Have you been bad? Very bad? Maybe you need a time-out. In Final Fantasy XIV, if you have been very bad, your time-out will come complete with a chastising parent figure and a very literal gaol. On the MMORPG, players who spam, boast dirty usernames or otherwise violate the game’s user agreement are sent to what players are calling “GM jail”. From Reddit
Inyo Arse, a tiny Lalafell fighter, was standing around in the Vesper Bay zone when he saw a Game Master. “Damn, I saw a GM,” he said to his Free Company chat before, suddenly, he was extracted from the zone. Then, he found himself somewhere he’d never been before. It was a prison. Grey concrete blocks made up the floor, and the walls were dark, lit by small torches. Standing before him was an imposing figure, obscured by a fiery purple mist.
“Hello I am GM Shepenhow,” the figure said. “I am sorry to pull you away from the game but I need to speak with you for just a moment.”
“OK,” Inyo Arse responded. He found that he couldn’t speak to his Linkshell, his Free Company or his friends.
“I’m sorry to say that your character’s name has been found in violation of our Terms of Service.”
“O,” Inyo Arse responded. “I thought that if I could make it would be OK.” It wasn’t. Inyo Arse was told to change his username and that, if he violated the terms of service again, it would result in harsher action against his account.
Videos recording FFXIV players’ stints in so-called “GM jail”, located in the Coral Tower in Limsa Lominsa, are pretty funny. Sometimes, players run around, irreverently spamming emotes. Often, the mood is sombre. Warnings can be simple, like “Change your username,” or complicated, like “You have been brought here for Greeding on a Dreadwyrm Grimoire after you had agreed to only Greed on a Dreadwyrm Robe of Healing and a Dreadwyrm Longbow.” Players who have not been Very Bad cannot access the zone.
Liam McIntyre was sent to “GM jail” while he was away from his computer. When he logged in, he was in a “bland but very scary old brick room in which the only interface elements are the chat and the Support Desk menu”. He waited an hour, wondering what he did wrong. They sorted it out, but McIntyre remained unsure whether getting tossed in gaol was the right course of action:
“I don’t see how the GM jail is any better than simply using the private message feature to explain evidence and the consequences of reports against players,” he told me. “I believe in effective method of using the GM jail is using it as a ban system.”
A Square Enix representative told me that the gaols are intended for GMs to correct improper user behaviour “without disrupting the gameplay of others”. She added that, “After discussion, the GM will arrange for the appropriate corrective measures, including name changes, item confiscation, item creation, or account actions.” GMs, she said, are trained to treat players respectfully.
The MMORPG Final Fantasy XI had a gaol, too, called Mordion Gaol. Once, years ago, when player RagingPuck was competing for mobs with another party, he got so angry that he “trained a line of monsters and sacrificed myself so all the monsters would attack the other party after I died”. He was, he explains, a teenager at the time. After the ensuing argument, he logged off. The next day, when he logged back in, he found himself in gaol.
“You can’t leave unless the GM releases you,” he explained. RagingPuck was upset. When a GM finally arrived, he was told his “sentence” was 48-72 hours. Later, it was shortened to just a few minutes because of good behaviour.
Like Super Smash Bros. 4’s “Smash Hell,” Final Fantasy MMORPGs’ gaols are an innovative way to sequester and discipline players. But at least in FFXIV, it’s personal — and the reasoning behind your punishment is made clear.