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Should You Call the Cops Over a Video Game Threat?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on July 08, 2014 9:38 AM

Online gaming is no stranger to players hurling violent and often offensive threats at each other. But when does humdrum video-game trash talk turn into a criminal threat? And when should gamers call the cops over a video game threat?

In honor of Video Games Day (July 8), here are some key legal features that distinguish vexing virtual banter from something illegal:

Smack Talk or Actual Threat?

Even prior to the release of competitive mainstays like "Call of Duty," "Halo," or "World of Warcraft," gamers were probably talking trash. People attracted to video games that pit players against one another often have a competitive streak, so whether it's Pong or FIFA, emotions and smack talk are likely to be involved.

While the colloquial use of "kill" or "murder" may have a much tamer meaning in a video game where players virtually hunt and kill each other, players should still be careful with what they say. Case in point: a Texas teen who was jailed shortly after making a sarcastic threat on Facebook about shooting up a school; he was arguing over the online game "League of Legends."

Since it is often difficult to discern tone from a message on chat programs or social media, gamers should caution from saying anything online they wouldn't feel comfortable shouting in a public park. Players should also be prepared to take threats via video games seriously: A California Xbox player once sparked an online tiff that led to the boy's stabbing by his gaming buddy.

Whether a threat amounts to a criminal offense shouldn't be your litmus test for calling the cops. However, if you feel your safety is compromised by a video game threat or sincerely believe or suspect others are in danger, then you should call the police.

Racial or Homophobic Slurs

Online gamers may also be painfully aware of being called the N-word or "f*g" by other players. While hurtful and extremely offensive, using slurs like these is not by itself a criminal offense.

Video game communities often have moderators who will ban or block players who are reported as "offensive," but police are unlikely to help you if a 12-year-old five states away starts speaking like a Klansman.

If these slurs are coupled with threats of violence, call the police if you feel threatened. And do not engage your online attacker.

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

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