Tabletop Simulator has announced that it will be removing its global chat function following outcry over how the game’s moderators did not ‘properly’ handle a player’s declaration of their gay and transgender identity.
Developed by Berserk Games, Tabletop Simulator allows players to create their own board games (or even re-create official titles) and play with others online, along with a selection of chess, poker, and other basic games.
As reported by PC Gamer, the row over the game’s global chat began when gay and transgender user Xoe claimed and provided alleged documentation that when they told others of their sexuality and attempted to discuss their being gay, they were immediately kicked from the global chat for a time.
“After being repeatedly being kicked whenever I joined into discussions about being gay by sharing that I am also gay, I managed to have this conversation in global chat.” As shown above, Xoe (under Xoesheher) discussed why they were kicked with mod Jorp, all while other users carried on their own discussion or chimed in.
“Okay, so I’ve read the rules,” Xoe explained, “so if I’m understanding them right, there is nothing wrong with me expressing my trans-ness or gay-ness.” Jorp replied “Maybe you didn’t understand them correctly.”
He added, “Odds are the autoban script will ban you and not be but.”
“Funnily me talking about the history of expressing gay-ness is against the rules.” Xoe replied.
When told by another user “you should prolly be more clear about what the actual rule says tbh,” the exacerbated mod replied, “There’s a big thing at the top, I think it’s even in bold,” likely referring to a button at the top of the UI which can be used to bring up the chat’s rules.
After asking one last time “Are you saying being gay is not family friendly?” Xoe was kicked for “inappropriate behavior” from the global chat by CHRY, another moderator.
After this, Xoe emailed Berserk Games directly on New Year’s Eve, asking more about why she was banned.
“Hey there!” she wrote. “So there appears to be some confusion regarding the rules of Global Chat. I’ve been kicked on several occasions, often immediately after saying something to the effect of, ‘I’m gay’.”
Xoe continued, “At first I attributed it to some autokick bot autokicking on the word gay, which is honestly a whole other issue we should discuss. However, talking with a mod, I’m under the impression that expression of trans-ness or gay-ness is interpreted as not family friend, according to <Jorp>? Is that the stance of the Berserk Games team? Thank you for your time, and I hope you had a safe and warm holiday season and new year!”
Receiving no reply after a week, Xoe eventually took to Berserk Games’ official Discord to speak more on the matter with CHRY, in the public off-topic channel. Upon asking for clarity on the rules, CHRY linked Xoe to the chat rules.
“I’m aware of the chat rules, I’ve read them,” Xoe explained, “I was seeking clarification. I even user the email listed on that page but got no response.”
CHRY asked what needed to be clarified and Xoe pointed to one of the rules she felt was ambiguous, which read, “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.”
“Does that mean that it’s fine if the conversation with other players in chat starts veering from tabletop games as long as it’s a conversation with the others present there and is family friendly?” Xoe further inquired. “Like, if someone was like, ‘I love Root so much, I wish racoons were real’ and that started going off into a conversation about racoons and memes, would that be fine?”
CHRY replied “Chat moderation is based on the contents of the message, not the topic.”
Still not understanding, Xoe asked “so it’s more about the specific words used, than what’s being discussed? […] Would it be a kick/bannable offense to be talking about racoons for example? Like, by that bolded text they aren’t related to board games in the strictest sense, but I could see it just being a harmless chatter thing.”
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CHRY stated, “Talking about racoons’ means nothing in relation to chat moderation. If your message is offensive of [sic] disruptive then it will be met with a kick and/or ban.”
“So then, why is it that I get kicked for sharing that i’m gay?” Xoe asked once again. “Or banned for asking if being gay is considered family friendly?”
“Discussing sexuality has no place in global chat,” CHRY replied.
“So then it isn’t considered family friendly then” Xoe asserted. “Is gender considered inappropriate for chat too? Like sharing that I’m trans.”
Ultimately, CHRY explained, “Tabletop simulator is about playing tabletop games, not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics. Keep that to your private lobbies or public chats where these things are the topic at hand,” after which point the conversation appears to simply end.
However, another moderator for the Tabletop Simulator discord would later provide further insight into the reasons for Xoe’s ban.
According to tyam, “The fact that almost every instance of that kind of language in global chat is being used in a way other than what Xoe is advocating has caused those topics to be on the ‘not appropriate’ list since the beginning of global chat.”
They noted, “As much as I enjoy discussing the merits of internet moderation, there are just keywords that will result in bans, honestly most of them are temporary and automated.”
Alongside the presentation of evidence, Xoe also used her Google Doc to refute some counterpoints made by others.
In light of numerous suggestions that she find gay and trans communities elsewhere, Xoe explained that “on a fundamental level,” doing so would make it “impossible to find queer community in chat, or to ask for queer games in chat.”
“The suppression of identity tells those people it’s not safe to be themselves in those spaces,” she asserted. “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. This is why people say representation matters.”
Xoe also pushed back against supposed feedback from users wherein they speculated that the game’s global chat “probably don’t allow any discussion of sexuality, even hetero or cis stuff,” even going so far as to test these standards by posting under an alternate account.
