Harsh Words and Deeds: Systematic Content Analyses of Offensive* User Behavior in the Virtual Environments of Online First-Person Shooter Games


  • Adrienne Holz Ivory
  • James D. Ivory Virginia Tech
  • Winston Wu Virginia Tech
  • Anthony M. Limperos University of Kentucky
  • Nathaniel Andrew University of Louisville
  • Brandon S. Sesler Deceased




Online Games, Shooter Games, Profanity, Abuse, Cyberbullying, Content Analysis


While the virtual environments of online games can foster healthy relationships and strong communities, some online games are also marred by antisocial and offensive behavior. Such behavior, even when relatively rare, influences the interactions and relationships of users in online communities. Thus, understanding the prevalence and nature of antisocial and offensive behaviors in online games is an important step toward understanding the full spectrum of healthy and unhealthy interactions and relationships in virtual environments. Extensive research has explored video game content produced by game developers, such as violence, profanity, and sexualized portrayals, but much less research has systematically examined potentially problematic content produced by players in online games. While potential effects of antisocial and offensive online game content are not well understood, a first step toward exploring this concern is systematic documentation of offensive user-generated content in online games. To that end, two large-scale content analyses measured a range of offensive user-generated content, including utterances, text, and images, from a total of more than 2,500 users in popular first-person shooter video games. Findings indicated that some content, such as profanity, was frequent among users who spoke during games. More offensive and potentially harmful content, such as racial slurs, was proportionally very rare, but frequent enough to be encountered often by regular players. Results of this initial investigation should be interpreted tentatively, do not suggest that relationships in online shooter games lack healthy elements, and should not be generalized to other online game communities until further research is conducted.

* Note: This paper contains strong language which may be offensive to some readers.

Author Biographies

  • Adrienne Holz Ivory
    Adrienne Holz Ivory is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech.
  • James D. Ivory, Virginia Tech
    James D. Ivory is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech.
  • Winston Wu, Virginia Tech
    Winston Wu earned a B.S. degree in
  • Anthony M. Limperos, University of Kentucky
    Anthony M. Limperos is an
  • Nathaniel Andrew, University of Louisville
    Nathaniel Andrew is a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville.
  • Brandon S. Sesler, Deceased
    Brandon S. Sesler is deceased (d. 23 August 2016). He was formerly a member of the U.S. Army, a student at Virginia Western Community College, and research associate at Virginia Tech.






Peer Reviewed Research Papers