Ninety-seven million Americans play online multiplayer games. While virtually all players surveyed in ADL’s third annual report on experiences1 in online games appreciated the social connectivity of gaming, an alarmingly large majority continue to encounter a firehose of hate and harassment. ADL’s survey explores the social interactions, experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of online multiplayer gamers nationwide. This year’s survey again asked about the experiences of a nationally representative sample of the nearly 100 million adult online multiplayer gamers in the United States. For the first time, it also included the experience of young gamers, ages 13-172.
For the third consecutive year, ADL’s survey found that harassment experienced by adult gamers increased and remains at alarmingly high levels, while the new research on the experience of teens also raises significant concerns.
In the past six months:
- Five out of six adults (83%) ages 18-45 experienced harassment in online multiplayer games—representing over 80 million adult gamers.
- Three out of five young people (60%) ages 13-17 experienced harassment in online multiplayer games—representing nearly 14 million young gamers.
- 8% of adults ages 18-45 and 10% of young people ages 13-17 reported being exposed to discussions in online multiplayer games around white supremacist ideology, the belief that “white people are superior to people of other races and that white people should be in charge.”
- 7% of adult online multiplayer gamers were exposed to Holocaust denial while playing.
- 71% of adult online multiplayer gamers experienced severe abuse, including physical threats, stalking, and sustained harassment3, representing no significant change from our 2020 survey (68%) and six points higher than in 2019 (65%).
- The largest increases in identity-based harassment occurred among adult respondents who identified as women (49% in 2021, compared to 41% in 2020), Black or African American (42% in 2021, compared to 31% in 2020), and Asian American (38% in 2021, compared to 26% in 2020). It is worth noting that although there was no statistically significant change in identity-based harassment of adult LGBTQ+ players (38% in 2021 versus 37% in 2020), the number is still of concern.
- 59% of adult gamers believe that laws need to be created to increase transparency around how game companies address hate, harassment, and extremism.
- 99% of online multiplayer gamers experienced some form of the positive social behaviors asked about in our survey.
There is a lot we can do to stem the tide of hate and harassment in online games:
- What the games industry should do: Harassment in online multiplayer games has increased for the past three years, so the games industry must act urgently. In 2020, ADL and the Fair Play Alliance released the Disruption and Harms in Online Gaming Framework to help the industry better define and address hate and harassment in online games. Games companies should adopt the framework, assess the efficacy of their current efforts to combat hate and harassment among users, increase their investments in staff and products, and make a practice of regular third-party audits to measure impact.
For young players, games companies should implement product safety controls as the default and should prompt a user to review all safety controls before playing.
- What civil society should do: Many civil society organizations have expanded their work to document the impact of social media, particularly on vulnerable communities. Civil rights and education groups, among others, should now broaden their scope to address the impact of online multiplayer games. Civil society should support scholars and practitioners whose work helps fight hate, bias, and harassment in games. Civil society groups should also partner with newer nonprofits from the gaming space such as Take This, an organization that advocates for better mental health in game design; AnyKey, an organization that offers programs that foster diversity, inclusion, and equity in esports, to deal with these critical issues, GaymerX, which advocates for more and better LGBTQ+ representation in game content and in staff at major studios; Feminist Frequency works to end abuse in the games industry for developers and players; and Able Gamers advocates for greater accessibility in games for disabled players. Civil society should also insist that government conduct and support research and engage in education and oversight similar to the ways they have begun to employ with social media platforms.
- What government should do: Federal and state legislators and executive branch agencies should strengthen and enforce laws that protect targets of online hate and harassment, whether on traditional social media or in online multiplayer games. Currently, lawmakers are considering ways to increase transparency and accountability from social media companies; they should also compel the games industry to release transparency reports that provide meaningful online hate and harassment data. Government should support research and policy proposals on fighting extremism, hate, and harassment in online gaming. ADL’s REPAIR Plan expands on the priorities government must focus on to fight online hate.
- What caregivers and educators should do: Less than 40% of parents or guardians of young people in the survey reported implementing safety controls in online multiplayer games that were part of this survey. Adults, including parents, educators, counselors, and others, should actively review safety features with children to ensure appropriate controls are turned on, such as blocking young people from having conversations with strangers via voice chat. Additionally, less than half of teenage gamers ADL surveyed talk to the adults in their lives about their experiences in online multiplayer games. Adults need to engage in meaningful conversations with young people about their gaming experiences.
- What you should do: Consumer demand may be the best lever to move games companies to better address hate and harassment. Avoid purchasing games where high percentages of players report they quit or had to play more carefully.
ADL’s survey focuses on online multiplayer games, which form a subset of the overarching video game market. More than two out of three Americans—over 226 million people across all ages—play video games, including both online and offline games.4 Globally, video games are a financial and cultural juggernaut, larger than the movie and music industries combined. The video games industry is a $175 billion market, with the North American video game market generating over $42 billion in 20215. It is past time for the problem of hate and harassment in gaming spaces to be treated seriously.
In focusing on online multiplayer games, this report offers concrete guidance for the industry to take meaningful steps in making those games safer for all users, regardless of age or identity.