There has been quite the fuss brewing over the last few days over on the official Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta tester forums. Numerous threads on the subject of same-sex marriage and its inclusion in the game were opened and swiftly closed, though there is little evidence left of any these threads. Some users felt as though their voice on the issue of same-sex marriage inclusion in the game was being silenced via account suspension, while others felt the moderators did all they could, and still others took the opportunity to voice their objection to Eorzian marriage equality.
After reporting on one particular instance of user banning last week we received a surge in traffic, one of the biggest (and fastest) GayGamer has seen all year, when our post was linked back to the Final Fantasy XIV beta forums. Clearly people have a lot to say on the issue, and many took issue with what we had to say. They made sure to come on over to our side of town to leave their comments as well (most of which were spam filtered and deleted due to very specific uses of derogatory language).
Soon enough an official statement was made on the whole affair:
“Greetings, customers and players of Final Fantasy XIV!
It has been brought to my attention that a recent discussion, relating to marriage, raised concerns that participating in discussions or taking a side in the discussion is grounds for account actions against forum accounts. This is something that I would like to work to clarify, so that these concerns can be properly assuaged. If the reasons for account actions are not clear, then it can cause a hesitation or unwillingness to participate in these forums, and your opinions, feedback, and suggestions are important to us.
To begin with, we understand that the topic of marriage in the game is an important concern for many of our customers, and strong opinions are held on all sides of the discussion. As was mentioned in an earlier Letter from the Producer(http://forum.square-enix.com/ffxiv/threads/58180-Letter-from-the-Producer-LIVE-Part-IV-Q-A-Summary), we do know that this is a controversial topic.
To address the concerns about account actions, we need to separate the violation of the rules from the subjects of discussion. Topics related to the game, of which marriage is just one example, can be discussed freely between people on the forums in accordance with the rules and policies(http://support.na.square-enix.com/rule.php?id=5382&la=1&tag=betaforum) of the forum.
However, how you choose to participate in these discussions needs to follow the rules and policies. Beginning or participating in threads about a controversial topic in a manner that incites negative interactions between people or attacks other people are violations of the rules and policies, and will be moderated accordingly. This most commonly arises in threads or posts that paint people holding the opposite opinion in a negative manner. Repeated violations will eventually result in termination of the forum account.
What is important to distinguish about these concerns is that it is how people are choosing to participate in these threads that can result in account action, not what the topic is.
I hope this helps to clarify any concerns about participating in discussions on our forums. I will be monitoring this thread in the future to see if additional responses are needed to help make things clear, so please do ask questions relating to this topic if you feel that there is something you are unsure of about these topics. However, this thread is here to discuss the concerns about participation in threads and account actions, and should remain on topic, civil, and follow the rules and policies.
Lead Game Master Enkrateia
Manager, In-Game Support”
Sounds fair enough, right? Users may freely discuss topics related to marriage (worth noting: didn’t use the term same-sex marriage in this post at all) in the game so long as discourse remains civil and people don’t spam the thread or flame each other.
Oh if only it were that simple.
Before I go any further I’d like to make one thing very clear: I’m looking forward to this game. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Having spent the better part of a decade playing Final Fantasy XI religiously, my expectations for Final Fantasy XIV were very high. Following the game’s abysmal launch, the idea of a complete A Realm Reborn overhaul brought me a sense of joy I hadn’t felt in years.
Could it be? Was Square Enix actually listening to their vocal fanbase? More importantly were they taking action? This move inspired a confidence in the company that I had all but lost in the last few years of mobile phone spin offs and lackluster console releases.
And so when the game’s producers did a Live Q&A and bluntly discussed the controversial topic of same-sex marriage, I was hopeful:
“As for same-sex marriage, this is an extremely controversial topic that has been under discussion in the MMO world for the past few years. First we would like to start out with opposite-sex marriage, and then consider the feedback from our players in order to make a careful decision.I can’t say whether or not it will be possible at this point in time. I’d like to keep dialog open with our players as we deliberate the matter.”
At the very least they were talking about it, and given that this is a Japanese company (and, more importantly, given that this is Square Enix of all Japanese companies) the transparency expressed here was refreshing (as it has been with the game’s entire redevelopment). As I’ve said before this so-called “neutral” response to gay marriage is anything but neutral, and ultimately is a vote against it. However given the circumstances and the context the promise of deliberation and discussion seems…..well at the very least it seems like a step forward.
A discussion. A dialog with players. So here’s where we as gaymers can say “This is important to me, and I would like to let you know that. Here is why.”
Then I get a tip that a user was temporarily suspended for starting threads on marriage equality on the game’s official beta tester forums. “So much for that,” I say.
I later find out that this user, Aldeus, had continually reposted his thread, and so his banning may have indeed been due to spamming (though, to be fair, the forums are now down and said threads have long been deleted anyway, so any new information is without source). I adjusted my original post accordingly.
Turns out, though, spammer or not Aldeus wasn’t the only one to get his threads shut down or his account suspended. Users on both sides of the debate were banned and any thread, regardless of content, discussing in-game same-sex marriage was closed.
Commenter Rain had this to say:
My friend was also banned for starting a topic on it, that only pointed out that it was a legitimate topic to discuss, and that banning people isn’t the way to go about it. All they tried to do was explain why the issue was so important to people, and ask SE to make a statement on it.
While commenter Ashin added:
I thought this story might have been exaggerated, until I received a 10-day forum ban for supporting open marriage in FF14. I was banned because I was discriminatory toward straight people, which is a concept only a straight person could believe in. Here is the exact message that earned the ban:
“So, there’s this demographic that SqEnix needs to be very concerned about. And its straight guys who play cat-women or tiny girls, but who are seriously offended by the idea that two people they don’t know – whose IRL genders they don’t know – might be married in a game?
