I’m sure we’re all very much aware of cyberbullying on social media, but how many of us know what goes on inside the online gaming world?
Having played a range of online games from a young age, I knew that concepts like trolling were evident. Despite this, when it comes to online games, the concept of trolling has its own term; griefing. A griefer is a player in a multiplayer video game who deliberately irritates and angers other players within the game, using aspects of the game in unintended ways, as they derive pleasure primarily or exclusively from the act of annoying other users.
I myself have never truly been a victim of extreme in-game bullying, however what inspired me to write about this issue is the struggle I recently shared with a very close friend whom – for the purposes of securing his safety – shall be renamed as ‘Chris’ when I refer to his story. Chris was a victim of a toxic, vile and demeaning social media attack as a result of an online game – Habbo. Being a known player on Habbo due to obtaining high gaming levels and ‘expensive’ in-game currency, he found himself caught up in accusations regarding hacking, which in turn resulted in various dramatic situations. Recently, one drama spilled onto Twitter and a new app called Sarahah which involved multiple Habbo players insulting and accusing Chris to the extremity of suicide remarks made towards him.
After days of insults and being made to feel isolated by a large part of the Habbo community, Chris was considering taking his life. Having known him for years, this devastated me and I found myself in a dark place with him using every ounce of my persuasion to convince him that suicide should never be an option. Thankfully, Chris overcame this and came back stronger than ever.
Therefore, I took it upon myself to conduct research about bullying on online games. Not only did I look up statistics and news reports, I also decided to go undercover on two popular virtual reality gaming worlds to see what I could uncover. What I found was shocking. Around 4,400 deaths per year are a result of suicide, with at least 100 young people attempting to take their life. I also discovered that 14% of high school students have considered suicide and 7% have attempted. Disturbing enough, keep in mind that these are only recorded figures and so you should be aware that the numbers are actually a lot higher in reality.
Suicide remains among the leading causes of death of children under the age of 14. In most cases, they die from hanging. It is also said that every 7 minutes a child is bullied (in general – not just online) and an alarming 85% of cases have no intervention.
Considering that this blog idea came about from the social networking service Habbo, it only made sense to see what I could find on there first. Habbo is a social networking service and online community founded by the company Sulake that is aimed at teenagers. The game allows users to create their own ‘Habbo’ character and design rooms, meet new friends and chat with other players in their own online world.
For a few days I went about various rooms in Habbo to see if I stumbled across anything. Unsurprisingly, I shortly entered a room where a situation had already been going on. A player was ‘exposing’ another player’s YouTube channel, of which he was belittling her and trying to humiliate her by insulting her appearance. It escalated quickly and – to my disgust – I came across another suicide remark.
I was absolutely appalled and outraged and so I intervened. I and another Habbo player reported this player, which forced him to be removed from the room. Although this was a fast form of intervention from Habbo’s server, I believe that not enough is done to protect players and punishments are a rarity.
The Sulake Corporation says they “work with child safety organisations and local police forces to address inappropriate behaviour” and that their “moderation and safety systems were recognised as making the service one of the safest social networks in a 2011 European Commission Report.” Despite this, Wikipedia reports that Sulake “encourages users to take responsibility for reporting any abuses on the site.” What does this mean, I hear you ask. Well, it simply implies that they sit back and lethargically wait for reports to actually intervene. The only strong moderation this site has is their censoring. For instance, if you were to swear on the game the word will be replaced with “bobba” instead of showing the inappropriate word. How can they be acclaimed as “one of the safest networks” when they only act once the problem has happened. The way I see it is this: plasters are good for immediate cuts but they do not heal nor do they prevent. Is it not better to be extra precautious so that harm is not caused as opposed to ‘covering’ the existent mark? Pardon my metaphor, but my point is that if things are preventable then why must they happen so widely? Not to mention that once the damage is done, it simply cannot be reversed.
Moving on from Habbo, I next investigated into another popular online gaming world – SmallWorlds. In many ways this site is similar to Habbo. One major issue faced on SmallWorlds is the issue of targeting inexperienced accounts – known as ‘noobs’ (newbie). So, I made an inexperienced account and – again – I was not surprised to encounter insults about being a ‘noob’. Focus on the boxes, everything else is other conversations. The red boxes are the people insulting me and the purple boxes are my responses.
Of course, these comments aren’t overwhelmingly offensive to me personally. It just proved my preconception of what would happen. However, this particular form of isolating users is massively common on SmallWorlds. What’s more devastating to see is another situation whereby I encountered this remark made by a player whilst ‘role playing‘ in a room.
Albeit ‘role play’ this may have been hard for players to understand if this was part of the role playing or whether she actually meant this. Obviously nothing can be physically done – it’s online – however such obscene remarks may affect users, particularly young and vulnerable children that play these online games.
According to Beat Bullying, as many as 21% of children between the ages of 8-11 have been cyber bullied, with about 27% of those experiencing it while playing games. Ditch the Label also discovered that 57% of people asked have been bullied in an online game. One feature of Ditch the Label’s research involved showing quotes from a section called “My Story” which are reports from people who have been the bully. One read, “I guess I had more power because I didn’t know him.” Another read, “I used to bully (…) to make me feel better about myself. I bully others and make them feel sad and insecure.”
A final encounter I will share is one that is hugely common amongst teenage society nowadays – revenge porn. This anonymous encounter took place on Twitter after they began online dating from Habbo. The girl’s nudes got posted by her ex onto Twitter as a result of their breakup. So, if you thought that exposing nude photos is only found within schools or general social media – think again. The online gaming world is a lot more scarier than it seems. I would also like to point out that not everyone is who they seem to be online – remember they are able to be behind a screen just like you.
Here is another screenshot that involves suicide and self-harming remarks towards a player on this online game.
As you have hopefully been able to see throughout this blog, bullying on online games can be a lot more vile and harmful than what is thought. My purpose for writing about a topic that is seen as a taboo is to open eyes and encourage, as well as urge, you to take action if you or anyone you know goes through such things as opposed to remaining quiet and suffering in silence. Support is out there. Whether it be a friend or family member you open up to, communicating feelings and channelling your emotions through talking is so much more helpful than causing any form of harm to yourself or others. If you see something that you know is wrong, report it. You may just save a life.