Statistically, most people playing online games are having a bad time, according to a new study from the Anti-Defamation League investigating positive and negative experiences in online games.
“Seventy-four percent of adults who play online multiplayer games in the US experience some form of harassment,” the study says, which based its data on “1,045 responses from a base of adults 18-45 years old who play games across PC, console and mobile platforms.” Of that 74 percent, 65 percent of players said they experienced “severe harassment,” which the study classifies as “physical threats, stalking, and sustained harassment.” Additionally, 29 percent said they had been doxed at some point as a result of spending time in an online game.
More than half of those who participated in the study “believe they were targeted because of their race/ethnicity, religion, ability, gender or sexual orientation,” the study says. “Thirty-eight percent of women and 35 percent of LGBTQ+ players” reported identity-based harassment, with 31 percent of black or African American players, 24 percent of Latinx players, and 23 percent of Asian American players saying they’d been harassed for being people of color. Nineteen percent of people identifying as Jews or Muslims reported that they were targeted for their religious beliefs.
Study participants were asked for their experiences with 15 specific games, and of those games DOTA 2 was “the game with the highest proportion of players who experience harassment among the games we included,” with 79 percent reporting any form of harassment, and 38 percent reporting frequent harassment. Second place was a four-way tie between Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and League of Legends, with 75 percent of people who play those games reporting some kind of harassment, and “roughly a quarter” reporting frequent harassment while playing the shooters on that list. The frequent harassment percentage rate for League of Legends was markedly higher, at 36 percent.
Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft tied for third at 72 percent, meaning that five of the seven most toxic games included in the survey belong to just two companies: Blizzard and Valve. Minecraft had the fewest reports of harassment at 51 percent.
The study also tracked how many participants were exposed to “extremism, conspiracy theories, and disinformation” while playing online games. Of those surveyed, 23 percent were “invited to discuss or have heard others discussing the ‘superiority of whites and inferiority of non-whites’ and/or ‘white identity/a home for the white race.'”
The study does qualify that “this result does not necessarily imply that players were being recruited to join a white supremacist organization in any online game,” but regardless, “the prevalence of expressions of white supremacy in online games suggests that this hateful ideology may be normalized in some game subcultures.” Thirteen percent of participants reported exposure to 9/11 conspiracy theories, while nine percent said they had encountered Holocaust denial. Meanwhile, eight percent ran into positive views on ISIS and Gamergate, as well as anti-vaccine rhetoric.
If you’ve spent any amount of time playing games online in the last decade, we’re sure you’ll agree that this all tracks. It’s unfortunate that nothing contained in this study is particularly surprising, but it does an enormous amount of good to have statistics like this on paper, so developers and publishers can see just how severe the situation has become. Fifty-five percent of survey participants agreed that “toxicity in gaming is widespread,” and 62 percent thought that “companies should do more to make online games safer/more inclusive.”