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18 Jan, 2022 12:26

LGBTQ drama unfolds around ‘Tabletop Simulator’

Developers dropped the global chat feature after a moderator was accused of homophobia, then users bombed the app’s rating
LGBTQ drama unfolds around ‘Tabletop Simulator’

‘Tabletop Simulator’ is seeing a wave of negative reviews after removing its global chat feature following a row with a user who complained about being banned for publicly discussing their sexual identity in the global chat room.

Developed by Berserk Games, ‘Tabletop Simulator’ allows users to create, share, and play various board games with other players online, including pre-existing ones like poker, chess, and more. The chat in these matches is generally private, however, until recently, there also used to be a global chatroom, where people tended to look for other gamers to play with as well as discuss board games in general. At least, that was the intent.

On January 14, the developer of the game announced that the popular function would no longer be available, after a gay transgender player, who was banned for discussing their sexuality in the global chat, accused the company of homophobia and discriminating against LGBTQ players.

However, many saw the removal as the developers ‘bending the knee’ and flooded to the ‘Tabletop Simulator’ Steam store page to downvote the game, voice their disapproval, and demand the global chat function be reinstated. The game currently has an ‘overwhelmingly positive’ rating (over 90%), however if ‘offtopic reviews’ are enabled in Steam settings, rating turns to ‘mixed’ (about 50% at the time of writing).

It all started when a gay transgender user under the name XoeSheHer took to the global chatroom to discuss her “trans-ness” and “gay-ness” with other players, but was soon kicked off the channel. After returning she took up the issue with the moderators of the channel, asking if being trans and gay was somehow against the rules. However, after asking “are you saying being gay is not family friendly?” she was once again banned from the chat, prompting her to write an email to the game’s developer.

“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,’” she wrote. “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?”

She did not receive a reply to the letter, so she took to the official Discord server, where she once again struck up the issue. The moderators referred Xoe to the rules of the chatroom, 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.” 

However, Xoe found these rules to be ambiguous, and demanded more clarification on why being gay and trans was against the rules.

The moderator who kicked her from the chatroom, CHRY, explained that “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.”

Another moderator also chimed in, explaining that the reason words such as ‘gay’ are banned is because they are often used in a derogatory manner, which is why the word and topic is on the ‘not appropriate’ list.

Unconvinced, Xoe compiled a Google Doc with all the interactions she had with the moderators, using it as evidence to make her case that marginalized identities are not welcome in the game.

“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.”

On January 9, both CHRY and Berserk Games took to Twitter to issue apologies for their handling of the issue, with the official ‘Tabletop Simulator’ Twitter channel announcing that the global chat feature would be temporarily removed as the moderator team reviewed their policies.

On January 14 the studio followed up by stating that the global chat feature would be permanently removed, and that the company will donate $10,000 to a trans charity. They also announced a series of articles dedicated to TTS content created by LGBTQ+ community members.

While many users were outraged at the culling of a useful feature in the game, and accused the company of bending the knee without much resistance, others felt the company had not done enough, with Xoe stating that nobody reached out to her personally to apologize.

“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 wrote on Twitter. “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 declared, “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?’”

Since then, CHRY, the moderator who interacted with Xoe, seems to have been removed from the team, and Berserk Games have apparently reached out to Xoe to offer a personal apology.

“This helps, but otherwise this thread still captures my feelings well, I personally need time and progress to heal, but thank you,” concluded Xoe.

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