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A Gay Old Time
Posted on Thursday, March 26 2009 @ 11:25:43 PST

As a gamer, you sometimes forget about the differences that people may have from each other. The stereotypes of gamer geeks and manchildren are somewhat eradicated now, because of am emerging casual market, and a lot of different groups of gamers are coming into the fold. Recently though, the LGBT gaming community has hit a speedbump, thanks to a ridiculous Microsoft policy.

Now as a bisexual, I have had a fair share of discrimination from people (New York is liberal, but not THAT liberal, at least where I live.) but on an online forum, where everyone is anonymous, I usually don’t put out my sexual preferences. Plus, I have a plethora of gay friends online, and we have done countless rounds of Soul Calibur, Left 4 Dead, and Rock Band together without incident. But since the whole scandal between Microsoft’s really somewhat intolerable policies on posting your sexuality over X-box live, it’s become somewhat sticky for the company to keep their public image.

What happened is a woman playing on live had her account banned because she had said she was a lesbian in her profile. The woman was harassed online for a while, until Microsoft banned her name, saying that it was a violation of terms of service. Microsoft went on to say that saying anything about your sexuality, whether it be “straight” “bi” or “gay”, is essentially a bannable offense, if deemed by the higher powers of the company.

The policy is, frankly, too zero tolerance. While I can understand Microsoft trying to avoid conflicts, because anonymity online leads to thousands saying things they normally wouldn’t say, I personally think this is just pushing off a rather important issue. People will always be, for a lack of a better word, *******s online. Hell, any game where I get called “gay” for winning is proof of that. When someone is actually gay, and he or she gets harassed doubly so because of identifying themselves as such, it should be expected that there would be some intolerant and close-minded idiots out there.

But is it right to do punish the victim over it? Microsoft is asking them this question, and has recently tried to apologize for this, claiming that their own banning policies are “inelegant” and is looking to revamp the system to make it friendlier for online interaction. One idea was to implement symbols that would denote your orientation, according to Stephen Toulouse, the program manager for policy and enforcement on X-Box live.

But if Microsoft really wants to change their policies, they may have to look inward first, and deal with their own issues. Recently, Microsoft is under fire once again, this time being sued by an employee of their subsidiary, Lionhead Studios. Lionhead, as you know, is the creator of games such as Black and White, the Fable series and The Movies. Microsoft purchased the English studio two years ago, and that is when the trouble began for Jamie Durrant, an 11-year vet of the company and a senior game designer. At his work studio in England, the human resources department has, since last January, been harassing Durrant due to his sexual orientation, sending defamatory emails and posting homophobic messages in his office.

Durrant, who became under stress from this, appealed to the HR department chair, which promised to send emails reminding the staff on how to behave in an office that is diverse. Sadly, the emails never went out, and when Durrant inquired why, he was told that the firm “would have to draw up new policies before an email could be sent.”

This is significant, because, Microsoft, back in 1989, was one of the first companies to already HAVE policies of non-discrimination in regards to sexual orientation.

Durrant “was allegedly asked to sign a document agreeing not to raise a formal grievance and confirming that he was happy his complaint was being dealt with. He said that he refused but it was agreed that Microsoft would post its anti-discrimination policy on the firm's intranet for staff to see.”

Durrant’s grievance is probably blown out of proportion, but it does make you scratch your head for a second. Why would a company blatantly lie to an employee who is being harassed? Of course, Microsoft is denying this ever happened, and the whole he said she said back and forth will likely follow, but it’s somewhat interesting to see Microsoft being called hypocritical, especially on the heels of a very unpopular policy action one month ago.

Maybe it’s just the timing of the two events being so close that makes this more important, but all the same, it’s fairly bad publicity for Microsoft. Perhaps if they would enact a stricter policy of tolerance, this might have blowed over. Maybe if Microsoft would just accept that there are tons of homosexuals playing Halo 3 as much as heterosexuals, then this will become a non-issue. Be that as it may, controlling a workforce is one thing, controlling the internet is another.

But as gamers, we need to recognize differences of others. I may be a bisexual, but so what? It doesn't make me less of a gamer. I can probably shred faster than you in Rock Band, just as much as you can snipe me in Halo. Sexuality never should be an issue when playing a game, or making one for that matter. Gamers are just as diverse as any other social group, and embracing that diversity, be it tolerance or acceptance, should be step one in solving these issues of discrimination. This is, perhaps, the true lesson that Microsoft needs to learn, not just for the sake of one employee, but for the sake of their clients, who just want to have a good time.

Links to the articles:

Xbox Designer Accuses Microsoft of Homophobia

Xbox Live Bans Lesbian Gamer, Microsoft Apologizes
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