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Cyberbullying on Online Gaming Platforms for Children and Youth

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Cyberbullying has been recognized as a serious social concern. Considering the varied contexts of online engagement by children and youth is increasingly necessary to adequately understand their experiences and the impact of their participation. An online context which requires further attention is gaming platforms, which are especially popular among boys. Methods: Using a theoretical approach of social dominance, this paper analyzed secondary data drawn from a mixed methods study of cyberbullying to investigate the prevalence and experience of gaming among a quantitative survey sample (n = 670) of 4th, 7th, and 10th grade students, as well as the experience and impact of gaming on a qualitative interview sub-sample (n = 57). Gaming prevalence rates are provided. Boys were significantly more likely to engage in internet gaming (though the effect size was small); χ² (1, n = 669) = 10.11, p = 0.001, phi = −0.123, 95% CI (−0.207, −0.047). Qualitative content analysis (QCA) identified four themes: (1) aggression (exceeding what was required to achieve game objectives) characterized gaming culture and pervaded gaming platforms; (2) anonymity contributed to the culture of aggression; (3) participants often did not consider aggression cyberbullying, but rather just a part of the culture of gaming platforms; and (4) participants’ responses to aggressive behaviors. Certain behaviors on gaming platforms may not be appropriately recognized as cyberbullying. Implications for social work practice with children and youth are provided.
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Running Head: CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 1
Cyberbullying and Online Gaming Platforms for Children and Youth
Lauren B. McInroy
1
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
University of Toronto
Faye Mishna
Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work
University of Toronto
Compliance with Ethical Standards:
Lauren B. McInroy declares that she has no conflict of interest.
Faye Mishna declares that she has no conflict of interest.
1
Corresponding author: 246 Bloor Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1V4.
lauren.mcinroy@mail.utoronto.ca
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 2
Abstract
Purpose: Cyberbullying has been recognized as a serious social concern. Considering the varied
contexts of online engagement by children and youth is increasingly necessary to adequately
understand their experiences and the impact of their participation. An online context which
requires further attention is gaming platforms, which are especially popular among boys.
Methods: Using a theoretical approach of social dominance, this paper analyzed secondary data
drawn from a mixed methods study of cyberbullying to investigate the prevalence and
experience of gaming among a quantitative survey sample (n = 670) of 4th, 7th, and 10th grade
students, as well as the experience and impact of gaming on a qualitative interview sub-sample
(n = 57). Results: Gaming prevalence rates are provided. Boys were significantly more likely to
engage in internet gaming (though the effect size was small); χ² (1, n = 669) = 10.11, p = 0.001,
phi = -.123, 95% CI [-.207, -.047]. Qualitative content analysis (QCA) identified four themes: (1)
aggression (exceeding what was required to achieve game objectives) characterized gaming
culture and pervaded gaming platforms; (2) anonymity contributed to the culture of aggression;
(3) participants often did not consider aggression cyberbullying, but rather just a part of the
culture of gaming platforms; and (4) participants’ responses to aggressive behaviors. Discussion:
Certain behaviors on gaming platforms may not be appropriately recognized as cyberbullying.
Implications for social work practice with children and youth are provided.
Keywords
Social Dominance; Online Youth Culture; Media and Technology; Video Games; Gender;
Cyberbullying
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 3
Cyberbullying and the Culture of Online Gaming Platforms for Children and Youth
Nearly all youth (13 17) (92%) were online daily in the United States in 2015 (Lenhart
et al., 2015a). Given this ubiquitous participation the implications for cyberbullying, a
widespread and increasing social concern (Mishna et al., 2016), must be considered. While girls
predominate on social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), boys are most likely
to engage in gaming (Lenhart et al., 2015a). Digital gaming (hereafter gaming) comprises online
and/or offline engagement via a variety of digital gaming devices and platforms, including
consoles (e.g., Playstation, Xbox), handheld devices (e.g., Nintendo DS), mobile devices (e.g.,
smartphones, tablets), and computers (Common Sense, 2015; Lenhart et al., 2015a). Gaming is
interactive, and may be played individually, cooperatively with others, and/or in competition
with others. Other players may be present in-person and/or online (Granic et al., 2014). A wide
variety of genres are available (e.g., strategic, simulation, role-playing, fantasy, action), and
many games include aspects of multiple genres (Boyle et al. 2016; Brooks et al. 2016).
Gaming has “shifted… to a central leisure activity for… young people, with a steady
increase over the last decade” (Brooks et al., 2016, p. 36). In the context of this growth, through
analysis of secondary data drawn from a mixed methods study of cyberbullying, the purpose of
this paper is to investigate the prevalence and experience of online gaming among a diverse
quantitative sample (n = 670) of Canadian primary, middle, and secondary students, as well as
the experience and impact of online gaming culture on a qualitative sub-sample (n = 57). While
there has been a rapidly growing body of scholarship on cyberbullying over the past decades
(Mishna et al., 2016; Modecki et al., 2014), more detailed research on gaming contexts is
necessary. Using a theoretical approach of social dominance, specifically maintenance of social
hierarchies, this paper argues that the gap in scholarship is due at least partly to certain
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 4
excessively aggressive gaming behaviors which exceed the aggression required to actively
participate in gameplay and meet game objectives not being evaluated to determine if and how
they should be considered cyberbullying. Thus, this paper provides a contribution to social work
scholarship.
Background
Gaming
Engagement in gaming differs by gender. In the United States in 2014/2015 (n = 1060)
nearly all boys (91%) 13 17 owned or had access to a gaming console, compared to 70% of
girls. Most boys (84%) also engaged in gaming online or on their mobile devices, compared to
59% of girls (Lenhart et al., 2015a). Other research of youth (n = 2658) 8 18 in 2015 had
similar findings, with 27% of boys indicating gaming is their favorite digital activity, versus only
2% of girls. Boys averaged 56 minutes a day of gaming, whereas girls averaged 7 minutes
(Common Sense, 2015). While these numbers indicate a substantial gender gap, gaming among
girls appears to be on a generally upward trajectory (Brooks et al., 2016; Lenhart et al., 2015a).
