That said, I have known some chronic videogamers who are very depressed, withdrawn, unhappy people. In spite of their psychological problems, many of these folks are very nice in real life, but I can't predict what they might be capable of in a virtual world with few constraints or consequences. Harassing, intimidating and abusing others can unfortunately be an effective way to feel powerful and dominant in response to a frustrating, dissatisfying life.
I have also noticed many gamers who play at various levels of intoxication, from moderately buzzed, to downright shit-faced drunk or stoned out of their gourds. My sense is that people who are intoxicated are even more likely to be disinhibited and become abusive. In most public places, there are laws against drunk and disorderly conduct, or if you go into a bar, at least you know what you are probably getting into. Maybe we need separate servers for the wasted?
Are some male gamers just angry, anti-social people who may have character disorders that include a tendency to be sadistic and abusive? I'd guess that games that offer the opportunity to indulge these tendencies might well draw in many of these folks. There are clearly a certain percentage of these people walking around in society, and it would only make sense if at least some of them found their way into videogaming.
Another group often drawn to gaming are people with significant social cuing and processing disorders. Psychologists today refer to these folks as being "on the spectrum," which is to say that their impairment in interpersonal connectivity may range from mild to moderate autism (sometimes called Asperger's disorder or even Pervasive Developmental Disorder) to Non-Verbal Learning Disability. For these players, online videogaming can become a place to establish what they have great difficulty creating in real life: reliable, stable, and meaningful interpersonal connections. For some, this can become a source of tremendous solace and satisfaction - they really do achieve online what they can't in real life. Others have as much difficulty picking up social cues and understanding the interpersonal conventions of an online community as they do in real life. If you think about it, the norms, rules, and expectations of a social game like WoW can be quite complicated. Some of these players may act strangely online because they have a kind of social disorder, and when frustrated or disappointed, they may become even more inappropriate.
While this questioner wonders about the impact of all this nastiness on impressionable teenagers, I think another category of potentially nasty players are the teens themselves. Immature young males are notorious for acting like assholes to impress each other (I seem to recall a few episodes like this in my own past), and again, in a world with few constraints and little adult oversight, this tendency could easily run rampant.
In addressing this question about the nastiness of male gamers, I don't want to imply that there aren't some nasty, unpleasant female gamers as well. I definitely ran across a few of them, and they might fall prey to the influences of games described above or they might be in any of the personality categories I've outlined. I'm guessing most of us would agree they are rarer than males.
I have also not really addressed another important issue: what to do about all this. This is really a topic for another column, but I'd be very interested in what Escapist readers think would help, in addition to their reactions to this column and their own thoughts about why this is a problem.
Dr. Mark Kline spends most weekends traipsing around remote suburban Boston as a marginally attentive youth soccer spectator. Since recovering from a year-long intensive WoW habit, he sticks to computer Risk and casual word games, but is still trying to figure out why his children like The Sims.
Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to [email protected]. Your identity will remain confidential.