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Obsidian’s Pillars of Eternity was a game that interested me – the operative word in that sentence being “was”. Before I get into why, I’ll go over what led me to this change of heart about Pillars of Eternity and Obsidian.

Pillars of Eternity (reviewed by TechRaptor’s Robert Grosso here) is a new take on a more classical style of RPG. Obsidian took to Kickstarter (archive.today link) to get this project off of the ground. The game (originally codenamed Project Eternity) succeeded its Kickstarter goals and then some. They initially requested $1,100,000 to produce the game, and 73,986 backers chipped in to the tune of $3,986,929. Pillars of Eternity is now out and available for purchase, and by all accounts was a success on Kickstarter. The devs received over three times the money they initially requested, the game was finished, and it’s now anyone can buy the finished product.

The $500 tier reward for backing Pillars of Eternity resulted in a rather interesting problem. Those who chipped in over ten times the game’s retail price received a slew of lovely rewards as thanks:

The Complete Kickstarter Obsidian Pack: signed COLLECTOR’S EDITION BOX (cloth map, elite cloth patch, and printed manual included) + your name and a personalized message on a MEMORIAL STONE IN-GAME + full color PROJECT ETERNITY *HARD COVER* COLLECTOR’S BOOK SIGNED by the development team + A GOLD PLEDGE SPECIAL THANKS in the credits + T-SHIRT + DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE COPY OF PROJECT ETERNITY + DIGITAL DOWNLOADABLE SOUNDTRACK + A GOLD PLEDGE VIP FORUM BADGE. Your name will also go on our top pledger plaque in our office, so we can always remember your special contribution.

The bolded portion is at the heart of the recent kerfuffle. One of these memorial stones contained a short poem:

Firedorn Ligthbringer Original Memorial Poem

Image originally sourced from here.

 

Firedorn Ligthbringer

Here lies Firedorn, 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

 

 

 

The contents of this poem made Twitter user @icequeenerika rather upset to the point that she called it “transmisogyny”, a word that is defined as “discrimination or prejudice against transgender women”. (I had to look it up as I’ve honestly never heard the term.)

(Here are archive.today links for the first and second tweets, respectively.)

These initial tweets picked up quite a bit of steam, and were later brought to the attention of Obsidian Employee Josh Sawyer (who was most notably the Project Lead and Lead Designer of Fallout New Vegas as well as Project Director and Design Lead for Pillars of Eternity):

(And here’s an archive.today link for the above tweet.)

Four days later in Update 93: Patch 1.03 Obsidian appears to have capitulated to the demands for the removal of the poem from Pillars of Eternity. The very top of their patch notes (archive.today link) contains a statement on the matter:

Backer Content

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.

It later came to light in a forum post (archive.today link) that the person who made the original poem was offered a choice whether to leave the poem in or not and elected to replace it:

Actually, there was a choice.  They asked me if I wanted to change in light of what happened.  I chose to change it so that they can concentrate on the game instead of this PR nightmare.  They weren’t going to change it, they asked ME if I wanted to.  I can find another platform to write my controversial crap, and I will.  They, on the other hand, did the right thing and allowed me to decide the fate of the epitaph.  I chose to turn into something that made fun of the bitch-bastards that were complaining.

They went above and beyond what I would have expected them to do.

This is where the reporting of facts ends and my opinion on this event begins.

I find it absolutely laughable that Obsidian has the gall to talk about “strength of conviction” when they quite clearly lack the conviction to stand up for Pillars of Eternity.

Let’s start with the opening statement of the announcement of the removed poem in Pillars of Eternity:

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.

Obsidian is making the claim that this particular piece of backer content in Pillars of Eternity was “not vetted”. This claim puts Obsidian between a rock and a hard place – they either allowed content created by a third party into their game sight unseen (which can cause all sorts of problems) or they are falsely stating that it was not vetted beforehand and are using that as an excuse to remove it as a PR move.

While reading up on this particular subject, a Reddit comment (archive.today link) by user /u/columbine brought something interesting to my attention: Firedorn Lightbringer’s name is misspelled on the original tombstone. This lends some credence to Obsidian’s claim of it not having been vetted, although it is also entirely possible that it was looked over and the spelling mistake was missed. After all, I missed it myself!

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.

Unless Obsidian was brashly irresponsible with this backer process, they must have felt it struck the right tone at the time. According to their own Kickstarter page, there were 579 backers at the $500 tier and higher on Kickstarter (and possibly more via Paypal). I imagine it must not have been all that difficult to go over all of them and rework any of them that they felt were inappropriate. I can’t see this being an especially laborious or costly process, especially when the budget is nearly four million dollars.

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.