Potential positive outcomes and friendships
The potential of positive outcomes from gaming have begun to be identified, including:
improved prosocial behavior and self-monitoring; social cooperation and support; motivation,
perseverance, and resilience; problem-solving and memory retention; positive emotion and
mood; improved attention and processing skills; and visual/spatial skills (Boyle et al., 2016;
Brooks et al., 2016; Granic et al., 2014; Johnson & Puplampu, 2008). Gaming may offer
important opportunities for developing friendships. Over half of teens (52%) participate in
gaming with friends, both offline (89%) and online (54%). Gaming may be especially critical in
developing and maintaining friendships for boys, enabling daily recreational connections and
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 5
interactions with peers (Lenhart et al., 2015b).
Risks: Potential negative outcomes
High levels of gaming, particularly among older adolescents, may be linked with negative
outcomes (Brooks et al., 2016), including physical health issues (e.g., muscle pain, eating
patterns, sleep patterns), psychological and emotional issues (e.g., low self-esteem, attention
difficulties, social anxiety), and school performance problems (Chang et al., 2015; Griffiths et
al., 2011; Johnson & Puplampu, 2008; Young, 2009). A study of students aged 11 15 (n =
4404) in the United Kingdom in 2009/2010 found that for boys high levels of gaming were
associated with bullying perpetration and victimization, as well as going to bed hungry. For girls
high levels of gaming were associated with lower life satisfaction (Brooks et al., 2016).
Gaming addiction is a type of internet addiction. While prevalence estimates are
challenging, addiction to online games is a significant problem among youth (Young, 2009). The
impact of violence portrayed in gaming is more unclear, and research on the relationship
between violence and gaming remains inconclusive (Ballard & Welch, 2015; Brooks et al.,
2016). Some research has indicated that gaming may provide occasions for the development of
hostility and aggression, as well as decreased attention and desensitization to violence
(Anderson, 2010; Chang et al., 2015; Johnson & Puplampu, 2008). Other research has
questioned such findings based on methodological and publication challenges (Ferguson, 2007).
A variety of organizations and interest groups have advocated for moderation in media use
(including gaming) by youth, generally for two hours maximum daily (Brooks et al., 2016). Such
guidelines have been critiqued for being unrealistic, emphasizing a focus on improving positive
outcomes (e.g., improving quality of content) rather than decreasing time (McCarthy, 2013).
Risks: Cyberbullying
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 6
A proliferation of research indicates cyberbullying is a widespread and increasing social
problem (Mishna et al., 2016; Modecki et al., 2014). While definitions vary (Byrne et al., 2016),
cyberbullying generally refers to the use of technology to engage in bullying. Bullying consists
of direct and/or indirect aggression (Hanish & Guerra, 2000; Olweus, 1991), and may take many
forms, including physical, verbal, psychological, or relational behaviors (Mishna et al., 2016,
p. 2). While physicality is less salient for cyberbullying, the verbal, psychological and relational
dimensions of bullying remain significant (Hanish & Guerra 2000; Olweus, 1991). Unique
factors may also reinforce cyberbullying’s negative impacts (Fryling et al., 2015), including: its
accessibility, its perpetrator anonymity, its widespread dissemination, and the indelible quality of
its information” (Chang et al., 2015, p. 258). Estimates of cyberbullying vary for a variety of
reasons, including research designs and inconsistent definitions. Existing research indicates that
between 10 40% of youth report experiencing cyberbullying, demonstrating the significance of
the phenomenon (Mishna et al., 2016; Kowalski et al., 2014).
There has been limited recent research regarding gaming and cyberbullying, as the social
aspects of gaming provide opportunities for cyberbullying (Ballard and Welch, 2015). An online
sample of youth and adults 12 70 (x
̄ = 22.04) in a gaming community (n = 1033) found that
cyberbullying on gaming platforms has negative outcomes (e.g., lower self-esteem, higher
depression, higher anxiety) for both victims and perpetrators. Victims were more likely to be
younger (Fryling et al., 2015). Boys may be especially likely to engage in online gaming with
voice connections, allowing them to collaborate and converse (Lenhart et al. 2015b), including
trash-talk or use disparaging, taunting, or boastful comments between opponents trying to
intimidate each other” (Merriam-Webster, 2016b). Another study (n = 151) of gamers (18 52, x
̄
= 21) found females and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people are more
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 7
likely to be victims of cyberbullying, while males and non-LGBTQ people are more likely to be
perpetrators. One fifth (22%) of participants had been victimized in the past three months,
including general (52%) and sexualized (48%) name calling (Ballard and Welch 2015).
Social dominance theory and bullying
Social dominance theory (SDT) investigates social organization processes which
produce and maintain hierarchical social structure[s]” (Sidanius & Pratto, 2012, p. 418)
resulting in group-based social inequality. Such social processes include prejudice, oppression,
and discrimination based upon membership in a subordinate group (e.g., gender, racial/ethnic,
LGBTQ). Group-based inequality is maintained at the individual-level through individual acts
of cruelty” (Sidanius & Pratto 2012, p. 416), including instances of bullying. Scholarship exists
on the interaction between social dominance, bullying, and gender stereotypes. Bullying may be
employed to exert social dominance and reinforce social hierarchies, and can be an expression of
stereotypical gendered behavior (particularly of socially masculine traits such as dominance,
aggression, and seeking power and social control) (Morales et al., 2016). Notably, both males
and females may express these socially masculine traits (Morales et al., 2016), though boys in
particular may use such bullying to establish their own masculinity (Pascoe, 2013). Thus,
stereotypical gendered behavior, such as gender-based insults (e.g., attributing feminine traits to
male victims, disparaging female victims morality or sexuality) (Pascoe, 2013), may be used in
bullying in an attempt to socially subordinate individuals and groups.
