Rampant racism and toxicity are driving players away from Mordhau (updated)

Image via Steam user Azoo
(Image credit: Triternion)

Content warning: Slurs and references to racist and sexist language.

Update 2: Triternion has published a statement reiterating that it won't be adding an option to toggle off non-white and female characters. Two developers told us that this 'feature' was a possibility, but Triternion is now calling it a misunderstanding, placing the blame on a lack of PR experience and "answering some questions in a misleading way". 

A gender toggle was apparently discussed, however, but the studio claims that this idea was dismissed because it would undermine player customisation. The two members of the studio we spoke with were apparently not informed about this, despite the team being small—there are only 11 of them—and the idea being thrown out shortly after launch. 

The toxic community will be addressed, Triternion says, but no plan to deal with racism in chat and on the forums has been proposed. "At the moment we are stretched thin with major important content additions," the statement reads, "and unfortunately we do not have the staff nor systems in-place to moderate everything to our intended level of standards".

You can read the full statement here.

Update: After this article was published, Triternion stated on Twitter that it does not have plans to include a setting which disables the appearance of "characters that aren’t white," and never did. This contradicts statements developers Mike Desrosiers and Andrew Geach made to PC Gamer last week and which we reported in this article.

During our interview, we asked, "Are there plans to increase, on the character creator side, the diversity of the characters players can create? You've talked in the past about adding female playable characters and changing character's skin tones ... is that something you guys are committed to doing?"

Desrosiers replied, "That goes back to 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.

"There has been endless debates about it, and it attracts a lot of toxicity, a lot of stuff we’re not interested in attracting to the game itself, any more on top of what’s already present. But we’re definitely always looking at ways of expanding [our customisation]."

Later, after Geach explained how Triternion might go about creating new character customization options, such as female characters, black characters, and Middle Eastern characters, we asked, "So current thoughts on that, as Mike said, maybe adding that and then giving the option for players to disable it? Is that the current thinking?"

Geach replied, "Yeah, that seems to be the current thinking. 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."

In April, another member of the Triternion team confirmed plans for a “simple client-side toggle” to let players “disable” female characters after they were added to Mordhau. This was partly to address the “valid” complaint that female characters would be unrealistic.

“We are still looking into adding female characters post release as was promised…The realism complaint is valid, so when we add them we might add a simple client-side toggle (for both female and male characters) which would let you disable them,” they said in a Steam discussion post.

The original article follows.

(Image credit: Triternion)

Original article: Nobody expected Mordhau to get this big—especially not the first-time developers who made it. What started as a janky fan project made for the competitive Chivalry: Medieval Warfare community has become one of the best multiplayer hack-and-slashers on PC, and it's sold more than a million copies. But for some players, Mordhau's fun combat has been tainted by a growing toxicity problem that sees racist, sexist and homophobic slurs thrown around in both the in-game chat and the official forums, seemingly without repercussions.

It’s clear that Mordhau's developers are unprepared and unwilling to meet the problem head-on, and some players have had enough.

As an example, one of the forum’s most popular threads is titled ‘Post your kniggas,’ in which players share images of their character builds. The thread started in 2017 when Mordhau was in alpha, and has attracted more than 2,600 comments since. One of those comments says "step up my kniggas," another says "listen here, faggot." When one player questions the racism in the thread’s title, another responds: "you are gay."

In other forums, a thread with that title may be deleted on sight—but the Mordhau devs don't have a problem with it, or its contents. "It is one of our longest and oldest [threads], as well as among the most active threads on our forum, full of creative loadouts from our community," says Andrew Geach, speaking on behalf of the team. 

"As for the title itself, we as a team don’t find it racist or offensive, and considering the thread’s content, we find it even less so. We do understand however that some people may interpret it as being racist or inappropriate if taken out of context."

It’s clear that Mordhau's developers are unprepared and unwilling to meet the problem head-on, and some players have had enough. Alongside the posts described above sit those lamenting toxicity in the game. "Chat was today an overflowing septic tank of personal insults, racial slurs, and general vitriol and hate. Not a single person was kicked," says a post from this weekend. The same is true on the game’s subreddit, where toxicity is a common discussion topic. "There's such rampant racism in this game and it's really making me not want to play it," reads a post from last week.

