Mordhau's developers Triternion have denied on Twitter that they ever "had plans to add a toggle to hide other ethnicities or 'disable characters that aren’t white'" in their hacky-stabby medieval multiplayer game. This is bold, given that they previously told PC Gamer explicitly that a plan to add such a toggle was their "current thinking." Let's unpick this mess.
It started with a story on PC Gamer about Mordhau's problems with racism and toxicity on the game's official servers and official forums. The game has attracted far more players than its small development team had imagined it would, but still Triternion seemed content to take a mostly hands-off approach to moderation. For example, they apparently have no intention to introduce the kind of word filter to in-game text chat that is present in most other multiplayer games.
"If we take an official stance and we put an official filter list on all the words in chat, people will, first, find a way around it, and it might catch innocent words, or people might claim we’re censoring. So we’d rather put the power in the player's hands," said artist Mike Desrosiers.
Mordhau currently only lets you play as white, male character models, but the developers have mentioned plans to add women and non-white characters to the game. The problem is that Desrosiers goes on to tell PC Gamer that here, too, it's a "similar situation as the chat filters."
"Whatever stance we take officially, some group of people are going to be upset with us. And so, ideally we’d put the power in the players’ hands, and give them the option to enable and disable different things," he says. PC Gamer then confirmed that their intent was to allow players to turn these things off with artist Andrew Geach.
"Yeah, that seems to be the current thinking," he said. "It’s not set in stone, it depends how our community is in the future. Maybe if it calms down in the future, the game still has a lot of players, a lot of toxicity, a lot of racism, a lot of politics, everything, people argue in chat about all sorts of nonsense."
This sounds a lot like Triternion aren't just hands-off when moderating racism, but like they're providing specific features that cater to sexists and racists. In a Steam forum post made in April, responding to a discussion of "historical accuracy" regarding women fighters, a developer said that the "realism complaint is valid" and that they "might add a simple client-side toggle (for both female and male characters) which would let you disable them." We've been here before of course, with 'realism' and 'historical accuracy' suddenly being of utmost importance to some people when there's discussion of adding women and different ethnicities to games (and of less importance when people are charging into battle armed solely with frying pans and lutes).
Just when all of that seemed exhausting enough, we're now back to that denial from the game's official Twitter account. In response to the PC Gamer article and the resulting criticism of their plans:
We do not, nor have we ever, had plans to add a toggle to hide other ethnicities or "disable characters that aren’t white" in Mordhau. Any claims to the contrary are false. Official statement coming soon. 2/2
— MORDHAU (@mordhaugame) July 2, 2019
The first tweet in the sequence notes that the developers "have a lot to learn when it comes to dealing with toxicity/racism in a large community," at least. The referenced "official statement" has not yet been released, so it's not clear how they can possibly back up their new claim that they do not, nor have they ever, had a plan to do the thing two of the developers said they had a plan to do, even if they noted it was "not set in stone."
It's not new for a multiplayer game to have a problem with toxicity and racism, and games like Mordhau which have a medieval setting and related themes seem worse than most. (Matt loved the game but found it best with a crew of existing friends in his Mordhau review.) That multiplayer toxicity is not new is what makes it unusual that Triternion have made such little effort to curb it within their game. Desrosiers and Geach express concern that their players would "claim we're censoring", but that shouldn't be an issue because you should absolutely censor people spouting hate speech. If you don't, you drive away players and, more importantly, seem to endorse the behaviour while becoming a potential breeding ground for worse.