As schools across the U.S. have moved to remote learning as a safety precaution to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, many families are set to spend at least the next few weeks at home together. During this time, both young people and their parents may turn to video games and/or livestreaming as a means of entertainment, escapism, stress reduction and as a way to connect with each other, as well as their friends and loved ones. And they should! ADL’s survey of online games from 2019 found that 88 percent of adults who play multiplayer games have positive social experiences in these digital spaces, including making friends (51%), finding community (30%), discovering new interests (32%) and even finding a partner (13%). Games can be used for connecting with others, learning and teaching, and even understanding ourselves better. For instance, this resource shares tips for using 100 different games for learning.
At the same time, ADL’s survey also found a significant amount of bias and harassment in these online multiplayer game spaces. Seventy four percent of adults reported experiencing harassment in online multiplayer games, and 65 percent reported severe harassment, which includes identity-based discrimination, physical threats, cyberstalking and sustained harassment. It should be said that these numbers do not reflect the experience of people younger than eighteen since the survey focused on adults ages 18-45. Even so, the spaces where adults are experiencing hate and harassment often include younger people as well. Therefore, adults should educate themselves in order to help guide the young people in their lives to better navigate these digital social spaces.
What Can People Do to Make the Most Out of Gaming?
Parents and family members should take steps to better educate themselves and the young people in their lives on how to stay safe and promote inclusive behaviors in online multiplayer game spaces. Here are some tips:
1. Find each game’s stated rules for behavior and discuss them
Every online multiplayer game has a set of rules that govern what kinds of social behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate in a particular online game space. Ideally, these rules are easy for a player or family member to find and review, though sometimes that is not the case.
Be respectful. Not all of us will agree all the time, but disagreement is no excuse for poor behavior and poor manners. We might all experience some frustration now and then, but we cannot allow that frustration to turn into a personal attack. It’s important to remember that a community where people feel uncomfortable or threatened is not a productive one.
And what is prohibited:
Harassment and cyberbullying. We do not tolerate this. Examples include comments or actions meant to:
Stalk, bully, intimidate, hurt, attack, abuse or humiliate someone (or something that a person may care about). This includes using or encouraging the use of profanity (swearing);
Take the time to review the rules set out by the game company for a particular online multiplayer game, and think together of examples of how different behaviors might appear in a particular game. If there are aspects of the rules provided by the game company that may be unclear, take the time to talk through what might be missing. Similarly, if there don’t appear to be rules around respect and inclusivity in a given game space, or you can’t find them, talk with the young people in your life about how they would want to be treated and how they should behave in these game spaces.
Here are a few links the community rules for a few popular games:
- PlayerUnknown: Battlegrounds
2. Watch Pro-Social Game Streamers who model inclusive game-community behavior
There are professional gamers who stream themselves gaming regularly. Many of these gamers are working to build inclusive gaming communities through modeling: showing how they play and being transparent about how they curate their channels. (Our current Belfer fellow, Gabriela Richard, is documenting examples of how these communities help foster better gaming and livestreaming spaces, some of which will be in a forthcoming report. You can view some of her past work on the benefits of prosocial gaming communities here.)
An example of a professional pro-social streamer is FerociouslySteph, who actively curates an inclusive and positive community on her Twitch channel, and sets out the rules and guidelines for her community in her description of her stream:
Watch streams like these with the young people in your lives, and discuss the ways in which this gamer and other “good gamers” play and act in game spaces. Ask the young people in your lives: what can you learn from how they play?
Other Pro-Social Streamers
Many of these streams are highly moderated in order to promote a positive space, though pro-social does not necessarily mean that the content or chat will be appropriate for all ages. We encourage clicking on the “home” button in any stream and seeing whether they include “chat rules” about acceptable content. Many contentious streams will include rules against discrimination, while others may have rules against adult content or foul language.
There are also specifically “family friendly” livestreams. While some channels may list themselves as “family friendly,” it would be good to curate content with any younger viewers, since this setting can be applied to many channels that may not be actively maintaining positive or age-appropriate content or interactions. It is also important to understand that “family friendly” may not necessarily include pro-social elements promoted on the featured channels above. Twitch has recently started an initiative to curate family friendly content and has a “Family Friendly Live” page with livestreams: https://www.twitch.tv/team/familyfriendly
Members of the family friendly team are “hand picked” by Twitch, which describes the featured streams as follows: “While exact definitions of ‘family-friendly’ vary per stream, in general streamers here avoid using profanity both on-stream and in chats, avoid engaging in vulgar or explicit discussions, all while promoting general positivity and good vibes. In general, streamers act in a way that would be appropriate for all ages, regardless of what content is being streamed. Allowing games with ratings up to M (as defined by the ESRB) is at the streamers’ discretion."
3. Model inclusive in-game behavior yourself
When you’re playing an online game, either by yourself or with the young people in your life, think about the kind of online community you want to create and the kinds of spaces you would like the young people in your life to join.
- Think about whether the game you are playing would allow young people to play on your team or against you, and how your actions set an example for them both in online game spaces and in their broader lives.
- Be ready to describe where you think the appropriate line is between competitive banter and harassment, and act accordingly. Xbox’s community standards are a helpful guide to start your thinking about this distinction.
- Imagine that you or someone you know becomes a famous esports player or streamer. Suddenly they are an influential public figure for many other gamers. What gaming behaviors have you instilled in them by how you played? How would you like them to behave publicly?
4. Figure out how a player reports in-game hate or harassment
Every game should have a mechanism for players to flag abusive, harassing, biased or otherwise inappropriate in-game behavior. For example, Fortnite provides a step by step guide to the reporting process on their publisher Epic’s website.
ADL believes it is incredibly important that hate and harassment are reported to game companies so they can understand behaviors happening in their games and take action to improve negative and harassing behavior in the future.
Here are some resources on how to report bias, hate, bullying or harassment in a few popular online games:
- Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2)
- Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)
- PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds
- League of Legends
By educating ourselves and the young people in our lives, we can make sure that we’re doing our best to stay safe as we’re inside playing games online during the COVID-19 crisis. We can also improve these spaces by encouraging inclusive and respectful online game spaces for all players.