September 8, 2010
Xbox Live Gamer Suspended for Saying He Lives in Fort Gay - Residents of Lake Titicaca Nervous
A customer service rep from the company told Josh Moore, an unemployed factory worker, that the town's name was considered offensive.
But Microsoft now finds itself having to issue an apology not only to Moore but to the entire town of Fort Gay, West Virginia. Turns out it's a real place.
It also turns out "gay" isn't an offensive word. But we knew that already, right?
Last year, Microsoft used a hammer to try and solve the problem — that is they tried to stem the use of homosexual slurs by banning all expressions of sexuality in any way in Gamertags and gamer profiles on Xbox Live. But that only created another problem — gamers who are, in fact, gay and want to identify themselves as such in their online information or in conversation, found themselves booted from the service for simply discussing an issue central to their lives and their identities.
Needless to say, Fort Gay gamer Moore was surprised to find himself caught up in that tangled mess – perhaps especially since he's not actually gay himself.
Moore enjoys playing games like "Medal of Honor," "Call of Duty" and "Ghost Recon" with other players via Xbox Live. But problems arose when he added the name of his home town to his Xbox Live profile. (Fort Gay is a community of about 800 in Wayne County, along West Virginia's western border with Kentucky.)
Microsoft suspended his gaming privileges leaving Moore desperately trying to convince customer service that the location wasn't a joke or a slur.
"I was mad ... It makes me feel like they hate gay people," Moore told the Associated Press. "I'm not even gay, and it makes me feel like they were discriminating."
Angry and incredulous, Moore contacted customer service.
"I figured, I'll explain to them, 'Look in my account. Fort Gay is a real place,'" Moore said. But he claims the employee was unreceptive, warning him that if he put Fort Gay back in his profile, Xbox Live would cancel his account and keep his monthly membership fee, which he'd paid in advance.
"I told him, Google it — 25514!" Moore said, offering up the town's ZIP code. "He said, 'I can't help you.'"
Fort Gay Mayor David Thompson also tried to intervene, but with little success. Thompson told television station WSAZ, which first reported the dispute, that he was informed the city's name didn't matter. The word "gay," he was told, was inappropriate in any context.
Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live, has since told the AP that it's all been a big miscommunication. As their new Xbox Live policy states, using the word gay as part of a gamer's identity is no longer a banning offense.
He said Xbox Live received a complaint, which was directed to an agent for review.
"Someone took the phrase 'fort gay WV' and believed that the individual who had that was trying to offend, or trying to use it in a pejorative manner," Toulouse said. "Unfortunately, one of my people agreed with that. When it was brought to my attention, we did revoke the suspension."
Complaints, he notes, come to agents with no contextual information, including who the suspected offender is or what games they play. The agent simply looks at the language and determines whether it complies with policy.
Toulouse contends his team rarely makes mistakes but acknowledged, "Absolutely, a mistake was made here, and we've updated our training to account for that."
Toulouse said he will contact Moore and apologize.
"In this very, very specific case, a mistake was made," he said, "and we're going to make it right."
I'm sure that by "make it right" they did not mean to change climate the overwhelming oversensitivity and pandering that goes on in the world, but just in this one case. Too bad.
at 4:32 PM