In the make believe world of online video games the bullets aren't real, you can come back from the dead, fight mythical creatures and do just about anything, but in a world of so much make believe, some things remain very real.
Officer Jeff Hughes with the Wichita Falls Police Department specializes in cyber crimes and bullying prevention. He says kids all over the world are victims of cyber bullying in online chat rooms, role playing games and online console gaming.
Hughes said even though the victim could be thousands of miles away, they're still affected by online attackers. He said, "To a child, whether it's face to face or it's online in a chat room or a video game it's detrimental to their self esteem. Cyber bullies, you may not think of them existing in those areas, but they do."
During games like the Halo or Call of Duty series, players can talk to each other through headsets, or listen in as other gamers talk to each other. While some use the system to enhance their multi-player experience, others use it to spread hate.
Sam Killermann is the founder of Gamers Against Bigotry, an online movement to end hate-speech in all video games. He said, "Bigoted language in gaming is getting pretty rampant and I realized that we need to do something about it outside of games, like outside in the real world."
Killermann is asking gamers around the world to sign a pledge, saying they wont use slurs based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disabilities. Killermann said cyber bullies are actually playing two games at once. He said, "There's the game you're playing, so Team Fortress or Call of Duty or Halo, and then there's this other game, this psychological game the trolling game, whatever you want to call it where you're not just tying to shoot these people or you know beat these people in the game, you're trying to break them down mentally."
Many games and consoles let you mute players but Killermann said that's no solution. He said, "It puts the onus on the person being attacked instead of making the attacker responsible for what here doing."
Officer Hughes said even if the verbal abuse ends, there are other ways for gamers to torment their victims. He said, "It may actually become part of the video game play where every time the victim goes to do a particular action in this game the predator on the other end or the cyber bully on the other end actually does it before the victim gets to do it. The victim does not get to participate in the game."
Officer Hughes also warned us about another cyber villain who could be very real on the other end of the connection: sexual predators. Predators will often go where the kids are, and recently that's been the world of gaming. Hughes said they'll look for the weak players and try to be their hero. "Once they find that weakness the predator will try to attach themselves to that weakness by saying 'Hey I can help you with this. Let me be the one to pick you up and help you do this. Let me show you how to play this game."
In extreme cases of harassment, bullying or sexual abuse, Hughes said it is not difficult to track gamers down using their Internet's I.P. address.
Aside from taking Killermann's pledge or muting other players every time you have an issue, both experts said the best way to stay safe is for kids to know who they're playing with and for parents to be aware.
Hughes said, "There's nothing that says as parents we just have to let our kids put a video game in and just go. We still have to monitor that just like we would monitor Internet usage just like we would monitor what TV shows and what movies that they watch."
Killermann said his overall message is to remind people who they're interacting with. He said, "These are real people you're playing with these are not computer A.I., they're actual people. When you say these things or do these things you're attacking or you're affecting an actual person."