your input.

      When you say:

      “the actual word is somehow being diluted by their childhood naivety and misunderstanding of the true meaning of the word, leading it to become another throwaway word, one which has little or no real depth, when in fact the word has an enormous amount of pain, confusion, sadness and fear attached to it.”

      You capture the very essence of the problem. Beautifully said.

      Thank you.

      Rishin

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