If guys like this exist, we need to find them and slap them. But I believe it is an internet myth, because I refuse to accept that anyone could be this ridiculous.”
I reviewed the threads and activity of subsequent posters, and can confirm that anti-gay rhetoric was allowed and that opponents of open marriage did not receive bans. I don’t know whether I should hold against SqEnix the actions of one moderator, or whether the moderator was following SqEnix’s direction. But gay posters are definitely being targeted and silenced. I am very disappointed about it.
And commenter Sascha shared:
I was just banned from the beta forums for bringing up this topic shortly after the lead game manager Enriketaka or whatever his name is specifically said the topic was up for discussion.
They said the reason was spam but it wouldn’t be considered spam if they actually moderated instead of locking, closing and deleting every thread related to the topic.
I got in touch with a user whose handle I won’t share as it is a private email address. I asked him for assistance in gathering information on this story, as I had no access to the forums as someone not participating in the beta.
He noted that while he personally didn’t care much about in-game marriage at all, he did care about “being mistreated.”
Here is his take on what’s been going on, and what he thought of the Game Master’s official response [Emphasis mine]:
To me and several others whose posts were recently deleted, it seems like this. S-E has stated they want time to think the topic through, and that they want dialogue with the community. That is reasonable and, like I said earlier, I personally do not put a high level of importance on the in-game marriage feature. The problem is that they are not permitting this dialogue to happen. There is not a single thread on this subject which has not been deleted – literally they are all erased on a same-day basis. The only thread that has been allowed to stand is this one:
Any posts related to marriage are deleted from that thread. So you could say there is not just a ban on same-sex marriage in game, but there is a ban on discussing same-sex marriage on the forums. The question was asked of this moderator repeatedly – how can we have a discussion (which you asked for) if you delete every thread or post on this subject? The moderator’s response is that a discussion will only be allowed if every post in it is civilized / follows the rules. He/she claims that when a thread contains multiple violations, the entire thread must be deleted (rather than simply deleting the violations). Therefore, all that is required to get a thread deleted is for the same block of individuals to visit the thread, post the obligatory “who cares” “stop bringing your social agenda to my game” etc., and the thread is deleted.
It’s this passive-aggressive approach on S-E’s part (or at least on this GM’s part) which really disappoints me the most. They are pretending to be open-minded toward this topic, but in terms of their actions, they are deleting every single post related to it, and yes they are indeed banning those who post about it. We can’t see who is banned and who is not, so I can’t make a definitive statement that everyone who has posted about same sex marriage has been banned. What I can say is that many of us are receiving bans, and that all such threads have completely ceased to exist within a 48-hour period. So, I have to assume that majority of people who posted on this topic have been banned.
I would consider Enkrateia’s post to be entirely dishonest. Despite his/her claim to the contrary, people are indeed being banned because they are discussing it, not because they are violating rules. Or, let’s put it this way.. the rules are being applied much more strictly toward a particular group of people.
And that right there, nice and bolded, is the real problem.
When Lead Game Master Enkrateia says that it’s the way people respond to a topic, and not the topic itself, that leads to a thread being closed or a user being banned that’s the nice way of saying “It’s your fault you got banned. Or it’s their fault. But it’s definitely not our fault.”
Here’s a fun loophole in Enkrateia’s post that perfectly captures what’s going on:
Beginning or participating in threads about a controversial topic in a manner that incites negative interactions between people or attacks other people are violations of the rules and policies, and will be moderated accordingly.
So basically, post anything about gay marriage and you’re at risk of ‘inciting negative interactions’.
Fact is same-sex marriage is one of the most controversial issues of our time, and discussion is going to bring with it plenty of, surprise surprise, negative interactions. If the moderators over there think it’s possible to have a thread on the topic that doesn’t bring out a troll or two (on both sides, no less) then they’ve got another thing coming. It is controversial, and if you’re going to say you want to allow discussion then that means taking on the responsibility of moderating said discussion.
Based on what Enkrateia said: Someone could hypothetically post a civil, well thought of, factually supported, end all be all case for same sex marriage in Final Fantasy XIV and all it would take is one troll or passionate dissenter to turn the whole thing into a flame war and get the entire thread shut down.
What’s the phrase? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water?
Again, it’s up to the moderators to be more vigilant and put in the time and effort to delete inflammatory posts while still allowing the discussion to take place. Make a single official thread on the subject and only allow discussion to occur there, making it much easier to moderate individual comments (as opposed to having to wade through numerous threads all on the same topic). Merge the many threads into a single topic and remind users to use that thread instead of making a new one. Heck, if you need to bring in some new moderators to focus specifically on these issues so the other ones can focus on the myriad other problems they’ve got going on. There are so many other solutions that the moderators could take that don’t involve systematically shutting down the topic altogether.
They might as well just say, “We don’t want to talk about this right now. Please stop talking about this.”
And honestly that would be fine. Taking a game so bad that Square Enix had to apologize for it, and turning it into one of the most hyped up games of 2013 is no small feat, and if I were them things like in-game marriage wouldn’t be too high on the priority list. But the producers have already gone on record as saying that in-game marriage is something they’re looking to include, and that same-sex marriage is an issue they need to discuss. If they didn’t want this mess they shouldn’t have said anything, but they did and now they have to take responsibility for it.
The discussions is happening, whether it’s on official forums or not.
Square can say they want to have a “dialog”, but it’s only a dialogue if both parties are free to speak.