Gaming Culture
The research on gaming and cyberbullying does not fully account for the particular
cultural context of gaming platforms. New participants in gaming are socialized into complex
patterns of language, interaction, norms, and community” (Crawford et al., 2011, p. 12); patterns
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 8
which may be characteristic of gaming culture generally and/or specific to particular gaming
platforms or genres. Social hierarchies and individual reputations are often important, and are
acquired throughlearning and demonstrating knowledge and [adherence to] expected patterns
of behavior” (Crawford et al., 2011, p. 13). Key aspects of cyberbullying may play out in unique
ways in gaming contexts. For example, social dominance is often identified as a primary
motivator for perpetrators of bullying (Morales et al., 2016). In gaming contexts, game rank
an indicator of dominance [may be] a potential motivating force” (Ballard & Welch, 2015, p.
5) for cyberbullying. Thus, the power imbalances characteristic of bullying (Mishna et al., 2016)
may take on different forms in gaming contexts (Ballard & Welch, 2016), and may be instigators
of conflict. Some issues within gaming culture have recently received significant attention, most
notably #GamerGate an online harassment campaign (e.g., threats) against prominent feminist
gamers and game developers challenging the masculine culture of gaming (Ballard & Welch,
2015; Evans & Janish, 2015).
Limited research exists explicitly on gaming and cyberbullying (Fryling et al., 2015), and
even less specifically on the culture of gaming environments experienced by children and youth.
Gaming can play a significant role, enabling experimentation with and exploration of identity
and self-representation. Gaming, as with many kinds of play, “is socially shaped and… situated,
with purposes, pleasures, and investment inevitably affected by institutional contexts” (Beavis,
2015, p. 816). Gaming culture arguably has the potential to have a significant developmental
impact on engaged youth, and aggressive behaviors experienced by youth in gaming contexts
should be evaluated to address whether and how they are consistent with cyberbullying. This
paper provides a contribution by investigating two research questions using secondary data
analyses. To make the most effective use of available data, and allow for simultaneous breadth
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 9
and depth of understanding, mixed methods analyses were employed. (1) What are the
prevalence rates and experiences of gaming and cyberbullying on various types of gaming
platforms among a quantitative sample (n = 670) of primary, middle, and secondary school
students? (2) What are the experiences and impacts of gaming and cyberbullying on a qualitative
sub-sample (n = 57)?
Methods
The data used in this secondary analysis are drawn from a longitudinal, mixed methods
Canadian study of bullying and cyberbullying in 19 schools at one of the largest and most
diverse school boards in North America (Toronto District School Board, n.d. 1, n.d. 2). A
comprehensive protocol paper extensively describing the rationale and methodology for this
study is available (Mishna et al., 2016). Data were drawn from a sample of students in primary
school (4th grade), middle school (7th grade), and secondary school (10th grade) followed over
three years. The study protocol received approval by both the University Research Ethics Board
and the School Board Ethics Committee. Informed consent was provided by parents/guardians,
and students provided informed assent.
Quantitative
Procedures and sample
Stratified random sampling was constructed on “three categories of need (low, medium,
and high) based on an indexthat ranked schools on external challenges to student
achievement” (Mishna et al., 2016, p. 3). This facilitated recruitment of a diverse sample in terms
of geography, socio-economic status, and ethno-racial identification. The initial sample in Year 1
comprised 670 students in 4th grade (n = 160), 7th grade (n = 243), and 10th grade (n = 267). All
students in the relevant grades in the selected schools were invited to participate (Mishna et al.,
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 10
2016). Participants ranged from 8 16 (x
̄ = 12.63) at the start of the study (Table 1), and could
select multiple ethno-racial categories. The quantitative sample was largely representative of the
school board from which the sample was drawn on multiple demographic factors. Regarding
race-ethnicity, z-scores were computed to compare the quantitative sample and available school
board demographics. The sample was statistically representative of (i.e., not significantly
different from) the reported school board demographics for seven of nine ethno-racial categories
(at the p = 0.05 level). The exceptions were an overrepresentation of White participants (a
difference of 4.5%, p = 0.011) and an underrepresentation of East Asian participants (a
difference of 3%, p = 0.036). Greater statistical detail cannot be provided as the research team
did not have access to the school board’s raw data for comparison.
Several quantitative survey measures were used, which are described in detail elsewhere
(Mishna et al., 2016). Most relevant to this analysis were the Bullying & Cyberbullying:
Perpetrators, Victims & Witnesses Survey, previously used in other Canadian research on
cyberbullying (Mishna, Cook, Gadalla, Daciuk, & Solomon, 2010), and a demographic survey
designed based on the school board’s demographic data collection. Data collection occurred in
the school setting, and participants received a $5 gift card for each year of survey participation.
All descriptive analyses were performed on the Year 1 quantitative sample, and were undertaken
in SPSS 23.
(Insert Table 1 Here).
Qualitative
Procedures and sample
The larger study the secondary data was drawn from included a qualitative sub-sample of
57 students purposefully selected based on a variety of factors (e.g., socio-demographic
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 11
diversity; having had cyberbullying experiences as victim, perpetrator, and/or witness).
Qualitative participants in the initial sample were in the 4th grade (n = 20), 7th grade (n = 21), and
10th grade (n = 16). Participants ranged from 9 16 (x
̄ = 12.09) at the start of the study (Table 1).
