As gaming grows into a more mature artistic medium, elements of the "real world" that were once completely separate from games are creeping in, so make room for the gays and lesbians, everyone! Whether gamers like it or not, the issue of how to treat the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered community in games is quickly becoming an area of controversy.
The influx of people who live non-traditional lives is forcing game companies to come up with more nuanced policies to deal with gays in games. For example, Bioware dealt with the issue by banning the words "gay" and "lesbian" from their forums, then unbanning them, and Microsoft and Sony have had their own methods of dealing with words and concepts that make some people uncomfortable.
A recent post on Ars Technica takes an in-depth look at the issue, specifically, the ad-hoc "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy many think is the answer to the problem. Basically, the argument goes like this: Games aren't about your sexuality, so as long as you don't identify yourself as gay or lesbian in an way, there won't be a problem... which might make sense to you, but what if you substituted the word "Black" for gay?
Censoring certain words from profiles is not only discriminatory, it also creates the idea that there's something wrong with whatever the word is. The words "gay," "lesbian" and "queer" present unique problems, however, as they are used as points of pride or as slurs, depending on how they're being said and who is talking. All of which creates the kind of gray area that you can hardly expect the common Xbox Live citizen to either respect or understand.
While using "gay" and "f*g" as insults has been around probably since the first online game was ever played, I imagine identifying yourself as homosexual on your profile would open you up to online harassment in a big way, but that's exactly why gay people should be "allowed" to identify themselves online, if they choose to. I truly believe that if people hang out, game-with and otherwise co-exist with different kinds people, eventually the problem will settle itself. Because, in the end, it's no big deal. See, gay people are just like you, and you're just like them, and gay gamers just want to play games, so let's all chill out and act like humans, eh?
Before the inevitable full acceptance of gay people in all aspects of society, I urge you to follow the Stephen Johnson method of online interaction. There is one rule: Don't be a jerk. So, before you post anything, say anything or otherwise interact in a virtual environment, ask yourself, "Am I being a jerk here?" if the answer is "yes," you don't do it. See? It's that simple... and that complicated.
What do you think about the gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered community in games? Ever found out someone you play with was gay? Did it change your opinion of him/her?
(By the way, I swiped the pic that illustrates this story from Gay Gamer, a very gay gaming website.)