Equality in the Gaming Industry: An Interview with Ernest Adams

Mr. Ernest Adams

Mr. Ernest Adams; Game Designer, Consultant, University Professor and Writer

A well renowned figure in the gaming industry has kindly taken the time to talk with us about equality and diversity in games and the gaming industry. Mr. Ernest Adams, though not a household name, is known to games developers not only as a founder of the first and largest international body for games developers, but also as a developer behind EA’s Madden NFL series, and as a previous lead designer at Bullfrog Productions. Mr. Adams now works as a consultant working with such clients as THQ, Ubisoft, BioWare, the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), while also being a fellow/visiting professor at a number of universities across Europe and the author of several books on game design.

We’re quite honoured that such a person has chosen to speak with us about the industry and his perceptions of it (we can think of very few who’d have their finger closer to it’s pulse!)…

Mr. Adams, You’re very well known in the industry, and a quick google search shows you to have quite an impressive résumé, but for the benefit of readers, could you please tell us a little about your industry experience in your own words?

I’m a 22-year veteran of the game industry. I got started back in 1989 as a programmer (after having spent 7 years programming in another industry first), and then became a game designer and A/V producer. Along the way I helped to put on the Game Developers’ Conference and founded the International Game Developers’ Association. I’m now a game design consultant, part-time university professor, and writer.

What are your thoughts about Mr. Gaider’s response to the “Straight Male Gamer” in the whole Dragon Age 2 affair recently?

I think David Gaider’s response is one of the most eloquent defenses of equal treatment for all that I’ve ever read. I was particularly impressed by his points that privileged classes of people get so used to being catered for that they see any change as negative, and that they often want to deny the privileges they enjoy to others. This goes right to the heart of the gay marriage issue, in which socially conservative heterosexuals insist that they alone should have the right to get married.

We’ve heared of some statistics suggesting that straight male gamers may actually not be as dominant a demographic as people may first imagine, with one claim from a 2006 study that 70% of online gamers are female, and a claim from a 2008 study that 70% of female gamers typically play as male in order to be taken seriously. Do these numbers match up to your impressions of industry demographics?

It’s nowhere near as dominant as people think it is. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s own fact sheet, 40% of all (not just online) players are women, and more adult women play video games (33%) than teenage boys (20%). This directly contradicts the stereotype that the teenage boy is the typical gamer.

I’m less certain about the gender-bending numbers (“Gender-bending” is standard game-industry speak for playing as a member of the opposite sex, with no disapprobation implied for the most part). I’m surprised to hear that “70% of female gamers typically play as male” — I wonder if that means all the time, or just online, and in what sort of game. I would guess that a very large number of female gamers play Solitaire or Bejeweled as themselves without any effort to gender-bend. In offline games I think men are much more likely to choose a female avatar than a woman is to choose a male avatar. This has in part to do with players’ different attitudes about their relationship to their avatar. For men (speaking generally here) the avatar is really just a means of influencing the game world, whereas for women the avatar is more of a means of self-expression. Women spend much more time customizing their avatars into realistic or fantasy versions of themselves; men are more likely to just grab the default and go.

The gaming industry seems to have taken a few steps forward in recent times, but responses to the BioWare story seem to indicate that the demographics of gamers have diversified faster than the industry itself has. There’s a charge that the industry caters especially to a heterosexual male demographic when in fact it doesn’t really need to do much to be more inclusive of many other demographics as well. Do you feel that the industry needs to diversify in such a way?

The industry absolutely needs to diversify its work force and also to learn to reach other kinds of players beyond “straight male gamers.” Straight male gamers are a solved problem, done and dusted. The question is, can straight male game developers learn to make games for gay, or female, or older, or non-Western gamers? I believe they can and damn well should; but in addition, I feel that the industry would benefit enormously from a more diverse work force. Even with the best will in the world, a man isn’t necessarily going to know what appeals to women — and more importantly, what turns them off. We need fresh perspectives.