Participants were interviewed in Year 1 and again in Year 3. Interviews were 3090 minutes,
with an average of approximately 60 minutes. Year 1 interviews took place in schools, while
Year 3 interviews were conducted via phone. Participants received a $10 gift card for each
interview. A semi-structured interview guide was utilized, and evolved over the course of the
study (Mishna et al., 2016). It was adapted between Years 1 and 3 to incorporate a specific
question on gaming. Interviews were transcribed and inputted into ATLAS.ti 7 for analysis. All
transcripts from the qualitative sample were analyzed for relevance to gaming for this paper.
While the study utilized a grounded theory approach throughout data collection and
analysis, this secondary analysis employs qualitative content analysis (QCA). The analysis for
this paper took place after data collection was complete, preventing the cyclical data collection
and analysis process characteristic of grounded theory (Charmaz, 2006). QCA is utilized
systematically to generate meaning from existing textual data in order to elucidate a particular
phenomenon (Elo & Kyngäs, 2008; Forman & Damschroder, 2015; Krippendorff, 2013;
Schreier, 2014). QCA predominantly examines data with relevant “informational content
[generated from] open-ended data collection techniques aimed at detail and depth (Forman &
Damschroder, 2015, 40-41). QCA is particularly good at focusing on specific aspects of a larger
body of material (Schreier, 2014). In this case, interview data were examined for manifest
content related specifically to gaming. Importantly, typical gameplay in violent games (i.e.,
shooting or killing other players’ characters to meet game objectives) was not coded as
cyberbullying; only aggressive behaviors which exceed the necessity of gameplay and were
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 12
consistent with the defining characteristics of cyberbullying were coded as such.
Reliability was established through ongoing independent analysis and collective
discussion by the Research Team, which consisted of six researchers, as well as more focused
analysis by the authors. In QCA data are analyzed to identify patterns and generate categories for
a preliminary coding frame, which is then applied to the data and revised in a process of analysis
leading to interpretation (Forman & Damschroder, 2015; Krippendorff, 2013; Schreier, 2012).
For this study the preliminary frame was generally consistent with the final themes.
Results
Quantitative
Nearly half of the quantitative sample (43.5%; n = 291) indicated they went on online
gaming platforms, while the vast majority (84.1%) reported using computers to engage in
internet-based gaming at least sometimes. Participation ranged widely, from once a month to
more than once a day (Table 2). Over half of the qualitative sub-sample (52.6%; n = 30)
indicated they went on online gaming platforms, and the majority (89.5%) reported at least some
internet-based gaming. A chi-square test was completed to examine the relation between online
gaming participation and gender. Boys (50.9%) were significantly more likely to engage in
internet gaming than girls (38.5%), χ² (1, n = 669) = 10.11, p = 0.001, phi = -.123, 95% CI [-
.207, -.047]. The phi value indicates a small effect size (Cohen, 1988) and low practical
significance (Ellis & Steyn, 2003). These findings are compatible with the existing literature that
boys engage in more online gaming than girls, but that the gender gap in gaming may be
lessening (Brooks et al., 2016; Common Sense, 2015; Lenhart et al., 2015a). A chi-square test
was also completed to examine the relation between online gaming and grade. There was a
statistically significant difference in participation by grade level, χ² (2, n = 669) = 53.775, p <
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 13
0.001, V = .284, 95% CI [.218, .359]. The Cramer’s V value indicates a medium effect size
(Cohen, 1988) and moderate practical significance (Ellis & Steyn, 2003). Gaming was most
popular among 4th graders (63.7%), followed by 7th graders (47.1%), and 10th graders (28.1%).
(Insert Table 2 Here).
With regard to cyberbullying, participants were asked about victimization, witnessing,
and perpetration on three types of gaming platforms: (1) virtual world games (e.g., Second Life,
Gaia); (2) massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs); and (3) internet-enabled console games
(e.g., Xbox, Playstation). Perpetration, victimization, and witnessing were all quite low for the
full quantitative sample (Table 3), with the highest being witnessing cyberbullying on MMOGs
once or twice (3.3%). Additionally, 3.0% had witnessed cyberbullying once or twice on internet-
enabled console games, and 2.1% had witnessed once or twice on virtual world games. Being a
victim or perpetrator was less common, with the highest prevalence being 1.0% of participants
experiencing cyberbullying victimization once or twice in virtual world games. Due to low
numbers, chi-square analyses examining the relation between cyberbullying status and internet
gaming were not possible. The rates of cyberbullying, particularly witnessing, were notably
higher for the qualitative sub-sample likely due to their purposeful selection for experience
with cyberbullying.
(Insert Table 3 Here).
Qualitative
Four interconnected themes related to online gaming were generated: (1) aggression
(exceeding what was required for achieving game objectives) characterized gaming culture and
pervaded gaming platforms; (2) anonymity on online gaming platforms contributed to the culture
of aggression; (3) participants often did not consider aggressive behaviors cyberbullying, but
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 14
rather just a part of the culture of gaming platforms; and (4) participants’ responses to aggressive
behaviors.
Aggression
Swearing, insults, and other forms of verbal violence were omnipresent in participants
experiences in contexts where they interacted with other players. Arguing and fighting between
players, often through voice and/or text chat functions included in the games, were pervasive.
Other excessive aggressive behaviors in gaming interactions which expressed dominance (e.g.,
singling out and injuring or killing a player’s character repeatedly) were also common. These
behaviors are consistent with the definition and features of cyberbullying (Mishna et al., 2016).
