I moderate a gameserver that revolves around a community-built virtual world, in the style of games such as Minecraft (but a FOSS clone). We have a fairly basic common-sense ruleset regarding ownership of property and land, attacks on other users, and hacking (the game server itself).

We have a user that speaks a language that is foreign to all moderators. While he/she wishes to contribute constructively, they tend to break quite a few rules since they simply do not understand them. Our game engine does not support Unicode so communication is quite limited, and we cannot copy-paste to/from a translation service. We don't have any external communication available to us, aside from telling that user our personal email. Our only registration information is a username+password.

Since most in-game documentation is in English, this user will often seek help from a few users they know. The user has one violation of a land ownership rule a few months ago, but has been acting constructively and positively. However, recently, they have been frustrated when the users that generally help them are busy or not around, and would generally spam the game chat with the name of the person they're trying to reach, along with emoticons such as >:( due to the linguistic barrier.

We've tried to explain the rules for chatting, but could not manage to do so, and had to temporarily disable this user's ability to chat. He/she became frustrated and began modifying in-game elements with text (such as signs) to send messages (which again, we could not translate without retyping).

Clearly the user is not doing this out of bad intent, and due to his/her actions being good-faith, we've not banned them yet.

Are there any strategies that could be employed to bridge a linguistic barrier (again, within the limitations of our software that excludes ability to move large pieces of text in a foreign language due to lack of copy-paste), that we should try?

  • 4
    Semi-relevant: do you know what language the user is speaking?
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 23:10
  • 1
    @Andy We do, but we can't use Unicode properly with our software, nor can we copy-paste.
    – nanofarad
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 23:16
  • I know this is out of bounds, but I don't suppose it's possible to get Unicode support added to the game (maybe file a feature request if it's written by someone else?)
    – Powerlord
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 20:27
  • @Powerlord That is not doable, nor within the bounds of my role in the server staff.
    – nanofarad
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 21:52

5 Answers 5


Like already mentioned, try to give them an email. If you're worried about spam (a valid concern), you may want to set up an email account just for the game so you can send unicode. After that, there isn't a ton you can do.

If you can identify the language and can find someone who can speak it, great! Ask them to help you. If not, you might have to use the "auto-detect" feature of Google Translate. I know that Google Translate is awful and doesn't always work, but it usually gets the meaning across. Tip: use simple sentences; Google Translate tends to work better with those and the user might be able to understand those.

After that, there isn't a whole lot that you can do. Don't treat them as a troll, but I'd say treat them as a user who just sometimes goes too far without realizing it. Also, if they do something bad, a very short ban right after might show them that their actions aren't allowed and maybe they won't do it again.

In the end, you have to remember that they're trying to participate on your server. You do have the right to ban them if they ruin the game for everyone else, but do this only if it is your last option. I'd say it'd be inhumane to ban them just because they speak a different language. There isn't a cut and dried answer here, so you just have to be polite, see what you can do, and try to be nice about whatever you do.


However, recently, they have been frustrated when the users that generally help them are busy or not around, and would generally spam the game chat with the name of the person they're trying to reach

It's not simply the language barrier. It's being rude. The user was misusing the chat system, because he/she was too impatient to wait. This is not appropriate, no matter what language you speak and what barriers you have. Temporary chat ban is appropriate, to teach them patience.

He/she became frustrated and began modifying in-game elements with text (such as signs) to send messages

You haven't written whether this is acceptable behaviour in your game. If it is then it's a kind of forum, you could say. If it's not then you should send notification to the user stating that it's not acceptable behaviour.

I'd suggest establishing some external support forum, even if it wouldn't have 'official' status. That user could post their questions and patiently wait for the other users that understand them to answer. Once again, if they flood the forum instead of waiting then a (temporary) ban is the appropriate response.

You don't know what language the user is using. But that user should be aware that the language of the community is English. So if they use another language other than English, they should know how to approach translating it, including using Google Translate, if possible.

It's sad when the language barrier leads to the loss of the potential constructive contribution of some users, but when their actions become destructive because of that barrier, it's better to let them go. The world just isn't working like that, that everything is available to everyone.

