Medieval combat simulator Mordhau, developed by rookie indie company Triternion, has been widely praised by games media for its complex, satisfying combat and impressive physics engine. What escaped notice, however, was the culture of virulent hatred the game fostered with its symbolically charged crusades theme, permissive moderation, and complete lack of an in-game reporting function to push back against toxic behavior.
All this noxiousness has been thrown into sharp relief by an interview with Mordhau game developers Mike Desrosiers and Andrew Geach published by PC Gamer that investigates why racism is allowed to run rampant in the game. While there’s room for a lot of nuance when it comes to fostering diversity and addressing hate in videogames, the interview demonstrates the developer’s tone-deafness with even the basics of this discussion.
For one, there’s the matter of character customization. While Mordhau offers a highly customizable experience in armor and play-style, when it comes to race and gender, the game restricts you to white men, though Triternion has plans to introduce more diverse options in the future.
When asked about the absence of diverse characters, the developer team responded that if they decided to add “a Middle Eastern person or a female or a black person,” they’d do it “properly,” by creating “new scalps, new texturing” for them. While that’s nice, besides the focus on scalps as signifiers of race and gender, Geach went on to say that the “current thinking” of the developer theme is to give players the option to disable diverse characters. The toggle would only affect the toggler’s game, so that while your opponents retain their chosen race and gender, they appear on the toggler’s screen as white men.
Triternion claimed on Twitter Tuesday that they never had plans to “add a toggle to hide other ethnicities.”
And while they may never have had serious plans to implement an ethnicity filter, there appears to have been debate about a gender filter. PC Gamer dug up a Steam discussion post from this April where a Triternion team member said that they may add “a simple client-side toggle (for both female and male characters) to let you disable them” because complaints of realism are “valid.” This is despite the ample historical evidence that women participated heavily in medieval military orders.
PC Gamer’s report also points out that Triternion has repeatedly failed to control open displays of racism on the in-game chat function, the Steam discussion page, or even on Mordhau’s official forum.
Unfortunately, it appears that the toxicity of Mordhau’s community, where free use of slurs is tolerated, is not a coincidence, or a byproduct of a small indie dev team struggling against waves of anonymous vitriol. With their idea for a gender filter, Mordhau’s developers signal that they don’t just take a hands-off approach to moderation, but actively cater to bigoted viewpoints.
Triternion have yet to share the official statement they promised on Monday night, but we’ll update this post once they do. “There’s a lot of wrong stuff going on with this and we are going to try to learn from our mistakes,” a Triternion representative told Polygon Tuesday, “and work a lot better in our internal communication before doing another borked public statement.”