Microsoft’s newly released Kinect controller is facing accusations of racism, after reports of it being unable to recognise dark-skinned people surfaced.
GameSpot employees reportedly had trouble using the device, and CNN soon picked the story up; GameSpot’s account of the problems is below:
“Part of Microsoft’s $500 million marketing push for Kinect includes positioning it as an accessible entertainment device for all audiences. However, it may be more accessible to some than others.
While testing out the Kinect, two dark-skinned GameSpot employees experienced problems with the system’s facial recognition abilities. The system recognized one employee inconsistently, while it was never able to properly identify the other despite repeated calibration attempts.
However, Kinect had no problems identifying a third dark-skinned GameSpot employee, recognizing his face after a single calibration. Lighter-skinned employees were also consistently picked up on the first try.
It’s important to note that the problems were only experienced with the system’s facial recognition feature and don’t prevent users from playing Kinect games. Skeletal tracking, a primary means of controlling games with Kinect, appeared to work the same for all GameSpot employees.
The system’s inability to recognize a user only means that he or she would need to sign in manually and some games’ features may not work properly as a result.
For example, when a second player joins in to Kinect Adventures during the title’s drop-in, drop-out multiplayer, the system can’t bring up that player’s proper in-game avatar automatically if it can’t identify the new user first.”
Microsoft now expects to sell 5,000,000 units, so even problems only affecting a small proportion of users may turn out to be widely experienced, and in the US such problems are likely to be politically sensitive to say the least.
Since only the facial recognition feature is affected, the problem is not quite as bad as it could be – but it has not stopped detractors from immediately labelling it a racist product. If previous events are any guide, a class action suit may not be out of the question.
Microsoft stops just short of telling inconveniently black users to bleach their faces:
“Kinect works with people of all skin tones. And just like a camera, optimal lighting is best. Anyone experiencing issues with facial recognition should adjust their lighting settings, as instructed in the Kinect Tuner.”
Previously Microsoft has told badly dressed users to strip off or wear something sensible, its philosophy apparently being that consumers should adapt their dress, rooms, lighting and now skin tone to Kinect, and not Kinect to them.