Berserk Games, developer of Tabletop Simulator, courted controversy this week after a gay, trans user shared her experiences with its moderation team. The user, who goes by the handle XoeAllred on Twitter, claims she was banned from global chat for referring to herself as trans and gay. This user and others shared screenshots that appear to show Tabletop Simulator banning any user who says the phrase “I’m gay.” Debate about this situation has played out on Twitter and in Steam’s reviews section, where two competing “review bombing” campaigns have had an impact on the game’s rating. As a result, Tabletop Simulator’s global chat function is now disabled, and the developer says it is reevaluating its moderation policies.
Tabletop Simulator was formally launched in 2015 after a successful crowdfunding campaign and a period in early access on Steam. Early on, there wasn’t all that much content in the game, but the tool itself — which allows players to digitally recreate board games, card games, and miniatures games, while blending in some physics simulation — showed promise. When the pandemic lockdown hit in March 2020, the game took off, jumping from just over 5,000 concurrent players to more than 36,000 players in three months. Today many game designers rely on Tabletop Simulator as a valuable tool for rapid prototyping, remote gameplay testing, community outreach, and even marketing for their own crowdfunding campaigns.
It's been a rough day. It's official, @BerserkGames says it's fine to chat off topic, as long as it isn't "offensive" or "disruptive", but sharing you're gay or trans is inappropriate. It's "not a place to discuss sexuality, fetishes, politics."— Xoe ️⚧️ blm & plm (@XoeAllred) January 7, 2022
I've taken down all my TTS mods. pic.twitter.com/y8aTyXyILX
Throughout it all, Tabletop Simulator’s singular global chat system has welcomed players into its crowded and sometimes raucous lobby when they first log in. XoeAllred was one of those players — until she received a temporary ban for mentioning in global chat that she is trans and gay.
In a Google document that she shared online, XoeAllred detailed how on multiple occasions she attempted to directly engage with the team of moderators inside the game client and within Berserk Games’ official Discord server about this issue. That same document also shows screenshots of chat logs and emails, in which her arguments appear to have either been met with defensiveness or silence. Automated tools had made simply typing the word “gay” into the chat client a bannable offense.
Berserk Games, which has not yet responded to Polygon’s request for comment, may have intended to prevent the use of the word “gay” as a pejorative term, although the use of the word “trans” apparently resulted in a similar ban. Regardless, this moderation tool denied players like XoeAllred the ability to describe basic facts about themselves in that space.
“On a fundamental level,” XoeAllred wrote in her Google document detailing these incidents, “this means that it is impossible to find queer community in chat, or to ask for queer games in chat. You can’t ask for games with gay/trans representation or about gay/trans experiences because you will get kicked. It is considered against their rules.”
“The suppression of identity,” she continued, “tells those people it’s not safe to be themselves in those spaces.”
At first, when XoeAllred exposed the deficiencies in the company’s moderation policies, Berserk Games released a statement that seemed defensive. “Tabletop Simulator supports the LGBTQ+ community,” it said in a Jan. 8 statement on Twitter, “including profiling games with LGBTQ+ themes, designers, and writers as well as having members of the LGBTQ+ community to working on [sic] TTS directly.” Eventually, after seeing further evidence of her treatment on its official Discord, the company changed its tune. On Jan. 9, it issued a formal apology and vowed to take action. Step one was turning off global chat.
January 9, 2022
“We once again want to stress our commitment to inclusivity in everything we do,” Berserk Games said on Twitter, “and would like to apologize for the handling of a user being ban [sic] from global chat. [...] 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.”
“We have decided to take down global chat,” it continued, “as we reassess our moderation process as clearly, [sic] we have some shortcomings.” You can read Berserk Games’ full statement on Twitter.
Meanwhile, more than 1,500 reviews have flooded onto Steam in just the last several days, reflecting the opinions of players who are both for and against Tabletop Simulator’s actions with regard to content moderation. Many are damning of the developer’s actions, with some equating the financial support of Berserk Games to condoning hate speech. Opposing viewpoints range from bemoaning “wokeness” to violent hate speech; these are the reviewers who’ve given Tabletop Simulator a thumbs up. They may be surprised to see Berserk Games’ public messaging, which clearly doesn’t support these viewpoints.
“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,” Berserk Games said in the conclusion to its Jan. 9 statement on Twitter. “Community feedback and communication is a key aspect in learning and improving. We hope over time to once again regain your trust and respect.”
Even with these public statements, the Tabletop Simulator page on Steam remains choked by vulgar, abusive threads. Speaking with Polygon via email, XoeAllred says she’s had enough.
“I have absolutely no plans to use Tabletop Simulator, I’ve completely uninstalled it,” she said. “I’ve already found another platform that better suits my needs. Specifically screentop.gg.”
Update (Jan. 18): On Friday, Jan. 14, Berserk Games issued a third statement in a tweet, saying that global chat will not be returning to Tabletop Simulator and that the company plans to revise its moderation policies. In addition to enhanced internal training, the company said it will also make an effort to promote “the great work available on [Tabletop Simulator] created by members of the LGBTQ+ community.” Furthermore, the company has made a $10,000 donation to the National Center for Transgender Equality, a nonprofit that “advocates to change policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people.”
The full statement is included below:
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 LGBTQ+ 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.