What is happening in video games don’t stay in video games. Sometimes that’s a good thing: decades of research suggest that video games influence players in a positive way, such as increased psychological well-being, improved problem solving and spatial rotation skills, and even increases interest in STEM fields. But too often, these advantages of video games are thwarted by toxic behaviors.
In the world of online gambling, this includes sexual harassment, hate speech, threats of violence, doxing (posting the private information of others), spam, flames (strong emotional statements intended to elicit reactions negative), grief (unintentionally using the game to harass others) and intentionally inhibiting the performance of one’s own team. The perpetrators of such behavior tend to be younger, male, and rich in emotional responsiveness and impulsiveness. These uninhibited behaviors are fed by the anonymity that certain virtual environments allow and by players seeing them as widespread and acceptable behaviors, which might help explain why toxicity is somewhat contagious – exposure in previous games was shown to increase the likelihood that a player will commit toxic acts in future games.
Players often rationalize such toxicity have a normal part of the game. But, as new research shows, this behavior has significant and long-term negative effects on gamers, especially those outside the stereotypical demographics of young white males. Despite studies suggesting that women are also or more qualified only men video games when we give him the same reading time, they are more likely than their male counterparts to be toxicity targets. And studies suggest that toxicity is more harmful to women, not just when it comes to psychological well-being but also because certain coping mechanisms – such as not using voice chat, to hide sex –disadvantages women in the game itself. Such experiences discourage women and girls from playingwhich means they are less likely to experience the cognitive benefits of play such as spatial rotation skills, which are associated with Success in technology career paths: An area in which there is already crawling genre disparity. Studies also suggest that exposure to gender stereotypes in games potentially results in negative attitudes towards women in other stereotypical fields, such as STEM fields.
Although research tends to focus on gender toxicity, minority groups are also frequently victimized. According to a recent Anti-Defamation League investigation (ADL) out of 1,000 U.S. gamers aged 18 to 45, more than half of multiplayer gamers reported harassment related to their race / ethnicity, religion, ability, gender, or sexual orientation in the past six months. This study also found that approximately one-third of LGBTQ, black, and Hispanic / Latinox gamers have experienced in-game harassment related to their sexual orientation, race or ethnicity. And 81% of multiplayer gamers experience some form of harassment overall, with the majority also reporting experiencing physical threats, stalking, and sexual harassment. Additionally, 64 percent of respondents felt that toxicity affected them, with 11 percent reporting depressive or suicidal thoughts and almost a quarter saying they had stopped playing certain games as a result of these negative experiences.
The gaming industry is aware of this problem and some large companies such as Electronic arts, Infinity room, and Valve have launched anti-toxicity initiatives in response. These programs seem to align with the suggestions of the ADL study: they have developed moderation tools for voice chat and improved the ease and transparency of player reporting systems. Yet the ADL suggests that systemic change will only be possible if other stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, also devote resources to this issue. Take this, a nonprofit mental health organization that focuses on supporting the gaming industry and the community, and the Fair play alliance, a gaming industry coalition that shares best practices for fostering healthy player interactions, is doing just that. Governments should also get involved, according to ADL. Legislation aimed at curbing disinformation and divisive speech on traditional social media platforms, for example, could be expanded to address the toxicity of online games.
But apart from all of these organizational approaches, the most effective way to reduce toxicity in online gaming starts at the bottom, through individual actors actively dealing with such behavior. Of course, that’s easier said than done. In a study, more than three-quarters of college-aged gamers said racist, sexist or homophobic comments in online games should be confronted, but less than a fifth of those said they do. Another study, produced in collaboration with WIRED, found that people who support the Black Lives Matter movement are also likely to resist bullying and harassment online, but only a small portion of participants said they do so to a large extent. Likewise, in the ADL study, less than half of respondents reported reporting toxicity using play tools. Reasons for not reporting included the effort required in the reporting process, as reports were not effective or taken seriously, or toxicity being a standardized part of the gaming experience.