Gamers’ Chat Rooms: Breeding Extremism?

Unloved is a private discussion group on Discord, a messaging service popular among video game players, where one of the rules is to “not respect women.” In this group, about 150 people, who call themselves “incels,” share memes, make jokes about school shootings, and debate the attractiveness of women of different races, with some rooms referring to rape. Unfortunately, views like these are easy to come across for those in the gaming world, both in some games themselves and on social media services and sites like Discord and Steam, used by many gamers.

A recent report by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights highlights how deeply rooted misogyny, racism, and other extreme ideologies are in some video game chat rooms. It also offers insight into why people playing video games or socializing online seem to be particularly susceptible to such viewpoints. According to a survey conducted in five of the world’s major gaming markets, the report found that 51 percent of those who played online reported encountering extremist statements in games with multiple players in the past year.

Historically, the video game world has long grappled with problematic behavior, such as the long-running harassment campaign against women in the industry in 2014 and 2015, known as GamerGate. Recently, video game companies have promised to improve their workplace cultures and hiring processes. However, gaming platforms and adjacent social media sites are still particularly vulnerable to extremist groups’ outreach due to the many impressionable young people who play games and the relative lack of moderation on some sites.

Some of these bad actors speak directly to other players in multiplayer games, using in-game chat or voice functions. Other times, they turn to social media platforms like Discord, which first rose to prominence among gamers and have since gained wider appeal. In Roblox, a game that allows players to create virtual worlds, players have re-enacted Nazi concentration camps and massive re-education camps, while in World of Warcraft, online groups have advertised neo-Nazi affiliations.

Disboard, a volunteer-run site that shows a list of Discord servers, even includes some that openly advertise extremist views. Some are public, while others are private and invitation only. Gaming companies have put in place automatic detection systems to scan for and delete prohibited content before it can be posted. Gamers, console manufacturers, and distributors must continue monitoring and guarding against the exposure of players to extremist views and be diligent in moderating and reporting relevant posts and accounts.

Overall, the online gaming world poses challenges to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all players to enjoy and thrive.