Trouble in the Chatroom: Cyberbullying in Video Games

Written by Melissa Chen, Research Assistant in Cornell’s Social Media Lab and Information Science Major

Communication in Videogames

While video games are a popular form of entertainment for many people, they also provide a way for people to connect and communicate online. Many gamers stream their games to share with others, enter chat rooms on platforms such as Discord, and communicate via the game itself. One study showed that the messages sent while playing an online multiplayer game were more socio-emotional than task-oriented, indicating that players connect emotionally rather than just focusing on the task at hand (Fishman, n.d.). Looking at video games through the lens of social media, it can be a very positive way for kids and adults to connect. However, just as social media has problems with cyberbullying, video game platforms do too. According to a survey conducted by Anti-Defamation League, in 2020, 81% of U.S. adults who played multiplayer games experienced harassment on the platforms (ADL, 2020).

Cyberbullying Trends and Gaming Culture

In its naturally competitive environment, cyberbullying in video games can become quite common. There are different types of games such as shooter (Call of Duty), role-playing (Cyberpunk), multiplayer (PUBG), puzzle games (Portal) and many more. In these games, the need for social dominance or power can lead to more aggressive behavior. According to a study in 2015, males engaged in more cyberbullying than females. Females and LGBT players experienced more cyber-victimization related to sexual comments or behaviors, suggesting that sexism, homophobia, or dominant masculinity lead to more cyberbullying (Ballard, 2015). Additionally, the study showed that game rank was a major reason for cyberbullying and cyber-victimization. Game ranks show how much achievement a user has made in the game, which could be increased by winning games or beating levels. Higher ranked players are more likely to engage in cyberbullying behaviors such as name-calling. Another study performed on 1069 adolescents showed that males exhibit more hostility and aggression, and preference for violent games (Yang, 2012).

Griefing

Griefing is when a player intentionally tries to annoy or “cause grief” in other players, without the intent of winning anymore. Griefers do not play by the actual rules of the game and can ruin other players’ experiences. In a survey done by Second Life, 95% of respondents reported that they had experienced griefing (Rubin and Camm, 2013). The same researchers categorized griefing into 4 types: harassment, power imposition, scamming, and greed play. A subcategory of harassment is trolling, where players play to get a reaction out of other players. Power imposition involves targeting and killing weaker characters. Scamming is when players intentionally make bad deals to other players in games, which can have real-world or online benefits. Greed is when players act only for their own benefit. In my own experience, I like to play Brawlstars but it’s pretty common for players to quickly get annoyed and give up winning. They start “emoting” with angry faces and the thumbs down icon, and then stop playing which makes a 3v3 become a 3v2, which is a lot harder to win. Since Brawlstars is a very fast paced game, one loss can quickly be made up. However in games like Minecraft, where users can destroy belongings, and Valorant, where one game can go up to 14 rounds, griefing can have much more significant effects.

With increasing technological use and downloading of video games, the effects of cyberbullying in these games can have a big impact on individuals’ self-esteem, aggressiveness, anxiety, anger, and lead to depression. Most research on cyberbullying in video games focuses on elementary, middle, and high school students. Research also shows that cyberbullying victims can become cyberbullies themselves. Male victims who experienced cyberbullying are more likely to exhibit aggression in daily life. Females are more likely to be negatively impacted psychologically after cyberbullying (Fryling et al., 2015).

Video games and Bullying

We discussed how those who were cyberbullied may become cyberbullies themselves in the future, but is there a correlation between video game use and cyberbullying? A meta analytic review of over 130 research reports of both Western and Japanese literature shows how exposure to violent video games can lead to increased aggressive behavior and decreased prosocial behavior (Anderson et al, 2010). The study essentially conducted 6 meta-analyses for 6 outcome variables: aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive effect, physiological arousal, empathy, and prosocial behavior. Violent video games were positively correlated with aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect, as well as lower empathy and prosocial behavior. While there are many factors that can increase aggression, violent video games are a risk factor for aggressive behavior (Greitemeyer et al, 2014). However, violent video games that can be played cooperatively on a team can attenuate the effect on aggression, since teamwork involves cooperation and empathy. On a positive note, prosocial video games can lead to more social behavior and cognitive development. Violent video games can include prosocial interactions (e.g. helping others, saving the world), which would also mitigate the effects of those games on aggressive behavior. Thus, the correlation between violent video games and bullying is not well-defined.

Interventions

As cyberbullying is quite prevalent in video games, we must consider possible interventions to detect and prevent cyberbullying. For social media in general, there is research being done for automatically detecting cyberbullying using machine learning algorithms. According to a study in 2019, the researchers used machine learning algorithms detecting abusive behaviors categorized into cyberbullying and cyber aggression (Chatzakou et al., 2019). They found that many of the comments by the cyber aggressors stem from societal issues such as religion, politics, and others. The research on bullying detection will be very valuable for platforms to be able to effectively identify and suspend aggressive users.

While machine learning is a pretty neat method to combat cyberbullying, there are plenty of other steps users and parents can take to avoid cyberbullying. On many platforms, there is a way to report users for their aggressive behavior, as well as a blocking feature to avoid playing with certain users. If the game is becoming too stressful, it is also a good idea to take a break from the game. Parents can try to understand the nature and mechanisms of video games their child is playing and keep checking in on which games and with whom the child is playing. Additionally, educating kids about the dangers and how to react to cyberbullying can go a long way to be able to handle these difficult situations (Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, 2021). Video game platforms have their ups and downs with regards to connecting people online, but research is being done to make gaming a healthy experience for users of all skill levels.

Works Cited

Fishman, A. (n.d.). Video games are social spaces: How video games help people connect. Video Games Are Social Spaces: How Video Games Help People Connect | ResponseCenter. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.jcfs.org/response/blog/video-games-are-social-spaces-how-video-games-help-people-connect

Free to play? hate, harassment and positive social experience in online games 2020. Anti-Defamation League. (2020). Retrieved May 20, 2022, from https://www.adl.org/free-to-play-2020

Ballard, M. E., & Welch, K. M. (2015). Virtual warfare. Games and Culture, 12(5), 466–491. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412015592473

Yang, S. C. (2012). Paths to bullying in online gaming: The effects of gender, preference for playing violent games, hostility, and aggressive behavior on bullying. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 47(3), 235–249. https://doi.org/10.2190/ec.47.3.a

Rubin, V. L., & Camm, S. C. (2013). Deception in video games: Examining varieties of griefing. Online Information Review, 37(3), 369–387. https://doi.org/10.1108/oir-10-2011-0181

Fryling, M., Cotler, J. L., Rivituso, J., Mathews, L., & Pratico, S. (n.d.). Cyberbullying or normal game play? impact of age, gender, and experience on cyberbullying in multi-player online gaming environments: Perceptions from one gaming forum. Journal of Information Systems Applied Research. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from http://jisar.org/2015-8/N1/JISARv8n1p4.html

Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H. R., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(2), 151–173. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018251

Greitemeyer, T., & Mügge, D. O. (2014). Video games do affect social outcomes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(5), 578–589. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167213520459

Chatzakou, D., Leontiadis, I., Blackburn, J., Cristofaro, E. D., Stringhini, G., Vakali, A., & Kourtellis, N. (2019). Detecting cyberbullying and Cyberaggression in social media. ACM Transactions on the Web, 13(3), 1–51. https://doi.org/10.1145/3343484

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA). (2021, September 14). Cyberbullying and online gaming. StopBullying.gov. Retrieved April 25, 2022, from https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/cyberbullying-online-gaming

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