Survey finds high levels of harassment in multiplayer games, as well as white supremacist recruiting attempts

The ADL surveyed 1,045 US adult gamers (oversampling Jewish, Muslim, African American and Hispanic/Latinx individuals) and asked them about their experiences in multiplayer games: on the one hand, they found that playing these social games brought many benefits: friendship, support, fun, connection and romance; on the other hand, they found that a very high proportion of gamers experienced harassment of varying kinds, that many players had quit games because of harassment, and that some games were home to much more harassment than others.

The most "positive" games (where players said they were unlikely to experience harassment) were World of Warcraft (59%), Minecraft (55%), NBA 2k (51%), Overwatch (49%), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (48%), and Fortnite (47%); while the worse offenders for harassment were Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) (79% of players of the game), Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (75%), Overwatch (75%), PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds (75%) and League of Legends (75%).

That one set of figures is itself a little arresting: the most positive games are actually pretty negative (about half of players experience harassment), while in the world of negative games, the players reporting harassment represent large supermajorities of all sampled players.

Harassment often targets players based on race, gender and gender identity. Racial harassment varies based on race: if you're Black, it's 31%; Latinx, 24%; and if you're Asian, it's 23%. Jews and Muslims are harassed for their background 19% of the time. The highest levels of targeted harassment are experienced by women (38%) and queer players (35%).

This should probably matter to games companies: about one in five players have quit a game to escape harassment. No wonder, either: 23% of harassment survivors become less social and 15% feel "isolated" after harassment. 10% have depressive or suicidal thoughts following harassment (conflating these two feels like a big flaw in study methodology).

29% of players say they've been doxed by other players. 23% have experienced attempt to recruit them to "white nationalism" (8% say they've experienced ISIS recruitment attempts). Other online conspiracies encountered in gamespace include "9/11 truthers" (13%), Holocaust denial (9%), anti-vax (8%) and gamergate (8%).

The players largely favored an expansion of their rights to redress when they experienced harassment. 58% want more legal rights of redress, while 55% want games to develop voice-chat moderation tools.

This last part is a little weird, since it's unlikely that the kind of thing their thinking of — a speech-to-text engine that mines player chat for harassing behavior — is anywhere near possible. One could imagine alternatives, like a "call moderator" button that records the chat and seeks moderator review, but automatic harassment detection for speech is a piece of design fiction, not a plan.

While this study affirms some commonsense intuitions and brings some quantitative rigor to an often qualitative debate, I'm concerned about the small sample size and some methodological errors. As a starting point, this is important (and should really worry games companies — if you're losing a fifth of your customers to toxic jerks, the business-case for addressing this is very straightforward), but it shouldn't be the final word.

The survey also measured players' attitudes towards efforts to make online multiplayer games safe and more inclusive spaces for players. A majority of online multiplayer gamers (62%) agree that companies should do more to make online multiplayer games safer and more inclusive for players, and over half (55%) agree that these games should have technology that allows for content moderation of in-game voice chat.

Free to Play? Hate, Harassment, and Positive Social Experiences in Online Games

(via Four Short Links)