One in three LGBTQ gamers have faced identity-based harassment in multiplayer games, new report shows

A new report out today from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spotlights the sobering extent of harassment in online multiplayer games. The study is based on a representative survey of video game players in the United States and examines the social experiences of individuals in the online games they play. The top-line finding is that 74% of adults who play online games have experienced harassment of some kind; and further, that 65% have encountered severe harassment, which entails "physical threats, stalking, and sustained harassment."

Despite the fact that video games are a $156 billion industry (larger than the global film industry) and that 64% of online adults in the U.S. are players, video games have largely been omitted from national discourse about the broader impacts of online social platforms. The ADL report emphasizes that online games are social platforms and indeed some of the most popular platforms available. Games like World of Warcraft and, more recently, Fortnite, have become primary outlets for social interaction for the millions of people who play them. And while these interactions have been a topic of concern within corners of the industry for some time, it's now clear that much more needs to be done to address the widespread negativity on these platforms.

Perhaps the most pernicious finding of the survey related to the intersection of online harassment with forms of prejudice and hate. The study finds that 53% of those who experienced harassment in online games were targeted for their identity (race, religion, ability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnicity). For LGBTQ players specifically, 35% reported having been harassed for their identity. It's important to keep in mind that many online gaming interactions, particularly over text-based chat, are quasi-anonymous and that players often limit their own exposure in anticipation of—or in reaction to—harassment. In fact, the report found that 1 in 5 players have avoided a game altogether due to personal experience with harassment or perception of the game's toxic environment.

However, the report also highlights the positive social experiences of players, which are more common than negative ones. A significant 88% of online players report having had a positive social interaction, such as making a new friend, helping other players, or generally feeling a sense of community. For the LGBTQ community, in particular, games have the potential to be a tremendous force for good. Twenty percent of players learned something new about themselves while playing, something that is commonly described by LGBTQ players who are discovering or coming to terms with their identity.

While a number of recommendations have been offered to reduce incidences of social bias in online games, one key factor is the increased representation of marginalized identities within the game world itself. Last year, GLAAD introduced the Outstanding Video Game category at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards to honor games which lead the industry in LGBTQ representation. The inaugural winner of the award was The Elder Scrolls Online: Summerset, itself a massively multiplayer online game. Through the inclusion of transgender and queer characters in the game, The Elder Scrolls Online is a model for how games can demonstrate to their communities that LGBTQ players are welcomed and accepted.

Last week, GLAAD praised The Sims 4 for featuring an LGBTQ couple on its new box art. While it is primarily an offline game, The Sims 4 nonetheless has a sprawling online social community; the prominent inclusion of LGBTQ characters in the game's marketing goes a long way in setting the tone for the community at large. GLAAD called on other studios to step up and match this kind of visibility in their games, and we join with the ADL today in calling for greater efforts to ensure safe and constructive social environments in online games as well.

Read the full report at ADL's website.