PAX Prime 2012 | The Problem of Harassment in Gaming

Online harassment has come to light recently, and it has done so in force. Gaming culture has made a dramatic shift away from the “accept all outcasts” roots that it was once known for. With the internet we see anonymous players sending caustic hate speeches.

The online harassment panel at this year’s PAX looked to discuss and ponder how we got here, why it’s terrible, and what can be done to stop it.

A core concept to understand is what causes this shift in demeanor. Why are gamers more hostile now than they once were? Many people should be aware of the formula that Regular People, with Anonymity, can become immature fountains of hate.

What’s important is to understand that it’s not simply anonymity that does it. I don’t know who all of you are, and I’m not insulting your maternal line. What it is, is a lack of consequences. That they can behave in a terrible way, and that nothing important to them is negatively impacted. This is a core function of their behavior, and the game industry can’t help that. We can’t make jerks into “Not-Jerks”. What we can do, is take away the ability for their aggression to impact the experience of others.

Some of the more interesting suggestions were to not grant the ability for players to communicate with anyone as an initial power. Making players earn this right would mean that the banning of their accounts would then convey a loss of something meaningful and thus discourage outright hate.

The idea that intrigued me the most was one that was described as a branching tree of recommendations. Where players who approve of each other can up-vote each other, and enjoy an increased chance of being matched with one another. However, a player will also have a slightly increased chance to be matched with any players that their friends have up-voted. Think of it like a seven-degrees-to-Kevin-Bacon kind of thing.

These solutions may not be perfect on their own, but they’re a step in the right direction towards solving a problem that desperately needs solving.

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