It's reasonable to set the tolerance threashold a bit higher for minor offences in case of non-English speaking users, but it ought not be too high, to be disruptive to other community users. So if they want to communicate via in-game elements, and it's not such a big issue, as long as they are using it on their part of the game world, you can choose to tolerate it. But redirecting them to an external forum would be probably the best.

  • 1
    The issue of them modifying game elements was found to be an implementation bug in the game itself. After addressing it, the modification would have fallen under an existing vandalism rule.
    – nanofarad
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 11:45

and idea might be to find someone who can speak the language a bit better than you / the translator or knows a possibilty to use alternative ascii-characters. since the game itself is FOSS, you could hope/ask for an unicode-patch.

my approach would be to provide the user a team-email e.g. [email protected], so you can communicate with the user without the barrier in the game itself. if you have to use a 3rd party provider for the mail account (eg. gmail) you should make sure, that you communicate the email in an offical way, because an ingame message like "message [email protected]" would look more like phishing than a real support example.

according to your post, it looks like that there are some users familiar with this issue and capable of helping the "problem user" it might be an idea to host a chat-session with this user, the others and your team to resolve this issue. maybe it even helps your community to develop into this market?

  • When you mention a chat session, how would you recommend going about that? A private IRC channel? (remember that we're severely limited by the game code itself, in terms of in-game chat that is possible)
    – nanofarad
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 20:25
  • 1
    yes, for example an external irc-chat. you can send a mibbit-url to this user, so it can use a "default webchat"
    – jwacalex
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 23:05

You mentioned that the problem behaviors include modifying in-game elements and "violating a land ownership rule", possibly more out of an inability to understand the rules than a desire to violate them. Have you considered adding automated/scripted security checks into your land and/or game object system? For example, instead of letting users build houses wherever they want and relying on moderators to manually knock down "unauthorized" houses and ban their builders, add a check to the "build house" routine and display an error message (and refuse to proceed with the build) if the user is trying to build on land that they are not allowed to. This not only relieves moderators of cleaning things up manually, but it provides direct reinforcement to users who might not be able to comprehend a separately-distributed rulebook. This sort of system is already used in environments such as Second Life. If you try to construct a railgun in the center of the new user welcome center, you will be bombarded with error messages far before the gun is anywhere near completion.

  • 1
    There's already scripting in place that does exactly, but we felt (at the time when this was an issue) that ensuring understanding rather than simply being rejected with an automated message (in English) would have been more beneficial for the player. At this point this is a non-issue; both the user and the game server are no longer around.
    – nanofarad
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 19:56

I was an admin in a couple of communities related to Persistent World, a role-playing modification to Mount&Blade: Warband. Role-playing was mostly done in English, but there were some players who didn't speak it. They were mostly Chinese, Russian or Polish. And sometimes admins needed to speak to those users and/or address a rules violation. What can be done?

  1. Identify the language your problem user is speaking. If possible, try to find someone who speaks it and some other language that you share pretty well -- for example, on our server an admin could announce "Someone who can translate Polish, please, come to the commoner spawn". You should probably ask someone to help you translating rules in that language. If not, you will have to use Google Translate, but... well, that should be your last resort.
  2. If such an issue becomes common, get a moderator that speaks that language -- one PW server got a Russian admin after series of complaints that were hard to resolve because of either side only speaking Russian.
  3. Contact the user in-game to find an external way of communication. It is generally not a bad idea to make one for your server -- something like Discord, TeamSpeak or Mumble. Pretty much any gaming community that I have seen had one.
  4. Notice that some users make the offences knowingly and only pretend not to understand that something is not OK. Assume good faith, but stay aware. Assume good faith, but check the logs.
  5. Probably find a way to copy-paste rules in chat by converting Unicode in to whatever encoding standard you use. It would definitely help.

If you hold an a bit stricter policy, you can use the means above to tell the user where can the rules be found and ask them to come and read them with some help of a native speaker of their language who can read the rules, and then comply, or come never again. If they fail for any reason (didn't find someone to help, didn't bother, just broke the rules for the sake of it), treat it like you would treat any normal rules violation.

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