How do you stay safe while gaming online? Are multiplayer games safe? What does playing online even mean? Do these questions sound familiar? According to a recent online search, those were the top queried questions about online gaming. No matter how old your child may be, there are some common sense best practices, as well as steps you can take, to help the players in your home enjoy playing online games in a safe and cyber-secure environment.
First, it’s important to realize that there are a variety of online gaming options. Consider the following list: boxed games; digital downloads; mobile games; subscription games; free-to-play games; and social networking games. Some of these games engage the player directly while others allow for a multi-player online experience, where players can contact each other in digital space.
Players of all ages enjoy playing games for a variety of reasons. Some players are attracted to a challenge that requires a strategy to win. Others seek out a team environment where they can communicate with other players. While one player may love the opportunity to create an imaginary world, another player may simply enjoy watching themselves improve at a skill set. Regardless of their motive, whether male or female, young or old, games can quickly create an unsafe space – especially for children.
To help you navigate the online gaming world, consider the following tips before and after your child begins to play a game online.
- Parental Controls
Mobile and online games offer parental control options. Depending on your child’s age, you can determine whether or not to let him/her play.
- Check Ratings
Similar to television and film ratings, games also have a rating system. However, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating categories are different and should be considered when deciding which games you approve of your child playing. These ratings include three elements:
- Rating Category (age appropriateness);
- Content Descriptors (indicates what triggered a rating); and
- Interactive Elements (highlighting a game’s interactive or online features that allow engagement with other players).
Many websites, like Common Sense Media, also offer game reviews by parents for parents.
- Set Boundaries
Understand the type of game your child is playing. You can guide your child toward games you approve by understanding what interests them about certain games. Take this opportunity to discuss appropriate online behavior, from both your child and other players that they may interact with through the game. Remind them about overall online safety rules, such as never sharing personal information, and how many hours they may play the game.
- Setting Your Child’s Account
Many games require players to set up an account before access to a game. This includes creating passwords, uploading profile pictures and more. When available, use additional verification steps, in addition to passwords, to protect an account. If a particular game includes a voice chat mechanism, use options that disguise their voice. You can also use avatar, instead of your child’s photograph, when setting up their game profile.
- Watch Out for Unexpected Purchases
For younger children, turn on the device’s airplane mode while a game is in play. This will avoid your child from accidentally making purchases while playing the game. For older children that require less monitoring, be cautious about games that enable in-game purchases – or need to be purchased to access. Keep track of your credit card purchases to monitor if unapproved purchases are being made. Remember, there’s a reason that the global gaming industry is worth $135 billion.
- Find Out Who They are Playing with Online
Take time to talk with your child about who they are interacting with online. This includes what they are talking about and the type of language being used. While there’s no certainty about the other player’s real identity, you can monitor how they interact with each other. If there is inappropriate behavior from the other player, make sure your child knows how to report abusive or anti-social behavior.
- Think Before You Act
Educate your child on proper cybersecurity steps when online, whether playing a game, accessing a school website or social media network. No matter the age, children can begin learning basic cyber safety steps. These include, but are not limited to, being wary about sharing too much information online and waiting to click on download links before knowing where the information is coming from. For instance, an online gamer may be looking for cheat codes to get past a difficult level. Instead of downloading a program to help them perform better, your child may be downloading malicious malware. Teach them to think before they act!