Though I tend to experience benign disinhibition online (e.g. flirting more than normal, or sharing personal things/venting where I typically wouldn’t), I try to avoid toxic disinhibition no matter what the circumstance (Joinson, 2007). Though I may be a member of an out-group in that way, a person would be hard pressed to find a gamer that agrees with the assertions that gaming causes aggression. But you would also be hard pressed to find a gamer who doesn’t agree there is a fairly significant amount of disinhibition inherent in games. My favorite example of this is my favorite game, League of Legends (LoL).
League of Legends is a game that is played online either with personal friends, or strangers. In game, there is a chat bar which allows communication between teammates, or with the opposing team. This chat box is supposed to allow for strategy, but typically turns into a flaming war zone (Joinson, 2007). Disinhibited gamers, when provoked by “noobs” or “trolls”, often become belligerent, authoritative, and downright vicious. Nearly all effects of disinhibition can be found (Gackenbach & von Stackleberg, 2007): dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, dissociative imagination, and minimization of status and authority.
When I play LoL, I try to play by the Golden Rule; if I don’t have something nice (or productive) to say, I don’t say anything. However, there are those who become so angry with other players, that they begin flaming (e.g., calling people names, threatening to rage quit, intentionally helping the other team to win, etc.) (Joinson, 2007). It is a widely accepted concept in the LoL community that everyone has a bad game. Be that as it may, however, it is rare that a player will escape unscathed by the hateful words of effected teammates. I have been on the receiving end of this harassment. I remember one time I was so hurt and angered by the comments made, that I cried. Another time, I witnessed someone being so rude in game to someone else (not even to me), that I didn’t touch the game for three weeks. Though the people in game tend to be strangers, the effects of the online interaction are just as hurtful as they would be offline (Chayko, 2008). By the same token, however, when you have a good game, and you “carry” your team to victory, the praise and status are reinforcing and motivating; the pride you feel is real and validating.
Though these are not true of every gaming experience, every game, or every gamer, they are accepted memes in the gaming world. There are very few people immune to it. And gamers who would otherwise be very kind and would never think of being belligerent or aggressive face-to-face, allow themselves to unwind in game. I have several friends who do this, some of which admit they play so that they have a safe place to release aggression- something that Joinson (2007) suggests may account for what is typically thought to be disinhibition. What gamers, and all online users, must remember, is that no matter where the aggression takes place, it is negatively affecting someone.
Chayko, M. (2008). Portable communities: The social dynamics of online and mobile connectedness. New York: SUNY Press.
Gackenbach, J., & von Stackelberg, H. (2007). Self online: Personality and demographic implications. In J. Gachenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications. (55-73). New York, Academic Press.
Joinson, A. N. (2007). Disinhibition and the internet. In J. Gachenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal implications. (75-92). New York: Academic Press.