Toxicity, Hate and Harassment in Gaming

Many clients presenting with problematic gaming are likely to have been negatively impacted by online toxicity, hate and harassment. In order to provide effective treatment for gaming disorder, clinicians need to develop cultural humility to understand the darker side of the gaming world and how it operates.

This blog explains that it is not just gaming disorder that needs to be addressed by helping professionals but the traumatic toxic experiences that clients are exposed to when playing video games.

How to identify gaming disorder

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines gaming disorder as:

  • impaired control over gaming
  • increasing priority given to gaming over other interests and daily activities, and
  • continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences – personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.

The WHO states that this pattern of behavior would normally occur over a period of at least 12 months in order for a gaming order diagnosis to be given. However, if the symptoms are severe enough over a shorter period, then a diagnosis can also be considered..

At INTENTA, we categorize gaming into four stages which we call the gaming continuum:

  1. Recreational gaming: About 90% of gamers are casual players for whom gaming is a fun activity.
  2. At-risk gaming: About 10% of gamers fall more into the at-risk category and have some degree of problematic behavior.
  3. Problematic gaming: About 5% of gamers begin to experience negative consequences of their gaming behavior.
  4. Gaming disorder: 1-3% of gamers fall into this category, where gaming causes significant impairment in their life. Learn more in our article on gaming disorder prevalence.

If you are a clinician or mental health professional, you may want to integrate our gaming disorder screening tools into your practice.

Toxicity in gaming statistics

Although there are many positive aspects of video games – such as increased psychological well-being and enhanced cognitive skills – hate and harassment are regular occurrences. A 2020 nationally representative survey of US gamers aged 18-45 found that:

  • 81% of people who played online multiplayer games experienced some form of harassment, compared to 74% of gamers in the 2019 survey.
  • 68% of respondents experienced more severe abuse, including physical threats, stalking, and sustained harassment, up from 65% in 2019. That represents around 45 million online gamers in the US reporting significant harassment.
  • The video games where players experienced most harassment while playing were DOTA 2 (80%), Valorant (80%), Rocket League (76%), Grand Theft Auto (76%), Call of Duty (75%) and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (75%).
  • 53% of gamers who experienced harassment were targeted because of their race/ethnicity, religion, ability status, gender or sexual orientation.
  • 41% of female gamers and 37% of LGBTQ gamers were harassed about their gender and sexual orientation.
  • 31% of Black gamers and 30% of Hispanic/Latinx gamers experienced in-game harassment because of their race or ethnicity.
  • 25% of Asian-American gamers experienced harassment based on their identity.
  • 25% of disabled gamers were targeted because of their disability.
  • 18% of Jewish gamers and 25% of Muslim gamers said they were subjected to harassment.
  • 28% of gamers who experienced harassment avoided certain games due to their hostile environments.

Why are online games so toxic?

Players sometimes rationalize toxic gaming culture as a normal and acceptable part of gaming. Research has shown that toxic behavior is contagious among players and exposure in previous games increases the likelihood that a player will commit toxic acts in future games. Also, more experienced and skillful players are more likely to engage in toxic and abusive behaviors than those who are new to gaming.

How are players being abused online?

Toxicity in gaming is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Here are some of the ways that players are being abused and harassed:

Discrimination

Players can be discriminated against because of their age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion or spirituality. This abuse impacts many individuals who already belong to groups and communities that have historically been oppressed and marginalized for being their authentic selves.

Swatting

This occurs when someone is reported to law enforcement for a crime they did not commit in the hope that the subsequent police raid is broadcast during a live streaming game.

Doxing

Doxing is the act of publicizing a person’s private personal information online. It sometimes involves posting their IP address on a public forum so that other people who engage in trolling can help to crash it.

Flaming

Flaming (also known as roasting) involves insulting, swearing or using other offensive language when gaming to attack a person or group of people.

Griefing

Griefing is deliberately harassing or disrupting the game of another player within a multiplayer environment. Often this anti-social behavior becomes the main goal of the game rather than winning. These players are known as griefers.

Botting

Botting involves sending robots to spam another player’s chat stream and filling it with hate messages.

Hate raids

Hate raids occur when people (or robots) flood the chat stream of a Twitch streamer and unleash a torrent of abusive language. It is distressing for the streamer and for others who are watching.

Hate speech

This is when abusive language includes racist, sexist or homophobic comments, or other hateful and discriminatory behavior.

Online voice chat abuse

This abuse can be used as a tactic to try to throw someone off their game. It is similar to tactics sometimes employed in athletic sport but it takes on a different level because, unlike athletic sport where there are coaches and psychologists to help deal with the consequences, when someone is gaming online there is no referee to blow the whistle.

What can players do about online toxicity?

There are several measures that players can take to avoid online toxicity, hate and harassment. These include:

  • Blocking and muting – Players can turn off or mute their in-game chat and decide if they want to continue with the game.
  • Reporting abuse – Most video games and gaming platforms have abuse reporting procedures.
  • Standing up against toxicity – Family, educators and friends should encourage gamers to stand up against online toxicity instead of fuelling a bystander culture where in-game hate and harassment is ignored and normalized.

The Cybersmile Foundation outlines other coping strategies for dealing with online abuse.

Gaming Disorder Clinical Training

When helping professionals treat clients with gaming disorder it is important they understand the cultural context of video games. Many players presenting with problematic behaviors will have been negatively impacted by toxicity, harassment and other online abuse. This can lead to trauma which therapists should treat alongside the problematic gaming behavior.

At INTENTA, our Gaming Disorder Clinical Training equips counselors and mental health professionals with cultural humility as well as practical prevention tools and intervention strategies. The 15-hour online course will improve your quality of care and understanding of the digital generation and their virtual world.

Find out more about our internationally-accredited training today.

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