A short while back, Amanda Calhoun, an occasional gamer, contemplated purchasing a video game with online multiplayer capabilities to engage with fellow gamers on the internet. However, as she perused the game’s reviews, she came across numerous complaints regarding the frequent use of racial slurs by some users on the platform. Consequently, she decided against making the purchase.
For Calhoun, who identifies as Black, this discovery was not only distressing on a personal level but also professionally significant due to her involvement in child and adolescent psychiatry. Given the substantial number of children engaging in video games, she couldn’t help but wonder how such language was affecting their sense of self and mental health.
“While these games are intended to be enjoyable and entertaining, they create an entire interactive world for kids,” stated Calhoun, a fellow specializing in child psychiatry at Yale University’s Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. “People engage in gaming for fun, not to encounter racist slurs.”
Recent research in the field of online racism and its impact on young individuals demonstrates that racism and extremism within online gaming platforms are having detrimental effects on the mental and emotional health of both direct targets and those indirectly exposed to such vitriolic behavior. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2023 industry report, over 212 million Americans are engaged in video gaming, contributing to a market worth $56.6 billion.
The Anti-Defamation League estimated that approximately two-thirds of the 25 million U.S. gamers aged 10 to 17 encounter harassment on multiplayer platforms, as stated in a December report. The authors of the report noted, “The proliferation of hatred, harassment, and extremism in these digital spaces continues to expand without restraint.”
Calhoun emphasized the harmful consequences of this trend, citing a 2019 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics that addressed the mental health ramifications of racism on children, describing it as a social determinant with profound effects on health.
This situation carries a significant amount of shame with it.
The experience of racism in a space that many turn to for leisure can potentially contribute to a troubling increase in suicidal thoughts among young Black individuals. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among young Black people aged 10 to 24 witnessed a significant rise of 36.6% from 2018 to 2021, marking the largest percentage increase among any demographic.
Brian TaeHyuk Keum, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Boston College in Newton, Massachusetts, who has conducted research on the psychological impact of racism on Black, Asian American, and Latino youth, highlights the sense of shame associated with encountering racism in online gaming. He explains that exposure to consistently marginalizing or derogatory content targeting one’s identity can lead to feelings of exclusion from society. This sense of exclusion can escalate to questioning one’s worthiness of belonging in society, ultimately affecting mental well-being.
A YouTube video shared by Melanin Gamers, a gaming community that promotes diversity and inclusivity, featured audio clips portraying racial, ethnic, and antisemitic slurs directed at players in popular games like “Call of Duty.” This overt racism, according to Stephanie Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, has become alarmingly pervasive. She likens it to a resurgence reminiscent of the Jim Crow era and suggests that, combined with microaggressions, it contributes to the reported suicidal ideation among Black children. She also notes that there seems to be no escape from these distressing experiences, as they are viewed as an unavoidable aspect of participating in the gaming community.
A survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in the previous year examined more than 2,100 U.S. gamers across various platforms, including PC, console, and mobile, with a focus on online multiplayer gamers. The survey revealed that racial and ethnic identity-based harassment was most prevalent among Black individuals (44%) and Asian Americans (40%). Latinos also saw a significant increase in such harassment, with 31% reporting identity-based harassment in comparison to 25% the previous year. Among respondents aged 10 to 17, 15% reported exposure to white supremacist ideologies, up from 10% in 2021.
While racism has long been a problem on the internet, Ortiz emphasizes that the issue is exacerbating as the number of online platforms increases, providing more opportunities for individuals to connect. Online gaming, despite its positive aspects such as stress relief and community building, also enables anonymity, leading to cyber-aggressions and the expression of racist ideologies that individuals might not voice in their offline lives. Keum describes this phenomenon as “virtual courage,” where people feel emboldened to express racist beliefs in the relative anonymity of online gaming platforms.
Online gaming is plagued by a pervasive issue of racism FAQ
Q : What is the prevalence of online racism in gaming?
Ans : Approximately two-thirds of U.S. gamers aged 10 to 17 experience harassment on multiplayer platforms, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Q : How is online racism affecting young Black gamers?
Ans : Online racism can lead to feelings of shame and isolation among young Black gamers, contributing to mental health concerns and potentially even rising suicide rates.
Q : What groups are most affected by racial and ethnic harassment in online gaming?
Ans : The ADL’s research shows that Black and Asian American gamers report the highest levels of racial and ethnic identity-based harassment, with Latinos also experiencing an increase in such harassment.
Q : Are there real-world consequences to unchecked racism in online gaming?
Ans : Yes, there have been instances where online gaming platforms have played a role in radicalization and real-world violence, highlighting the need for intervention.
Q : What is being done to address online racism in gaming?
Ans : Efforts to address this issue within the gaming industry have been slow, with calls for companies to create safer online spaces and be held accountable for addressing hate and extremism on their platforms.