Donning the username QuazandWally, Xoe obnoxiously posted such messages as, “Where my straight friends at?”, “No one straight?”, “Im straight,” “I’m also cis,” “just so identifying with my gender assigned at birth,” and “I’m a cis straight guy who loves his girlfriend.”
However, none of these messages resulted in a ban. In fact, other users mostly seemed to ignore Xoe, while some made jokes back such as “Imagine being straight these days,” “what, did you catch the gay?”, “same bro,” “cis men ftw,” and “hey cisters.”
In another test, Xoe discussed Joe Biden, elections, and voting, sharing messages including, “I think I will vote for a blm thing” and “Who thinks we should abolish prisons”.
Xoe was only eventually kicked shortly after posting “Oh oh, who is into vore” (a sexual fetish for depictions of being eaten alive).
Returning to the Discord after feeling that they had adequately ascertained which keywords were and weren’t getting users kicked, Xoe then shared her logs with the mods and argued that the mentioning of queer identities should not warrant a mute or ban.
Xoe was then met once again by CHRY, who clarified that this does not happen and wasn’t in their policies, writing, “The user in question [Xoe’s alternate account] has been repeatedly disruptive and consequently timed out for it, which has nothing to do with their identity, but the malicious intent of their behavior.”
“We do indeed have extensive chat logs, and diverging this to portray us as anti-lgbtq+ isn’t happening,” the mod added, presenting Xoe with logs of the Quazandwally screenname’s post history. “We are in full communities and individuals, but enforce equal rules as for anyone else when it comes to being disruptive in the chat.”
However, Xoe claimed that the citing of her intentionally inflammatory posts were “misrepresenting me,” maintaing that all her prior bans and kicks were given “instantaneously in response to me mentioning being gay or asking why I was banned for it.”
When Xoe pointed out how she was never kicked for talking about being straight, the mod replied, “‘Straight’ is too ambiguous as a term for automatic filtering and is practically never used in negative connotation.”
On January 9th, CHRY posted a now-deleted apology to Twitter, acknowledging their responses were “poorly thought-out” and “caused distress, emotional hurt, and damaged a reputation.”
However, they refuted the allegations made against them, and even that Xoe had omitted parts of the discussion.
“I will however not concede to the accusations of having transphobic beliefs. or having ever acted or expressed with transphobic intent or motives,” said CHRY. “Neither I nor Berserk Games have ever held the belief or intent to claim that transgenderism is equivalent to fetishism, or that identity should be suppressed. To think that I or Berserk Games hold any anti-LGBTQ+ values does not make any contextual sense and goes against the entire timeline of Tabletop Simulator and my personal efforts in keeping our social spaces free from LGBTQ+ targeted hate speech.”
CHRY continued, “I don’t not [sic] wish to portray any participant in a bad light, nor exempt myself from having said stupid thing, but at the severity of these accusations I do believe it is unjust to base them on conjecture and obstruction of what the discussion actually contained. Further down the conversation in the documented that has been circulating around twitter I had clarified that my message did not in any way target transgenderism. but was a blanket response about our general targets for moderation. Sadly, all portions of clarification and further acknowledgement of concern were omitted from the accusing document.”
“I will again apologize to everyone who were hurt by the brash and poorly thought out responses with no consideration for the context,” they wrote. “I acknowledge that when conflated it could absolutely be received as transphobic and damaging, which was in no way my meaning or intent.”
CHRY concluded, “I appreciate the few users of yesterday who provided me with constructive feedback on the importance of proactive inclusivity and that neutrality and conflict aversion is an insufficient stance. I agree, and have pushed for not re-introducing the in game global chat it until we have developed the tools necessary to maintain inclusivity on top of suppressing hate speech. The rules and policies for the remainder of our social spaces will also be investigated and adjusted accordingly. Trans rights are human rights. Thank you.”
Yet, unsurprisingly, Xoe took issue with CHRY’s apology, feeling it was “hollow” and read like “I’m sorry you felt that way but I clarified to others later.”
Xoe also provided the ‘missing context’, recalling how she “ran out of the emotional energy to engage with them on the official TTS discord” but watched as her friends continued the conversation, taking issue with their perception that Berserk Games considered sexuality and identity to be just as undesirable to hear about as fetishes and politics.
In the additional screenshots, CHRY can be seen further explaining to outraged users that they “are welcome to talk about anything you like in your private lobbies,” but that “allowing this in the LFG focused global chat is near equivalent to allowing discrimination based on things like political views and sexuality.”
“The global chat is tabletop gaming, typically ‘looking for group’ focused,” they elaborated. “Discussing themes and motives of boardgames is not very relevant to the topic at hand, the global chat is rarely, if ever used for this. In the context of LFG, permitting expression of politics and sexuality creates a setting in which ones orientation or views can and will be used in making the choice of who you play with.”
“I dunno about you mate,” user Lon replied “but I’d rather find out if someone hates my guts before I have to sit down in a private lobby with them. But hey, just your classic TTS safety tools at work, eh?”
“If TTS global chat is really and truly about LFG, and only LFG, then it shouldn’t be a chat at all. It should just be a menu of games with the available slots in them,” Lon proposed.