One of the ways in which people have felt a little left out on occasions, is that in-game options tend to be limited along traditional lines. In setting up and playing RPG game characters, for example, things often seem to be clearly and unnecessarily delineated between male and female options, which excludes both self-identification for transgender people, and the fantasy for straight people. Do you think that this is something the industry could, and perhaps should, easily rectify?

I think it’s asking a lot to demand that game developers include a third androgynous sex, or even FTM and MTF transgender sexes in addition to traditional male/female in their games. It’s a lot of work to do character animations for two sexes, much less four. In the real world we only construct two kinds of rest rooms (the Swedes often construct only one) and all just have to make a choice; and I think the virtual world is the same and for some of the same reasons: it’s expensive. On the other hand, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to let male characters wear female clothing and vice versa if the player wants to.

In many games there’s no particular need for the player to have an in-game sex; Gordon Freeman in Half-Life is never seen and never speaks, so in fact he need not be named Gordon or have the picture that he does on the box. “He” could have been named “Chris Freeman” and been of indeterminate sex if Valve had wanted to. However, in role-playing games with a story, I understand why it’s necessary for players to either choose a sex or accept a given sex. I have some experience with transgendered people and I know that for many of them it’s a situation that dominates daily life, but in a story of adventure and derring-do, the challenges of being a transgendered person really don’t mesh well with the challenges of destroying evil dragons.

Love, lust and romance are powerful human emotions that feature regularly in video games in a variety of guises, not least because by nature they’re a fundamental part of the human psyche. What are your thoughts on any possible need to see options for this in a homosexual context as well as a heterosexual context, and so including options for others while not taking them away from heterosexual players – an equalising of the playing field, as it were?

I’m all for including a variety of romantic opportunities in a game to cater for players of varying sexualities. David Gaider was right on that point: he was serving everyone, not just one group, and I think that’s fair and right. That said, I know that many straight people are uncomfortable or offended being the target of same-sex romantic proposals (and sadly, a great many gay men have been beaten or worse for doing so by accident). This was really the essence of Straight Male Gamer’s complaint; he didn’t like being propositioned by a gay character. Facebook specifically enables people to say they are interested in men or women to try to reduce unwanted proposals, and I think this is a good idea. “Gaydar” isn’t entirely effective even in the real world; it’s much less so when an artificially-intelligent computer character is trying to decide!

Bottom line: yes to same-sex romantic opportunities, but give people the chance to opt out of undesired propositions from either sex.

I’d be remiss not to ask about the old and continuing charge that female non-player characters are often designed to cater more to the stereotypical fantasies of some males, sometimes to the exclusion of female sensibilities. Could you tell us a little about why this may be and whether it’s something that the industry could easily address?

Its roots lie in the fact that the game industry, from the developers up to marketing and to the CEOs who ultimately decide what to spend the money on, are predominantly male and have for many years thought, wrongly, of gamers as teenage boys. It’s something the industry could address without too much difficulty, but it requires some retraining. We don’t need to make pink games or games specifically for women, so much as simply to avoid design decisions that turn women off. Unfortunately, comparatively few men know what those are. Most are entirely unaware, for example, of how female-hostile the average retail game store is. For much, much more on this subject by an expert, read Sheri Graner Ray’s book Gender Inclusive Game Design.

On the subject of inclusivity, do you believe that there’s a significant demographic of people that currently feel excluded from gaming? If the industry were to diversify, though people such as the “Straight Male Gamer” claim that studio’s may lose their custom, is it likely that other people who currently feel excluded will take their place – perhaps even more than take their place. Is it in the commercial interests of game development houses to be more inclusive in this way, in your opinion?

The group most needlessly excluded from gaming is not actually women or gay people — despite the lack of options for those folks. The people most needlessly excluded, and about whom game developers are even more ignorant than they are about women or gay people, are those with disabilities. Game accessibility is in a terrible state. Most developers never give it the slightest thought. In fact, however, it’s quite easy to make games accessible to people with a wide range of problems. Closed captions are technically trivial to implement and make games available to people with hearing impairments, for example.

