MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Microsoft Corp. and the chief rules enforcer for Xbox Live are apologizing to a small West Virginia town and a 26-year-old gamer accused of violating the online gaming service's code of conduct by publicly declaring he's from Fort Gay — a name the company considered offensive.
The town's name is real. But when Josh Moore tried to tell Seattle-based Microsoft and the enforcement team at Xbox Live, they wouldn't take his word for it. Or Google it. Or check the U.S. Postal Service website for a ZIP code.
Instead, they suspended his gaming privileges for a few days until Moore could convince them the location in his profile, "fort gay WV," wasn't a joke or a slur: It's an actual community of about 800 in Wayne County, along West Virginia's western border with Kentucky.
"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," said Moore, an unemployed factory worker who plays shooters like Medal of Honor, Call of Duty and Ghost Recon under the gamertag Joshanboo.
"I'm not even gay, and it makes me feel like they were discriminating," said Moore, who missed a key Search and Destroy competition because of last week's brief suspension. His team lost.
Angry and incredulous, Moore contacted customer service.
"I figured, I'll explain to them, 'Look in my account. Fort Gay is a real place,'" Moore reasoned. But the employee was unreceptive, warning Moore if he put Fort Gay back in his profile, Xbox Live would cancel his account and keep his $12 monthly membership fee, which he'd paid in advance for two years.
"I told him, Google it — 25514!" Moore said, offering up the town's ZIP code. "He said, 'I can't help you.'"
Mayor David Thompson also tried to intervene, but with little success. He told television station WSAZ, which first reported the dispute, that he was informed the city's name didn't matter. The word "gay," he was told, was inappropriate in any context.
"It was so inappropriate for them, they wouldn't even say the word," Thompson told the AP Wednesday. "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."
Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live blamed miscommunication.
"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."
Complaints, he notes, come to agents with no contextual information, including who the suspected offender is or what games they play. The agent simply looks at the language and determines whether it complies with policy.
The Xbox Live player's contract says users cannot "create a gamertag, avatar or use text in other profile fields that may offend other members," and lists potentially dangerous topics such as drug use, hate speech and racial, ethnic or religious slurs.
Fort Gay has been a community since 1789, when 11 people tried to establish a settlement at the junction of the Tug and Big Sandy rivers, across from what is now Louisa, Ky. It was incorporated as Cassville in 1875 but was simultaneously known as Fort Gay until 1932, when town leaders changed it to the latter for good.
Toulouse said he will contact Moore and apologize. Staying ahead of slang and policing Xbox for offensive is a constant challenge, he said.
"In this very, very specific case, a mistake was made," he said, "and we're going to make it right."
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