Video Game Bullying Concerns for Occupational Therapy Practice

Video games are becoming more popular and accepted in modern society. We no longer need to been purchase special gaming consoles or computers to play video games as games are now available on smartphones, tablets, and other portable smart-devices. However, video games and cyberbullying in occupational therapy is not well-researched. While there have been a number of studies on the benefits of video gaming such as with the Nintendo Wii (Wiihab) for conditions such as stroke, poor balance, and coordination, much of this gaming for occupational therapy rehabilitation applies to single-player (offline) gaming.

There has also been a lot of stigma with regard to videogames, particularly violent ones. While there have been many studies about violent video game exposure and its effects on players, likely due to the aftermath of school shootings like the Columbine High School Massacre, not much as been studied about player-to-player behavior, such as aggression or cyberbullying.

One occupation that occupational therapists address is socialization. Online multiplayer games (in contrast to single-player games) have a significant social component. You either collaborate and/or compete with other online players. These are often presented in the form of fictional characters or avatars, but there is a very human component as multiplayer games allow players to use their real voices (voice chat), video, and typing for communication. These are often unfiltered and unmonitored so players can say what they want to say unfiltered.

So occupational therapists that promote video games, particularly online gaming to their clients should be aware of cyberbullying. In my opinion, there can be a very toxic nature of players towards others, even if anonymous due to the competitiveness of video games and the motivation to be the best of the best in a particular game. Players may call each other names, make racist comments, and jokes, and so on. This can have a negative effect on the client’s mental health and cause or exacerbate potential anxiety, depression, lower their self-esteem, suicidality, and so on. This is especially concerning for younger children who may even be vulnerable to online predators with implications for additional harm and concerns that can manifest in real life – beyond the game.

One study examined if there was an association between violent video game exposure and cyberbullying. The results showed that violent video game exposure was positively correlated with bullying and cyberbullying among Chinese youth. However, it should be noted that this may be culturally dependent and not generalizable to all video game players such as those in the United States.((Teng, Z., Nie, Q., Zhu, Z., & Guo, C. (2020). Violent video game exposure and (Cyber) bullying perpetration among Chinese youth: The moderating role of trait aggression and moral identity. Computers in Human Behavior, 104, 106193.)) Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if similar results were found in the US.

Another study examined a sample of adolescent online game players and explored the relationships between their gender, preference for video games (VG), hostility, aggressive behavior, experiences of cyberbullying, and victimization. They found that being a victim of cyberbullying was directly associated with both cyberbullying and aggressive behavior and indirectly associated with cyberbullying via aggressive behaviors.((Yang, S. C. (2012). Paths to bullying in online gaming: The effects of gender, preference for playing violent games, hostility, and aggressive behavior on bullying. Journal of educational computing research, 47(3), 235-249.))

Video game bullying, also known as cyberbullying, refers to the use of video games or online gaming platforms to harass, threaten, or intimidate others. This can take many forms, such as name-calling, threatening messages, or exclusion from a game or group. It can also include the sharing of personal information or pictures without consent, which extends beyond gaming and more into social media. Still, these are related and possible in modern-day Internet use and society.

It’s important for parents, caregivers, and educators to be aware of the potential for video game bullying and to educate children and young people about the dangers and how to report it. Parents and caregivers can also take steps to monitor their child’s online activity and to set appropriate boundaries and guidelines for online behavior. There are laws and regulations in many countries that prohibit cyberbullying. And it’s illegal to bully someone online, just as it is illegal to bully someone in person, and it can lead to severe consequences in some cases.

The client has the potential to be either the bully and/or the victim of cyberbullying.

Video game players, particularly younger ones should be educated and monitored if to be used for occupational therapy purposes by the practitioner. Preventing video game bullying involves creating a culture of respect and inclusion within the gaming community. This can be achieved through education and awareness programs, community building and moderation efforts, and clear policies and enforcement mechanisms. It’s important for individuals who engage in video game bullying to understand the consequences and harm their actions can cause. They should also be educated about appropriate online behavior and the importance of treating others with respect and kindness.

Promoting positive and healthy online behavior can help prevent video game bullying. This can be done by encouraging individuals to be kind and respectful to others, to think before they post or share something, and to be mindful of the impact their words and actions can have on others, even if anonymous

Many online gaming platforms have implemented strict guidelines and policies to prevent bullying and harassment, and have implemented reporting and blocking mechanisms to allow players to report and block bullies. They also have community moderators who monitor and remove inappropriate content. But this should not be relied on and cyberbullying prevention starts with the players and should be reported and addressed also by potential victims.

For parents, it’s also important for them to have open and honest conversations with their children about video game bullying and to encourage them to come to them if they have any concerns or questions. They can also help their child to set appropriate boundaries and guidelines for online behavior.

It’s important for everyone in the gaming community to take responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive environment, and to take action when they witness or experience bullying. By working together, we can prevent video game bullying and create a more positive and enjoyable gaming experience for all.