The Anon Nightmare

The psychology behind why people beheave aggressively online.

Would people stop behaving morally if nobody could see them? That's the question Plato asked ages ago in his Ring of Gyges piece. For those unfamiliar with the story, the ring of Gyges makes people invisible and, consequently, reveals their true nature. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.  It does something current media fails to do: instead of questioning your body, it makes you question your values. But this article is about the gaming industry so why the hell am I talking about Plato? Well, my dear anonymous reader, let me explain.


The gaming press has been crawling with stories of sexual assaults on forums and death threats over simple game modifications. Something that makes me put my face in my hands and question the future of humanity. But while we may never discover where these people find the time and energy for all the negativity, there's plenty of research suggesting what is the enabler or catalyst of this immoral behaviour. That key element that enables people to sit down, write an abusive message, press send and laugh to the face of decency. That key thing all these stories have in common. Anonymity. Human curiosity has no bounds, so of course there have been studies around the effect of anonymity. One of them showed that people were dishonest whenever left in an empty room. But when they put a mirror in there, the amount of cheaters dramatically decreased. The same happened when they put a pair of eyes on the wall. There were similar results with putting those eyes on a wall next to a car park - the amount of crimes went down.  Simply said, the feeling of being watched was enough to make people behave like decent human beings. Jamie Madigan , the mastermind behind the Psychology Behind Video Games blog (go and read it if you haven't), has more similar studies like that so if you want to know more head over to his site.


The internet is like that huge room with no mirrors. People are not able to reflect. They lose boundaries. The internet is the ring of Gyges. It helps people become invisible. And then, with a very little, or even no impulse they start to behave immorally. Not caring about the consequences of their behaviour because there are no consequences for them. They feel safe. There's an argument saying that as long as you have the internet there will be online abuse and assaults. There will always be people curing their insecurities by insulting others. Why fight? Yes, the internet is a big place and people can get the feeling like they can hide. But the community needs to fight. There need to be consequences. There need to be eyes and mirrors on the imaginary walls of internet so people can take a look at themselves.

download (1)

Maybe we won't catch them all (yes, a Pokemon reference) but we may as well try. Not for a better reputation. But for the sake of the all the amazing games that didn't get made because developers just broke under the abuse and gave up.  The community shouldn't restrict developers to make outstanding games. It should empower them. And this is something that is not always happening. If you are interested in ending hate talk in the gaming communities, check out Game Over Hate conference aimed at discussing this very topic tumblr_static_tumblr_logo3

Disclaimer:  Yes, I have made all of these pictures. Please don't steal them. 

Latest Jobs

Manticore Games

San Mateo, California
Senior Software Engineer - Mobile

Sony PlayStation

San Diego, California
Sr. Online Programmer

The Walt Disney Company

Glendale, California
Associate Marketing Manager - Walt Disney Games

Insomniac Games

Burbank, California
Accessibility Design Researcher
More Jobs   


Explore the
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Job Board

Game Developer Newsletter


Explore the

Game Developer Job Board

Browse open positions across the game industry or recruit new talent for your studio

Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Follow us


Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more