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GLAAD Addresses Homophobia In Games, EA Hosts Panel
GLAAD Addresses Homophobia In Games, EA Hosts Panel
July 14, 2009 | By Chris Remo

July 14, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

Attempting to address the often intense homophobia that often surfaces in online gaming, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has announced its Project on Homophobia & Virtual Communities, which will include a public panel to be held this Saturday.

Hosted by Electronic Arts at the publishers' headquarters in Redwood City, the panel is open to the public and will include GLAAD director of digital and online media Justin Cole, founder Flynn DeMarco, Xbox Live program manager for policy and enforcement Stephen Toulouse, Maxis (Spore) senior producer Caryl Shaw, Linden Lab (Second Life) customer relations VP Cyn Skyberg, and ESA senior communications director Dan Hewitt.

GLAAD's Cole also posted an extensive editorial on the GLAAD Blog collecting numerous statistics on online homophobia as well as firsthand experiences from gamers, including 2007's well-publicized "Halo 3: Homophobia Evolved" video.

Cole cites 2006 research by the University of Illinois which found that two thirds of total survey respondents believe the gaming community to be "somewhat hostile" or "very hostile" to gay players.

Interestingly, the term "gaymer" was found to be viewed negatively by heterosexuals but only slightly positively by homosexuals, with the report suggesting neither group has a positive enough impression of the term for it to be a useful identifier.

According to Cole, the issue of homophobia in online games is not one that can be solved with any one action -- rather, he says, it is a "a company-by-company and a case-by-case project," hence the inclusion of representatives from Microsoft, Maxis, and Linden Lab at Saturday's panel.

The inclusion of Microsoft's Toulouse at the panel is particularly notable, as Microsoft has taken a policy of actively suspending Xbox Live accounts whose handle or profile information alludes to the sexual orientation of their users -- to the point where a man named Richard Gaywood was automatically prohibited from entering his name into his profile's name field.

Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged to reexamine its policies.

Maxis has also taken fire from some gamers for targeting user-made Spore creatures featuring sexually explicit content, although those policies seem less weighted towards any sexual orientation. (Maxis co-founder Will Wright himself, on the other hand, has tended to be more publicly amused than scandalized by such creations.)

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John Petersen
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Y'know i did write out a big long comment but erased it. All this is just stupid.

90% of the gaming community doesn't discriminate who they hate, they'll call a straight guy a homo. Not forgetting about the ladies, they'll call them a lez even if it ain't true.

I had to get away from all that... I don't even use voice communication in games anymore. If I see something that really offends me, I'll just go somewhere else. I've been going somewhere else for a long time.

Ian Fisch
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A little off topic but I think the term homophobia is used incorrectly when it is used to describe all types of anti-homo behavior. Groups like GLAAD use it to make people who disparage homosexual behavior look ignorant and weak.

I'm just playing devil's advocate here but I think it's possible for someone to be fully knowledgable of homosexual behavior and still dislike it. I don't think this means such people are afraid of homosexual behavior (as the word homophobia implies) any more than people who don't enjoy the show Everybody Loves Raymond are afraid of it.

Their focus on "homophobia" leads to strategies of educating people on homosexuals - as if simply knowing more about them would automatically change peoples' opinions. I would like to see a more forceful tactic. When blacks claimed their civil rights in the 60's it wasn't through education. They didn't give a damn whether the white people understood them or liked them- they claimed what was rightfully theirs.

Mark Raymond
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Is this a problem of homophobia or simple immaturity on the part of some of the "gaming community" (13-year-old boys)?

Adam Bishop
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It's an issue because people should be able to go online and feel comfortable being who they are while playing a game. Just because people online are often jerks doesn't mean they should be. If people online are using sexist or racist language, then they absolutely should be dealt with in the same way that people using homophobic language are. The onus should be on the people being jerks to stop being jerks, not on the people who want to act like decent human beings to turn off a significant portion of a game's tools.

Is the term "homophobia" strictly accurate? Maybe not. But people often use the term "racism" when they mean "xenophobia" or "misogyny" when they really mean "chauvinism". People don't use language in the most precise possible terms, and, for that matter, language itself is often imprecise. Oh well, deal with it. It boggles the mind that some people will take issue with a word that is slightly inaccurate rather than taking issue with the real problem, which is that it shouldn't be unreasonable to expect people to act like semi-decent human beings toward each other.

Kris Ridley
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Thank you, Adam, for a reasonable response.

Homophobia is the generally accepted term for anti-gay sentiment, like sexism is for women and racism is for race. All of these things stem from fear, which is where the term comes from, although you'd be hard-pressed to find a homophobe (or a sexist or a racist) that would admit that their sentiments are based in fear.

