The tabletop simulator controversy spills over into the game’s Steam reviews

A Tabletop Simulator screenshot of someone trying out a cat puzzle.

Screenshot: Berserk games

It looks like familiar territory. A community moderator for video games Table simulator granted temporary and permanent bans for talking about homosexuality in the game’s global text chat and on Discord. This shocked part of the player base, who then turned to critics on Twitter and Steam to express their frustration, accusing the game’s developers and community moderators of being transphobic. Now backlash after backlash has prompted the creation of dozens of “positive” Steam reviews with transphobic screeds, an effort by some players to show their support for the policy. I don’t know what else to say, other than that I’m sick of reading people saying they want me dead.

However, being queer and living in a society which, despite the progress that has been made, is built around identity policing means that whatever my desires, I will be submitted to people who talk about my life. dead. At this point, this is a real part of the online culture, which is only increasing in importance as the world learns about trans people. From major perpetrators to my DM pervs who want to fuck me as much as they want to kill me, being gay online is a bit of a nightmare right now. Leaving is rarely an option however, which is what makes the Table simulator so frustrating situation.

Table simulator is an online tool that virtually simulates, well… a table. It is used by board game players, TTRPG players, and war gamers all over the world to indulge their favorite long-distance hobby. All in all, it’s a pretty good tool for playing board games from a distance, greatly enhanced by the silliness that comes with physical modeling. However, finding new people to play board games with can be difficult, even with all the internet at your fingertips. Berserk, the game’s developer, was hoping to resolve this issue with a global chat where players could look for other people to join them. This global chat has since been deactivated.

The short version of the story is that a player has been repeatedly banned for discussing her homosexuality and transsexuality in the game’s global group search-oriented text chat, which led her to experiment with the game’s automatic moderation system. came to realize that the words “gay” and “trans” resulted in an almost instantaneous ban. The words “right” and “cis” did not. When she complained, one of the game’s moderators claimed that she had violated a “family” content policy. Later explanations claimed that the self-restraint policy was designed to prevent derogatory use of the words. At one point, the moderator in question equated discussions about gay and transgendered with ‘political’ and ‘fetish’ content, which they have since apologized for.

Regardless of the intention, the resulting bans became extremely frustrating for some of the Table simulatorcommunity – this frustration has since spilled over to Twitter and into the game’s Steam reviews. The developers have since apologized and turned off the global chat, but many players remain unhappy and the game’s Steam reviews have turned into a factory of culture war nightmares.

A screenshot of a table covered with game pieces to create a makeshift race track.

Screenshot: Berserk games

Despite the moderators’ claims to the contrary, it is really helpful to discuss identity in public forums, even when you are just looking for people to play with. The reality is that a lot of gay people have a really hard time finding an offline community – it happens for a variety of reasons – leading them to seek more community and safety online. The pandemic is one of those factors. Many people have come to terms with their queerness in the midst of a global quarantine, during which it is extremely difficult to build an offline community. Another is the online legacy of websites like Tumblr. Many people have encountered their own queerness, and that of others, exclusively online. This creates a sense of community that surrounds the interests of individuals and online acceptance performance. Additionally, the growing awareness of trans people has also led to a global increase in voice transphobia, further discouraging the creation of an offline community through fear.

This desire for community and online safety is compounded by the fact that Online is steeped in assholes. Any marginalized person who just happens to be identifiable by voice can attest to this. Joining any online community, such as a digital board game group, to find it filled with rampant homophobia and racism or to have your fellow gamers harass you immediately, is a common occurrence. So common, in fact, that clearly stating one’s identity before joining a group can be a legitimately useful security mechanism.

Which means that sweeping policies on prohibited terms (especially those marginalized people use to identify with), even in a global chat focused on finding people to play with, is a pretty bad idea. This is especially true in the face of the game’s positive reviews on Steam, which are filled with transphobic screeds and dog whistles from players ranging in hours from twenty-five minutes to several hundred hours. These hour counts point to a grim reality, that transphobic assholes were part of Table simulatorcommunity for a long time, even if they are in the minority within this community.

As I went through the Steam reviews of the game, I learned a bunch of new and terrible facts and acronyms, all of which were repeated over and over in the “Positive” review section. “YWNBAW,” for example, is a shorthand for “You’ll never be a woman,” a phrase that appears well over half a dozen times in long, short iterations. If you are wondering why “41%” is highlighted in reviews and in Twitter responses from leading online trans people, it is the reported suicide rate among trans people. I didn’t want to know either! And yet we are there. This is the community that gay people are asked to go to when looking for a group in public places.

Part of the grim reality of living as a queer is acknowledging the fact that there is a segment of the world’s population that wants you dead. The first time I really felt “out” was when a Wal-Mart man looked like he wanted to kill me. I don’t know if he did, or if he was looking at something else behind me that he didn’t think should exist. Either way, it totally changed my relationship to safety, community, and presentation. I realized that I would never be able to make people who hated me happy, that I would never be calm or acceptable enough, which meant that there was nothing left to hold me back.

In the face of communities and policies of moderation that work to alienate gay people, intentionally or not, we are left with the very real question of what to do. The answer is that we need to forge new communities, intentionally designed to foster a sense of belonging for the people in them. Existing community structures and practices will not save us, which means taking the time to develop new people-centered policies in our own communities.

The worst parts of Table simulatorThe community has bared its teeth, which means that there is now a real opportunity and something new needs to be built. I can’t wait to see what it is.

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