For anyone who has dived into a multiplayer game recently, the rampant harassment plaguing countless big-name titles is an issue that needs no introduction.
Behind the cutesy aesthetic and surface-level family-friendly veneer of games like Fortnite and League of Legends hides an inconvenient truth. Bullying and entrenched harassment, or toxicity as publishers like to call it to downplay its significance, could put an end to multiplayer games.
A new study co-authored by gaming insight firm Newzoo and the Anti-Defamation League attests to just how prevalent these issues can be for players.
The pool gathered the thoughts of 1,045 U.S.-based respondents aged 18 to 45 from a range of ethnicities, sexual orientations, and persuasions on their experience of the online multiplayer space, specifically social interactions.
The results are staggering – 74 percent of gamers have been privy to harassment in some shape or form.
The nature of the harassment attests to the gusto with which perpetrators target gamers. Fifty-three percent of the respondents confirmed they were hounded and abused based on their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
More alarmingly, 65 percent of online gamers have encountered severe harassment, including stalking, physical threats, and sustained harassment.
Unsurprisingly, PUBG, Overwatch, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, and League of Legends are among the most affected multiplayer games. The liberal use of abusive quips like ‘KYS’ (kill yourself) as a retort to a lower-skilled player is all too familiar to regular players of these titles. Sadly, targeted abusive campaigns tend to creep into unsavory territory. If that isn’t the case, hate speech and extremist views crop up uncomfortably often.
Similar to traditional bullying, the repercussions can be disastrous for the targeted individual, and as a result, these can bleed over into real-life with at times harrowing consequences.
Although publishers have implemented systems to report offending players, the prevalence of the issue remains a daily occurrence for many. Moreover, 62 percent of players feel that gaming companies have insufficient safeguards to protect the multiplayer experience.
The study illustrates that the existing measures proffered up by game publishers to protect players are inadequate and are contributing to the problem rather than providing an impactful solution. Playful banter will always be a part of any competitive endeavor, but the idea of humiliation forms part of the DNA of many of these games, which emboldens bullies.
Fortunately, 88 percent of players feel that online games can provide positive social interactions. But such a rooted culture of harassment does put into question the sustainability of the current model.
If left to fester, there’s the potential for these communities to become cesspools for harassment, a no man’s land of bullies where the genuine risk of weathering abuse outweighs the enjoyment of playing the game.
Popular titles hemorrhaging players due to insufficient steps to counter the spread of increasingly offensive interactions is a tangible long-term risk and could tarnish the appeal of multiplayer gaming.