As online gaming and the use of microphones continues to grow in popularity, so does one of gaming’s biggest issues: harassment.
Almost all gamers have experienced some form of harassment or toxicity while playing online video games. It can happen in almost any video game, and can come in many different forms. Different forms of toxicity can include griefing, which is when players disrupt other players purposely, by stealing their in-game items or killing teammates; hate speech, which is when someone abuses another player based on things like race or religion; and threatening or aggressive behavior. In some severe cases harassment can cause some mental health problems.
You can experience harassment in almost any online game–some more than others. League of Legends and Call of Duty supposedly have some of the most toxic communities. From my experience, I find that games aimed at younger audiences have less toxic communities than ones aimed at teenagers and adults. For example, while playing games with a young player base like Fortnite, I find that in most cases, my teammates are supportive of each other and myself and getting a rude teammate is quite rare. However, while playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, a game aimed towards adults, I find that harassment is more frequent. Though my teammates are supportive for the most part, they are more judgmental based on the skill level of my teammates and me.
The platform you are gaming on can also be a factor of harassment in gaming. For example PC players have more access to social features than Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players do. For example, text chat is a feature in many PC games. Text chat is a feature that allows players to communicate with one another by typing in messages on their keyboard. Only a few games on console have text chat meaning that console players will need a mic in order to communicate with each other. This reduces the chances of harassment on console platforms.
One shift that is reducing harassment is the de-emphasis of voice chat. New games these days have fewer people using microphones due to in-game features like pings. Pings are a way to communicate with your teammates without a microphone or text chat. Almost anything you need to point out in the game can be done so by using the ping system. This includes things like requesting ammo, health, or weapons and alerting your teammates of enemies. For example, Apex Legends is a game that has a very in-depth ping system, which you can use to ping almost anything. Fortnite also added a similar system in response to the Apex Legends ping system, just not as in-depth. Many people prefer using ping systems rather than talking to others with a mic.
When people are harassed while playing online games it can sometimes cause mental health problems according to the RCMP. This includes depression, low self-esteem, aggressive behaviours, etc. If someone is getting continuously harassed by someone online while gaming, and they don’t deal with it by blocking and/or reporting them it could also cause them to lose interest in their hobby. In an article on Game Quitters, a gamer who identifies himself only as “Dale” describes the gaming community as “dark and full of hate.” It seemed to him that many players’ aim was “to cause upset and chaos to one another.” That an unhealthy addiction to gaming drove him to quit. He states that after quitting he found his health quickly improved and that he didn’t feel as stressed.
Those who are harassing people in online games should also be worried as it can have some consequences. If someone is harassing other players, they can be reported and banned from the service they conducted harassment on. An example of this happening in a Eurogamer article is when a group of players were banned for using homophobic slurs on another player in Fallout 76. Though the rules are different with each game, if someone harasses another player while playing a PC game, their in-game account could be suspended or banned, which would cause them to temporarily or even permanently lose all in-game progress and items for the specific game. If someone did the same on a gaming platform like Xbox or PlayStation, it could have even more serious results than on PC. Both the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network rules state that harassment can result in an account ban or suspension. If lucky, the offender only is temporarily restricted from using their system account. In some cases, they could even lose their account forever, which would mean they’d lose all their games and game progress. If someone continuously offends the harassment rules, their console itself could be suspended or banned, rendering it useless for a certain amount of time or possibly forever.
Harassment in online gaming can be prevented to a certain extent. Some ways to counter harassment while gaming according to BagoGames are as follows: in the case that someone won’t stop sending you provocative messages, most gaming platforms give you the option to block them and this will stop them from being able to interact with you entirely. If in a match with a teammate or teammates that are harassing you over voice chat you can mute them and they won’t be able to talk to you for the extent of that match. Unfortunately, while this may deal with a specific person or people, there is nothing stopping the same from happening again with someone else.
Most gaming companies don’t have plans to change how they combat toxicity in gaming in the future, but as time progresses they do sometimes try to combat it. According to PC Gamer, about a year ago, more than 30 gaming companies including Blizzard, Riot and Twitch created an organization called the Fair Play Alliance which is a collaborative effort among game developers to share strategies and best practices related to content moderation and online safety. For now, gamers can only report and, sometimes, simply step away.