The Washington Post Decries ‘Toxicity’ in Videogames

This week the Washington Post shared the story of 20-year-old Sam Haberern, who was playing Call of Duty on his Xbox when the other players “started asking him whether he had ever testified in court or murdered anyone.” “They said they were from Maryland and that they were going to come and kill me,” he said. By then it was 3 a.m., and Haberern decided to quit. One of the gamers in the party then sent him a message via Xbox Live. It contained his home address. Next his house phone rang, then his mother’s cellphone. A message appeared on his TV screen from one of the party members — it was asking why he didn’t answer… Haberern contacted Microsoft, which makes Xbox, via its website and reported what happened. Unsatisfied with that process, he then typed a Reddit post, which would go viral, asking what recourse was available to him. The varied and ultimately unsatisfying answers centered on a common theme: There was no good solution.

Toxic behavior in competitive activities is not a new development, nor is it exclusive to video gaming, as social media users can attest. But its persistence amid a rapidly rising medium — both in terms of users and revenue — spotlights the question of why undesirable or, in some cases, criminal interactions have been so difficult for the video-game industry or law enforcement to eliminate. Now, with technological advances in online multiplayer games and video gaming’s increased prevalence worldwide, a growing percentage of the population is becoming unwittingly exposed to a slew of abusive acts that are only becoming more visible. While game publishers, console makers, online voice-chat applications and even the FBI are aware of these issues and working to confront them, complications stemming from modern technology and gaming practices, freedom of speech concerns, and a lack of chargeable offenses on the legal side make toxic elements a challenge to extinguish…. Ambiguities within the U.S. legal system have played a role in constraining the efforts of law enforcement during the era of online gaming.

After the death threats, Haberern didn’t contact the police, but questioned whether Microsoft was creating a safe environment for kids.

The next day, he was back to playing videogames. “But I definitely don’t accept invites from people.”