Something like 23% of the population suffers from some form of impairment; I myself need glasses and am developing arthritis. I don’t think that making games available to these folks will be especially lucrative, any more than installing curb cuts and ramps in sidewalks is lucrative. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. And so should game developers.

You’ve mentioned that increased diversity in the industry would be a good thing. For one final question, would you say that the games development industry would welcome more female and LGBT game developers, and would you give any specific advice to any such person wishing to enter the game development industry?

The industry certainly thinks it would welcome them, but it’s something of an open question whether they will actually feel welcome. So much depends on the corporate culture of the place where you work. I’m on the advisory board of Women in Games International, which is the professional society in the games development industry for women, and know a multitude of women in the business. At a grown-up company that is serious about enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment rules, there should be no problem, but after I moved from California to England, I was shocked to learn how behind the times the UK industry is (and UK culture generally) — “laddish,” and much more dominated by unenlightened young men.

I’ve written a book called Break Into the Game Industry that addresses issues for women and LGBT folks. My main advice is to keep your eyes open when visiting for an interview — if you’re seeing pinups on the walls and no women in positions of power or creative input, watch out. If you hear some young punk using “gay” as a synonym for “stupid,” ditto.

Apart from that, it’s really about showing us what you can do. Job-seeking in this industry is mostly a matter of compiling an awesome portfolio, one that makes the hiring manager say, “Wow… I have got to talk to this person!”

Mr. Adams, thank you very much for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us; it’s sincerely appreciated and has been a real pleasure.

Everybody knows that the games industry has it’s good points and it’s bad points, and Mr. Adams’ responses add weight to such a view. Even so, the responses are important in another way: They show that not only is there change in the gaming world, but there is a willingness to change. There is a recognition of where the industry falls short of the mark sometimes, and in the context of these responses, the recent BioWare story can be seen as a step towards a better future both for the industry and for gamers.

These things take time, but the BioWare story changed the world just that little bit. It might not have had a huge impact, but someone, somewhere will have taken notice. It has shown not only that there’s support for the response of David Gaider, but there’s support for such changes of perspective, attitude and understanding in the games industry in general. Ernest Adams’s responses in this interview are no less important. The answers to these questions come not only from a 22 year veteran of the industry, but one of the leading figures within it. Those who wish to see this greater diversity, inclusivity and equality in the industry may wish to share what he has to say, encouraging that change by doing so.

If you’d like to know more about Mr. Ernest Adams and his work, his website is found at www.designersnotebook.com.

Update – “Straight Male Gamer” digs a bit deeper

The “Straight Male Gamer” of recent notoriety appears to have responded to the support for BioWare’s excellent answer to his complaint by updating his original post at the thread on the forum. In that update, the hole gets deeper with claims of how many other people who  “find it [homosexuality] to be disgusting” are afraid to speak and are being silenced “for fear of being called homophobic by what can only be called a mob”

Over a good few hours of consideration, we’ve been wondering whether or not to publish this story. We could intentionally make a big deal out of it through responding ourselves, so advertising it and by doing so find ourselves promoting privileged nonsense. On the other hand, rather than answering it, we’ve decided simply to say that it exists, and potentially let people themselves show their own opinions on it.

No More Lost was a fairly small blog with a small core following until recently, and the fact that our article on this story went viral as it did took even us quite by surprise! We’ve posted articles on all sorts of issues, events and concerns – some of them big, some of them small, and some of them intended merely to bring hope and show positive change in the world away from hatred and bigotry for those that may be on the receiving end of it. Perhaps we’re still a small blog, or perhaps we now have more eyes on us than we realise. Even so, far be it from us to contribute to the silencing of this poor oppressed self-professed representation of the Straight Male Gamer demographic, we’re going to post this update of his here. While we won’t issue a response at this time, we are more than happy for our readers to offer a brief response if they wish. We don’t approve of a mob mentality, but we feel that there are enough clear and obvious holes in his argument to tear it to pieces with the simplest application of mere cold hard reason. The views of the many, apparently, outweigh the views of the few according to the complainant, and so perhaps by this logic it is best to demonstrate what the views of the many are, if they so choose to offer them.

