Here at Ars, we’ve repeatedly noted that Tabletop Simulator is one of the best ways to play virtual versions of physical games across long distances. But developer Berserk Games is now facing controversy over its chat-moderation policies and alleged treatment of LGBTQ discussion. In response, the developer has now taken down the game’s global chat feature and announced a “renewed commitment to creating a culture that values inclusivity in board gaming and the world.”
Keep it on topic?
The recent controversy began when a player going by the handle Xoe posted an extensive Google Doc documenting what she called “the suppression of gay/trans identities” in Tabletop Simulator‘s global chat. The chat logs cited in that doc include numerous instances of temporary bans issued right after Xoe discussed her personal sexual or gender identity in the chat.
In those cases, moderators cited posted rules that “there is an expectation that discussion will be family friendly and centered around Tabletop Simulator, tabletop games, and chatting with other players.” Moderators specifically told Xoe that “discussing sexuality has no place in global chat” and that “Tabletop Simulator is about playing tabletop games, not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics [emphasis added]. Keep that to your private lobbies or public chats where these things are the topic at hand.”
When pressed on why discussion of personal sexuality or gender identity fit into those categories, a moderator told Xoe that the global chat is meant primarily for players looking for a group to play with and is not intended for “bickering about differing views… 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.”
Writing in the Google Doc, though, Xoe said that discussing personal sexual and gender identity is necessary for some when looking for a group of supportive players to join in a game. Banning that kind of talk makes some players feel left out, Xoe wrote:
The suppression of identity tells those people it’s not safe to be themselves in those spaces… This sets a precedent that you are not welcome here, that you can be here as long as you leave your marginalized identity at the door. When other people are allowed to speak about their hetero cis experiences but gay and trans ones are silenced, you are using your platform to say only hetero and cis people are embraced here.
How about we just don’t chat at all?
Berserk Games hasn’t been ignoring the issues Xoe brought up. Early last week, the company announced it had “decided to take down global chat as we reassess our moderation process, as clearly we have some shortcomings.” The company apologized for the bans highlighted above and stressed that it “has not and does not condone equating sexual orientation/gender identity with fetishes, politics, or anti-family friendly sentiment.”
On Friday, the company followed up with an announcement saying that it has “decided to officially take global chat down for good.” That decision comes after what Berserk Games called “a lot of time evaluating our company-wide practices” and a realization that, while “we only ever intended to create an open platform to discuss the hobby we all love… we have obviously fallen short of that standard.”
Berserk also announced it will be donating $10,000 to the National Center for Transgender Equality, and it plans a series of blog posts highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ members of the game’s community. These moves are “just the first step in our renewed commitment to creating a culture that values inclusivity in board gaming and the world,” Berserk wrote.
Thus far, that decision doesn’t seem to have quelled the controversy among the TableTop Simulator community. The recent Steam reviews for the title are now overwhelmed with discussions of the team’s moderation decisions, the removal of global chat, and trans issues in general. The spike in such reviews has activated Steam’s “review bomb” mitigation policies for what the service calls “an abnormal set of reviews that we believe are largely unrelated to the likelihood that you would enjoy the product.”
Xoe noted that Berserk has reached out to personally apologize and that the moderator in question has apparently been removed from the team. But after being “painted as a deceitful character assassin” for bringing up these issues, Xoe wrote, “I’ve divested myself of TTS entirely, and I don’t know when I’ll feel emotionally safe to use it, even for playtesting others’ prototypes.”