Anti-gay attitudes are virulent in the gaming community. I have a pretty thick skin as far as stupid internet insults go, but that doesn't mean as a female "gaymer" i can go in and see sexist and anti-gay epithets thrown around all over the place EVERY TIME I GAME ONLINE and not be affected by it. I think it's hard for a non-marginalized group (i.e . straight white guys) to understand the difference between a general insult and one aimed at a specific part of your very personhood, one that it reinforced by society all the time. It's not just, "Oh no, I was insulted," it also brings up all the crap we have to deal with all the time, the violence we may have suffered, the fact that our families may have abandoned us over this, the horrible feeling when prop 8 passed... And again, it would be one thing if it was every once in a while, but it's a completely overpowering atmosphere that is constantly flashing a giant "You, specifically, are not welcome here!" sign. Just try to have a little perspective as to why that kind of hate speech cuts a bit deeper than your average insult, and why it's more serious...

Aaron Knafla
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Online communities are a reflection of the people that visit them. And, people are a product of the greater society they live in.

Is it really fair to ask game developers to change the nature of their customers?... If you can prove that the game software itself promotes and encourages bad behavior, you might have a point. But, I don't think that's the case.

From where I'm sitting, people are logging into virtual communities with behaviors and views from their own lives. No game dev can change what the players are bringing in with them.

You can moderate. You can make good policies. That's fine.

But, it's still not fair to ask a game developer to change the world. That's something that needs to happen in the real world.

Maurício Gomes
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I think that sometimes homophobia is not true homophobia, but hating... Sometimes warranted...

Altough I do not go around doing homophobic remarks, I am deeply annoyed by the gay community, mostly because sometimes they go advocating some rights that hurt other rights, and because they are the most insistant annoying persons in terms of trying to approach you...

I was never approached by a girl (and I have no girlfriend), but I am not gay, but I got approached by 20 gays already or more, some even stalked me, and I have female friends that complained the same about some lesbian behavior, with them being much more insistant and annoying than the alraedy annoying males. Of course, some people after seeing this will start to really HATE gay people, and will be part of a society where they will promote this, and this flows to other areas.

Here in Brazil we have gay pride stuff, black pride stuff, people defending gay rights, black rights and so on, but that is deepening the hate, not solving it, for example there are someone trying to make a law (I dunno if it passed or not already) that you have to hire gay people, also alraedy exists a law against discrmination taht results in homophobia because the gay suefest (ie: 10 people show up, you find one suitable and hire him, another non-hired person go to the judge, claim to be gay and say that you don't hired him because of that... after frequent happenings of this homophobia rised, instead of declining with the anti-homophobia law...)

Maurício Gomes
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My point was: First, people should stop seeing themselves a minority that needed to be "defended", they need to see that everyone has problems with everyone for some reason, after that is solved, then the hate maybe will decrease.

Morten Kristoffersen
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I agree with Aaron.

Homophobia is unfortunately an ever-present issue we homosexuals constantly have to deal with (I myself is a male homosexual playing videogames). But I, like Aaron, don’t see a proper way to deal with this without putting limitations on all the other players. And beside of that I like the idea of free speech, even though if it is hateful speech.

To all the other “gaymers” out there, I would recommend that you either

1. Ignorer hateful comments. Most people saying them are probably only doing it to get “respect” by their peers. People just don’t think before saying something, and most of those people would never say something like it again if they for example found out that they had a mate who was homosexual.

2. Beat them! (In the game of course) There is no better way to stop some cocky blabbermouth than to frag them ;)

Personally I don’t advertise with my sexuality when playing games online, which I only do on my PC (I don’t own a Xbox360/PS3). But after seeing Halo 3: homophobia evolved, I’m thinking about trying it out to see if I experience the same amount of hate speech. I might post my results later…

Hélder, I actually agree with you about gay pride parades being hurtful for the public’s view on homosexuals. I myself am indistinguishable from heterosexuals’, and I’m rather annoyed with the fact that people expect me to fit into some stereotype just because I’m gay. But I hope that you will say that you are annoyed with those specific homosexuals, instead of saying that you are annoyed with all homosexuals. Because that is hurtful to all of us homosexuals and it is far from all homosexuals who hit on random people on the street. Most of us do that on specific bars and discos where it is appropriate.

Meredith Katz
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Do people really not understand that use of pejoratives is an exercise in phobic behavior regardless of whether or not it's directed at people who actually "fit" those pejoratives? If a term was not viewed as an insult it would not be used as an insult. If a term that is used as an insult is describing someone's *nature* (ie, something that inheres in their nature; something not chosen) such as skin color or sexuality, then that is an insult which is based off a phobic response. Regardless of if they fit it. This is also why insultingly calling someone the N-word online *despite the fact you cannot see their skin tone* is an example of racist behavior. Because people who are not racist, homophobic, etc, *do not feel the need to use these terms*, especially with the goal of insulting or hurting others. And that is one of the many things GLAAD tries to fight.

But then again, I should probably have known better than to check the comments to an article about fighting homophobia when it appears on a gaming community. The defensiveness and derailment on its own is an exercise in ...well, if I say "homophobic discourse" someone will surely act as if I said they were homophobic instead of their discourse, so let's just say "non-homosexual-positive" discourse, shall we.

