Last week, Paradox pulled a Stellaris mod that altered the game's human race to consist of only white people with European names. Stellaris is an excellent 4X Grand Strategy game in which human empires are made up of multicultural populations.
Labelling the mod as "discriminatory", the company issued a statement which made its stance pretty clear. Although Paradox was happy for players to mod its games as they please, there's a line to be drawn when it comes to matters of race and intolerance.
I think the answer to that question lies in the community's immediate reaction to the decision. The Stellaris subreddit, in particular, was flooded with angry fans that didn't believe Paradox had the right to make moral decisions on their behalf.
Aside from that, there was also the uncomfortable truth that 'European Phenotype and Names Only (White Humans)' wasn't the only mod of its kind. A quick search on Steam reveals similar mods that will ensure the game's human race is only made up of African or Asian people - yet these hadn't been removed.
As the Stellaris community responded with claims of censorship and hypocrisy, Paradox began to change its message. It's hard to see this as anything other than the company losing its nerve.
This started with a post from community manager, Björn Blomberg, who claimed that Eurogamer's report (based on a statement provided by Paradox) was inaccurate. As far as he was concerned, the mod had actually been removed because of its description, which contained "several disturbing elements".
"Our job is to make computer games," said Blomberg. "Not push political agendas."
This was followed by a second and final statement, this time from Paradox COO, Susana Meza Graham. She said:
"We have a few rules of conduct that have been in effect for the better part of a decade where racial slurs, among other things, are not allowed. We interpreted this particular mod as breaking those rules of conduct, however it would appear that the comments surrounding the mod, rather than the mod itself, were the biggest problem.
"This is the last we will comment regarding this particular mod."
In its bid to avoid confrontation, Paradox even managed to anger the creator of the mod at the centre of the controversy. Speaking to Eurogamer, he demanded an apology from the developer over its statements and accused it of slander.
In the five hours since the story was published, Paradox had gone from standing against the content of the mod, to standing largely against the racist comments made on the mod's Steam Workshop page. This may appear to be a small clarification, but I think it sends a worrying message.
By changing its stance and then locking the subreddit thread where much of the debate was taking place, the studio had effectively backed away from a conversation that it needs to be a part of.
We've since seen mods like 'African Phenotypes/Names' arrive on the Steam Workshop, which shows a United Africans empire depicted as monkeys, accompanied by a description that delights in mocking those who may find it "triggering". (It's worth noting that particular mod appears to have been pulled during the course of writing this article, but a cursory scan of the mods currently available quickly turned up one that allows players to explore the galaxy as Klansmen, suggesting it is not an entirely isolated incident.)
Then there's the mod which started this whole thing, which has already been reuploaded under a different name. Will it be pulled once again? Apparently not.
Eurogamer understands that Paradox has contacted its creator to inform him that it won't be removed, as it appears he's "firmly moderating" the comments section this time around.
But racist comments were never the only issue surrounding this mod.
More worrying than a few idiots shouting into the void is the way in which this mod reflects the views of its creator and how it's being used to promote those views. In both versions of the 'European Phenotypes and Names' mod, the description has pointed towards the creator's YouTube channel, encouraging players to check it out.
Alongside a handful of videos about the mod and its recent controversy, his channel also contains a video entitled 'An Argument for the Continued Existence of Europeans'. In this rambling video essay, the mod's creator makes the case that European culture is about something more, "something deeper", than just ideas. It's unclear what he's referring to at first, but inevitably it turns out he's talking about gene pools.
"Your people are breeding less and normally that wouldn't be a problem," he says. "But when you introduce a foreign population that breeds at virtually double the rates as yours, it creates a problem. Because the other people could outbreed you. And if you keep welcoming in other people into your country, their genes, inevitably, will become mixed in with yours.
"And if it's only a one-way street and it inevitably will be, just outsiders from the third world or what have you, the second world, coming into European civilisation and changing them - the Europeans do not have a large percentage of the global population to not be threatened by this."
The remainder of this 12-minute video boils down to the same bullshit argument: European culture is under threat because its people are "breeding" with other populations. It's scaremongering fueled by racism.
Perhaps there was a debate to be had over whether his mod needed to be removed in the first place, if we were only looking at the content it provided. I find it a little uncomfortable that people want to roleplay as a single human race in Stellaris, but I don't believe they should be banned from doing so.
But with this particular mod, we're not just talking about its content. This isn't a theoretical conversation about what it means to roleplay, it's a very real conversation about someone using Stellaris to promote discrimination. Not only has Paradox refused to stand firmly against that, it's now allowed the mod to be reuploaded.
If you provide the possibility for players to mod your game, it becomes your responsibility to curate those mods. There are going to be times when problematic stuff slips through the cracks undetected and I'm hoping that's what happened in the case of the Ku Klux Klan example we mentioned earlier, but this is something else.
Paradox has clearly been paying very close attention to 'European Phenotypes and Names REBORN'. Not only did it pull this mod originally, but the company has since made two official statements and contacted the mod's creator directly.
This isn't the time to ignore the problem and avoid further controversy on your subreddit, Paradox. You have the ability and the responsibility to let your players know that racism, in any form, is unacceptable.
Your job is to make computer games, but it's also to ensure those computer games remain safe places to play. Lead the conversation. Tell us where you stand.
Paradox declined the opportunity to comment on this article.
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