Judging from Reddit, a huge chunk of players of the medieval fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game Old School Runescape take the "old school" thing so seriously that they're embracing medieval ideas of exclusion.
Yesterday "Mod Wolf," a QA analyst for Runescape at Jagex, took to Twitter to announce "a small holiday event of mine will be coming to [Old School Runescape] this Thursday to celebrate #Pride2017." Aside from an image showing a pixelated rainbow, Mod Wolf said nothing else about the event.
The internet quickly filled in its own conclusions. Within minutes, someone tweeted back "Does this really belong in medieval children's mmorpg?" and amassed almost as many likes as Mod Wolf's initial tweet. The fire spread to Reddit and the Jagex official forums, both of which soon got plastered with topics like "This is not a dating site" and "Gay Pride, I quit" and "I'm for equality, but a video game is not the place to push your political opinions." Some players simply asked why Jagex is including such an event when the chat log still censors the word "gay."
There was even a call for an all-day in-game "riot" that claimed to not be "a riot against the LGBT+ community," but a riot "against Jagex sanctioning holiday events for every social/political cause under the sun." A Redditor named 18simpsonr posted an apt response:
I spoke with Mathew Kemp, Jagex's senior product manager, and Neil McClarty, Jagex's acting vice president of publishing, to learn some of the background surrounding the event. What's this calamitous, earth-shaking Pride event that has seemingly thousands of players up in arms, judging from upvotes?
"The event is very simple and straightforward," Kemp told me. "Players have to collect pieces of a rainbow that's scattered around the world, and they put them together and create a rainbow-colored scarf."
That's it. No parades shall clog the streets of Falador. It sounds almost like the kind of thing you might miss if you weren't looking for it. But it's spawned such bile as a thread titled "Wolf, people like YOU are the reason discrimination still exists."
Kemp and McClarty were expecting some opposition, but nothing like this. In fact, Kemp expected the same "massive outflowing of goodwill" he's seen at the many similar events Jagex has held to benefit or celebrate the World Wildlife Fund, the YMCA, or the Prince's Trust.
"It's something that ties in with the values of Old School Runescape and Jagex and it was very easy to code and develop," Kemp said. "The way we see it, the Old School Runescape community is this big, inclusive community of wonderful people and we just wanted to spread more love and support for some of our LGBT community. There is a lot of unfortunate noise right now, which I'd rather not have, but everyone at Jagex is behind it and the vast majority of players will be behind it."
Similarly, despite the huge numbers of posts, McClarty says he's not discouraged.
"I think we always take what we read on Reddit with a pinch of salt," he said. "I don't think it really represents the entire community. With everything that's going on in the world at the ,moment, why not just get together and let people from any creed and any race just get together and enjoy Runescape?"
Neil asserts that the event isn't political in "any way, shape, or form"—a Reddit post with 6,000 upvotes argues the contrary—and points out that major game publishers such as EA and Sony have embraced LGBT players.
"It's just a bit of fun," McClarty said "We are a very inclusive company made up of lots of different nationalities and both sexes, and we have LGBT people working across the company and we wholeheartedly support them and the wider LGBT community."
Kemp says Jagex doesn't plan on banning anyone who shows up to the aforementioned riots, which he imagines will consist of players merely showing up and spamming the screen with text.
"If people are spamming the screen with inappropriate things," he said, "then obviously we will take action against those people because there's no way that we condone that."
But the players themselves believe the event's going to be ruined no matter what happens, and that the outside world will come away with the impression that homophobes make up Runescape's entire player base. As Redditor Quiet_Rito points out, that's not entirely without merit.
It's worth pointing out that part of the issue, according to one post, is that Jagex claimed that Old School Runescape would largely remain unchanged from Runescape's August 2007 form without polls from the players. No poll was conducted for this tiny event.
"One of the biggest reasons why Old School exists is that we really wanted the community to feel like it's theirs to control," he said. "We totally understand that players might feel like that that 'deal' or 'contract' is being broken when we promote or support stuff pieces of content without their say."
Still, McClarty says he doesn't regret the decision to include the Pride event.
"The backlash shows that there's more than needs to be done for LGBT equality, and we're kind of happy to play a tiny part in that," he said. "If this one small thing can make a smile on a few people's faces on Runescape this weekend, then why not?"
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Correction: This article initially stated that Mod Wold proposed the Pride event, based on an interview with Jagex. He did not.