The Real Problem With Video Games

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Date: March 13, 2018
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The Real Problem With Video Games

And yet Mr. Trump was absolutely right when he said that “bad things” are happening on the internet. Video games do have a big problem, but it is not stylized virtual violence. Rather, it is the bigotry, social abuse, sexism and other toxic behavior to which players too often subject one another when gaming together online.

In other words: It’s not the content; it’s the culture.

Listen to the voice communications of almost any popular online first-person shooter game and you will hear players constantly using racial and homophobic slurs. Make a mistake in just about any team-based combat game and it won’t be long before one of your teammates chastises you with some vile epithet. There is more than one game community where “Jew” is used as a verb, meaning to make money. In many games, women who speak up on voice communications are routinely mocked and harassed.

While researchers have devoted ample time to studying the emotional and psychological effects of virtual video game violence, the actual social behavior of players has largely escaped academic attention. That should change. The racism, homophobia and misogyny prevalent in many online game precincts can amount to emotional abuse. This is a phenomenon that needs to be better understood and more widely known.

In this respect, Melania Trump’s campaign against cyberbullying, largely rhetorical though it is, addresses a more serious problem than does her husband’s concern with virtual gunplay. But there is not much the government can do about this.

Game companies, too, cannot be expected to constantly police the communications and communities of millions of players. Some companies, such as Blizzard Entertainment (the creator of “World of Warcraft”) and Riot Games (“League of Legends”), deserve credit for at least attempting to curb the toxicity of their customers, allowing conscientious players to report their obnoxious peers and then devoting personnel to reviewing complaints and disciplining consistently abusive players. But it is a gargantuan task.

As with many cultural crises, it is up to everyday people, not politicians or executives, to generate true solutions. The real responsibility lies with the players themselves — and for younger players, to their parents as well — to confront the real problem with video games.

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