[Cyberbullying] happens in games a lot, if… they don't like the way you're playing they'll
swear at you. (Student 154, Male, Grade 7, Year 1)
[S]aying ‘noob’ means that you’re new to the game and you don’t really know anything
about it. But people use it a lot as an insult. (Student 341, Male, Grade 6, Year 3)
This aggressive or dominant behavior was frequently aimed at younger/newer (and thus
less competent) players. Newb or Noob (shortened forms of Newbie) refer to a newcomer to a
particular activity or task. These terms are frequently used for newcomers to technology; in this
context specifically to newcomers to gaming in general or to a specific gaming platform in
particular (Merriam-Webster, 2016a; Oxford Dictionaries, 2016a). These epithets are commonly
used as insults on gaming platforms, and were experienced as such by some participants.
They would exclude… and if it’s a game where you’re fighting… they kill [the victim]
and they keep saying oh yeah I PWN you’… they [may] feel really bad and… wouldn’t
want to play that game anymore. (Student 341, Male, Grade 4, Year 1)
[Y]ou’re basically telling the person that theyre bad at the game and they should never
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 15
play it, they’re so bad and they should practice for a long time before they ever come
back and play it. (Student 020, Male, Grade 6, Year 3)
PWN or pone refers to completely defeating an opponent in a game (Merriam-
Webster, 2016a; Oxford Dictionaries, 2016a). Suiciding’ and ‘feeding opponents’ were also
terms experienced by participants, which both refer to playing badly and/or having one’s
character killed frequently during gameplay. For most participants this aggression was
ubiquitous, and for some it happened every time they played with others. In many of these
experiences, expressions of social dominance and/or reinforcement of the masculine social
norms of strength and competence (Morales et al., 2016) were important components.
They said, oh nobody likes you, you are just some dumb person. Something like that,
stuff like that. And they replied saying, ‘oh yeah I’m a pro wrestler’, or whatever …
Because they wanted to scare the other person into thinking that they could beat them up.
(Student 341, Male, Grade 4, Year 1)
Victimized youth were identified by several participants as those who were unlikely to
stand up for themselves, or too shy or polite, thus exhibiting socially feminine norms (Morales
et al., 2016).
They’re too gentle. They’re too nice, and they’re too gentle so they get used [The
victims] don’t want to hurt someone, even though they’re hurt. (Student 290, Female,
Grade 10, Year 1)
Anonymity
Responses indicated that aggressive players were generally strangers to their victims, and
suggested that aggressors’ behavior was facilitated by the anonymity on gaming platforms. For
several participants, this anonymity seemed to limit the perceived options for responding to this
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 16
aggression (i.e., they couldn’t do anything because they didn’t know who the perpetrators were).
Sometimes when I play a game, I make a bad play, and [strangers] just start yelling at me
or typing at me for no reason. I have no idea who they are, and I just have no way to fight
back. Plus it’s there now, and it cannot be deleted, right? … They message me, and they
are like you are bad. Why would you even play…? Uninstall [the game]’. (Student 511,
Male, Grade 9, Year 3)
Not considered cyberbullying: Part of the culture of gaming platforms
Often participants did not seem to consider the behaviors that they had perpetrated,
experienced, and/or witnessed to be cyberbullying. Instead, they considered these behaviors to be
an expected component of their participation.
People are sometimes mean, if you're playing online games and you do bad, sometimes
someone will just attack you for doing bad or not being as good as others… I don't think
it's always cyberbullying. (Student 887, Male, Grade 10, Year 1)
Similarly, many participants downplayed the impact of the aggression they experienced
in gaming contexts, stating that they did not find such behavior to be especially impactful.
The first two times they actually bullied me I felt upset obviously, but then… I was just
like this is dumb. This is a game. You’re supposed to have fun. That’s the point of games
so I didn’t take that personally. (Student 290, Female, Grade 10, Year 1)
Responses to aggressive behaviors
Despite not always framing their experiences as cyberbullying, many participants
responses to aggression when gaming (e.g., turning off or not playing games) indicate that these
experiences may impact youth negatively even if they do not realize it.
Online gaming… people are aggressive on it. So sometimes when I play online, I put on
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 17
the headset and you do hear swearing and stuff, like these are kids or people that just
want to win so I just take it off because you don’t want to hear it. (Student 247, Male,
Grade 10, Year 1)
One time when I was playing, a random guy just talked to me. He said a bad word and I
just stopped playing [But] I didn’t feel nothing. (Student 037, Male, Grade 4, Year 1)
The following participant made an interesting distinction between a friend perpetrating
aggression and an unknown or anonymous person. The anonymity involved in incidents on
gaming platforms may contribute to participants’ perceptions of the impacts of cyberbullying.
I was playing a game and then someone might say somethingI dont really take that as
bullying because they don't really know me. So I dont really get hurt, unless they knew
me… then I would get hurt. Because that’s like a personal attack. (Student 887, Male,
Grade 10, Year 1)
Importantly, several participants indicated that these experiences may make them more
likely to behave aggressively, as the platform culture permitted or encouraged such actions. Or
they suggested more generally that being victimized could be a motivator of perpetration. This is
consistent with literature indicating a significant overlap between perpetrators and victims in
bullying and cyberbullying (Brooks et al., 2016).
Sometimes if I’m really angry about someone, maybe I say just some mean things about
someone. .. like when they play really, really, really bad on games, maybe I will say, ‘can
you stop, can you stop suiciding … it’s a first person shooting game so basically what
they do is just run to the enemy and they just kill him, so like a suicide… Yeah, ‘stop
playing badly. (Student 641, Male, Grade 10, Year 1)
In at least some cases, however, the aggression gaming contexts permitted was perceived
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 18
as a form of escapism from bullying and/or cyberbullying.
I play online games, because when I got bullied I’m angry, upset, so I play like certain
games, shoot people. And I know it’s fake but sometimes you can just make it real… it
releases your anger. (Student 511, Male, Grade 7, Year 1)
The influence of peers and/or role models on the decision-making of players to perpetrate
aggression was mentioned, which is consistent with research indicating the perceived support for
cyberbullying in the community is an important factor for the likelihood of aggression being
used as a tactic in gaming (Ballard & Welch, 2015). It also reinforces the role of social power
and influence in conflict in gaming contexts.
