Over the years, Xbox Live’s online gaming has — justifiably — earned a reputation as a bit of a wretched hive of scum and villainy, so to speak. It is not just common, but expected that sooner or later (usually sooner) you will run across someone, usually a kid, that will happily and unrestrictedly lob any insult their little minds can conceive of, usually resorting to racist and homophobic jargon. It is so common that most longtime gamers are desensitized to it, and many will simply flip the mute switch and move on. But for new gamers, looking to embrace online gaming, it can be a shocking and disillusioning moment the first time they assaulted with a barrage of insults that would make Mel Gibson cry.
With that in mind, Xbox Live enacted stricter guidelines, and began to crack down on people that are reported as being offensive. Any mention in a player’s gamertag, profile, avatar or anywhere that the gamer displays text that is deemed offensive, can earn the gamer a suspension. These offensive subjects include references to drug use, hate speech racial and religious slurs, and apparently, listing your hometown as Fort Gay, WV.
“At first I thought, ‘Wow, somebody’s thinking I live in the gayest town in West Virginia or something.’ I was mad. … It makes me feel like they hate gay people,” Josh Moore told CBS news.
Moore recently discovered that his account had been suspended after violating the terms of service. He assumed that a quick call to the Microsoft enforcement team should resolve the matter. Rather then clearing it up, Moore was threatened with cancellation of his account if he continued to display the word “gay” on his profile, despite the fact that Fort Gay is a real town of roughly 800 people, located in Wayne County, West Virginia, near the Kentucky border.
“I figured, I’ll explain to them, ‘Look in my account. Fort Gay is a real place,'” Moore said. In response, the Microsoft employee warned him that he would lose his account, as well as the two years worth of service Moore had already pre-paid for.
“I told him, Google it – 25514!” Moore said, referring the employee to his zip code. “He said, ‘I can’t help you.'”
At this point, the Mayor of Fort Gay, David Thompson, also attempted to reason with members of Microsoft’s enforcement team. For his troubles, he was told that the name of the city was irrelevant, and that the word “gay” was inappropriate, no matter what the context was.
“It was so inappropriate for them, they wouldn’t even say the word,” Thompson told the AP. “They said, ‘that word.’ It’s beyond me. That’s the name of our town! It’s appalling. It’s a slap in our face.”
Eventually the compliant was brought to the attention of Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live.
“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.”
When a complaint is sent to the enforcement agents, Toulouse explained, it is received without context. The agent then sees the word and decides whether or not it complies with the terms of service.
“In this very, very specific case, a mistake was made,” he said, “and we’re going to make it right.”