Online gaming platforms are increasingly becoming hotspots for hate and extremism, raising concerns about the mental health of young players. Amanda Calhoun, a Black gamer and a fellow in child psychiatry at Yale University, highlights the disturbing trend of racial slurs in online games. Research indicates that such online racism negatively impacts the mental and emotional health of young players.
According to USA Today, over 212 million Americans are engaged in video gaming, contributing to a booming $56.6 billion industry. Disturbingly, about two-thirds of U.S. gamers aged between 10 to 17 have faced harassment on multiplayer platforms. The Anti-Defamation League’s report from December underscores the unchecked growth of hate and harassment in these digital spaces.
The repercussions of such online behavior are severe. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in a 2019 policy statement, emphasized the detrimental mental health effects of racism on children. There’s a rising concern that exposure to online racism might be contributing to the increasing suicidality rates among young Black individuals.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 36.6% rise in suicide rates among Black youth aged 10 to 24 from 2018 to 2021. Brian TaeHyuk Keum, an assistant professor at Boston College, points out the psychological toll of consistent exposure to content that marginalizes or denigrates one’s identity. Such experiences can lead to feelings of exclusion from society and even question one’s worthiness of existence.
The gaming community, Melanin Gamers, highlighted the issue by posting a YouTube video featuring racial, ethnic, and antisemitic slurs directed at players in popular games. Stephanie Ortiz, a sociology professor, compares the current overt racism in online gaming to the Jim Crow era.
A survey by the Anti-Defamation League found that racial and ethnic identity-based harassment was highest among Black (44%) and Asian Americans (40%). The number of Latinos reporting such harassment also saw a significant increase.
The unchecked behavior in online gaming platforms can translate to real-world consequences. For instance, the gunman responsible for the Buffalo supermarket shooting in May 2022 was influenced by a game on the Roblox platform. Similarly, the Christchurch mosque shooter in 2019 was radicalized through online multiplayer games.
The gaming industry’s efforts to address such issues have been slow. The Anti-Defamation League’s report indicates that Roblox is the only company with a clear public anti-extremism policy. The majority of gamers believe that gaming companies should be more proactive in supporting victims of hate and extremism.
Kishonna Gray-Denson, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, notes that many players now avoid public gaming spaces to escape harassment. Some even modulate their voices or choose not to speak at all to avoid becoming targets.
The JED Foundation, along with Raising Good Gamers, emphasizes the need to prioritize mental health in online gaming spaces, especially given the rising mental health issues among the youth. Keum believes that a shift in online culture is essential, emphasizing the importance of educating the youth critically.
In conclusion, while online gaming offers entertainment and community, the rising tide of racism and extremism threatens the mental well-being of young players. There’s an urgent need for the gaming industry and the community to address these issues proactively.