Some games, there could be a lot of swearing at people and then that person can be a role
modelsomeone asks them something, you could influence yourself to do some wrong
things to other people. (Student 154, Male, Grade 7, Year 1)
Discussion
This study contributes to the limited research on gaming and cyberbullying (Fryling et
al., 2015), providing the prevalence of gaming among a sample of primary, middle, and
secondary school students, and highlighting the nature and impact of these experiences and their
relevance to the existing framework of cyberbullying . Regarding the nature of the aggression on
gaming platforms, the roles of social dominance and masculinity in relation to gaming culture
are important concepts to emphasize. Adherence to masculine norms often reinforces misogyny
and homophobia, and name-calling and taunting is used to fortify such norms among males
(Ballard & Welch, 2015). In a study of adolescents (11 17) by Collier et al. (2013), participants
(n = 513) who were male or LGBTQ reported they were more likely to be victims of
homophobic name-calling. As discussed above, name-calling and other forms of bullying based
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 19
on group differences serve a social function, reinforcing social hierarchies (Collier et al., 2013).
While participants in the current study did not explicitly discuss homophobia in gaming,
they discussed examples of masculine norms being a driver of aggressive behavior, such as
posturing and threats of physical harm. A study of 2560 adolescents in Spain found that
exhibiting socially masculine traits (i.e., dominance, aggression, seeking power and social
control) predicted perpetration of bullying regardless of gender. Both boys and girls with greater
socially masculine traits were more likely to be perpetrators (Morales et al., 2016). Evidence
consistently shows that boys are more likely to be the predominant perpetrators of physical
bullying (e.g., hitting, shoving) (Wang et al., 2015). On gaming platforms, a context dominated
by boys, participants’ responses indicate aggressive players are able to simulate physical
aggression and physical bullying behavior through their characters’ actions (e.g., repeatedly
dominating or killing other players’ characters). Importantly, this aggression exceeds what could
be considered typical gameplay in violent games (i.e., shooting or killing other players’
characters to meet game objectives). This distinctive performance of ‘offline’ bullying behaviors
in online contexts is interesting, and requires attention in future cyberbullying research.
In social contexts bullying focused on enforcing masculinity can be particularly prevalent
when individuals “perceive that male role models and peers are supportive of bullying” (Ballard
& Welch, 2015, p. 7). For many young males the perpetration of such behavior is often not
driven by the victim(s) actual or suspected sexuality, but rather, is motivated by attacks on
opponents’ masculinity being an effective tactic for social dominance which is generally
supported by peers (Ballard & Welch, 2015). Participants in this study indicated that the culture
of gaming platforms typically permitted or normalized aggressive behavior, and even encouraged
some participants to become more aggressive themselves.
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 20
Participants also indicated anonymity was a challenge, as many of the perpetrators were
strangers to them, and the anonymity of the gaming contexts limited the ability to respond to
cyberbullying. Technology makes perpetrators less identifiable. While victims of cyberbullying
may often know their perpetrators, other perpetrators may be strangers to their victims (Bartlett,
2015). Research by Sticca & Peeren (2013) found middle schoolers identified anonymous
bullying and cyberbullying as worse than bullying in which the perpetrators were known.
Cyberbullying which was anonymous was identified by students as the most severe form of
bullying. This is consistent with other research indicating anonymity may contribute to
particularly negative consequences (e.g., feeling more helpless) (Sticca & Peeren, 2013). This is
important to consider further in future research, given that participants indicated that perpetrators
in gaming contexts tended to be anonymous and/or strangers to their victims.
Anecdotal evidence exists, supported by this study’s qualitative findings, indicating that
children experiencing bullying victimization may use gaming as a form of escapism from
challenges or difficulties, including victimization. The tenuous connection between gaming and
bullying and/or cyberbullying has been hypothesized to be related to the cyclical nature of
bullying, as bully-victims (i.e., those who are both perpetrators and victims) are more common in
cyberbullying than offline bullying (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Gadalla, & Daciuk, 2012; Brooks
et al., 2016). Conversely, gaming may permit emotional regulation because it helps… [youth] to
relax, forget their problems and to manage their anger (Brooks et al., 2016, p. 49), potentially
helping to mediate the impact of bullying. While escapism has been perceived as a negative
coping strategy, the emotional relief provided by escapism during the onset of stressful periods
may be important in facilitating perseverance and well-being for at least some populations of
youth (Craig, McInroy, McCready, & Alaggia, 2015). It is important to note, however, that this
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 21
is not in the context of hurting others (e.g., through perpetrating cyberbullying). The escapism
offered by gaming appears to have the potential for both positive outcomes (e.g., well-being) and
negative outcomes (e.g., cyberbullying), underscoring the need for more research which can
inform education and prevention and intervention strategies.
Implications for Social Work Research and Practice
Gaming has changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex,
diverse, realistic and social in nature” (Granic et al., 2014, p. 66). Gaming has the potential to
contribute to positive outcomes and well-being. Digital games are now utilized in many
educational and therapeutic contexts (Boyle et al., 2016; Brooks et al., 2016; Granic et al., 2014),
addressing issues such as exercise, rehabilitation, substance misuse, and problematic eating
behaviors (Boyle et al., 2016). A recent systematic review from 2009 2014 found indications of
positive outcomes associated with gaming focused on learning, including acquisition of
knowledge and positive affective, behavioral, and social outcomes. However, this trend of
incorporating gaming into professional and clinical environments requires caution. Games are
rarely thoroughly evaluated for efficacy, and significant gaps exist between design/mechanics
and intended outcomes (Granic et al., 2014).