Again, the complainant;

Seeing as how this post has been linked by a few sites, I thought it’d be proper for me to write a response to Gaider’s reply:

I don’t see how Gaider’s reply was in anyway blasting my arguments. In fact, what Gaider basically said was that “You’re right. Dragon Age 2 was not made specifically for “straight male gamer” in mind. It was made to be all-inclusive.” And that was exactly the accusation I was making. I’m not here to debate the moralities of homosexuality, I personally find it to be digusting but others will feel different, that isn’t the point of this thread.

The whole point of the argument relies on the central point that straight male gamers make up a overwhelming majority of players. As I said before, I estimate that the number is around 80% (this includes straight males gamers who plays a females). Now if my numbers are at all wrong (that in reality the split is 60-40-10 (male, female, gay), then consider this post to be null and void, I’ve wasted your time (No doubt some of you already feel that way).

“And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.”

The idea of privilege is ridiculous. The “privilege” always lies with the majority because if your goal is to make a game that will be liked by as many fans possible, then it makes sense to focus on that largest group. Why should one fan’s enjoyment be more important than five others? It’d more accurate to call “privilege” the idea that some minority group gets special preference for political points. If you really want to be all-inclusive, then I don’t see why homosexuals should get special preference while leaving other minority groups out.

This isn’t a complaint about how I didn’t get everything I wanted. This is a complaint about how this is the first BioWare game I’ve played that I did not enjoy. I’ve seen many complaints about weak characters and weak story. That is also my complaint and I believe stems entirely from trying to be “all-inclusive”. By trying to appeal to so broad of audience, you’ve left a game in which many people are disappointed. You’ll win praises and 10/10’s from gay activists and feminists for your great strides in promoting “equality” and eliminating “straight male privilege”, but you’ll have loss fans like me.

In a perfect world with unlimited resources and time, you might have been able to pull it off, a game in which everyone would love. But this is not a perfect world and you have said many times that your resources are limited, and I believe you could have used them more wisely.

I always like to bring The Witcher up as an example. This is an amazing game and more amazing so that it was developed by a small Polish company. One would think that the game being developed by Polish producers would not be able to connect with a English speak audience, but that is not the case at all. This is game which was inarguably made for straight male gamer. Because the designers only had to worry about that demographic, they were able to create a strong memorable protagonist and strong memorable support characters. They could give us many choices and not worry about having to produce voice-overs for so many different characters. I can only imagine how amazing the game would be if they had the budget that Dragon Age 2 had and its pains me to think about how great Dragon Age 2 could have been.

If your goal is not to make as many fans as possible happy but to enact some form of social crusade then please, market and advertise the game as such. If you  believe there are a substantial number of players who would appreciate those features, then advertise it and create trailers for it, don’t lead me to believe that this game was crafted for the straight male. If you truly believe that the straight male gamers are not important enough that you should focus on them, then I would like to see your marketing reflect that.

As a side note, I’d like to say that I’m not at all surprised by all the pro-homosexuality comments and that I expected even more. 1% of a million is still 10000. No doubt you’d have a many of them trying to protect their “privilege” in Dragon Age 2.

Those who agree with me will likely do so silently for fear of being called homophobic by what can only be called a mob as even Gaider pointed out or just won’t bother out of feeling of pointlessness like I once did. But to those people, I encourage you to post as well and not let your concerns be silenced as some would like.

We won’t follow up on the posts and concerns of this user after this update on the story (unless something especially spectacular happens), though any views we are able to seek from games developers and writers following this may prove interesting in their own right.

“Straight Male Gamer” told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare

BioWare adopted a (sadly) very special and very principled stance in designing one of their recent games, Dragon Age 2. Their stance was simple: relationships are for everybody, whether gay, straight, or anything else in between. You can also have have more than one romance at a time with the game’s characters. In this game, everybody is equal. Too equal, it seems, for one particular straight male gamer who was upset to be on the receiving end of a little  flirting from another male character in the game. The reaction of this Straight Male Gamer? – To post a new thread on Bioware’s forums to complain…

To quote the complainant;

To summarize, in the case of Dragon Age 2, BioWare neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer.

