Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' Punishment

January 31, 2011 -

As a follow-up to Thursday's story that an 11-year-old autistic boy (Julius Jackson) being banned from Xbox Live for cheating, Game Informer unravels exactly what might have happened and why Microsoft is not backing down from the action. Game Informer posits that the ban probably has something to do with the way the youngster acquired the Recon Armor in Halo 3. Game Informer came to this conclusion based on tweets from both the mother (Jennifer Zdene) and Xbox Live Policy Director (Stephen Toulouse).

Getting Recon Armor is not an easy task. You can either have it given to you by Bungie directly (which did not happen in this case for sure) or you can unlock a specific set of 7 achievements spread across Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST called Vidmaster Challenges. Some of those challenges are easy, while others are quite difficult.

According to the mom's tweets, Jackson gave out his account information to another player online, with the promise of attaining the youngster the fabled Recon Armor. Instead of getting the armor for him legitimately, this unknown user used some sort of external means to secure the armor for him. When a user tries to cheat the system, it is obvious to other players. Here is how GI sums up what might have happened:

"This was likely brought to Microsoft's attention by an opponent on Halo 3 who saw the boy's armor. Maybe the boy underperformed in a game and someone thought he couldn't have the skills to unlock the armor legitimately. Maybe the boy cleaned up and a vindictive loser went looking for any dirt he could find to get revenge. Maybe someone is just skeptical of every Recon armor he sees. Who knows. In any case, someone likely compared achievements with the boy and discovered his Vidmaster achievements had been obtained offline, and followed suit with a complaint to Microsoft. Microsoft, upon receiving the complaint, saw the same thing and reset the boy's gamerscore, as is standard fare for people who cheat on their achievements."

Commentary: So Jackson did not really cheat, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he just did not know any better. Should Microsoft give him a break? Probably. We all know that, as a matter of policy, that is not going to happen and Jackson is going to be marked down as a cheater. His best bet - now that Microsoft wiped the Achievement slate clean - is to start from scratch with a new account. The moral of the story is a classic: do not talk to strangers.

Source: GI, Image source


Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Given the circumstances it is pretty much guaranteed the boy didn't know any better, but this still does not entitle him to a break. This is what we call a learning lesson, and the only chance that MS has at making these rules stick is by applying them equally and consistently.

He screwed up, lost his points, and learned a valuable lesson in the consequences of his actions (or risk management in this case).

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

I'm not particularly keen on the thought that if achievements are acquired offline some cheating must have been involved.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

I'm fine with it if the achievements in question require you to be online like many of the Vidmaster Challenges do.


Andrew Eisen

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Seriously, why is this newsworthy?


GP, if you feel the need to jump on the media bandwagon and throw an angle on a mundane issue such as Microsoft doing standard procedure to keep XBL free of illegitimate players, then you lose credibility.

Shall we report on every player who is branded a cheater for several days on this site?

Tell you what, if mom then sues MS for emotional damages or what have you, she can explain in court how hiring someone online to earn your achievements for you is not cheating, and then GP can report fully on the trial as it pans out. You know, like when it actually matters.

-Austin from Oregon

Feel free to check out my blog.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Look up the definition of "newsworthy" and you'll have your answer.


Andrew Eisen

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Because I've seen GP getting ripped in the comments here a couple of times recently, let me say - as a frequent reader/infrequent commenter - I appreciate the breadth of topics this site covers.  So, here's one person who likes what this site is providing.  

Keep up the good work. *Shuffles off awkwardly.* 

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

 Apparently you two both found it newsworthy enough to click on the article and reply.

But I find it an interesting situation, considering the possible implications of publicly labeling people things and the intersection between disability and responsibility.

You aren't the arbiters of newsworthiness.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Fair enough, but if I never tell the people reporting what I want to hear, how can I ever expect to hear it?


It's like getting a cold meal at a restaurant, maybe they just serve it that way, but if I say nothing, then I can expect to get it that way again.

-Austin from Oregon

Feel free to check out my blog.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

So, what kind of stories are you looking for that GP is not reporting on?