Despite encouraging emerging findings regarding the potential of gaming to support
well-being, the risks of gaming contexts particularly for youth deserve further attention.
While the quantitative findings of this study indicate that the self-perceived experience of
cyberbullying in gaming contexts is relatively low, the qualitative findings add crucial nuance.
Participants did not consider many of their experiences of aggression in gaming contexts to be
cyberbullying, despite such behavior meeting the definitional research criteria including hostile
verbal, psychological, and relational dimensions (Mishna et al., 2016) and having a noticeable
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 22
impact on participants and their behavior (e.g., making them feel bad, causing them to turn off
games). These disconnects between definitions of cyberbullying by researchers and professional
practitioners (e.g., social workers, educators), and the perceptions and conceptualizations held by
youth are emerging in other research (Byrne et al., 2016), and could have influenced this study’s
quantitative findings.
These definitional differences have implications for professional practice, as social work
practitioners may have different understanding of cyberbullying and gaming than youth. Asking
youth about cyberbullying may not elicit accurate responses about online experiences due to
the youth not considering particular behaviors cyberbullying; it may be more effective to ask
generally about experiences of hostility or aggression online. Analysis of the parent study the
secondary data in this paper is drawn from has also begun to suggest that adults (e.g., parents,
teachers) often incorrectly assume that girls are more likely to engage in cyberbullying. This may
be because girls are online via social media platforms (Lenhart et al., 2015a), which are
increasingly used by individuals of all ages (Pew Research Center, 2013), potentially making
such cyberbullying more visible and comprehensible to adults. Moreover, gaming is not typically
included in the discourse on cyberbullying, so may be overlooked by adults. It is critical that
practitioners be aware both of the range of platforms on which cyberbullying occurs and of
cyberbullying as a significant issue among many diverse groups of youth, including boys who
are most active on gaming platforms (Common Sense, 2015; Lenhart et al., 2015a).
Limitations
This paper uses data drawn from an overall study of bullying and cyberbullying. While
gaming was considered an important topic to inquire about when designing the data collection
tools, the data available limits the claims which can be made. Not all qualitative participants
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 23
discussed gaming, with more responses in the Year 1 interviews than the Year 3 interviews. This
difference is likely at least partially a consequence of attrition, as only 31 participants completed
interviews in Year 3. Participants who discussed their experiences of gaming in the qualitative
sample were nearly all boys. While this is consistent with the literature indicating they are more
likely to participate in gaming (Common Sense, 2015; Lenhart et al., 2015a), it prevents analysis
of the current climate of gaming for girls.
Conclusion
The purpose of this paper was to investigate the prevalence and experience of online
gaming among a diverse quantitative sample of students in the context of the rapid growth in
online participation, as well as the experience and impact of online gaming culture on a
qualitative sub-sample. Social Dominance Theory was used to understand the use of social
masculinity to maintain social hierarchies in gaming contexts. These findings begin to address a
gap in social work scholarship on cyberbullying and have implications for research and
professional practice. Gaming is increasingly popular, particularly among boys, and results
indicate that cyberbullying on gaming platforms is a concern worthy of further investigation.
Despite some participants’ claims that experiencing cyberbullying is not particularly impactful,
their actions in response to incidents indicate that these experiences may indeed effect youth
negatively. The many varied contexts of youths online experiences must be considered when
engaging in practice or undertaking research with this age group. Practitioners working with
children and youth who participate in gaming need to be aware of the potential impact of
exposure to these types of experiences on well-being. Researchers must recognize that individual
perception and/or definition of cyberbullying in different online contexts (e.g., girls interactions
on social media versus boys interactions via gaming) may play an important role in youths
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 24
perceptions and likelihood to describe their experiences as cyberbullying.
Compliance with Ethical Standards:
Funding: This study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
Canada (grant number 410-2011-1001).
Ethical approval: All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in
accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research and/or national research
committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable
ethical standards.
Informed consent: Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in
the study.
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 25
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Table 1: Demographics of Quantitative and Qualitative Samples
Quantitative (n=670)
Qualitative (n=57)
Variable
N
%
Gender
Female
400
59.7
Male
270
40.3
Race/Ethnicity
Asian East
88
13.1
Asian South
124
18.5
Asian South East
36
5.4
Black Africa
34
5.1
Black Canada
27
4.0
Black Caribbean
34
5.1
Latin American
15
2.2
Indian-Caribbean
14
2.1
Middle Eastern
33
4.9
Mixed Background
32
4.8
White Canada
160
23.9
White European
84
12.5
Dont Know
49
7.3
Other
30
4.5
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 32
Table 2: Using Computer to Play Internet-Based Games
Quantitative (n=666)
Qualitative (n=57)
n
%
n
%
Never
106
15.9
6
10.5
Once A Month
106
15.9
8
14.0
Once A Week
102
15.3
7
12.3
A Few Times A Week
132
19.8
14
24.6
Once A Day
96
14.4
6
10.5
More Than Once A Day
124
18.6
16
28.1
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE GAMING PLATFORMS 33
Table 3: Cyberbullying Involvement of Quantitative and Qualitative Samples
Quantitative
Qualitative
Variable
Victimized
Witnessed
Perpetrated
Victimized
Witnessed
Perpetrated
n
%
n
%
n
%
n
%
n
%
n
%
Virtual World Games
Never
51
7.6
112
16.7
14
2.1
6
10.5
22
38.6
1
1.8
Once/Twice
7
1.0
14
2.1
3
.4
0
0
3
5.3
0
0
3 or 4 Times
4
.6
7
1.0
2
.3
3
5.3
3
5.3
1
1.8
Every Day
4
.6
8
1.2
0
0
0
0
1
1.8
0
0
Not Applicable
578
86.3
489
73.0
613
91.5
47
82.5
25
43.9
53
93.0
Massive Multiplayer Online Games
Never
52
7.8
103
15.4
16
2.4
6
10.5
19
33.3
1
1.8
Once/Twice
5
.7
22
3.3
1
.1
0
0
5
8.8
0
0
3 or 4 Times
5
.7
10
1.5
2
.3
3
5.3
4
7.0
1
1.8
Every Day
4
.6
8
1.2
0
0
0
0
2
3.5
0
0
Not Applicable
578
86.3
489
73.0
613
91.5
47
82.5
25
43.9
53
93.0
Internet-Enabled Console
Never
55
8.2
103
15.4
16
2.4
9
15.8
20
35.1
2
3.5
Once/Twice
5
.7
20
3.0
1
.1
0
0
6
10.5
0
0
3 or 4 Times
2
.3
11
1.6
2
.3
0
0
2
3.5
0
0
Every Day
4
.6
10
1.5
0
0
0
0
2
3.5
0
0
Not Applicable
578
86.3
489
73.0
613
91.5
47
82.5
25
43.9
53
93.0
... Toxic behaviors in online gaming may include cheating, harassing players, or assisting the enemy team (Blackburn & Kwak, 2014; see a review of types and measurement in Table S1). Although toxic gaming behaviors generate frustration and anger in players (Kordyaka, 2018), and toxic interactions are associated with increased psychological distress, at least among some participants (TaeHyuk Keum & Hearns, 2021), toxicity is often considered an acceptable component of online games (Beres et al., 2021;McInroy & Mishna, 2017). ...