Again, CHRY told the users, “The global chat is not for bickering about differing views either, nor is this the point of our platform. “You seem to be missing the overarching target of no discrimination what so ever, with the blanket bans being in place to prohibit it from the very beginning of interaction.” Lon replied “Dude, someone’s identity isn’t ‘bickering about views.'”
Another user then stated that “Tabletop gaming features queer people with queer identities,” listing Artisans of Splendent Vale, Fog of Love, and Netrunner as examples and providing a lengthy list of non-straight identifying terms. “To suggest that the lexicon of queer identities is disruptive, inappropriate for all ages and contexts, derogatory, or are slurs is offensive and is assuredly anti-LGBTQIA+ […] Are any of the following words unacceptable in all contexts in the global chat in Tabletop Simulator, and if so, why?””
CHRY replied, “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,” they said. “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.”
Admitting that some “tabletop gaming features queer people with queer identities,” CHRY added, “they sure do, but you don’t need to draw these things in the global chat. Some topics just don’t belong in the context, much like you probably wouldn’t be received well bringing up your sexual preferences in a knitting club or in the middle of math class.”
In light of these various exchanges and Xoe’s outrage campaign, Berserk Games announced on January 9th via the official Tabletop Simulator Twitter account that they would be taking down the game’s global chat while moderation policies were reviewed.
“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,” the statement read. “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,” it continued. “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.”
Berserk games concluded, “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.”
On January 14th, Tabletop Simulator’s Twitter posted another statement, this time confirming that not only had they decided to permanently remove the Global Chat, but that they would be donating $10,000 to the National Center for Transgender Equality, posting a series of articles showcasing work made by LGBTQ+ modders and developers for Tabletop Simulator, changing moderation policies, and more.
“We apologize for hurting the Tabletop Simulator community especially those from the LGBTQ+ community,” Berserk Games said. “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.”
They then noted, “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,” explained Berserk Games, “we will be running a series of articles on our blog to showcase the great work available on TTS created by members of the LGBTQ+ community. If you are interested in having your game featured please fill out the form below.”
The developer ended their statement, “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,” they told fans. “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.”
While some expressed concern that Berserk Games’ unecessary culling of a useful feature indicated they had ‘bent the knee’ and would surely do so for any other such minor incident in the future, others felt that little had been done to solve the problem.
However, Xoe’s response to the news was the most illuminating.
“People keep checking on me regarding how I feel about TTS’s latest announcement, and I get it,” she wrote following Berserk Games’ publishing of their statements. “A lot of folx are not as empathetically tied to this, despite wanting to honor the feelings of those harmed. Some want closure, so we can to return to a comfy status quo.”
She recalled, “I’ve been painted as an deceitful character assassin, and still nobody has reached out or apologized to me personally. It’s hard for me to trust their words. If they’re true, they’re undoubtedly good words. But I’m at a point where I need to see receipts to believe them.”
“You have to understand this situation uniquely involves me, despite the systems of suppression that were exercised broadly. I was thrown under the bus, and left there as they advertised their ally ship outwardly. I am perhaps too close to make a fair macroscale judgement,” she lamented. “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. I’m sorry, that feels selfish, but this culmination of events leaves me unable to engage with a mind for design, or a spirit for fun.”
She further decalred, “I can’t decide for you if you can use TTS again. I just ask that you consider, ‘Do I want closure so I know the community is being properly respected and honored, or is it so I don’t have to laboriously adopt new infrastructure without such harmful patterns?'”
“I’ve been incredibly moved by the many folx taking steps towards new digital tabletop platforms for the sake of inclusivity,” she said. “I cried a lot this week, but they were tears of sheer gratitude. I feared I’d be pushed out of game design, but was embraced instead. Thank you.”
After this, Xoe stated CHRY was still part of the game’s Discord moderator team.
Yet, just two days later, Xoe reported that Berserk Games had “since reached out to me and apologized, and it seems CHRY is no longer in the TTS discord, or on the moderation team.”
“This helps, but otherwise this thread still captures my feelings well,” she added. “I personally need time and progress to heal, but thank you.”
Shortly after posting the above follow-up, Xoe discovered that other Discord moderators were still standing by what had previously been said, tweeting, “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.”
The screenshot in question shows moderator burkenhare lamenting “I wish all of these people I’ve never seen before would have spent some time in this community before making all of these sorts of statements;” in reply to a user discussing how children being exposed to LGBT content wasn’t detrimental.
“The essential problem with global chat, as with all large social environments online, is that bad people and trolls abuse terms that aren’t bad,” the mod stated. “The easiest way to stop that apart from having a room full of people treat every sentence as a trouble ticket, is to create a rigid filtering system and set of rules for such channels.”
“So actually the recent twitter raid here is victory for the kinds of people that invented ‘operation google.'” he argued. “It’s sad people are so reactive on social media and that they can’t see this for themselves. I think Berserk did the right thing anyway. I wish some of that $10,000 would go to a moderator relief fund though. sigh.”
In reply, Xoe simply told the chat, “Checking the discord was mistake.”
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