Thursday, February 26, 2009

Microsoft Shoves Gay Gamers Back Into the Closet (take one)

It’s hard to imagine the word gay offending anyone anymore. Microsoft seems to think otherwise, though, as evidenced by the company’s recent campaign to rid Xbox Live, the online service for its popular Xbox 360 video game system, of gamertags (think usernames) that include the contentious term. One of the first such gamertags sent to the gallows: thegayergamer.

So far, Microsoft has been mum on the subject other than to say a fellow gamer filed a complaint against the gamertag, after which it was found guilty of insinuating sexual innuendo—an act not condoned by the company’s terms of use.

Stephen Toulouse, program manager for the Microsoft Security Response Center, added on his blog that “there could be an argument that the text is not pejorative to homosexuality and should therefore be allowed. But there is no context to explain that.”

Gay gamers aren’t the only ones being forced to make their Xbox Live identities a little less fabulous. Shortly after Microsoft got rid of thegayergamer, it got rid of Richard Gaywood’s gamertag, too.

Toulouse initially told Gaywood (who, coincidentally, is not gay) that his gamertag had been singled out because it revealed his real name—another no-no according to the company’s terms of use. “Eventually … I got him to admit that the ban came about because of [my gamertag’s] content,” Gaywood says. “He said, ‘There's no context to tell the community not to be offended, that you are not trying to skirt the rules.’”

Although Gaywood describes the situation as “astoundingly stupid,” he isn’t turning his back on Microsoft or the Xbox 360. At least, not yet. “I'm not really annoyed at all this, just bemused by how stupid it is,” he says. “Between this and the two times my Xbox 360 has had to go back to Microsoft for repair, though, it's hard not to start suspecting them of being idiots.”

Rene Rivers, whose gamertag, sleepygaymer, has yet to meet Microsoft’s axe, offers a similar assessment. “The policy doesn’t make any sense,” he says, especially since the company’s own games for the system feature gay content. “Mass Effect has a lesbian love scene. [Soon-to-be-released] Fable II has gay marriage,” he adds. “So it’s OK to play a gay character, but you can’t be gay in real life?”

(Note: This article was written last July. It was supposed to appear in one of the August issues of a bi-monthly LGBT publication but was "killed" in early February.)

1 comment:

Zeta Thompson said...

Usual issues cpmpanies censor based on words not content or intent. How many songs, moves etc make it through censorship yet are inappropriate subject matter while those that happen to contain one of the words on a hot list (along with the 7 usual ones) Are banned from airplay or must be bleeped? Is it any surprise that Microsoft is any different than any other big corporation? They are afraid of being labeled as anti-gay so they just ban everything without really caring about the issue one way or another. Image and sales are all that matters to them