It’s unfortunate, but it’s now the dangerous new precedent for the games industry. If someone complains about something you create, you have one or two choices. You can ignore their whining and rebut how they’re wrong, or you can cave into social pressure and give people who aren’t even likely to be interested in your game, what they want.
I woke up this morning, to find several things had happened and I was not impressed. It seems that the latest buzz around Obsidian’s new DnD inspired fantasy roleplaying-game has finally taken its toll. I signed into Steam today, hoping to continue working on my review of Pillars of Eternity. I was currently 37 hours in and was thoroughly enjoying it. The fights are challenging and even the smallest creature can really do some damage to your party. It felt like Neverwinter Nights had returned. I was flooded by all the memories of Fallout, Septerra Core, Icewind Dale and the Neverwinter series. Quite frankly, Pillars of Eternity is glorious, but there is a downside. I now have to re-download the game—all 20 GBs worth. Somehow this new update has screwed things up and caused my steam account to uninstall Pillars of Eternity. Why did this occur, you say? Let me tell you.
It all begun with a rather short limerick included in the game by a kickstarter supporter. Any crowdfunder who pledged $500 or more was allowed to include either a small limerick or a short message in the game. Many of the inclusions have literally just the person’s name or their handle without any actual text. Others chose to be more creative, offering jokes or songs and here’s where the story takes a turn.
A backer, going by the name of “Firedorn Firelighter” on his epitaph, added a limerick that has been deemed ‘transphobic’ and ‘problematic’ by certain individuals, one of which goes by the name icequeenerika. This transsexual woman (openly so, don’t give me crap) decided her feelings were hurt by said limerick and started a campaign to try to get it changed within the game. It seems Erika didn’t even bother to look into any sort of history regarding cross-dressers, or even consider the possibility that the backer might have been suggesting that the person in the limerick was actually a man, rather than a woman of any kind. The limerick read as follows: “Here lies Firedown, a hero in bed. He once was alive, but now he’s dead. The last woman he bedded, turned out a man, and crying in shame, off a cliff he ran.” Not once does the limerick suggest that it is being sexist against transwomen. It says the person was a man, and considering the somewhat abstract time period Pillars of Eternity is set in, it would be far more likely that it was a man dressed as a woman—as opposed to a woman who was born male. I choose to go with Occam’s Razor in this case, and I believe that the song alludes to a male crossdressing as a woman—rather than a transwoman.
Brianna Wu—a developer of casual iPhone games then put her two cents in as well, which added fuel to the fire stating, “Transgender gamers are justifiably frustrated that this transphobic joke made it into Obsidian’s latest game.” Ian Miles Cheong of course then had to put his two cents in, just going along with the women complaining about the joke. Heaven forbid he should have an original thought and not hide behind someone else. Josh Sawyer, an obsidian developer then replied saying he’d discuss it with the producers, stating it’s hard to catch everything. Several people claimed to be a backer and said they were fine with it, while others supported keeping it in and not caving in—even asking for a refund. Even women who were open about being transgendered stated they were fine keeping it in the game, and asked Obsidian not to remove Firedorn’s limerick. This all happened on March 30.
April 3rd rolled around and it turns out that Obsidian had altered the joke within the game. Releasing the notes for patch 1.03, they addressed the issue of Firedorn’s limerick, stating “It’s come to our attention that a piece of backer-created content has made it into Pillars of Eternity that was not vetted. Once it was brought to our attention, it followed the same vetting process as all of our other content. Prior to release, we worked with many of our backers to iterate on content they asked to be put into the game that didn’t strike the right tone.”
“In the case of this specific content, we checked with the backer who wrote it and asked them about changing it. We respect our backers greatly, and felt it was our duty to include them in the process. They gave us new content which we have used to replace what is in the game. To be clear, we followed the process we would have followed had this content been vetted prior to the release of the product. We appreciate the faith you have all given us into making Pillars of Eternity the great game that it has become, and we appreciate the strength of conviction all of you bring to every conversation we have together.” Sincerely, Feargus Urquhart, CEO Obsidian Entertainment, Inc.
Taking the new update patch which fixed many things, including Raedric’s Hold glitches, balance issues, user interface problems and some items like lockpicks not working right—Obsidian used this opportunity to also remove the “transphobic” limerick replacing it with another decided upon by Firedorn himself. It now reads, “Here lies Firedown, a bard, a poet. He was also a card, but most didn’t know it. A poem he wrote in jest was unread. they asked for blood, so now he’s just dead.”
Firedorn himself said Obsidian gave him a choice, asking if he even wanted to change it in light of these events. He chose to change it so the devs could focus on the game and not the PR nightmare that detractors were causing. They weren’t going to change it, but they asked him if he wanted to. He feels Obsidian did the right thing in giving him a choice to alter it. He chose to address the issue, changing the lyrics to reflect the outcome of the recent outrages. Firedorn also asserted that the idea of changing the limerick was collaborative with Obsidian emailing back and forth. He didn’t ask them what would happen if he said no, just immediately chose to alter it—citing his previous experience as a software developer being the reason for his decision.
Firedorn also further elaborated on the joke saying that it was never aimed at any member of the LGBT community and that @icequeenerika was justing using it as platform to whine and push her personal agenda. This supports my earlier assumption of Occam’s Razor. The easiest answer is often the right one.
As someone who is adamantly against censorship of any kind, I find this outcome of the event saddening. While Obsidian didn’t choose to cave, the fact they even asked the backer if he wanted to alter it is unfortunate. It seems the time when a developer could make a game and people would just whine about it, and not actively try to change it is over. More and more developers are showing that people working in creative mediums should not try to create anything interesting or controversial ever—for fear of criticism, or hurting someone’s feelings. The people pushing this narrative of their feelings being able to trump artistic direction over a promise given to backers is a problem. More and more the industry and art in general seems to be heading towards a ‘hug-box’, where no-one can ever be offended ever—and artists are forced to alter their creativity. Ironically these are the same people constantly screaming for diversity in games, while going out of their way to ensure the homogenisation of art and the human race as a whole. Seems absurd.
These are my personal opinions and should in no way reflect or represent the thought and feelings expressed by other writers on this site, or even the site itself. This article was purely an opinion piece and anyone who claims otherwise is incorrect. Due to these events however, my review for the site will be a little more delayed than I had hoped. My internet service provider is sub-par and it will take me two days to even be able recommence my play through of Pillars of Eternity.
If you have any comments or questions, I’m always up for a discussion. Feel free to follow me on Twitter under TabuthaRasa.