This week, a supposed player claimed to have been banned from action RPG Path of Exile for using a macro to make the game accessible. Other players and accessibility activists took up their cause. Now, it appears the whole thing was a troll. In my professional journalistic opinion: what the hell?
PC Gamer has an in-depth rundown of the situation. In a now-deleted post on a legal advice reddit, a user calling themselves poelegalthrowaway00 wrote that due to an industrial accident that impacted the use of one hand and some fingers, they had been using a macro in Path of Exile that let them refresh multiple potion buffs, which they felt was a necessary part of playing the game. They wrote, “I got banned for it recently, I have hundreds of dollars spent on the account, and was wondering if I have any case at all since my disability means that I have to use the macro to play the game... I don’t think this macro is cheating since it doesn’t give me any unfair advantages and I literally physically can’t play without it.”
Path of Exile players and advocates for accessibility in gaming took to social media to decry the ban. Able Gamers COO Steven Spohn tweeted about the situation at the Path of Exile Twitter account, writing that “while macros are a sticky subject, you should investigate to find a fair solution.” The Path of Exile account responded to Spohn to say, “We have reached out to them on Reddit and are waiting to hear more information. We want to reiterate that this isn’t in-line with our internal policies and we can’t find -any- account that was banned for this.” PC Gamer received a similar response from Chris Wilson, CEO and founder of Path of Exile developer Grinding Gear Games, who told the outlet that “banning for this is not in-line with our internal policies and we can’t find any evidence of it occurring.”
Grinding Gear couldn’t find any evidence because, apparently, the ban was a hoax. In another now-deleted post, poelegalthrowaway00 admitted the situation was made up. They wrote, “I am an educator and did this as a demonstration for my class on how easy it [is] to manipulate public opinion and discourse on social media.” They explained that they chose Path of Exile for this demonstration because gaming is “a relatively harmless area for this exercise, relative to something like politics.” Allow me, if you will, to offer this counterpoint.
“Using Path of Exile also demonstrated how simple it is to convince people into thinking you’re an expert in a field even when you have no experience,” poelegalthrowaway00 wrote. They concluded with a riff on the all-too-familiar sentiment of sorry-if-I-hurt-your-feelings, writing, “If you were fooled by this or felt any emotion such as outrage, etc, don’t feel bad. Everyone falls for these tricks.”
In a response to another user on reddit, poelegalthrowaway000 claimed the experiment had passed their school’s ethics committee, further justifying their shitty actions by writing, “If misinformation from a single person about something as minor as a video game can have such impacts, imagine the implications regarding politics, climate change, etc of this being done by thousands of people across various institutions.” Who could imagine!
PC Gamer writes that shortly after the explanatory post went up, it was edited with the claim that someone had posted it by hacking poelegalthrowaway00's account, but who the hell knows what’s true at this point. All the posts are now deleted.
Whatever the truth—whether this was some educational thought exercise, whether the whole thing was a hoax by a troll from the get-go, or even the possibility that poelegalthrowaway00's initial question was real and a troll hacked them to undermine it—the whole thing is disgusting. In a Twitter thread, Spohn gets to the heart of the matter: “People are already skeptical of people claiming to be disabled... You made the world a harder place for legitimately disabled people to get the attention of devs.”
“There was a line that trolls wouldn’t cross,” Spohn tweeted. “Pretending to be disabled & asking a game for help was off-limits. Even jerks knew that was too far. And while I knew the day would come when someone would finally cross the line, I can’t express the amount of disgust and anger I feel.”
“Honestly I feel kind of sick about all of this,” Wilson told PC Gamer. “It’s undermining the legitimacy of real issues and the Twitter thread caused us some pretty bad PR damage.”
As should be obvious to anyone who reads Kotaku, drumming up the ire of gamers is far from harmless, with death threats and harassment running rampant in our hobby over issues far less meaningful than accessibility. Games aside, using false disability claims to either prove a point or just for the laughs is disrespectful, cruel, and actively harmful to people with disabilities, who often have to fight for access guaranteed to them by law. False claims give more ammunition to bad actors who would question the credibility of people speaking about their own needs and experiences, and who are demanding their right to participate in a world that is far too often designed with only certain kinds of bodies in mind.
Good job making everything worse, poelegalthrowaway00, and contributing to making the lives of millions of people harder for the sake of some reddit upvotes. On the chance you really are a teacher, the best lesson your students can learn from this is not to be like you.