Your child and Online Gaming – Is it Safe?

Gaming has taken some interesting leaps in technology since the days of feeding money into the arcade cabinets. However, with those advances comes a new level of online concerns for parents and guardians.

Online Gaming

Online gaming is playing a game in real time with other players from around the world. The game can be virtually anything, a shooter, role playing, adventure or something open world, such as Minecraft. The issue with online gaming is that anyone could be the character that’s currently playing next to your child’s online avatar.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gaming or online gaming. Despite the many years of people bemoaning that gaming is taking away something from a childhood, recent studies have actually shown that online gaming can increase social skills, help develop hand-to-eye coordination and, depending on the game, have educational benefits and help young people learn.

The problem is that not everyone always plays fair; some take great offence when they’ve been beaten by another player, resulting in the defeated player shouting or entering abusive comments. Other players use cheats to gain an advantage, making it near impossible for other players to even have a chance of winning or succeeding. Sometimes, when a player is better than others around them, they can be accused of cheating, even when they’re not.

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All of the above can be disheartening to a young person and, depending on the amount and type of abuse they may receive from a poor loser, quite upsetting too. It’s often difficult for someone who enjoys playing a particular game to be accused of something they haven’t done or have to contend against someone who is obviously cheating. The trick of course is to keep calm, something many adults find difficult doing under such circumstances, let alone children and young people.

There are other factors too that can cause problems for young people when gaming. The game itself might not be age appropriate, with in-game missions asking the young person to do something that’s really not very nice. The game might involve some scenes of an inappropriate nature, perhaps sexually explicit or extremely violent, or use inappropriate language.

In terms of online bullying, it’s not just rage that causes problems. Griefing is a tactic used by some gamers to bully others into making the wrong move or decision in the game. This way, the ‘griefer’ wins by simply causing as much aggravation as possible, and in turn enrages those around them. It’s also not unheard of for entire teams of griefers to band together to bully the opposition into defeat.

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In-game spending is a modern cause for concern among parents too. For the young person who enjoys playing the game to have any significant advantage at all, they may need to purchase better items from the in-game store. Often these items will inevitably lead to more items needing purchasing and the cost soon mounts up. Other games make it near impossible to finish without having to pay for something, such as a key to unlock the next level or by having the player buy and download more content (known as a DLC, downloadable content).

The other safety concerns involve those who play games in order to be exposed to young gamers. Minecraft, for example, is a game predominantly played by younger people, so those of a perverse nature may play and use servers where they’re interacting with younger people; there’s even the possibility of some form of online grooming taking place in situations such as this.

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However, despite the safety concerns over online gaming, it’s not always bad news. Yes some games do employ tactics to leech more money from the players and other games are simply an excuse for poor behaviour; but with respect, there are countless games available that can help a young person develop social and other skills.

As parents and guardians, we need to make sure that the game the young person is playing is appropriate and, to some degree, useful to them, as well as being enjoyable. We look at some tips on staying safe when gaming online here but it’s worth remembering that even if we find the game somewhat dull, the young person playing it may well be enjoying it. We just need to make sure it’s a safe environment for them.

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David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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