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Curing toxicity – developing design principles to buffer toxic behaviour in massive multiplayer online games

Bastian Kordyaka (University of Siegen, Siegen, Germany)
Björn Kruse (South Westphalia University of Applied Sciences – Meschede Campus, Meschede, Germany)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 3 August 2021

Issue publication date: 11 October 2021




The purpose of this paper is to investigate toxic behaviour (TB) that significantly harms individuals’ gameplay experience in multiplayer online video games. Multiplayer online video games allow to simultaneously interact with others in real time. They can be considered as digital communities unifying a group of players within a video game. TB is characterized by spreading a bad mood (e.g. upsetting and insulting) leading to unsatisfying outcomes in team-based multiplayer environments.


Using mixed methods, the authors show that handling TB should be addressed more firmly on a level of game design. First, the authors test the explanatory power of the online disinhibition effect (ODE) and its antecedents on TB using a quantitative survey (N = 320) and structural equation modelling. Specifically, the authors show that dissociative anonymity, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination and minimization of authority have a mediated effect through toxic disinhibition as predictors of TB. Second, the authors conduct a focus group workshop (N = 10) with experts from diverse disciplines to derive design principles on a level of game design.


The results indicate that transparency and imminent feedback are still underutilized elements in game design that can significantly buffer several forms of TB. By developing a heuristic prototype and exemplary design principles in subsequent categories, the authors address all relevant in-game scenarios. With this study, the authors provide researchers and practitioners helpful insights on how to increase the well-being and safety of gaming communities.


ODE already showed its explanatory potential in the neighbouring context of cyberbullying. Embedded in theories of negative behaviour on the internet, the authors propose a holistic and theory-driven approach to handle TB on a level of game design. The authors’ insights allow for a better understanding of an innovative entity of the dark side of technology diffusion and adverse side effects linked to it.



Kordyaka, B. and Kruse, B. (2021), "Curing toxicity – developing design principles to buffer toxic behaviour in massive multiplayer online games", Safer Communities, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 133-149.



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