We speak to Verant's John Smedley about the recent EverQuest fan fiction controversy.
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The EverQuest community was struck by a surprising controversy last week after a player was banned from EverQuest for a story posted to a third-party message board devoted to EverQuest topics. Over the weekend, John Smedley, COO of Verant/Sony Online, posted a letter to give Verant's perspective on the banning and to apologize for the company's handling of the issue. Mystere, the player at the center of the controversy, also made his first major statement on Sunday, after a phone conversation with John Smedley.
We've had the opportunity to ask John Smedley some tough questions on this issue. Read on for the interview that we promised would follow up on our Friday report.
GameSpot: Tell us what it was about this particular fan fiction that led Verant to ban a player.
John Smedley: We received a complaint from a parent regarding the incredibly graphic nature of this story. The story itself used EverQuest as a backdrop for a violent tale that involved what a reasonable person might construe to be child rape. This parent also [alerted] a number of anti-child porn agencies as well as a lot of mainstream media outlets.
GS: Why do you think there has been so much controversy in the EverQuest community about this issue?
JS: We understand very clearly that it might appear to the outside world as if we are trying to be the "thought police." In this day and age we are very concerned about the perception of online games to the mainstream public. What we don't need is people equating this story with EverQuest and therefore assuming this is the kind of stuff that everyone is involved in.
GS: Did you find the content objectionable?
JS: Honestly, yes... but only because of the child-rape portion. It's not our job to tell people what to read, but when it is associated with EverQuest it becomes a problem for us.
GS: Where do you draw the line between established fantasy conventions (elves, dwarves, dragons) and copyrighted EverQuest material?
JS: In this case, the copyrighted materials included names created by us. We aren't trying to claim we created dwarves or elves, but there was some EQ-specific stuff.
GS: Many copyright issues on the web lead to a cease-and-desist before more serious action is taken. Why didn't Verant contact the player before the ban occurred?
JS: Live and learn - we made mistakes and we'll do our best to not make them again.
GS: Why move now, several months after the story had already been posted onto the net?
JS: This story was only brought to our attention recently.
GS: Does Verant plan to adopt a more aggressive stance on players who write fan fiction, as it has moved to restrict item auctions and in game cheating?
GS: The role-playing structure of EverQuest encourages some players to adopt "evil" personas, especially when playing necromancer and Teir'Dal [dark elf] characters. Where does Verant draw the line between effective role-playing and offensiveness?
JS: You know, some people may disagree with this, but we think the story just went too far in depicting the torture and rape of a child. Of course the Teir'Dal are evil and offensive, but there are some things that just don't need to be associated with our properties in such detail.
GS: Would Verant consider reinstating Mystere?
JS: I spoke with Mystere myself this weekend and have resolved this issue. Mystere will not be coming back to EverQuest. The discussions between us will remain private.
GS: There are those who think that the author's First Amendment rights were violated and that this fan fiction is protected by the Freedom of Speech Act.
JS: The First Amendment isn't in question here, and it never was. The First Amendment refers only to restrictions placed on the government's ability to regulate free speech.
GS: Thanks for talking to us about this.
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