Valve is testing a new chat filtering system that blots out "the most offensive language shared on Steam," and allows users to create personal lists of blocked words, or borrow lists created by others. The filtering can also be turned off altogether.
"We believe this level of control is especially important given that language is constantly evolving and is used differently among various communities around the world," said Valve in a blog post. "So with Steam chat filtering, we've made sure you can choose to filter language as much as you want, or not at all."
Steam chat filtering is currently a Steam Labs Experiment that you have to opt into in your Steam account settings to use, but will soon be rolled out to all Steam users "in response to user and partner requests."
By default, there are two word filtering lists: one for general profanity and one for slurs. "Over 56 percent of the instances of profanity or slurs found in our sample [of in-game chat] were a variant of f***," said Valve. "Another 10 percent of them were variants of s***. Another 10 percent were instances of potty-mouth school yard language we've chosen not to filter as strong profanity or slurs. The remaining 24 percent of the instances were strong profanity and slurs we found to be used commonly enough that we've also added them to our lists."
If you're wondering, I asked Valve for examples of the "potty-mouth school yard language" it has chosen not to filter, and it told me: "Words like peepee, poopoo, butt, etc."
Valve says it isn't simply banning the use of slurs in chat because it doesn't want to stop users from speaking to their friends how they want to, for instance by using reappropriated slurs.
"We know marginalized groups can reclaim language for themselves, and we don’t want to stand in the way of enabling groups of Steam users from doing so when chatting with one another on Steam," wrote Valve. "So players have an option to see profanity and slurs from their Steam Friends, if they wish."
That approach only applies to filtering in private chats: Valve already censors profanity and slurs used in Steam user reviews and Steam forums, which are public. Additionally, Valve already uses image recognition and user reports to blur "potentially inappropriate imagery" posted to Steam Community pages.
Chat filtering currently works with Steam chat and in certain games—Valve didn't specify which, but it's probably referring to its games, such as Dota 2. Valve says that other game developers will be able to "take advantage" of the system through the Steamworks API, presumably to carry a user's preferences over into their in-game chat. Valve also said it may apply the filtering options to "more forms of user-generated content" on Steam.
For now, you can opt into the Steam chat filtering experiment by clicking your display name in the upper right-hand corner of Steam, selecting Account Details, and then opening the Preferences tab. You'll find the option under "community content preferences."