I like what @The_LiGhTgUnS is pointing out about school programs and role-playing. Being well equipped to deal with a problem is a very practical approach compared to just saying “don’t do that”, which I see as a frequent shortcoming elsewhere.
A bully is to blame for their actions, but their target does hold some level of responsibility with regard to how they perceive the situation and how they react. This is sometimes misconstrued as “victim-blaming” but the reality is that life can be hostile and you need tough skin to survive. Imo it’s part of a parent’s responsibility to teach their children that they’re going to encounter unfair situations, and to prepare them appropriately.
It saddens me to think that there are children out there who are not taught this, or worse, are taught the opposite; that they are entitled to a life free of struggle.
In that regard, I think some level of exposure to bullying can even be healthy, as it can prepare people for tougher challenges later in life. Learning how to react to aggression is an incredibly important skill, and if the only reaction being taught is to report it, we are encouraging people to be dependent on external parties that may not always be there in their life.
I think, unfortunately, this is why some people seem to crumble under aggression even as adults. It’s as if they were groomed for dependency and hyper-sensitivity by never having learned to stand up for themselves. Worse, some people seem to shut down in the presence of any confrontation; even to the point that being confronted by ideas that they find offensive will put them into a victim’s mindset.
As for IC, bullying in the form of communication is something we actively moderate, and we have rules to that end.
Bullying also does exist though in the form of aggressive tactics, which I don’t think is something that necessarily should be “fixed”. A war game will inherently have large empires rising through aggression, just as it will have those who lean more on diplomacy. I worry that attempts to fix this aspect of the game would sterilize the experience.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t fix imbalances; we absolutely should. However, bullying itself is not a game mechanic, it’s a way of expressing power. You could argue, for example, that one could play a game of chess in a way that bullies a lesser opponent. That isn’t a bad thing in that context, and I feel that IC is similar.
Any overly aggressive empire in IC is only doing what they can to compete within the framework the game provides. Any bad experiences there are the fault of the game’s design, not the players who are doing what they can to win.
Just like in real life, context matters.