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Toxicity in Video Games

Years of research has shown that video games have, in many ways, influenced players in positive ways like the training of spatial-rotation skills, increased psychological well-being, enhanced problem solving, and an interest in STEM fields. However, in other cases, these advantages are always counteracted with various negative toxic behaviours.

In the world of online gaming this is very prevalent as players are subjected to sexual harassment, threats of violence, hate speech, spamming, flaming (strong emotional statements meant to bring out a negative reaction), griefing (using the game in an unintended way to harass players), and doxxing (finding and publicizing private information).  Players often rationalize these types of behaviours as a normal part of video gaming culture. Although, new studies have shown that this type of behaviour has significant long-term negative effects on players that do not fall into the general stereotype of a “gamer”.

Perpetrators of such behaviours tend to be younger in age, male, and highly impulsive with their emotional reactivity. Despite the fact that studies have shown women tend to be equally or even more skilled than men in video games when given the same amount of playing time, they are more likely to face abuse and toxicity than their male counterparts. Studies have suggested that toxicity is more harmful for women, not only with respect to their psychological and emotional well-being, but also because certain coping mechanisms such as masking their voice to hide their gender identity puts them at a disadvantage within the game itself. Such experiences directly discourage them to not play video games, which in turn, suggests that they will be less likely to develop interest in STEM fields — an area where there is already a rampant gender disparity. 

The gaming industry is aware of this issue and major companies like Electronic Arts and Valve have launched various anti-toxicity initiatives and policies to respond and to maybe mitigate such behaviours. Aside from that, the most effective way to eliminate such behaviour is to start from the bottom. In my experience, when I have played video games online, I was subjected to various sexist, homophobic, and racist remarks from players that I had never seen or met in real life. 

Ultimately, video gaming culture has to change, and this can start from home. One of the ways to mitigate this is playing games as a family. This strategy will encourage players to not only become closer with their family members, but it will also encourage them to learn more appropriate behaviors so that they do not develop toxic behaviors and hate in the virtual as well as the real world.

Even if you are not a gamer yourself, you might know someone who is — it could be your siblings, your friends, your kids etc. We need to consider raising these issues to the forefront and find ways to make sure this does not continue.

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