SEATTLE (AP) — While most attendees of Penny Arcade Expo come to the boisterous convention to play games, bag swag and meet like-minded people, a few take the time to investigate online bullying and why it’s so prevalent among the gaming community.
Therapist Stacey Weber, herself a gamer, is a bit mystified.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Weber, who was part of a Saturday talk at PAX Prime called “Not Us, Not Here: Examining Bullying, Harassment and Misogyny.”
“When we pick up our games, we delve into these whole new worlds where there’s a multitude of various species and ways of being,” Weber said. “Difference is the norm, so how come this community seems so intolerant of difference?”
The discussion at the four-day, sold-out convention, which ends Monday and is expected to draw about 85,000 gamers, follows a week of several reports of online harassment of developers and personalities in the gaming community.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the recent conflict is showing us there’s a lot of work left to be done,” Weber said.
Weber points to research that shows online taunting, popular in “Call of Duty,” “Halo,” and other shoot-’em-up games, may come from bullies who enjoy the online anonymity while seeking to reduce their own anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. She said such abuse is no different whether it occurs on the playground or the virtual battlefield.
“The quadrants of harassment don’t change from the physical space to the digital space,” said therapist Joshua Neal, who joined Weber for the discussion. “The effects are the same.”
Neal said that because anonymity is common on the Internet, online activity can become a “fantasyland” for people seeking to spread negativity with fewer repercussions.
He implored PAX Prime attendees to be mindful of the language they use while playing games.
“When our speech directly harms marginalized communities, I think that’s something we can stand up for needing to reduce and stop,” he said. “Individually, we can parse that stuff out. If we’re using misogynistic, homophobic or racist remarks, that has a real impact on stereotypes that get perpetuated in communities where we can see damage occurring.”
Despite developers and publishers taking steps to stymie abuse, the name calling, sexual harassment and “swatting” – when a person anonymously files a false police report – continue to persist in the gaming world.
Weber and Neal told PAX Prime attendees that if they observe abuse online, the best response is to show empathy not only toward the person targeted but also toward the tormenters because that might provide them an opportunity to recognize and correct their bad behavior.