Tools and Strategies

Bias and Hate in Online Games

Teenager playing multiplayer online games at home

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Video games are played and enjoyed by adults and young people alike. While there are many positive interactions people have while gaming, many gamers experience online hate and harassment. In 2022, ADL conducted its fourth annual report on the experiences people have with online games to learn more about what’s positive and what’s concerning about online games.  

2022 ADL survey 

ADL’s survey explored the social interactions, experiences, attitudes, and behaviors of online multiplayer gamers nationwide. Multiplayer games are games where more than one person plays in the same game environment either in the same physical space or via the internet. The survey asked about the experiences of a nationally representative sample of the nearly 100 million adult online multiplayer gamers in the U.S. The survey includes the experience of young games ages 13-17 and for the first time, the survey collected data on the experiences of pre-teens ages 10-12.  

Hate and harassment in online games 

The report revealed that while gamers reported the positive social interactions and connections that gaming brings, a high percentage of them face regular and ongoing hate and harassment while playing. More than four out of five adults (86%) ages 18-45 experienced harassment in online multiplayer games and more than three out of five young people (66% of teens and 70% of pre-teens) experienced harassment in online multiplayer games, representing over 17 million young gamers. 

The immense popularity of online games means it is likely that you or someone you know has experienced hate and harassment. More than two out of three people in the U.S.--over 215 million people of all ages—play video games, including both online and offline games. 

What is online hate? 

Online hate is defined as: “An attack against people or groups based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, immigration status, etc. that occurs in digital social spaces through the use of technology, such as computers, cell phones and other electronic and digital devices.” 

Online hate and harassment are not unique to the gaming world. In addition to games, online hate takes place on social media, in discussion sites, dating apps, email, texting and other messaging apps. A 2021 Pew Research Center report reveals that 41% of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment. While this is a similar percentage to 2017, there is evidence that online harassment has intensified since then with 25% reporting severe harassment like physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment and sustained harassment. Also concerning is that young adults ages 18-29 are the only age group in which a majority (64%) have experienced online harassment and almost half of people in this age group have been targeted online with severe behaviors. 

More on the experiences of young people in multiplayer games 

Here is some other data from the report about young people’s experiences in multiplayer games:  

  • More than three in five young people (67%) experienced harassment in online multiplayer games. 

  • Twenty-nine percent of young people report being harassed based on their identity.

  • As a result of this identity-based harassment, 72% of young people ages 13-17 always or sometimes hide their identity while playing. 

  • Fifteen percent of young people ages 10-17 report being exposed white supremacist extremist ideology while playing online multiplayer games. 

  • As a result of the hate and harassment young people ages 13-17 face, 30% report quitting specific games and 35% report changing how they play.  

Ally behavior by young people

This year the survey asked questions about the actions young people take when they or others experienced hate and harassment in online multiplayer games. Of the young people surveyed, 83% said they stand up for themselves, 75% said they talk to someone about what they should do, 67% report that someone stood up for them and 66% said someone reached out to them to help. 

You can read the whole report on the survey here: Hate is No Game: Hate and Harassment in Online Games 2022

(Note to parents/families:  Because the topic of bias and hate in online games is a current societal issue as well as a topic that may impact your children directly, engage in this conversation on one or both levels, whichever makes sense for your family.)

Age  

10 and up  

Questions to Start the Conversation  

  • Do you like playing online games? What do you like about it? What don’t you like about it?  

  • In your own words, how would you define online hate? 

  • Have you ever seen or experienced online hate and harassment while playing online games? What happened? When it happened, what were your thoughts and feelings? 

  • When you see hate and harassment in online games, does anyone say or do something? If so, what? 

  • What harm do you think is caused by online hate?  

Questions to Dig Deeper  

(See the Additional Resources section for articles and information that address these questions.)   

  • How does online hate in gaming impact the individuals who are targeted? How does it impact the gaming community? 

  • What do you think should be done about hate and harassment in online gaming? 

  • What can individual players do? What can game companies do? What can elected officials or advocacy groups do? 

Take Action  

Ask: What can we do to help?  What actions might make a difference?    

  • Help to organize a school forum (in person or virtually) to learn more about about bias and hate in online games and other digital platforms. Discuss what can be done about it.  

  • Investigate the policies that gaming companies (or other digital platforms, like social media) have around online hate and the process for reporting. Reflect on whether you think their policies and reporting systems are effective and adequate. Then reach out to these companies either applauding them for effective politics or providing feedback about how they can do better.        

  • Make a personal commitment to do your part to reduce and prevent online hate by self-reflecting on your own online gaming habits and finding opportunities to speak out about online hate, provided that it is safe to do so.       

Additional Resources