Late last year, the New York Times ran a story on the adverse effects of the Metaverse. In the story, 29-year-old Chanelle Siggens was sexually harassed by a fellow Metaverse user in her favorite shooting game, Population One. The incident saw Siggens’ avatar getting groped and ejaculated on by an unknown player. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the Metaverse — I’ll do what I want,” said the offender.
With the rise of the Metaverse and the fact that many big tech companies worldwide are investing in it, we’ll likely see an increase in online gamers and users. Considering how people — from children to adults — are engaging with each other online, cyberbullying cases may rise and staying safe online will become more difficult with the surge in interest.
Newzoo reported more than 2.69 billion gamers worldwide by the end of 2020. There’s even been a steady increase in the number of gamers joining the community since 2015. Game revenues, too, have increased, reaching over $159.3 in 2020. Almost half of the market earnings were generated by the Asia Pacific market.
Cyberbullying: A problem for gamers worldwide
Online bullies are a universal problem. In a report published earlier this year, over 90 percent of 1,400 players surveyed said they have experienced or witnessed emotional abuse or bullying while playing video games. Nearly seven in 10 participants also considered quitting because of what they’ve seen online.
What’s most worrying is that more than two of five participants mentioned that they’ve experienced racism and hate speech on various gaming platforms. The survey also found that those on the Xbox and PlayStation see the highest rates of bullying.
The survey also revealed that bullies’ preferred methods of cyberbullying are doxing and swatting. In doxing, bullies disclose sensitive information about their victims, looking to humiliate and embarrass them. Swatting, on the other hand, occurs when bullies report false crimes and violence to emergency services at their victim’s address.
Another worrying trend in the survey was that attacks could be based on a victim’s gender, race, or perceived physical ableness. On average, those identifying as females were more likely to be attacked for their gender.
Besides cyberbullying, gamers worldwide have to contend with threats from cyber criminals such as fraud and spam. Account takeovers are a widespread tactic for cybercriminals looking to earn a quick buck from victims who want to retrieve their accounts. Cybercriminals have also used account takeovers to engage in abusive behaviors. In 2012, Riot Games, the owners of League of Legends, announced that hackers could access some player account information after compromising two European databases.
However, gamers aren’t the only targets of cyberbullying. In 2015, game developer Rachel Bryk committed suicide after being bullied online for being transgender. According to reports, the respected developer jumped off the George Washington Bridge after facing constant transphobia on the Internet. Internet trolls also egged her on to kill herself.
Protecting gamers online
It’s clear that protecting players and preventing cyberbullying through online games is an absolute necessity.
To counter cyberbullying, Riot Games has employed the use of artificial intelligence and analytics tools to identify cyberbullies and hold them accountable for their actions. The company claims its efforts have seen a 40 percent decline in offensive comments and activities in its community.
While companies can do a lot to protect their players and employees, online gamers could take matters into their own hands.
Password protects all accounts
To prevent your accounts from getting hacked by malicious hackers, protect them with a strong password and enable two-factor authentication (2FA). To create a strong password, start by creating one that’s at least 12 characters long and has a mixture of symbols, numbers, and upper and lower case letters.
Don’t engage trolls
It’s tempting to engage and argue with trolls when they’ve accused you of something or are spreading lies, but it’s always better to avoid engaging with them. Instead, report and block them so that the administrators of your preferred game know about the perpetrator’s actions.
If a bully starts to threaten or harass you, don’t be afraid to speak out and report them to the relevant authorities. In this case, you’ll also want to keep screenshots of your correspondence with them to verify the abuse.
Avoid giving away too much information
On gaming sites and forums, always avoid using your full name and giving away too much information about yourself. Never reveal location details or your social media handle to anyone unless you know them personally.
Only download from legitimate websites
Whether you’re purchasing skins or downloadable content (DLCs), always get them from legitimate sites or retailers. In 2020, some Animal Crossing: New Horizons players were swindled of their money when they attempted to purchase in-game items from a scammer.
If you want to purchase items from someone outside of the gaming platform, make sure to check the reviews and ensure that they’re legitimate.
Staying safe online doesn’t always have to be difficult. Hopefully, fewer gamers will be affected by bullies online with these tips.