I don’t think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they’re usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age. That’s not to say there isn’t a significant number of women who play Dragon Age and that BioWare should forgo the option of playing as a women altogether, but there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy.

Now immediately I’m sure that some male gamers are going to be like “YOU DON’T SPEAK FOR ME! I LOVE DRAGON AGE 2!”, but you have to understand, the Straight Male Gamer, cannot be just lumped into a single category.

Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans, …”

The irony of the complaint is clearly astounding. For those that do not play Dragon Age 2, there is yet a further irony in that the Straight Male Gamer clearly has a huge problem with LGBT people being catered to as well rather than a focus based entirely in Straight Male Gamers (and a little on women too, of course, just as an afterthought). but clearly has no problem with the game allowing inter-species romances between the human player controlled character and an Elf! You couldn’t make it up!

The response from BioWare’s David Gaider was exactly fit for purpose. In fact, BioWare delivered a sharp lesson to this gamer on the subject of Straight Male  privilege! Kudos to BioWare for that! In fact, BioWare’s response is quoted here  precisely because of how word perfect it truly is! Elements have been emboldened for emphasis.

The romances in the game are not for “the straight male gamer”. They’re for everyone. We have a lot of fans, many of whom are neither straight nor male, and they deserve no less attention. We have good numbers, after all, on the number of people who actually used similar sorts of content in DAO and thus don’t need to resort to anecdotal evidence to support our idea that their numbers are not insignificant… and that’s ignoring the idea that they don’t have just as much right to play the kind of game they wish as anyone else. The “rights” of anyone with regards to a game are murky at best, but anyone who takes that stance must apply it equally to both the minority as well as the majority. The majority has no inherent “right” to get more options than anyone else.

More than that, I would question anyone deciding they speak for “the straight male gamer” just as much as someone claiming they speak for “all RPG fans”, “all female fans” or even “all gay fans”. You don’t. If you wish to express your personal desires, then do so. I have no doubt that any opinion expressed on these forums is shared by many others, but since none of them have elected a spokesperson you’re better off not trying to be one. If your attempt is to convince BioWare developers, I can tell you that you do in fact make your opinion less convincing by doing so.

And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as “political correctness” if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They’re so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don’t see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what’s everyone’s fuss all about? That’s the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.

The truth is that making a romance available for both genders is far less costly than creating an entirely new one. Does it create some issues of implementation? Sure– but anything you try on this front is going to have its issues, and inevitably you’ll always leave someone out in the cold. In this case, are all straight males left out in the cold? Not at all. There are romances available for them just the same as anyone else. Not all straight males require that their content be exclusive, after all, and you can see that even on this thread.

Would I do it again? I don’t know. I doubt I would have Anders make the first move again– at the time, I thought that requiring all romances to have Hawke initiate everything was the unrealistic part. Even if someone decides that this makes everyone “unrealistically” bisexual, however, or they can’t handle the idea that the character might be bisexual if they were another PC… I don’t see that as a big concern, to be honest. Romances are never one-size-fits-all, and even for those who don’t mind the sexuality issue there’s no guarantee they’ll find a character they even want to romance. That’s why romances are optional content. It’s such a personal issue that we’ll never be able to please everyone. The very best we can do is give everyone a little bit of choice, and that’s what we tried here.

And the person who says that the only way to please them is to restrict options for others is, if you ask me, the one who deserves it least. And that’s my opinion, expressed as politely as possible.

BioWare, David Gaider,… That, was AWESOME.

It is true that the gaming world is sadly dominated by Straight Male Gamers. Why? Well, perhaps it’s precisely because the industry has failed to cater to the rest of society so often. So many of us are geeks, and so many of us are gamers, including women and/or LGBT people… and there is absolutely no reason to exclude them. BioWare, it seems, has realised this, and the least the LGBTQIA community can do in return is to acknowledge this fact – and preferably in a way that makes BioWare aware of how welcome and refreshing this attitude is, and how likely it is to pay dividends for them – literally and metaphorically. With that done, hopefully the other big games developers will do likewise.

