The ‘Transphobic’ Joke in Pillars of Eternity

There was a bit of a kerfuffle recently over a joke/poem that a backer added to the successfully kickstarted old school RPG Pillars of Eternity.  Here are the offending lines:

“Here lies Fireborn, 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.”

From what I understand, a trans fan of the game found this joke while playing and complained about its nature.  Since then a few other people have picked up the story and the joke is being referred to as either transphobic or transmisogynistic.

The developers of the game have since removed the content as a result of the complaints.  While I think it’s entirely reasonable for someone to interpret that joke in that way and I also think it’s reasonable for the developer to remove any content they see fit (No, silly people, this is not censorship), I’m not sure the joke is all that offensive.  Although I haven’t played the game and don’t know the exact context in which it appears, just from reading it I had an initial interpretation that was quite different.  I saw it not as an insult or a bad stereotype of trans people, but as an insult to the vain womanizer Fireborn.  After all, he’s a silly medieval man’s man who derives his entire self-worth from the people he sleeps with.  When he realizes one of his partners was not what he had hoped in terms of genital configuration, he literally kills himself.  To me he is the pathetic humorous figure in the joke.  He’s the kind of backward pompous fool who puts a sign on his castle that would say no fat maidens.  He’s a lousy misguided person who was his own downfall.

Now to add a dose of cynical venom.  With the way the average gamer behaves at this point in our culture, I actually do think it is more likely that the person who submitted the joke either meant to insult a disadvantaged group or has a sense of humor so infantile that he didn’t think about the joke much at all.  (Right now, I’m thinking the chances are about 30/70 respectively.

Still, I don’t think that the joke is necessarily transphobic.  In the end it doesn’t matter all that much: some guy got his joke into a game, somebody complained, the makers removed it.  I think the real message to take from this is that you can’t trust people to exercise good judgement just because they donated some money to your cause.  Maybe it’s not necessary to thank every donator in the actual game.

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