Berserk Games, the developer behind Tabletop Simulator, has come under fire after a user discovered the game’s global chat system would ban players for using terms related to queer identities.
The entire situation began last week, and was extensively documented in a Google Docs file by Tabletop Simulator user Xoe Allred, using the screename Xoesheher in the game, who also discussed her experience on her Twitter account @XoeAllred. After being banned after discussing gay and trans identities, she inquired with a moderator as to why these topics were resulting in a temporary ban. The mod’s response referenced bold text in the game’s chat rules, which reads “When using Global Chat, there is an expectation that discussion will be family friendly and centered around Tabletop Simulator, tabletop games and chatting with other players.” When she asked if this meant the game’s moderators deemed gay identity as “not family friendly,” Allred was kicked from the chat room and temporarily banned from using the feature.
After an email about the situation went without a response, Allred reached out to Berserk Games through the official Tabletop Simulator Discord server. CHRY, a Berserk Games moderator, told her “discussing sexuality has no place in global chat,” and went on to say Tabletop Simulator’s chat is not a place to discuss “sexuality, fetishes, [and] politics.” When she asked if CHRY was suggesting being trans was “a fetish or political,” Allred never received a response.
Allred looked further into Tabletop Simulator’s chat rules by testing keywords associated with cishet identities, such as “cis,” “straight,” as well as political topics like “abolish prisons,” and “BLM,” none of which received an automatic ban. It wasn’t until she posted the word “vore” that a ban came, which falls under the “fetishes” CHRY mentioned prior. So it seemed political terms and straight sexuality weren’t part of Tabletop Simulator’s bannable offenses.
When Allred brought this concern back to the Discord, CHRY said the term “straight” wasn’t solely used to describe a heterosexual identity, thus couldn’t be made a bannable term. However, the account received a temporary ban for “clearly trolling.”
“Straight” is too ambiguous as a term for automatic filtering and is practically never used in negative connotation. For fairness sake I have issued a temporary ban for these aforementioned messages as it’s clearly trolling/being deliberately disruptive/discussing sexuality.
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Following all of this, Allred took down her Tabletop Simulator mods and tweeted about the situation.
All of the above prompted an official response from Berserk on the official Tabletop Simulator social channels, which was posted over the weekend on Saturday. It insisted the moderation team wouldn’t “censor, suppress or ban users for expressing their identity, race or orientation,” and said it had measures to ban users for harassing queer players. It then described the behavior that got Allred banned as “disruptive,” following her testing out keywords, then said she “misunderstood” this as a punishment for her expressing her identity, despite the explicit responses she was given from moderators saying discussions of identity had no place in Tabletop Simulator’s chat.
— Tabletop Simulator (@TabletopSim) January 8, 2022
As word spread, Tabletop Simulator‘s Steam user reviews (CW: homophobia/transphobia) saw a sudden influx of both negative and positive scores. Much of the negative reviews have noted the company’s apparent stance on discussing queer identities, while positive ones are just posting blatantly vile transphobic and homophobic garbage.
The second statement Berserk Games released disavowed the handling of the conflict, and announced the game’s global chat system will be taken down as the team reassesses its moderation process.
The full statement reads as follows:
Hello Tabletop Simulator community, we once again want to stress our commitment to inclusivity in everything we do and would like to apologize for the handling of a user being ban from global chat. Initially, we were misinformed about the sequence of events as well as the full context of the situation that led to this user’s ban. The subsequent messaging around why this ban took place does not reflect the beliefs or sentiments of Tabletop Simulator. Tabletop Simulator has not and does not condone equating sexual orientation/gender identity with fetishes, politics, or anti-family friendly sentiment.
At this time we have decided to take down global chat as we reassess our moderation process as clearly, we have some shortcomings. The purpose of the moderation team was to keep global communication on the topic of board games and to reduce toxicity and hate. Tabletop Simulator recognizes that the current moderation process of our global chat has failed to uphold its original intention and we apologize for this as well as anyone who was hurt or made to feel unwelcome the past few days as this was never our intention.
Tabletop Simulator community, we hear you and the entire Tabletop Simulator team is prioritizing our commitment to making the TTS community inclusive and safe for everyone. Community feedback and communication is a key aspect in learning and improving. We hope over time to once again regain your trust and respect.
