If you have ever been harassed while playing an online game, you are far from alone. That is not to say that this revelation will come as any consolation, but according to a new study by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a not-for-profit civil rights organization, harassment in online games is disturbingly prevalent.
In a study that ADL says is a first of its kind, of the more than 1,000 respondents between the ages of 18 and 45 years old who play online multiplayer games, 74 percent said they experienced some form of harassment. Around two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents reported being the recipient of severe harassment, which includes things like physical threats, stalking, and sustained harassment.
"Video games are an important and extremely popular form of entertainment. Nearly two-thirds of US adults play games online, yet there are significant problems with hate, harassment and discrimination," said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. "At ADL, we see online multiplayer games as social platforms, and we need to fight hate on these platforms with the same seriousness as traditional social media—and for us that starts with quantifying the problem through studies like this."
While disheartening, I can't say the results are all that surprising. One need only spend a few minutes on Twitter or certain sub-reddits to see how nasty people can be on the Internet. There is a toxic online culture that is way more prevalent in too many places, and that obviously includes online gaming.
One stat that I did find a little surprising, however, is that 29 percent of online multiplayer gamers reported being doxed, which is the practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information about someone.
Over half of the study's respondents said they believed their race/ethnicity, religion, ability, gender, or sexual orientation made them a target. As it relates to that, 38 percent of women and 35 percent of LGBTQ+ players reported harassment on the basis of their gender and sexual orientation, respectively.
"Online hate causes real harm. Every time someone in an online multiplayer game physically threatens or harasses another player repeatedly because of who they are or what they believe, that experience doesn’t just end for that individual when the game is over," said Greenblatt. "That’s why it’s imperative for industry leaders and policymakers to take action to prevent this poisonous ecosystem from overflowing and causing additional harm."
Harassment is more prevalent in some games than others. The top give gamers where players reported experiencing the most harassment include DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Overwatch, and League of Legends.
On the flip side, the study also noted that positive aspects of digital social spaces exist inside online games. Nearly 9 out of 10 (88 percent) of respondents said they experienced some form of positive social interaction while playing online multiplayer games, including making friends (51 percent) or helping others play (50 percent). And nearly a third of players felt like they belonged to a community in an online game.