Posted by Lesbian Gamers
Xbox Live Gamertags – Bannings Sexuality and Context article

Xbox Live Gamertags – Bannings Sexuality and Context article

We’ve been looking into the issue of sexuality on Xbox Live, particularly in gamertags and written a small article about it. The whole issue is one that is wrapped in confusion and hypocrisy. We’re still throwing together that open letter to MS and will probably post a draft over the weekend (as we’re working with many others and we’d like to thank everyone involved). This is the time to act, to bring fairness to the hobby that we love and if we must start with MS, then so be it.. we haven’t forgotten about Sony however. Full article below (including migrated comments from users).

We posted yesterday regarding ‘Teresa’, a lesbian gamer stating she was banned from Xbox Live after she was harassed by other players. The whole thing managed to get a lot of peoples panties in a twist, including us here at Lesbian Gamers.

As we stated then, we are in the midst of getting a letter together for MS (with the help of many others). The problem is, on looking into this issue further we can see this is not a cut and dried affair and we do not wish to launch an uninformed attack on Microsoft. There seems to be some confusion as to the way gamertags and profile information is handled by the Xbox community directors.

We’ve done a little delving today with regards to Xbox Live gamertags and think we’ve hit upon the problem and perhaps a way to solve it, but we’d like to know what you all think and whether such a stance is even logistically possible.

So here’s the deal… Teresa was banned because other people it seems complained about her. Well it has to be said, it must have been some group of people, because from a personal standpoint any of the people I’ve complained about on Xbox Live still managed to play on as abusively as they ever did. We don’t know enough detail about “Teresa” to truly comment, so instead we’re looking at the Xbox Live policy.

The Xbox Live policy suggests that words relating to sexual orientation will be banned from the service if used in gamertags (or it seems profile information). This is to actually stop abuse, not help it. Though Teresa’s issue stemmed from the profile area and not gamertag, we’re firstly looking at gamertags as that is essentially the first port of call with regards to Xbox Live experience.

We’ve looked around to see if the policy of exclusion with regards to sexuality within gamertags means there are no gamertags expressing this and have found the following gamertags listed on the Xbox site.

Please note it is not our intention to name and shame any of these tags, we use them here merely for illustration purposes and as they are in the public domain via the Xbox Live site and other gaming sites listing gamertags that it is alright to republish them.

Well you can’t really take this more than in a sexual sense, if you are saying stating a queer preference is to be taken in the same manner. Assuming this is the case you cannot have one rule for one and one rule for another. There are other tags, such as Straightshooter and all those, that perhaps do not allude to ones sexual preference, but the point blank “Iamstraight” seems to suggest this is exactly what it refers to and even if it doesn’t, but it can be construed so, surely this – if being examined in the same and equal manner as ‘gay’ tags – contravenes the rules of Xbox Live. In our opinion, why shouldn’t he be allowed to state this in his tag… clearly it isn’t a problem and nor should it be, as there is nothing inherently sexual or something that incites anger about such a statement.

So is there some issue then only with gays stating their orientation? We found a lot of gay gamertags also, so we’re confused as to when the policy is actually enacted.

Some other tags:

Obvious abuse or is it?
During our searches we came across some gamertags that truly had us stunned they even existed. Unlike the tags above, which in the overall scheme of things are not inciteful, some others would seem to fall directly into the obvious abuse of the Xbox terms, yet they exist. Here are some examples.

The problem
The problem here is ‘context’ and that a text checking format can not know context. Let us take as an example “LesbianSlayer”. On first glance and seeing the tag in a text lineup one may be led to think, well it’s obviously homophobic. On looking further however one notes the gamertag icon used is Joanna Dark and it is allegedly rare (no pun intended) that a male gamer will choose a female icon. So in this case is it more of a punctuation issue. Is LesbianSlayer a slayer of lesbians (and therefore inciting hatred), or is LesbianSlayer a lesbian who slays (as is the terminology in a game like Halo for example ‘Slayer’).

However some of the other tags clearly contravene decency and should NEVER have been allowed.

The Solution?
Microsoft needs human intervention to deal with context. An automated checker is clearly not working with some of these gamertags slipping through. If MS hired a team to manually look at gamertags and profiles and that team featured sexual and racial minorities, surely that would stem the problem far better than merely counting on user complaints and / or automated word checks?

Context is everything and having people working for you that understand that context is crucial. You wouldn’t hire a carpenter to bake a cake. MS needs some queer input with regards to this issue as there are a LOT of gay gamers who at this moment feel ostracized, unwanted and let down by a company they’ve placed a lot of money into. Perhaps that’s just me speaking, but I feel truly on the outer with regards to this issue and I’ve been a staunch supporter of MS and the Xbox since its original launch and beta.

We’re still working on that letter to MS, but we’d like your opinions on context and the nature of context within the realm of Xbox Live. We understand it will NEVER be possible to keep everyone happy. The problem facing MS isn’t a utilitarian issue, as that will never work as generaly the minority – however correct – will always be on the painful end of the outcome. The issue here is one of fairness, nothing more, nothing less.

All ideas welcome.

Update: Stephen Toulouse has confirmed Microsoft is looking at ways Xbox Live users can express sexual preference on the service without getting banned. He also strangely stated: “Expression of any sexual orientation (straight or gay or otherswise) is not allowed in gamertags.”… ummm…. riiiiight.

Below are comments posted at the old Lesbian Gamers site prior to migration:

Although I’ve moaned about Microsoft on my own website about this issue, I do recognise that what they’re trying to do at the very core is good, in that they don’t want people to be discriminated against. However where I think they’ve gone wrong is by trying to solve the problem too easily with automatic filters. If a policy like this is to truly work it needs the human touch, and it needs to be a non discriminatory policy – i.e no hetero tags if there are no gay tags. At the heart of it I think the main issue people are having is that Microsoft have stayed too quiet on this issue. Maybe they haven’t done anything wrong, but until they stand up and explain things properly, how are we to know!
Posted by: Michelle | February 27, 2009 at 06:24 PM

I am Straight is also hipster speak these days for “I’m alright/OK”. Given the icon he has that’s actually the meaning I attached. Seems like he’s doing OK with his cool sunglasses on, straight chillin’. Either way, just goes to show how people can judge context and not machines. I wouldn’t use MS Word’s spellcheck instead of a newspaper editor.
Posted by: Thefremen | February 27, 2009 at 08:17 PM

See, this is why my gamertag is ambiguous enough that most guys think I’m just a dude named “butch,” and I tend to correct them. The few times that I gamers (both male and female) have figured out I am a woman and a lesbian, I have been harassed so bad that I left the game. And I DID report the behavior to Microsoft, and of course nothing happened. Typical.
Posted by: Xanadugrrl | February 28, 2009 at 06:27 AM

I really wish I had any constructive comment to add. I really do. But after having read this, I just feel angry. And disappointed. Again. At how LGBT people are treated in online gaming, and how big companies still do nothing about it. They say the politically correct, but in practice, everything stays the same. As an online gamer since 2001, I am just hugely disapointed, again. I’ll understand if you don’t approve this comment. :\
Posted by: VanessaV | February 28, 2009 at 07:49 AM

Thanks for the responses so far guys.
Re “Iamstraight” being hipster speak for being ok, we also considered it as being drug addict speak for not using. As we said, it’s all in the context, we don’t know this person. Therefore perhaps in cases like this MS should contact the person in question for clarification, it’s not like they don’t have all our details (huge logistical questions aside). Iamgay could be old hipster speak for I am extremely happy, it probably wouldn’t stop it getting banned though.
Posted by: LesbianGamers | February 28, 2009 at 08:40 AM

I’m very angered by this. I could accept that whatever sexuality someone is doesn’t need to be in the gamertag, except that clearly references to sex and sexuality appear ALL THE TIME, so it seems impossible to interpret their banning as anything other than targeting homosexuals. Regardless of what the gamertag rules are, banning someone based on their profile – something that exists solely to share information about yourself – is appalling. It’s a clear message that Microsoft considers homosexuality to be a shameful secret that people should keep to themselves. But, indeed, the issue is fairness. Of course, in order to be fair, Microsoft would have to ban ANY mention of orientation, relationships, or sex from ANY content on Xbox Live and any games that aren’t “Mature” rated in order for their claim that this is simply because it’s inappropriate to carry any weight. Of course, that would be absurd, but so is trying to pretend like there is no such things as lesbians.
Posted by: Abbey | February 28, 2009 at 08:50 AM

Hi. An idea for your letter would be for MS to create icons for LGBT and ethnic groups where banning them would automatically be checked upon MS moderators. This would probably discourage people from banning people just because they are from a different ethnic group or of a different sexual orientation then they are. I’m not an online gamer probably because It doesn’t feel right at the moment. But if MS doesn’t move on that, I might send this to my local news. It is their responsibility to make their environment a safe and enjoyable one.
Posted by: Chris type | March 01, 2009 at 02:09 AM

I think MS is lame for this but I m glad to see lesbian gamers didn’t just jump striaght on the hate wagon and roll it into town.
The question of context is good. Nice one.
Posted by: Cruxie | March 01, 2009 at 02:07 PM

It is the responsibility of MS to make their environment safe and enjoyable, for all of us. The amount of games I have played in where people are using homosexuality in a derogatory manner is astounding. The problem is MS banning the gay victim only sends a message to these rednecks that they’re right and can get away with their abusive behaviors. I find it ironic that allegedly GLAAD are now involved in this issue? Haven’t you grrls here being trying to get GLAAD to look at video games as one of their ‘media’ options? I remember reading some posts on that. What happened with that? Did they ever get back to you and if so what did they say?
Posted by: Ben | March 01, 2009 at 07:36 PM

I’ve been visitin this site for some time now and I thought you’d all be all over this one when I saw it on google news. Seems like you already had it covered but your not blowin a gasket about it which is mad.
Aren’t you all more annoyed about this.. that a sista got her ass booted because MS are a bunch of homophobes?
Posted by: AngelsRUs | March 01, 2009 at 09:19 PM
Just another example here.
Basically MS are spouting complete crap because they have no idea what their own policies are, and for sure don’t enforce them unless there’s an uproar. They clearly won’t go back on what they’ve said, so they’re going to tighten up their restrictions and I don’t know if I like that idea or not. All I know is that if I get banned for being gay, there’s gonna be hell to pay.
Posted by: Gemm | March 02, 2009 at 11:53 PM

Y’all seem calm. I only just found this article and I am PISSED!!! How dare MS have such OBVIOUS double standards with regards to gay gamers. It’s pretty obvious that is the case and I can’t believe a site called “Lesbian Gamers” isn’t writing about this in a more irritated manner. Sometimes we need to raise banners and kick down the walls of oppression!
Posted by: Dicksonvillia | August 11, 2009 at 10:27 PM

Stumbled over ths site, not drunk honest. Wanted to say great article grrls. One of the things unmentioned though and something that made me laugh was the zone some of these tags are situated, I mean GayBaishnig, Dykesmasher and straight beef, all in “Family”, really, are you serious? It would be interesting to see if any of these tags continue to be used without being banned. Maybe you should revisit them in a few months and see?
Posted by: Corinth | October 06, 2009 at 09:56 PM

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