How to respond to bullying in online games

Anyone can experience in-game bullying. What to do if aggressive gamers target you.

Multiplayer games are more than just entertainment; they’re communication platforms where you can meet loyal allies — and trolls or bullies. Anyone can experience in-game bullying, which is why both gamers and their parents worry about this problem.

It can happen to anyone. For example, a new player may be peppered with insults and threats because they’re still getting used to the game or simply because people on the other side of the chat enjoy picking on others. The consequences of bullying also vary, from a spoiled evening to depression. If teammates or opponents start displaying toxic behavior, here’s what you can do.

Stay cool

Trite as it may sound, try to remember that anything a bully writes to you is just words on a screen. Remember that no matter who starts a fight, anyone who participates can get banned for swearing.

Don’t panic if you’re threatened with being reported for causing a lost match. As long as you didn’t violate any game rules, no one is going to ban you. Games with winners and losers have … winners and losers. Breathe in, breathe out, and remember that the rules are the same for everyone.

If a troll’s words cut deep, and your negative thoughts echo in your mind even after the game, don’t withdraw into yourself. Discuss the conflict with people you trust, like friends or family. That will give you a chance to get it off your chest, look at the situation from a different perspective, and feel supported. Emotional support is especially important for anyone feeling shaken.

Don’t be shy about complaining

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, here; you can report the offender. Almost all online games provide mechanisms for complaining about users who behave inappropriately toward others. For example, Steam moderators urge users to report violations by community members. They also hand down escalating bans for insults and aggression.

Nobody will prohibit trolls from playing, but social blocking in the spirit of Black Mirror is provided: Steam may ban players from posting on forums and in the Community Center.

Even if a bully isn’t banned immediately, on Steam or in a specific game, your complaints will spoil their karma. Then, if someone else complains about them, the bully will receive special attention. For example, Xbox has a reputation system for gamers. If someone receives constant complaints, they may not be banned, but their gaming circles will be restricted — they’ll have to play with other trolls.

Block aggressive gamers or filter out their chat messages

Most gaming platforms feature tools beyond reporting to combat abuse. You can set up an automatic chat filter to spare yourself the nastiest of it. If you’re being harassed on a voice channel, mute the aggressive teammate. If you’re harassed both during and outside the game, add the offender to your blocklist to keep them from contacting you.

Quit matches with bullies

Team games don’t encourage you to run away during a match, but if your teammates bombard you with insults or threats, and you find yourself struggling, protect yourself. Of course, if you leave, you can kiss your rating and loot goodbye, but your mental health and mood are worth more.

Keep your personal information private

If all the offenders know about you is your screen name, then they can’t harm you in real life. However, toxic players don’t always start out that way. Someone on the other side of the screen may seem nice; they may show a friendly interest in you by asking for your real name, a photo, or links to social media pages, but that information can also help them find and harass you on other platforms or even offline.

Before you think about giving anyone information about yourself, be very sure you can trust them. If a stranger wants to know your address or asks for pictures in the first minutes of a match, inform the moderators; they’ll take it from there.

You don’t need to share your phone number, e-mail address, or social media accounts with your teammates, either. You can use internal chat to communicate during the game.

Don’t share too much in your in-game profile. Remember that bullies can study it to find out more about you. Keep your real name, gender, country of residence, and age to yourself.

In fact, any personal information you post anywhere can be used against you. We recommend using our privacy-checking tool to explore popular services’ basic privacy settings.

Finally, if you fear you’ll be identified by your IP address and pestered outside the game, play through a secure connection. Using a VPN hides your real IP, so trolls won’t have the faintest idea where you live.

What to do if you’re being bullied

If you experience insults and threats in-game, don’t argue with the bullies or stoop to their level. Instead:

  • Set up a chat message filter, mute toxic teammates, block annoying trolls so they can’t message you, and focus on the game;
  • Quit the match if your patience is growing thin;
  • Send a complaint to support and back it up with evidence;
  • Use a VPN and don’t share any personal information with other players, even if they seem friendly but especially if they’re behaving aggressively.
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