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ADL Report: Online Harassment In Games is Bad and Getting Worse

Collin Borns

Jan 18, 2023

2 min read

ADL's annual report about harassment in online multiplayer games paints a negative picture for young people and adults alike. Is 2023 the year the gaming industry will start to overcome these challenges?

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ADL’s annual report about harassment in online multiplayer games once again painted a negative picture of player experience. Harassment of 13-17 year olds rose 6% over the past 12 months. Sixty-six percent of these young people had experienced at least one harassment event. The figure is even worse for preteens in the 10-12 year-old category. Seventy percent have been victims of harassment while playing online games. 

The experience of adult game players was about the same as with children. Sixty-seven million U.S. adults have experienced harassment in online games. While that metric is flat from the previous year, ADL researchers noted that severe harassment increased from 71% to 77%. Doxing alone rose 6%. 

Beyond the Incident, Harassment Impacts Gamer Behavior 

The impact of harassment goes beyond the incident. Among 13-17 year-olds, 30% said they quit playing certain online games. That figure was up from 28% in 2021. Thirty-five percent said they avoid certain games because of harassment, up from 26%. A little over a third said they changed how they play. 

In Game and Offline Impact on Young People ADL

ADLs findings also revealed that the harassment is not limited to a few games with toxic communities. Nearly half of “young gamers experienced harassment in every game we included in this survey,” concluded the report. 

Among adults, 33% said they quit playing certain games due to a harassment incident, and 32% said they avoid certain games. These figures both represent increases between 2021 and 2022. 

Harassment Impact on Gameplay ADL

In-Game Harassment at the Boiling Point

Online harassment is clearly bad for game players and it is also negatively impacting game makers. A few bad actors are causing a tremendous amount of reduced play and user churn from game titles. 

It is hard for game titles to break through the clutter and capture new players in an increasingly crowded marketplace. The last thing any game maker wants is for a few bad actors to cause players to depart for other titles. And, they don’t want to have a reputation for a toxic environment that keeps some players from ever trying out the game in the first place. 

If this problem was easy to solve, it would have been done already. Online games have become social experiences and that means player interaction is inevitable. It also means that these interactions can turn into toxic incidents. The risk is particularly acute when voice chat is involved. We will talk about that topic in our next post. 

Combating online harassment with improved moderation tools and practices are clearly on the agenda for nearly every game maker in 2023. It is clear from our conversations with game makers that they recognize the existing infrastructure simply doesn’t protect players from toxicity and doesn’t do enough, fast enough to mitigate the impact. 

Studies such as ADL’s are helping to highlight the problem that game makers already saw in their complaint files and comms logs. Now everyone knows that the problem is not limited by title or genre. In 2023, you can see the movement across the industry to become more proactive in bringing back civility and fair play in online games.

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