... Characteristics of the games may influence the frequency of toxic behaviors. Research shows that anonymity contributes to an aggressive culture in online gaming (Chen & Wu, 2015;McInroy & Mishna, 2017), perhaps due to the reduced empathy facilitated by lack of eye contact with other players (Lapidot-Lefler & Barak, 2012). ...
... Moreover, playing in large groups contributes to the sense of shared social identity, which can facilitate the spread of toxic behaviors among group members (Shen et al., 2020). Anonymity also contributes to the proliferation of aggressive behaviors in online gaming culture (Chen & Wu, 2015;McInroy & Mishna, 2017). ...
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... People under 25 years old who were exposed to cyberbullying are at risk twice as compared to other people [4,5]. Although most cyberbullying is attributed to social media, there are many other platforms where cyberbullying takes place, such as online gaming, cell phone services, websites, and other sharing platforms [6]. Moreover, cyberbullying can come in different formats, such as texts, images, videos, and audios. ...
... The second performance measure is precision (Pre) illustrated in Eq. (5) which is the ratio between the true classified normal samples and the total number of samples that are classified normal. The third performance measure is recall (Rec) illustrated in Eq. (6) which is the ratio between the true classified normal samples and the total number of normal samples. The fourth performance measure is the F1-measure (F1) illustrated in Eq. (7) which is the harmonic mean between recall and precision. ...
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Due to the proliferation of internet-enabled smartphones, many people, particularly young people in Arabic society, have widely adopted social media platforms as a primary means of communication, interaction and friendship making. The technological advances in smartphones and communication have enabled young people to keep in touch and form huge social networks from all over the world. However, such networks expose young people to cyberbullying and offensive content that puts their safety and emotional well-being at serious risk. Although, many solutions have been proposed to automatically detect cyberbully-ing, most of the existing solutions have been designed for English speaking consumers. The morphologically rich languages-such as the Arabic language-lead to data sparsity problems. Thus, render solutions developed for another language are ineffective once applied to the Arabic language content. To this end, this study focuses on improving the efficacy of the existing cyberbullying detection models for Arabic content by designing and developing a Consensus-based Ensemble Cyberbullying Detection Model. A diverse set of heterogeneous classifiers from the traditional machine and deep learning technique have been trained using Arabic cyberbullying labeled dataset collected from five different platforms. The outputs of the selected classifiers are combined using consensus-based decision-making in which the F1-Score of each classifier was used to rank the classifiers. Then, the Sigmoid function, which can reproduce human-like decision making, is used to infer the final decision. The outcomes show the efficacy of the proposed model comparing to the other studied classifiers. The overall improvement gained by the proposed model reaches 1.3% comparing with the best trained classifier. Besides its effectiveness for Arabic language content, the proposed model can be generalized to improve cyberbullying detection in other languages.
... When it was evaluated in terms of gender, it was observed that the male students played online games more frequently than their female counterparts and differed from them. This finding was similar to the ones mentioned in the literature (Bekir and Yıldırım, 2018;Bekir and Çelik, 2019;Bekir, 2018;Ko et al., 2005;McInroy and Mishna, 2017). It was also found that playing Internet games was positively correlated with aggressiveness (Kim et al., 2008;Mehroof and Griffiths, 2010), but it was negatively correlated with controlling oneself (Kim et al., 2008). ...
... For example, for the younger generation settled into a common leisure culture, high game scores, rank, tier, etc. can be used as a measure for showing off and can also be linked to monetary rewards in the context of campus leagues and e-sports. For example, a study on adolescents' game culture and cyberbullying pointed out that "high game rank" in the context of game culture can be a potential motivating force to exercise dominance over others or to cause conflict (Ballard and Welch, 2015;McInroy and Mishna, 2017). Thus, gamers who are motivated to earn external rewards, such as honor or points, may be at higher risk of dishonest behavior than participants who want to maintain high self-esteem through mastery or fun of the game. ...
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... However, SI became one of the important variables associated between loneliness and PIU. It may reflect that people who are socially inhibited tend to access the Internet much more with a variety of motivations, particular in escapism using online gaming as found in the related study [74]. ...
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