Online gamers are no different. However, as the internet has become more and more embedded in society it has allowed people to hide behind the veil of anonymity. This in turn allows people to say and do things they wouldn’t usually say and do, or wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to. In gaming, the protection afforded by an online persona can sometimes lead to abuse.
There are various ways in which people are bullied and attacked whilst gaming online; the sexist abuse that female gamers often experience has been well documented
Abusive behaviour can easily descend into harassment. With many games now possessing online messaging functions, it is all too easy for a bully to make someone else’s life extremely unpleasant.
The more tech-savvy gamers have even more tools at their disposal if they wanted to harass people online, from stealing passwords in order to hack into accounts, to the more extreme examples such as a recent incident in the USA where one gamer triggered a false SWAT raid on another.
One of the reasons the abuse of gamers online has developed into a problem is because of a lack of security online. It is often fairly simple to work out the identities and locations of fellow gamers.
This is the area where Skype has attempted to make things more difficult for online gaming bullies. The Microsoft-owned messaging and call service, which is used in multiplayer games for group voice chat, has issued an update to its service which means users will no longer be able to see other user’s IP addresses, but this measure only scratches the surface and will not stop the bully with the technical know-how.
It should be stressed that many gamers, especially adults, are well aware of the potential risks and problems, and rarely experience anything untoward. Additionally, it is important to recognise that there is no such thing as a stereotypical ‘gamer’, and that there are a variety of threats faced by different gamers.
There is a huge difference between the threats faced by children and young teenagers, compared to an adult gamer. Children are particularly vulnerable to online attacks, especially as increasing numbers of children have access to the internet at a very young age.
Measures such as the one introduced by Skype will not put a stop to tragedies involving children, such as the murder of 14 year old Breck Bednar who was killed by Lewis Danes, a man he met through gaming online (Danes has recently been in the news for launching a campaign of online abuse, from prison, against the victim’s mother).
The majority of children who play games online are doing so with other children that they know, and are becoming more and more conscious of speaking to strangers online, as parents and schools become more alert to the potential dangers. Nevertheless, the threat undoubtedly remains.
How to regulate the internet is a dilemma that governments past and present have struggled to tackle. It is not clear how online gamers can be better protected from abuse, and it could be argued that many of the solutions lie in education and reinforcing ‘real life’ lessons. However, Skype’s recent steps should only be the beginning.
Rhory Robertson is a partner in the Collyer Bristow Defamation and reputation management team and head of the Cyber investigation unit (CIU). David Drury is a trainee in the Defamation and reputation management team.