Stop Blaming Video Games for Toxic Behavior

On November 5th, National Public Radio published an article titled “Right-Wing Hate Groups Are Recruiting Video Gamers.” In it, author Anya Kamenetz recounts a father’s story about his son, who he claims became a neo-Nazi via “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” a multiplayer first-person shooter. Kamenetz uses that story as insight into the recruitment strategies of neo-Nazis through video game streaming and chatting platforms, such as Discord and in-game chats. She claims that the violent nature of first-person shooters (FPS for short), a genre known for its use of in-game chatting services, allows young, angry gamers to use racial slurs and project their problems onto African-Americans and Jews. This, she claims, eventually leads to their absorption into Nazi culture. She labels gaming culture as a space of recruitment that must be addressed. As heartbreaking and devastating as the father’s story is, Kamenetz’s broad label of all gamers as violent-prone, trigger-happy players who are more likely to fall prey to Nazis is completely false and misleading.

Kamenetz’s overgeneralization of gamers as those who exclusively play FPS games, and therefore as more “vulnerable,” is discriminatory towards gamers who don’t typically play FPS games. For starters, even though the article specifically mentions FPS as the target genre, Kamenetz assumes throughout the rest of the article that it embodies all types of gaming. The FPS genre is not only a fraction of all video game genres, but it also isn’t even the most popular. According to the same Pew Research Center study that Kamenetz cites, the FPS genre is the third most popular behind puzzle and strategy, and adventure.

Additionally, Kamenetz repeatedly claims that gamers tend to be young and angry, even though numerous studies done year after year show no evidence of video games causing violence. Studies done by the American Psychological Association, “American Psychologist,” and “Science Library” all show no evidence that violent video games cause behavioral problems or violent behavior. Even the Supreme Court ruled that any connection between minors’ behavior and violent video games “do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively” in the 2011 case “Brown vs. Entertainment Merchants Association,” in which the Supreme Court struck down a measure that would prohibit the sale of “violent video games” to minors.

Oddly, Kamenetz outs gaming as the one major platform of alt-right recruitment, even though in the very same article she points out that Nazis have “been highly innovative in using new online spaces, like message boards in the ‘90s, for recruitment.” Kamenetz’s use of gaming culture as a scapegoat ignores prominent alt-right presences on other online spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit. In fact, just last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported over 200 hate groups active on Facebook. One can argue that the difference between these online “public” spaces and gaming is that Nazis can reach people privately via voice and Discord chats. However, this isn’t any different from private messaging on Twitter and Facebook, joining a closed group, or following a private account. Kamenetz also states that detecting hateful players is a “daunting technical challenge” as Microsoft, Playstation, and Steam have 48 million, 70 million, and 130 million monthly active players respectively, and rely on self-reporting. While these numbers do make it a huge challenge, they are miniscule compared to Facebook and Twitter, both of which estimate about 2.27 billion and 326 million monthly active users according to Facebook Newsroom and Statista. Kamenetz singling out gaming platforms as problematic ignores the larger issue of Nazis appealing to young people and spreading bigotry and racism on social media.

Gaming does have its problems, just like any other platform. Kamenetz is right when she says that toxic behavior should be a key industry concern and a frequent topic of conversation. The 2014 Gamergate campaign, in which thousands of women in the video game industry were harassed and threatened, has forced companies to address gender equality and diversity in both the workplace and in video games. Unicorn Riot’s publication of the white supremacist Discord chat logs that showed plans for the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally forced Discord to shut down servers and issue statements denouncing these people. Just like other social media platforms, it is up to parents, their children and other gamers to be aware of what is online and how to deal with toxic people. It is also up to the companies to define what acceptable behavior is and detect and ban people who violate that behavior. Rather than blaming all behavioral problems on one platform, we should be working together on all platforms to ensure that ideologies like Nazism can’t flourish and that children can have positive, healthy influences in their lives.

Ashley Zhou is a second-year software engineering major. She can be reached at adzhou@uci.edu.