This fall, an Xbox 360 game will have the word "gay" in its title. But will 360 gamers be able to call themselves gay by then?
During an E3 interview with Microsoft's corporate vice president of Xbox Live software and services, John Schappert, I posed a question that I'd been sent by a reader:
How did the company reconcile the fall offering of a game called "Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony" with the fact that Microsoft still doesn't let gamers mention their sexual orientation in their Xbox Live profiles or use the term gay in their Gamertag?
"I think the two are very separate issues," Schappert responded. "That said, [Xbox Live head of standards enforcement] Stephen [Toulouse] continues to work with our team and we continue to look for ways for people to personally express themselves and you can look for more features coming to Xbox Live, but nothing to announce right now. They're working on some of that stuff and the community has been very involved. We try to walk the fine line where we do the right thing to allow people to express themselves but not have it be taken overboard.
In February, following the allegations by a gamer that she was banned from Xbox Live because she identified herself as a lesbian Toulouse told me that his team is working on a solution. The team wants "to provide the capability for our users to express relationship preference or gender without a way for it to be misused." I had suggested letting people mark a checkbox or use a pull-down tab to denote their sexual orientation. He said that kind of idea was on the table but that he could not detail the company's plans.
At E3, I pressed Schappert on whether the fall release of the "Grand Theft Auto" episode was a de facto deadline to get this all sorted out, as to avoid a double standard. He reiterated his reply that the game and the Xbox Live standards are two different issues. And it's not as if games haven't already allowed players to be gay or witness gay relationships, as seen in Fable II or Mass Effect.
Letting a gamer identify their sexual orientation on Xbox Live is still in the works. Schappert concluded: "I can say that we are working on that issue."