Obsidian continues with the claim that the initial content was “not vetted”. Obsidian states that they approached the backer who wrote the original poem and asked about changing it (and the above forum post seems to confirm this). According to Obsidian (and the backer’s own forum post), the backer replaced the poem with this:

Firedorn Lightbringer Revised Memorial Poem

Image originally sourced from here.

 

Firedorn Lightbringer

Here lies Firedorn, a bard, a poet
He was also a card, but most didn’t know it
A poem he wrote in jest was misread
They asked for blood, so now he’s just dead

The replacement poem quite fittingly makes light of this entire situation. It makes the claim that the original poem was “misread”, which I can understand as I just can’t reach the same conclusion as @icequeenerika. Let’s take a look at that original poem on Firedorn Lightbringer’s (or is it Ligthbringer?) memorial:

Firedorn Ligthbringer

Here lies Firedorn, 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

What I personally get from this is the following: Firedorn Lightbringer was quite promiscuous since he is described as “a hero in bed”. He slept with someone who “turned out a man”, and this was shameful enough to him that he committed suicide.

Pillars of Eternity is not a game that shies away from dark themes.

Pillars of Eternity is not a game that shies away from dark themes.

For starters, the woman who “turned out a man” is not described in enough detail to determine if she or he was transgendered. Indeed, there’s no mention of whether or not this person identifies as a woman or a man, merely that they had the appearance of a woman. This person could have been a male-gendered homosexual transvestite (someone who dresses as the other gender) and not at all a transsexual.

Nonetheless, it is made apparent that Firedorn’s last sexual partner was biologically a man, and this bothered him enough that he killed himself.

If his last sexual partner purported to be a biological woman but was in fact a biological man then that would probably qualify as “rape by deception”. Lying about your biological gender to a sexual partner is, in my book, just as heinous of a crime as if you were to knowingly lie about having a sexually transmitted disease.

However you might choose to interpret the original poem, it certainly has some rather dark themes in it. One of the earliest sections in the game has a tree loaded with dozens of hanging corpses – I elected to use this image as the header for this article specifically to highlight exactly how terrible things can get in this game. There’s quite a bit of rather horrible dialogue. The world of Pillars of Eternity is neither happy nor kind. It is dark and gritty in every sense.

A questionable poem in Pillars of Eternity that upset some people was replaced with a poem that makes fun of the people who were offended by the original. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

In my opinion, this is unquestionably showing Obsidian lacks the courage and conviction to stand up for their products. They have put out a message – if it offends you and you can make enough noise, we will change our games to appease you. Pandora’s Box has been opened, and now Obsidian has the unenviable task of deciding which complaints are valid enough to warrant a change and which are not.

Suppose that someone had a friend or family member hang themselves and find the hanging tree in the Gilded Vale offensive. Will Obsidian remove it? If not, why is their complaint any less valid than the complaint about the poem?

Indeed, when someone requests that you change a piece of art because it offends them, there is only one acceptable answer: no. Thank them for their input, and then politely refuse to compromise your artistic vision in even the tiniest of ways. To do otherwise is cowardly.

The creator of the poem states in his forum post, “I chose to change it so that they can concentrate on the game instead of this PR nightmare.” Obsidian was going to face a “PR Nightmare” either way. I can respect that they approached the backer and sought his input on the matter (and indeed, the patch notes defend the backer’s choice).

That said, this complaint should not have gotten this far. It doesn’t matter that they gave the backer the choice on whether to change the offending poem or leave it in. They should not have approached the backer to make this decision in the first place. The fact that they even entertained the idea of changing something in Pillars of Eternity because someone complained about it offending them is what I find so very troubling.

This type of situation – “change your art or we’ll boycott” – is a lose-lose. Don’t change the tombstone, and people who were offended by it might call for a boycott. Do change the tombstone, and people who liked it or weren’t bothered by it might call for a boycott. The difference between these two choices is that one shows a confidence in their product and their artistic vision and one doesn’t. Obsidian made the choice that doesn’t. That’s why I won’t be touching Pillars of Eternity, and that’s why I’ll have to very carefully consider if Obsidian games are worth my money anymore.

Seeing as Obsidian claims that they didn’t vet every one of the tombstone backer rewards in Pillars of Eternity, I’ll put this one here and hope that they see it. Maybe they can learn something useful from the words written here.

Pillars of Eternity Erlend Hoel Memorial

“Far better is it to dare mighty things than to take rank with those poor, timid spirits who know neither victory or defeat.”

Special thanks to TechRaptor’s News Editor Don Parsons (@coboney on Twitter) for providing some of the flavor screenshots used in this article, highlighting the relevance of the final screenshot, and assisting me with constructive criticism. Special thanks to Shaun Joy (@DragnixMod on Twitter) for bringing the backer’s forum post to my attention.

Do you feel Obsidian was right to change Firedorn Lightbringer’s poem in Pillars of Eternity? Let us know in the comments below!

More About This Game

Robert N. Adams

Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!