Physically, you may not have been at EA Redwood Shores this weekend. But if you commented on to Justin Cole's op-ed column to Kotaku, you were there in spirit.
Cole used commenters' responses to his post, The Impact of Homophobia in Virtual Communities, to drive discussion among panelists Caryl Shaw (Senior Producer at EA's Maxis), Dan Hewitt (Senior Director of Communications & Industry Affairs for the Entertainment Software Association), Stephen Toulouse (Program Manager for Policy and Enforcement, Xbox Live), Cyn Skyberg (Vice President of Customer Relations at Linden Lab) and Flynn DeMarco (founder of GayGamer.net). Read on to see if you made the cut.
First up was McLuvin's comment about flaunting sexuality. Next was GameBuddy, continuing the discussion. Then came bLaZINcOdE3's comment about the "gay mafia" forcing companies to hold "token meetings." OrigamiNinja's comment about how harassment makes the game less fun made it in, as did Nnooo's about whether or not gamers can expect Mario to save a prince instead of a princess someday. User saulpimpson's comment steered talk toward developers refusing to make games based on gay or gay bashing content. Then DanoruX's tongue-in-cheek "this is so gay," statement got a discussion going on "innocent" slurs. Phydeaux's comment on "play to file" introduced the topic of abuse reporting in online communities. Lastly, ach77 made it in as part of a general statement that gay gamers just want to have fun like every other gamer – and to introduce the founder of gay-centric World of Warcraft guild, The Spreading Taint who happened to be in the audience.
Aside from being shamelessly proud of Kotaku commenters, I was interested to see how Kotaku alumnus DeMarco reacted to comments from his ex-audience. He did almost half the talking at the panel and demonstrated the most gaming expertise. Whenever an issue was raised, DeMarco could name at least two games in response whereas everyone else just fell back on their own games (like Shaw's Spore and Skyberg's Second Life) or defaulted to Halo.
The other big talker was Microsoft's Toulouse, but I think he was being targeted. At the beginning of the panel, Cole presented a video that outlined the issues facing gays and lesbians in online gaming. All of their in-game examples seemed to be from Xbox Live – most specifically, Halo multiplayer. To his credit, Toulouse responded to almost every issue raised by Kotaku comments and admitted that Xbox Live hasn't got it right quite yet – but they're committed to making their community a safe place to game for everybody.
The quietest panelist was Second Life's Skyberg. It takes all types to make a virtual world like Second Life and I know they've had issues that prompted developer Linden Lab to create an adults-only space. Skyberg did pipe up at one or two times to talk about anonymity making it easy for people to use gay slurs in online communities – and made an excellent point that as people invest in their online identities more, this anonymity goes away.
The only dull part of the panel was the Q&A. I'm not sure if it's because the two hour time limit was almost up and everybody wanted lunch, or because the audience was the choir being preached to – but nobody asked anything that hadn't been addressed. One lady asked if the "dehumanising" aspect of violent games like Halo brought about gay bashing and DeMarco responded that the problem wasn't that the game that engendered homophobia, it was that the audience that the game tended to attract was immature and ignorant of gay issues.
In sum, this is what I took away from the panel: Don't hate the game, hate the player. Or better yet, don't hate anybody.