Behaviour Interactive, developer of co-op survival horror game Dead By Daylight, has decided to remove certain cosmetics from the game after years of complaints that they were being used in racist harassment against Black players. Announced as part of a developer update, the cosmetics will be removed in a forthcoming patch, and players who have unlocked the cosmetics will be compensated with in-game currency. In its update, Behaviour Interactive wrote:
“Members of the community have shared their experiences with people targeting and harassing them while using some of these masks. These reports were disheartening to hear, and we absolutely condemn this behaviour. We are not comfortable having these masks in the game when they are used as a tool to spread hate. To that end, we will be removing The Cannibal’s unlockable faces in this upcoming Mid-Chapter.”
Introduced to the game several years ago, the cosmetics were special skins designed for the “The Cannibal” killer, also known as Leatherface from 1974’s horror movie classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The cosmetics allowed Leatherface to wear the faces of one of the four original survivor characters, one of whom is a Black woman named Claudette. Black players expressed unease about the Claudette version of the skin as it seemed like an instance of blackface. Blackface is a racist trope in media in which non-Black performers make themselves look like caricatures of Black people by darkening their skin, drawing on huge, exaggerated red lips, or wearing unkempt kinky-haired wigs.
MiladyConfetti is a Black streamer and a member of the Dead By Daylight partner program. She described the skin as “horrific” and originally thought the game was glitching as she didn’t believe a skin like that — one that involved a white man wearing the skin of a Black woman in a literal case of blackface — could exist.
In addition to the skin itself evoking the specter of blackface, the way the skin was used caused an even greater concern. Black Dead By Daylight streamers reported killers who would wear the Claudette version of the Leatherface skin — which they had taken to calling it “Blackface Leatherface” — and harass them.
“I was harassed by players who knew I was a streamer particularly with the Blackface Leatherface cosmetic,” MiladyConfetti told The Verge. “I knew it was the players because after being harassed in the game, they would come to my stream and call me slurs and acknowledge that they were the killer.”
MiladyConfetti and other Black Dead By Daylight players began a campaign advocating for the cosmetic’s removal citing its uncomfortable closeness to the racist act of blackface and its abuse by players targeting Black streamers.
In November 2021, SistaKaren, another Dead By Daylight partner creator, released a video breaking down the problem she and others have had with Blackface Leatherface.
The video contains numerous anecdotes of Black streamers being targeted by killers wearing the Claudette Leatherface skin. SistaKaren described how a Claudette Leatherface sent her messages saying, “I hate Black people,” and other messages that were ostensibly slurs but censored by chat filters. Another player recounted an incident in which a Claudette Leatherface would grief them, exclusively toying with or killing them while ignoring other survivors. The incidents of harassment got so bad that Black players, upon seeing a Leatherface wearing the Claudette skin, would immediately disconnect from the game as a protective measure, which, ironically, led to even more harassment. One Claudette Leatherface user incited a protracted harassment campaign against a streamer who disconnected upon seeing the skin, sending racist and toxic messages to the streamer’s Discord, Twitter, and Instagram profiles.
The Claudette Leatherface skin is another example of racist players using things designed to be representative for Black people as a tool of harassment. Twitch has long struggled with people spamming the Trihard emote, which features the face of Black streamer Trihex, to harass Black streamers. The same is true of the “cmonbruh” emote, prompting many streamers to ban the use of both emotes outright to prevent that kind of behavior. In Red Dead Redemption Online, players concocted elaborate racist roleplays in which they act as slave catchers to grief players with Black avatars.
“I feel good that [Claudette Leatherface] is removed,” MiladyConfetti said. “It was long overdue, especially because this conversation started years ago.”
Other players agreed, including the senior character artist at Behaviour Interactive who made the skins.
As the artist who made the bubba masks, I'm glad they are being removed. As cool as it would have been to have an easter egg for all survivors. The reality of it is there were many players using them in harmful ways. Gamers, no matter the game please treat others with respect.— Eric Bourdages (@EZE3D) January 4, 2022
Other players on Dead By Daylight’s forums see this action as ineffective as it seemingly “punishes” people who worked to earn the skin while racist players will simply find other ways to be racist. They suggest improved reporting features as a better solution to the racism problem.
SistaKaren understands that Behaviour hasn’t magically solved the problem of player racism in Dead By Daylight.
“It won’t [solve the racism problem], especially considering how anti-Black hostility and outright racism continue to be prevalent and normalized in gaming,” she told The Verge.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also acknowledge the ongoing harm that Black players would experience,” she said. “While all of us have experienced racism in the game, the worst instances are always with someone wearing this cosmetic.”
Behaviour Interactive’s decision to remove the Claudette Leatherface acknowledges that even though something may have been conceived with benign intentions, its use causes harm and that harm will not be tolerated.