Another reason for the problem is that there’s no way to directly report players in Mordhau—you have to take a screenshot, send it to the developers on the official Discord and hope for the best. You can vote to kick players during a match, but those votes often get lost in the heat of battle.

(Image credit: Future)

Community-run servers are, on the whole, friendlier places than the official servers, and some have active mods that punish abusive players on sight (click here for a few recommendations). Duel servers are generally pleasant, too.

Mordhau also suffers from a lack of moderators. Community manager Jax said last weekend that the team was "trying to improve our moderation, but we're a small team and there are a lot of you."

"I do apologize on behalf of the team for some of these... 'people' that are spouting off terrible things in game," Jax said in a forum post. "All I can say at this point in time is that we're working on improving the situation."

Geach says that any user caught using racist or sexist slurs is "pretty much banned on the spot". Around 300 users have been banned on the forums, and around 300 on Discord, for offences including racism. But the lack of moderators, combined with a misunderstanding about what constitutes racism and what doesn't, means that the developers are allowing even the most blatant offenders to persist.

One Mordhau player with more than 110 hours under his belt got in touch with me last week to flag a user who was constantly posting racist comments on the game's forums.

"We white people just can't have anything to ourselves, can we?" the user in question posted recently. "Now we can't even play our fucking video games in peace, without some nog like yourself screaming bloody murder over the lack of negroids." The user’s account is still active, and if you spend five minutes on the forums you’ll find many like them.

This is not just about a lack of resources—the developers are currently unwilling to take a hard stance against any toxicity. In a recent update, they added the option to mute players by clicking on them in chat, but in an interview before that update, they told me they didn’t want to add any sort of word filter, partly because "people might claim we’re censoring."

"We want to put the power in the players’ hands," said Mike Desrosiers, an artist who worked on the new mute function. "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." 

Similarly, when describing the team’s approach to banning players, Geach errs on the side of caution. "We do of course act on inappropriate posts or discussions when seen personally. That being said, we don't try to police our players too tightly. We allow for discussion on most topics, within reason." 

(Image credit: Triternion)

Other developers of competitive multiplayer games are happy to take a more hardline approach. Rainbow Six Siege aggressively filters slurs and has a manual moderation team, while Rocket League has a similar system. Many multiplayer games don’t police their chat that tightly, but most have fleshed-out reporting systems, which Mordhau does not.

Whatever stance we take officially, some group of people are going to be upset with us.

Mike Desrosiers

With plans for playable female characters and a choice of ethnicity on the horizon (you can only create white male characters at the moment), I expect the vitriol to get worse. The Mordhau team seem to expect that too, and say their current plan is to let players 'disable' these new options if they want. "That goes back to a similar situation as the chat filters," Desrosiers says. "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.

"There has been endless debates about it, and it attracts a lot of toxicity, a lot of stuff we’re not interested in attracting to the game itself, any more on top of what’s already present. But we’re always looking to expand [our customisation]."

Geach says that if the team add "a Middle Eastern person or a female or a black person," they’d do it "properly."

"We’d put the real work into it, not just a band-aid to appease people. We’d dedicate artist time to new scalps, new texturing, it might come along with a larger content patch, so it’s not just shoehorned in."

Geach says giving players the option to disable characters that aren’t white and male "is not set in stone" and "depends how our community is in the future." 

"Maybe if it calms down... 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."

For now, toxicity in Mordhau is unlikely to abate anytime soon. Whenever the topic of female characters is raised on the forums, it sparks furious debate, with players often citing worries about historical accuracy. "When you're done adding females and naggers, can you add orcs and hobbits? It’s not supposed to be historically accurate after all... you see how the fucking slippery slope ruins everything yet?" reads one comment on a recent discussion.

Without a sea change in how the Mordhau developers police their chat and forums, comments like this will continue unchecked.

[Correction: This article originally attributed a quote regarding character customization to Andrew Geach, but it was said by Mike Desrosiers. It has been corrected.]