And, Helder, when we stop being attacked for being a minority, perhaps we will stop seeing ourselves as a minority that needs to be defended. You argue that everyone is hated for some reason? Perhaps. But when someone is hated for what they are, not who they are, that's prejudice. Pride does not exist for heterosexuals to get used to us but as a sign to other homosexuals that they aren't alone -- it's a show of numbers, in some ways, and a show of numbers in a positive light (a parade, celebration, rather than, say, a protest). Yes, because it's a celebration, it can get extreme.

I agree that there's little developers can do. But there is still a line between condoning such behavior (ie, banning a player who others were complaining about because she listed herself as a lesbian in her profile on X-box Live) and discouraging such behavior (which, you know, not even banning them but a reply to the players refusing to ban others on basis of discrimination would be a start).

I want to thank you too, Adam, for your attitude of expecting decency. It made a big difference to me to read that.

Morten Kristoffersen
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I do believe that the average gamer know that the use of pejoratives is phobic regardless of intent. This is something most people are taught at childhood and that’s why most people don't go around calling each other names.

But in some social groups, especially among males, it is quite coming that good pals call each other names. I have even been called homophobic things by some of my friends, but it’s cool, because I know they don't mean it, and are just messing. I don't know why this is becoming more and more commonplace, but you could make the assumption that it is this culture that is infiltrating the gaming culture.

Also there is a group of people who don’t learn those basics principles of proper social behavior, and they have found a forum in online games where they can get their aggressions out with zero risk of being sued. This is probably a rather small group of immature boys, that don’t really know what the words they use mean. And while this is a small group, they can easily infect a whole game with their blabbering (which seems to be the case with Halo 3)

Lastly, the term gay is also used by non-homophobes to describe things which they think are “lame”. So maybe we should just stick to the right term (homosexual) instead of using all these strange terms (gay, queer, faggot etc.)

Lance Rund
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If it's okay for people to use "gay" as an insult for people they don't like even if they're not "really" homophobic, do I have your full permission and blessing to refer to tasks I don't want to do as "nigger-work", even though I'm not racist?

What's the difference? Justify, please.

Morten Kristoffersen
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You would have my permission, but not my blessing.

I have never said that I acknowledge that people use “gay” offensively. And you shouldn’t insult anyone in anyway, but some aren’t insulted in being called gay, like there probably are some people of African inheritance who aren’t insulted in being called “nigger”.

In my opinion, there are 2 main differences.

Firstly, languages change constantly and the meaning of certain words change over time. For example gay originally meant “joyful”, but is now mostly used as a synonym to homosexual, and is apparently moving toward being a synonym to bad. And nigger was also used in everyday speech (some black people even still use it internally when they talk to each other) without being racist. Hell! We even had candy in my home country (Denmark) which was called “nigger bun” which best can be described as chocolate coated whip cream on a thin crust bottom. Now they are called cream bun (and that’s not more than 10 years ago)

Secondly, racial differences are often easily seen, sexual differences aren’t. So if you called a white man a nigger, it wouldn’t really make sense. And in your example with “nigger-work” it would of course be offensive, because you state that it is boring work, which a white man shouldn’t be doing. If you instead said “gay-work” it would still be offensive, but not as much, because a person who is gay don’t need to have a “gay-stereotypical work”, if you can catch my drift?

Generally, I think your comparison is faulty, as the terms “gay” and “nigger-work” refer to quite different things (the first being a sexuality, the second a slang for boring work)

And yes, using nigger (which would be a better comparison, because sexuality and race are both things you are born with) as an insult would indeed be offensive

Devin Monnens
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A lot of the commentary here seems to be oriented towards players rather than homophobic or racist undertones in the games themselves. The prevalence of homophobia in player communities I think has as much to do with the types of audiences who play the games as it does the anonymity of the internet. As such it is more cultural, but game developers have a responsibility to monitor abusive behavior in their communities. This conference seems to be more addressing that side of the issue than whether or not games themselves foster homophobia.

More important would be the portrayal of gays and minorities in games and whether or not these are positive or negative. There has been oodles of commentary on portrayal of women in games, but sadly very little in the way of minorities. Regarding language, there isn't a clear enough definition of how much community matters. For instance, the article 'Bow, Nigger' by alwaysblack:

Is his opponent black or white and how does that matter? Likewise, if they were playing as a Twiilek and a Trandoshan or some other race, would it matter?

Another interesting question might then be "are the games themselves fostering racism, misogyny and homophobia, and what is the game developer's responsibility?" There are unfortunately some individuals in the industry who possess these views, but then again, there are people like that in any community, though it seems reasonable to expect it to be a bit higher in the games industry due to the demographics of game developers. The ESRB is really only our last line of defense, so we shouldn't count on them to regulate everything.