Thank you, BioWare, for not giving in to the majority. Thank you for letting us in and recognising our equal ‘right’ to play games that we can engage and relate with too!

Do you agree? I hope you do… and if you do, please consider sharing this article to spread the word and give BioWare their reward in reputation and kudos for this, frankly, astoundingly awesome move on their part.

(Update: This story has since been updated here.)

(Follow-up: We were fortunate enough to land an interview with Ernest Adams, who talked to us about equality in gaming.)

‘Curing’ LGBT people? There’s an app for that.

Apple have in the past supported LGBT rights. In fact they donated to the Prop 8 cause in favour of equality. However, all may not be as it seems just from that one act.

Following the removal of an application by the Manhattan Declaration a few months ago which said quite clearly that same sex couples are ‘sexually immoral’, originally given a 4+ rating by Apple implying it to be entirely family friendly with no objectionable content… an app that was only removed following a campaign and petition against it… Apple have done it again.

Yes, our ‘good friends’ at Exodus International have introduced an application to an app store near you, intended to deliver a dangerous message to tech savvy young adults: ‘You can be “freed from homosexuality” and have your sexual orientation “cured” if you’re LGBT.’ Yes, this is the same Exodus International that promotes the universally condemned snake oil of “ex-gay therapy”, which has been described as causing catastrophic damage to the mental health of it’s victims by the American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and the American Counseling Association.

Worse yet, Apple have, again, given this app a 4+ rating, once more branding the app as entirely inoffensive and harmless, even though the group tells gay kids that their sexual orientation is “immoral,” “satanic”, and in need of a cure, which we all know to be the very kind of insulting and frankly degrading and oppressive bigotry that  contributes to depression, anxiety, isolation, and even suicide.

There is a petition to remove the app from Apple’s app store, though at this point, we have to consider motives here. Yes, they donated against Prop 8, but while a significant amount of money, $100,000 dollars is really a drop in the ocean to Apple – hell, they’re getting good PR just because I’m mentioning it now. On the other hand, not only do Apple make a big deal of banning any app from their store that could possibly be objectionable to anyone in the majority of their userbase, they seem to not only have allowed these bigoted anti-gay applications, but also rated them as being entirely inoffensive, and only removed the last one due to the petition and widespread outcry over it. This one looks likely to follow suit (unless of course Apple really wants to be seen to be anti-LGBT). The fact is, Apple is a company founded on it’s image… it’s why it has the rules it has. Someone at Apple clearly feels that declaring these apps as inoffensive and even allowing them in the first place is not only acceptable, but perfectly OK with the company image.

The choice between Android, Research In Motion and Apple just got political. No… further than that, it just got moral. This, from Apple, is not acceptable, and if LGBT people do not show them how such actions will hurt, in the app store sales, the phone store sales, the music store sales… etc … who will?

Please sign the petition, and please consider sending your own message to Apple… but please don’t ignore what you’re paying to support in buying into it at the moment.

Google surpasses itself in the evil stakes

google logo

Google fails in its "Don't be evil" motto when it comes to LGBT people

Apparently, being the new Microsoft is not good enough for Google. For all of Microsoft’s ills, it never stooped to the new low which google has recently reached.

It’s no secret that Google is a behemoth of a corporation. In fact, it’s now so big that it has a measurable affect on internet traffic flows like a “giant gravity bending star”. Consider the size of the internet and it becomes obvious just how huge that really is. It’s the biggest search engine on the web, and derives 99% of its revenue through advertising, making it an incredibly powerful force (if not the most powerful) in advertising on the web, and a significant voice in the shaping of trends and opinions.

The thing is, with great power comes great responsibility. This great responsibility could easily be modeled on Wil Wheaton’s excellent motto, “Don’t be a dick”. Unfortunately, the memo doesn’t appear to have gotten through to Google. Or at least, it got through but they used it for cheap PR instead. Google’s infamous unofficial corporate motto is of course, “Don’t be evil”, but they don’t appear to be abiding by this fine ideal. Embarrassingly, they’re doing just the opposite.

