How to respond to bullying in online games

As people around the world have had to endure multiple lockdowns, many have turned to gaming as a source of entertainment and to connect and communicate with fellow players. It is little surprise then that multiplayer gaming is on the rise, with 1097.2 million players globally, and growing by 8.5% year-on-year. Spurred on by the pandemic, multiplayer gaming is predicted to continue growing, from 14.6% in 2021 to 16.4% by 2025.

The dark side of this trend is that it brings with it a genuine threat of increasing in-game bullying as well. In fact, 12% of players surveyed in Kaspersky’s Generation Game research noted that too much bullying in online games was a contributing reason why they hid their passion for the pastime from their parents.

According to new research commissioned by Kaspersky and conducted by Savanta, of the 5 031 gamers surveyed across 17 countries, bullying was identified as being widespread globally. 15.9% of gamers from South Africa surveyed admitted to having been bullied while playing (compared to 19% globally).

This worrying trend is the most prevalent in Russia (44%) Saudi Arabia (27%), Turkey (28%) and the US (27%). For trolls and online bullies, all players are ‘fair game,’ from new players learning the ropes, to seasoned users who are targeted by those looking for someone to pick on. 

However, you do not have to give up playing games with friends online, nor do you have to be at the mercy of a few malicious individuals.

Here are tips for responding to negative behaviour in multiplayer games:

  • Keep calm: Do not take a bully’s bait, as anyone who participates in verbal abuse online can get banned from a multiplayer game for swearing. Bear in mind though that the only way to get banned from a game is by violating the rules. If a bully’s words impact on how you feel, rather discuss the conflict with loved ones than bottling it up.
  • Block aggressive gamers or filter out their chat messages: Set up an automatic chat filter to spare yourself the nastiest of it. If you are being harassed on a voice channel, mute the offender, and if their harassment continues beyond the confines of the game, add the offender to your blocklist to keep them from contacting you.
  • Keep your personal information private: If all the offenders know about you is your screen name, then they cannot harm you in real life. Bear in mind that even if a stranger appears friendly at first, giving them your real name, a photo, or links to social media pages could enable them to harass you on other platforms or offline should they become nasty at a later stage.
  • Chat safely: Instead of sharing your phone number, e-mail address, or social media accounts with teammates that you do not know well, rather use internal chat to communicate during the game. With this, refrain from oversharing in your in-game profile. Always keep your real name, gender, country of residence and age to yourself.
  • Secure your physical location with a VPN: One sure-fire way to prevent bullies from using your IP address to locate and then harass you outside of a game, is by using a VPN to ensure you have an anonymous, secure connection.

Above all, remember that the golden rule of online interaction applies to multiplayer games – any personal information you post anywhere can be used against you and maintaining your privacy is your first line of defence. Use a  privacy-checking tool to explore popular services’ basic privacy settings.

By Lehan van den Heever, Enterprise Cyber Security Advisor, Kaspersky in Africa