Andrew Eisen

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Stack on top of that the SHIT way this article is written. GP is just Copy/Pasting articles now, BADLY.

Proofread this stuff already!

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Are there typos?  Yes.  I've made note of the ones I saw and forwarded them to James so he can fix them.  Is this article copy/pasted from its source?  No, it's not and shame on you for even suggesting such a thing.


Andrew Eisen

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Sorry you feel that way, but every time I've found a typo in the past few months, we're not talking about spelling, we're talking about extra words, phrases, and even CREDITS in the middle of sentences. If that's not the product of copy/pasting then please explain to me how those get there!

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Those are editing errors.  It happens when you write something, change your mind, and change what you wrote.  Sometimes, pieces of the original sentence remain.  That's what you're seeing.

As for a credit in the middle of a sentence?  Never seen that happen.  Don't know how a credit would be in the middle of a sentence if GP was actually copy/pasting his articles.

Now, direct quotes are, of course, copy/pasted.  Nothing wrong with that.


Andrew Eisen

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...


I agree with you in general that just because someone is disabled they should not be given a free pass.

However, as someone with a brother on the autism spectrum, I have to question whether or not this kid really understood what he was doing. It all depends on what his level of function is. It's entirely possible he really didn't understand that he was "cheating" which requires a certain level of intent.

For example, had the kid exploited a glitch that he had no way of knowing wasn't a legitimate gameplay option (like getting into a sniper's nest that is normally inaccesible) would we say he "cheated?" Probably not.

MS might also want to re-think this labeling of an account. Wiping the gamerscore/achievements is one thing and I have no problem with that. But if I was MS attorney I'd be warning them about the permanent label. You're potentially opening up issues of defamation or, given eggshell plaintiff rules, potentially even intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress issues.

It's unlikely but all it takes is one bad case to seriously hit MS' reputation or force a large settlement to avoid a long draw-out court case where the headline reads "MS Sued Over Labeling Autistic Child a Cheater." Sure MS might be in the legal clear, but any good lawyer tells his client about the difference between the "legal consequences" and the "practical consequences." In other words, "Is this a battle you really want to fight in public?"

Like I said, wiping the score and removing achievements, sure no real problem there. But plastering what amounts to a permanent "scarlet letter" on the profile? You're opening up a can of worms there.

And let's be honest, whether or not we all think the kid deserves to be labeled a cheater, the whole situation does kind of make you feel "icky," which is not something MS wants to be associated with. And like I said, without knowing how high of a functioning capacity this kid really has it's impossible for any of us to determine whether he really deserves to be labeled a "cheater." You need to have intent and there's a very good chance he didn't really have that.

Disclaimer: I am an attorney, licensed in VA, I don't know the specific facts or the applicable law, I'm going on basic/broad and generally common legal principles here.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

With all due respect, I'm pretty sure MS has a team of lawyers and they know what they can and can't do. Is someone just released from jail for murder gonna sue the state because they are labelled a murderer? No, of course not. While an extremely huge leap to go from murder to cheating, it is what it is. When I play on Live, I don't want to play with someone who has been caught cheating. And the Cheater label is a great way to know.

If this kid walked into Toys R Us and picked up a Lego set and walked out without paying, would he be charged with shoplifting? Even if he didn't know it was wrong? He should be charged; that's the law (although in the real world you get shades of grey; Live is pretty black and white).

I've also seen members of the XBLPET on the forum stating that if you keep your nose clean for an (undisclosed) period of time, the Cheater label can be removed.

Bottom line: the kid cheated. The autistic story line should have never entered into the equation; and it's the ONLY reason this became a story at all.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

True, they have a large and well trained legal division.

I doubt, however, that they proactivly step in and examine the details of every banning case on XBL,... this was probably handled pretty close to the road with small-picture people doing their jobs as they have been scripted.  This might not be a bad time for higher ups worried about PR and other possible effects to step in and handle things a little differntly.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

 I'm sure MS has a very large and qualified legal division. That hasn't stopped them from losing many cases where they've cribbed features and code from other sources without permission. Those kind of cases just don't get media hype.