Yes, Google has set a new record for evil, both for censorship, and for its treatment of LGBT history.

Queers in History is a nearly 600 page encyclopedia of famous gay, lesbian and bisexual people — over 900 prominent people from 2450BC to today. First published on diskette in 1993, later published on CD-ROM in 1994, having been distributed by 600 independent bookstores worldwide and a number of major book chains, it’s been around for a while. It’s a respectable academic work on what is often referred to as the academic subject “Queer history” or “Queer studies”. In fact, it’s been advertised through Google for a number of years.

In the last few days, its author has suddenly received a (first, and) “Final Warning” from google for contravention of Google’s terms and conventions for its advertising service. The breach was suggested as being “adult content”, making the advertisement not “FamilySafe”. Naturally, the surprised author wrote in some detail to Google, who failed to offer a more specific explanation. In fact, the only clarification of their assertion is the following…

“FamilySafe’ is considered to be language, images and products in ad text and/or site content that is appropriate for all audiences. ‘Non-FamilySafe’ is considered to be language, images and products in ad text and/or site content intended and appropriate for adult users. ‘Adult Content’ is considered to be any site, regardless of language, images and products in ad text and/or site content, that includes graphic language and/or nudity. ‘Nudity’ – We consider nudity to be any picture where the model is not clothed. This includes sites where images have been blurred or are strategically covered with graphics such as stars, bars, words etc. Google takes into consideration the language in your ad text as well as the overall focus, purpose and content of you site. Graphic language in ad text as well as graphic language or images on the website will influence the status of the ad.”

Essentially, it all comes down to the original charge that the ad for the book breached one or more of these four red lines, namely than an ad must not contain

  • Any material intended for persons over 18.
  • Mature sexual themes, nudity, and/or sexual activity.
  • Crude or indecent language.
  • Offensive or inappropriate content.

It’s been an awfully long time since the word “queer” could be considered to be “crude or indecent language”. In fact, as previously mentioned it’s now even used as the title of an entire field of study by academia. There are queer writers on this very site.

What Google are essentially saying by this objection to the ad is that queer people and their history – a history we can all be proud of – are not family safe. Google is saying that our lives and our history constitute “adult content” – a phrase synonymous with pornography. This, is an outrage, without a doubt. This is censorship of the worst kind. This, from a company that supposedly prides itself on a motto of “don’t be evil” is absolutely shameful!

What sort of message is google sending out by this? What sort of bigoted, evil, intolerant and antisocial attitudes is google reinforcing by classing a factual history book as “adult content” and not “familysafe” just because it happens to be the history of queer people?

Do the upper echelons of Google even know about this? Do they agree with it? If not, it’s about time they did, because what is being done in Google’s name is absolutely inexcusable. There can be no circumstances in which this is a just and reasonable statement for Google to be making. None at all!

Shame on you Google. Shame on you.

… and shame on your employees for endorsing this. This shows your true colours, and they’re truly ugly.

Update: As of the day of posting, “Thanks to an overwhelming public response, Google has apologized and appears to be setting things right.” Google sent the following email to Queers In History;

Hello Keith, It has come to our attention that your ad disapproved on 30th November 2010 was in error. I have made the change and your ad is now approved, Family Safe and running on Google. Please accept my apology for an inconvenience caused.

Though as one commenter has stated; “That’s good! But of course it doesn’t resolve the issue of why the ad caused any problem in the first place — This reminds me of when celebrities or news pundits use anti-gay slurs and then apologize afterwards. THINK before you act! Read the ad before you reject it, Google!”

First Legal Gay Marriage in Texas!

So maybe it wasn’t legal due to the illegal and immoral DOMA, but a gay couple in Texas were not going to let the bigots stop their nuptials in their home state.

Using the wonders of modern technology and a Judge in Washington DC, Mark Reed and Dante Walkup now have their marriage and relationship recognized by law.

This is one more step in the road to marriage equality, maybe its just a small step but its a step forward.