— CHRY (@CHRY3D) January 10, 2022
Following this, CHRY released a separate statement, saying the initial responses were “poorly thought-out,” and apologized. However, they also said context was missing in Allred’s original doc, which would have shown they were attempting to clarify and acknowledge the situation. In response to this, Allred added new screenshots showing other users discussing the issue on the Discord server, which showed CHRY discussing the policies and claiming how they were meant to avoid discrimination within Tabletop Simulator’s global chat, thus the topics broadly weren’t permitted because they opened people up to harassment.
Further on, a user asked CHRY if various terms surrounding identities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Non-binary, Intersex, etc.) were deemed “unacceptable” to Tabletop Simulator’s moderators, to which they were told that these words weren’t the problem, it was the topics surrounding them, and calling this a matter of banning people for their identities was “misconstruing and hyperbolizing” the policies in place.
None of those words are strictly prohibited but it isn’t a matter of prohibiting words, but the topics surrounding sex, sexuality and politics. An easily digestible example would be someone instigating a discussion about sexual orientation, which has no place in our global chat. This will often be met with a timeout from the chat, including anyone else who chooses to participate in this disruptive, off-topic behavior. It doesn’t matter if it’s about homo, hetero, bi or any other sexuality, it is not a topic suitable for this chat.
Suggesting we ban people for their identity is misconstruing and hyperbolizing this policy. All we ask is that you chat about boardgames, rather than touchy subjects not relevant to what tabletop simulator is about.
In a statement to Fanbyte, Allred expressed dissatisfaction with Berserk Games’ public response. While she says the second statement would have sufficed initially, she received no apology from the company for what happened, or for painting her as the instigator in its first tweet.
The statement TTS issued on Jan 9 is the message that should have been shared initially, but is now sullied by their statement the previous day, denying any such censoring of identity and painting me as an instigator. They have not contacted me to apologize for anything that was said directly in response to my queries or their mischaracterization of me. I have seen no action taken to address the individual CHRY with the role `Berserk` in their discord who informed me sharing my identity was inappropriate for chat, and in fact shortly after the above statement CHRY posted a statement defensively accusing me of characterizing them unfairly without complete context, despite the plethora provided. A lesson has not been learned, trust has not been earned, and damage is just being controlled.
Update: Berserk Games released a new statement on the situation on Friday announcing it won’t be bringing back Tabletop Simulator’s global chat system. In the meantime, it’s donating money to the National Center of Transgender Equality, and putting a spotlight on queer creators in the game’s community.
We apologize for hurting the Tabletop Simulator community especially those from the LGBTQ+ community. With global chat, we only ever intended to create an open platform to discuss the hobby we all love, however, we have obviously fallen short of that standard and so we have decided to officially take global chat down for good.
Over the past week, we have spent a lot of time evaluating our company-wide practices. We understand that our silence may have been perceived as inaction, however, we realize the gravity of this situation and believe that it needed to be discussed and addressed with careful and intentional consideration.
To show our commitment to bettering ourselves as well as supporting and empowering the LGBTQ+ community, Tabletop Simulator has donated $10,000 to National Center for Transgender Equality. In addition to this donation, we will be running a series of articles on our blog to showcase the great work available on TTS created by members of the LGBTA+ community. If you are interested in having your game featured please fill out the form below. Finally, we are reforming our moderation policies to ensure that everyone has an inclusive place to enjoy our great hobby of tabletop gaming.
We promise that these actions are just the first step in our renewed commitment to creating a culture that values inclusivity in board gaming and the world. We appreciate all of the feedback and suggestions from the wonderful TTS community and hope, with hard work, to regain the trust and respect of the Tabletop Simulator family.
— Tabletop Simulator (@TabletopSim) January 14, 2022
Following this, Allred posted a statement on her personal Twitter, which said she would need to see more action before she was willing to take the statement at face value, and hadn’t received a direct apology for how she was framed by Berserk in its initial statements. However, in an update posted yesterday, January 16, she said Berserk had reached out to her to apologize, and that CHRY was no longer a moderator in the Tabletop Simulator Discord server. Shortly thereafter, Allred posted a screenshot from the Discord where another moderator using the screenname burkenhare was posting messages doubling down on how the issue was handled initially, and signed off saying they wished the money being donated to National Center for Transgender Equality would go to a moderator relief fund, instead.
I may have spoken too soon. It's frustrating to see this stubborn denial of harmful actions, *from moderators*, when I've documented events so meticulously and thoroughly. I was told by two separate mods that being gay/trans was inappropriate, stop hiding behind your autokicker. pic.twitter.com/9uEcimUZQC
— ???????? Xoe ????️⚧️ blm, Free Palestine (@XoeAllred) January 16, 2022