The virtual worlds of many video games encourage players to engage in activities most of us will never attempt in real life. Piloting a starship, battling a Frostbite Spider, or swarming an enemy stronghold are all things we are unlikely to experience outside of the video realm. And multiplayer games draw players more deeply into the online realm as they chat with and get to know the other gamers.
Sometimes those in-game interactions result in online friendships, but, as in real life, sometimes those relationships can go in other directions. Friendly insults can turn into intense dislike, or light-hearted banter can become romantic interest. It's when a player acts on those feelings—for example, constantly contacting another player in the hopes of developing a romantic relationship, or with threats of violence growing out of an in-game argument—that in-game chats can turn into harassment, with serious legal consequences.
Remember Real People Are Involved
It's important to remember that in multiplayer game situations, behind each fellow player avatar is an actual human being.
Generally, you want to avoid doing or saying anything to any player that you would not do or say if the person were sitting in front of you. Don't threaten anyone with physical or sexual violence. Don't threaten their families, friends, pets, or homes. Don't publish their contact information—physical addresses, phone numbers, social media accounts—without their express permission. Don't send them multiple emails or post over and over on their public or private social media feeds.
New Jersey Law Protects Against Harassment
These are just some of the actions that can trigger New Jersey's anti-harassment law. This law is very broad, can be applied subjectively, and covers behavior that can take place in person as well as through any other means of communication, ranging from phone calls to emails to text messages to in-game communications. Because online communications often lack context, even casual jokes can be misinterpreted by someone not involved in the conversation—such as law enforcement—as a harassing threat.
Repeated instances of harassing behavior can constitute a “course of conduct” that could violate New Jersey's anti-stalking statute. With many gamers participating in online multiplayer games almost daily, threatening or harassing comments made over the course of just a few game sessions could trigger charges under this law.
One of the remedies available in New Jersey under the anti-stalking statute is a restraining order. This is a flexible type of court order that can restrict someone accused or convicted of harassment or stalking from contacting a specific person for a certain defined length of time. In the gaming context, of course, this can effectively mean that the person being restrained can no longer play the game where they encountered the person who requested the restraining order.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help
If you or someone you know has been accused of any type of harassment or threatening behavior, whether as part of an online game or otherwise, or if you have been served with a restraining order, it's important that you speak to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have experience helping clients face harassment, stalking, and restraining order cases in New Jersey. Call Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or reach out through our contact form to learn more about how they can help you defend your case.