Thursday, February 26, 2009

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

When gay video gamer Michael Arnold went to log on to Xbox Live, the online service for Microsoft’s popular Xbox 360 gaming system, on July 12, he thought he was on his way to another multiplayer marathon of Halo 3. Instead, he found himself face-to-face with a baffling message that said his gamertag, THCxGaymer, had been deemed offensive and had to be changed before he could proceed to playing the popular first-person shooter.

At first, the message bemused Arnold, who had been using the gamertag (think username) since he bought his Xbox 360 two years ago. “It didn’t make any sense,” he says. “I thought, in this day and age, someone’s censoring the word gay? Who still considers that offensive or vulgar?”

Arnold’s confusion quickly turned to chagrin, especially after numerous e-mails to customer service went unanswered and an hour-long call to the company’s toll-free support line proved just as unhelpful. “[They] said my gamertag probably had been considered profane and pointed me to the Xbox Live terms of use,” Arnold says.

After he got off the phone, Arnold says he went over the terms of use “line by line.” The result of his research: “My gamertag didn’t violate any of them. It wasn’t profane, sexually explicit or a pejorative slur. It wasn’t hate speech. It didn’t contain references to any controlled substances or illegal activities.”

Arnold’s gaymertag, as he puts it, isn’t the first to meet Microsoft’s axe: In early May, “thegayergamer” met a similar fate and a few weeks later “RichardGaywood” (the name of an actual person) followed suit.

So far, Microsoft has been mum on the subject other than to say fellow gamers filed complaints against the gamertags and that they violated the company’s terms of use. Stephen Toulouse, program manager for the Microsoft Security Response Center, added a bit of context on his blog when he commented on the “thegayergamer” situation: “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.”

Neither Arnold nor Gaywood are impressed by Microsoft’s response (or lack thereof), but that doesn’t mean they’re ready to turn their backs on Xbox Live. At least, not yet. “I'm not really annoyed at all this, just bemused by how stupid it is,” Gaywood 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.”

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

No comments: