Microsoft took a bold step today by letting gamers include their sexual orientation in their Xbox Live nicknames, or Gamertags.
Previously, Microsoft deemed the words “gay,” “straight,” “lesbian,” “bi” and “transgender” to be unacceptable, fearing that players would use them in a derogatory way. Those fears are justified to anyone who spends a few hours playing Modern Warfare 2 or Halo 3. Anonymity does some revolting things to human behavior.
Players’ Gamertags can now include all the words mentioned above, but the service’s updated code of conduct strictly limits the terminology to those five words only. Marc Whitten, Xbox Live’s general manager, explained Microsoft’s reasoning in an open letter:
Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. However we have since heard feedback from our customers that while the spirit of this approach was genuine, it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community.
It took a while to get here. In 2008, a player named theGAYERgamer made his case public after Microsoft banned his Gamertag. In late February, a player claimed her account was suspended because her profile said she is a lesbian. This prompted a blog post from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, among other responses, so I’m guessing Microsoft finally felt there was enough pressure to make some policy changes.
Whitten promised that the code of conduct will be enforced more stringently to prevent misuse of the terms. That probably entails taking a closer look at Gamertags to make sure they’re not being used as insults. But the real hard part will be monitoring players’ responses to these nicknames. Hopefully Xbox Live’s moderators can do a better job of booting people who toss around homophobic, ethnic and racial slurs without fear of repercussion.