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An Honest Look at Video Games and Toxicity


Anyone that’s ever played a video game before knows that they are like an entryway into a new type of world. Not just the fantasy worlds of Lego Star Wars or Call of Duty, but the entire world as a whole- connected through the internet.

This mixture between game worlds and the real world allows for some unique consequences, both positive and negative, that we seldom think about.

Consequences of Video Games

Personally, it has been sixteen years since some of my earliest memories involving video games.

I was about six years old then.

The sharing of experiences and information in live multiplayer games since then has been near-instantaneous and allows for interactions that social media and the web simply cannot offer. To this day I am still connected to some of the friends I have met online over nearly two decades of playing video games and sharing experiences together.

The ways that video games helped me cultivate my interpersonal skills, character traits (in real life- not in-game), and create life-long experiences with fond memories along the way will always be cherished.

Yet, at what cost?

We need to continue discussing the impact that bringing together pre-teens, teens, and adults of all walks of life have on all demographics.

Daniel Kelley, the Associate Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Center for Technology and Society (CTS), works with ADL to ensure justice and fair treatment to all in a digital environment. I was fortunate enough to listen to Daniel speak about the consequences and his research regarding bias, hate, and harassment found in online video games.

Having been passionate about games all my life, his talk really struck a chord with me. It made me think about times that I have quite literally quit playing some of my favorite games due to toxic behavior- which, in fact, isn’t as uncommon as one might think.

Kelley’s research found that in 2020, 28% of online multiplayer gamers who experienced in-game harassment avoided certain games and 22% quit playing a specific game altogether.

With over 240 million people playing video games in the U.S. alone, that’s roughly 53 million players avoiding games- simply because they have experienced harassment or those games are known for having hostile environments.

As an avid gamer, this made me question the potential consequences of the toxicity that can be found in games. In the end, is it the game or the user at fault for creating toxic environments? Perhaps both. ADL and Kelley’s studies show that people also share many positive experiences in gaming. With 83% of participants reporting making friends, 83% feeling like a part of a community, 81% discovering new interests, the list goes on for all the potential benefits gaming can provide players.

But in the same way that most social media platforms require users to be thirteen or older, adult online content often requiring eighteen years of age, and various other restrictions in online communities, we can begin to wonder how not having these restrictions in place for most video games affect the people involved.

Conclusion

As I mentioned before, I was just becoming a teenager when I began playing online multiplayer games with people from around the U.S. and the world. Often, these games involved heated competition and incited temporary rage in their users.

Is this a conducive and appropriate environment for kids and adults to interact in?

Is there innocence that kids lose when they begin hearing slurs from people they will likely never meet in person?

What are the consequences of extruding harassment and toxicity in these online environments comprised of kids, young adults, and adults, with limited restricting ability?

These are just some of the questions that need to be addressed, and, hopefully, with more research such as the studies being done by the ADL, we can begin to understand these environments, how they shape and have shaped generations of users, and how we can maximize positive interactions while minimizing objective negativity.

Have you ever experienced toxicity in a video game?

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