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Forza Horizon 5 is censoring certain players’ names, deeming them offensive content

UPDATE: In the days since this article was published, Microsoft have provided Eurogamer with an update on the situation, saying they are “working on a fix to evolve and adjust our content moderation”.

Xbox has been celebrated over the past several years as being an organization that promotes inclusivity and accessibility, to the ends that gaming be a great unifier across countries and cultures. Unfortunately, following the launch of Forza Horizon 5, some inherent limitations in the game call into question just how inclusive some of the game’s systems really are. 

Following the global release, some gamers have reported that they are unable to have their names represented by the in-game voiceovers, or even use their names on their license plate. Many of the names being censored are common names in Arabic cultures.

Nazih Fares, the head of localization and communication at The 4 Winds Entertainment, received the same error and both examples specified that a language filter was blocking the usage of their names. I spoke with Nazih and was given permission to use the following quote,

The only change will truly happen when a dev/publisher will be the voice of change for this. These pre-set banned list of words and letter compositions have been outdated for years. When these industry leaders start showing off that they are changing, the same way they did with other accessibility and inclusive options, then other companies will follow. We the end user in the end up will always be looked at as ’demanding whiners’.

Nazih Fares

Osama Dorias, who is also a developer from WB Montreal, reported via Twitter that his name was deemed by the game as “Inappropriate Content”. Other reports from gamers have begun to surface and it’s difficult not to see that a pattern is emerging that seems to largely be affecting users’ names that are Arabic in origin. 

Games with social elements have long had filters to block certain words and phrases, such as curse-words, but names that are common in certain cultures should have clear allowances. If the issue comes down to complexity of regional or cultural specificities, it’s difficult to imagine that Microsoft’s vast capabilities, stemming from its machine-learning tools and access to an ocean of Big Data, are unable to identify and create exceptions to the filters.

If, however, there are analogues being drawn to specific historical individuals, or worse systemic discrimination, there seems to be a clear bias; ‘Timothy’, for example, is not a name that’s being filtered, if that is in fact the source of the determinations being made. 

Regardless of the justification for the names being filtered, this is a matter that requires greater scrutiny at this point. Xbox, and its parent Microsoft, are a multi-national corporation that seeks to bring the world together through inclusivity in gaming, but one’s name (the foundation of one’s identity) and the ability to identify with that name is a pivotal component of cultural inclusivity.

If Xbox truly wants to be such a uniting force, the company needs to be able to recognize that its audience will inherently be composed of hundreds of cultures and languages, and the methods for content moderation need to recognize that fact.

Just as importantly, Xbox has often been a trendsetter, both in policy and functionality; the industry has often followed the path laid by Xbox, and this is one such example that could benefit players across the entire industry. If one of the leading publishers in the industry takes the treatment of its ethnically-diverse players more seriously, it’s likely that others will be forced to finally do the same. 

For, as Phil Spencer often says, “When everyone plays, we all win”; although perhaps to be more apt, perhaps it should be “When everyone plays, and can be themselves, we all win”. 

Daniel "Knottian" Knott

Software and Systems Management Engineer. Lover of Xbox, gaming, and all forms of media. Husband and feline shepherd, co-host of You Had Me At Halo, news sleuth, mod, and team responder.

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