In addition any company's legal division is tailored to fit the needs of the company. For something like MS it means they are probably staffed full of contract lawyers, IP lawyers, trademark, patent and copyright specialists. I doubt they have a large staff of Tort lawyers on hand. I'm sure they have some but they most likely don't have a legal division devoted to it since it isn't something they are likely to encounter regularly.

Plus, as I said, this isn't just about the legal consequences. They are most likely, legally, in the clear. But there are substantial practical considerations (like public perception.)

For example, there was a recent case out of Texas, I won't give all the lengthy details but here's a short summary:

Cheerleader accuses basketball player of rape. Player allowed to return to school (arrested but not immediately charged).

At game girl sits out a cheer while the defendant is taking free-throws. Cheer was supposed to "2, 4, 6, 8, 10 come on Rasheen put it in" Basically saying she wouldn't cheer the player she says raped her. She didn't make a fuss she just sat down.

School kicks her off the team for sitting it out, saying she's a mouthpiece for the school and they can't be seen to adopt her views by letting her sit it out etc.

Details here:

Anyway, the point is this, LEGALLY the school is probably in the clear (they in fact won at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and girl is petitioning to cert. to the Supreme Court).

The school has a good chance of prevailing. But the perception, the practical consequences are that the school looks amazingly callous for saying "Cheer for the guy who was convicted of assaulting you [he plead to a lesser charge] or be kicked off."

Their lawyer SHOULD have said: "Look, sure you can do this, she can sue and you'll probably win. But is THIS a battle you want fought in the public eye? Is it really worth it to take this as far you're talking here." When the alternative is to let her sit the cheer out?

They could have said she felt faint, they could have said she twisted an ankle etc. Instead they kicked her off, she asked to be let on, they said no and she sued (and note, she won at the trial level and they won on appeal). They should have let it go. Instead they're now in the media as the "Cheer For your Rapist" school, however good their legal case.

So sure, MS' lawyers are probably right that MS would win any kind of suit. But again "Do you really want to fight this out like this? Is it worth it when the headlines are going to be "Microsoft Sued Over Labeling Autistic Child a Cheater?"

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Actually, it is a fight that might benifit the school.  I have heard quite a bit of backlash against the cheerleader, and she now has a 'cares more about herself then the school' mark against her in recruiting... so the school has made an effective example out of her.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

That being part of why rape is rarely if ever reported, because people have a "blame the victim" mentality and too many cry wolf.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

I understand your reasoning for giving this kid a break, but if you do that, where do you draw the line?  The kid may not have understood exactly what he was getting into, but he gave out his account info to another person.  It's just common sense not to do that.  If he's functioning at a high enough level to play a complex FPS on Xbox Live, he should have the sense not to go giving out his account information.  It's possible he thought this person was going to actually earn the armour for him properly, but the onus is still on him to ensure that his account isn't abused.  If you allow him special treatment, you're going to have an even worse PR nightmare on your hands, as every two-bit cheater will be claiming that they didn't know what they were doing either, and MS should review their case too.  The only practical thing to do is take a zero tolerance stance on cheating.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

 Actually, when you're talking autism, it wouldn't be that unusual at all for the kid to have the motor dexterity etc. necessary to play complex games but not have the social awareness not to give his information out.

Autistic people tend to be very socially stunted.

It really wouldn't shock me at all.

MS could easily review this on a case-by-case basis. Yes there could be a "where do you stop" problem but slippery slope arguments like that tend to be overstated.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

Or at least don't give strangers access to your account.

Re: Follow-Up on Autistic Boy's Xbox Live 'Cheater' ...

 Regardless of the outcome or circumstances of this, the fact the boy was autistic should not be an issue.  He should not be given sympathy or a pass because he is some "poor helpless disabled boy".  The point is whether he cheated or not and if the ban was really warranted.  Plenty of high-functioning autistic people surely wouldn't appreciate being treated like children. (admittedly, I cannot really speak for autistic people, so apologies to those who take issue)

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