Pillars of Welp: Trans Visibility & Freedom of Criticism

Obsidian, Pillars of Eternity

If I had to use one word to describe Pillars of Eternity, it would be game. If I had to use two words, it would be video game. Pillars of Eternity is a video game that I have played a bit of. As for the actual game, I’d say play this if you liked Baldur’s GateIcewind Dale, or any of those early Infinity Engine RPGs. PoE is the kind of game that you could easily spend a month on. There’s plenty of spells and abilities and potions and classes and all these interesting gameplay mechanics that contribute to a really dense RPG. It’d be doing it a disservice to review it without having spent about forty or more hours playing. I can feel confident making certain statements about the game—like it feels firm, but fair. You’re given a limited amount of spells and non-regenerating health that are refreshed via rest; however, you have limited resources to make camp. Also, because it did feel a lot like those early RPGs, it’s a great example of a successful Kickstarter project because it really does deliver exactly the kind of product that the majority of backers were after.

Pillars of Eternity has also inadvertently spawned the next battlefield in the war between the, uh, non-social justice warriors and the people-who-think-trans-women-are-cool-people. Those are inoffensive terms for both groups, right? Anyway, the controversy centers around the inclusion of this transphobic passage on a gravestone in the game (pictured above):

“Here lies Firedorn, a hero in the bed.

He once was alive, but now he’d dead.

The last woman he bedded, turned out a man,

And crying in shame, off a cliff he ran.”

I feel it’s important to note that: (a) it was a Kickstarter backer who paid to get their contribution added to the game and not Obsidian who provided the rhyme and (b) I did not feel remotely good typing that out. Various individuals have argued that the inclusion of this passage is nowhere near the realms of the most disturbing thing that this game has included. This is a game with rampant death and destruction, and that should be the thing we should be offended by, if anything. Also, they’ve made the point that this is a game based in a medieval setting and so transphobia should almost be expected.

To say that such arguments don’t hold any weight with me would be akin to saying that the grass is green, the sky is ofttimes blue, and that circles, by and large, are round. I feel there’s a big difference between presenting problematic characters in-universe and allowing a Kickstarter contributor to make an offensive joke through their game. When you make a video game with awful, despicable villains, it’s clear that you, the developers, acknowledge that their bad, horrible actions are bad, horrible, and wrong. However, the tombstones very clearly broke the fourth wall. They were put there in order to give a shoutout to fans who had backed the project. They were put in the game as a thank you for the money they gave to their cause. There is no clear condemnation of the transphobia by Obsidian, as there would be of the actions of Evil McTwirly Moustache (spoiler alert: not actually the Big Bad in Pillars).

Now, arguably, the joke isn’t offensive. Arguably, it pokes fun at macho male ego. A guy whose entire identity is based in being the most heterosexual of the heterosexuals accidentally fails to live up to his own image of himself. However, the joke—and I really don’t like calling it a joke—is open to interpretation. There was no disclaimer under it to point out what the author’s intentions were when they made that … statement. As a result, trans women who saw the rhyme (and indeed did, if Twitter is any indication) might find it insulting because there’s the implication that sleeping with them is somehow inherently shameful. Moreover, it perpetuates the idea that a trans woman is being deceptive when they choose to present as a woman—which isn’t a notion I really want to perpetuate. Considering the scary, real world statistics about trans people and the rates of murder, violent assault, and suicide that their community faces, transphobia is never a subject I’m going to be particularly light about. But maybe that’s just me.

Obsidian, Pillars of Eternity

There are people who feel that there is nothing bad about including offensive material in a video game, or any medium, because the real world is offensive, the real world is horrible, the real world doesn’t come with a trigger warning. Still, what on earth is wrong with telling a content provider that you found some of their material offensive, and you’d like it taken down, please? If there should be a freedom in expression, then there should also be a freedom in criticism. Moreover, developers should have the freedom to take down content that they want to remove, even if it is just to appeal to a larger group of people. Especially if it’s a message they didn’t even create and might not even be aware of. Developers can do what they want, and God knows no one has to like it.

Additionally, I would like to point out to that particular crowd: would it really affect your enjoyment of the game? If one little piece of text is taken away? I mean, isn’t a game all about the gameplay entirely and that’s the only thing that anyone, especially you, should care about in a game?

I suppose I’m raging against the wind, there will always be people who say that to censor in one specific instance is to destroy all comedy and art in the world. For them, well, I have provided a (hopefully) equally offensive and terrible ‘joke’ to take the place of the passage in question should it ever get removed:

Sleeping with a cis straight man,

Was horrible and embarrassing.

For no other reason aside from their cisness,

And their manliness.


Would not come again,

Because I never did come in the first place.

And I’m dead now, so that’s bad too.

And, if you give me a week, I might even be able to make it rhyme.


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