The development studio behind Tabletop Simulator published an apology on January 9th following one user’s thoroughly documented accusation that moderators for the popular digital board game sandbox have been carrying out what she called “suppression of gay/trans identities” within the community.
On January 7th, Twitter user XoeAllred announced that she had removed all of her mods from Tabletop Simulator’s public database in response to multiple bans from the moderation team. Hours later, she linked to a Google Doc filled with screenshots and email transcriptions that she said showed the moderation team’s over-policing of gender and sexual identity.
The tweet has been shared over 1,500 times, and multiple notable designers such as Root and Vast designer Patrick Leder and James Hudson of Skybound Games have publicly called for Tabletop Simulator to apologise and rectify its moderation team’s behavior. “I'm a trans pan mom, let me exist visibly please,” XoeAllred said in one tweet.
I'm getting asked about what happened with @BerserkGames regarding moderation of @TabletopSim global chat and the suppression of gay/trans identities, so I put together these screenshots and answers.— Xoe ️ blm & plm (@XoeAllred) January 8, 2022
I'm a trans pan mom, let me exist visibly please. ️https://t.co/60CRntROOL https://t.co/TRIp5FYL0A
The linked document shows multiple conversations in Tabletop Simulator’s Global chat channel, which players use to talk with each other and find groups for games, where XoeAllred was seemingly banned for mentioning being gay. One moderator, Jorp, explained that it could have been “the autoban script”, while referencing a previously posted link to Tabletop Simulator’s chat rules - specifically a bolded portion at the beginning that 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."
XoeAllred responds with “Are you saying being gay is not family friendly?” before being kicked from the chat “for inappropriate behavior”.
When XoeAllred received no response from a direct email to Berserk Games, she entered the official TTS Discord server on January 7th and petitioned a mod named CHRY directly. In the ensuing conversation, CHRY told XoeAllred 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.”
Further down that specific conversation thread, a third moderator, tyam, explained that the team employs keyword bans because “almost every instance of that kind of language in global chat” is used as a derogative or insult, and not as an expression of personal identity. They further clarified that most of these bans are “temporary and moderated”.
Berserk Games responded on January 8th from the official Tabletop Simulator account: “We do not censor, suppress or ban users for expressing their identity, race or orientation. We actively take measures to ban users for harassing members of the LGBTQ+ community. A user got timed out from the chat for what was deemed disruptive behavior by spamming different keywords in an attempt to get flagged. This was misunderstood as punishing the user for expressing their identity. This was of course never the intent, and further confusion ensued in attempting to clarify the situation. Our policy is to keep the chat cordial, and for the most part on the topic of tabletop gaming.”
XoeAllred’s document contained screenshots of the cited incident, which she xplained was an attempt to trigger a ban by continually mentioning “straight” and “cis”, along with explicitly political topics such as voting, President Biden and the BLM movement. The automoderation ostensibly only kicks in after she mentioned a sexual fetish.
The following day, Tabletop Simulator released a longer statement attempting to explain both the actions of the mod team and company. It apologises for one of XoeAllred’s bans, saying the team was “misinformed about the sequence of events as well as the full context that led to this user’s ban”. Berserk Games said Global chat would be removed pending a review of the “shortcomings” in its moderation process.
It’s unclear how many moderators review the Tabletop Simulator community and enforce the publicly available chat rules. It’s no surprise that they would rely on automated tools, as the video game regularly hosts several thousand concurrent players who use it to play digital versions of popular board games. This positions it as a leader among competitors Board Game Arena, Tabletopia, Tabletop Playground and others. Tabletop Simulator is the first and only title from Berserk Games.
The company faced backlash in February of last year for relying on automation - along with unpaid work from its users - to translate the platform into dozens of additional languages as part of a larger update. The results were less than ideal and angered much of the community, even as they joked over laughable results such as “press z to bread”.
Dicebreaker has reached out to Berserk Games for more information about planned changes to moderation procedures and clarification on whether the several other bans XoeAllred and other users have shared are also due to moderation “shortcomings”. The company did not respond by time of publication.