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, GayGamer.net 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.)