According to research from the Entertainment Software Association, 70% of families have at least one child who plays video games. Mobile is becoming a critical segment of the game industry. NPD Group reports that 59% of U.S. gamers age 2+ play across devices, on dedicated gaming consoles, desktops, laptops or mobile devices. And 34% of gamers who play exclusively one system do so on a mobile device.
While online gaming can provide quality social interaction, there’s also a darker side. From cyber bullying to online predators to hidden costs, there are many concerns when it comes to playing video games online, especially for children. The most important thing a parent can do is to establish a dialogue about safe online usage at a young age and build upon that as your children get older. When they understand the risks and the importance of security, children are more likely to come to you with red flags, alarms or smaller things that worry them.
Here’s a list of the top seven dangers and simple tips to keep your kids safe online.
For many kids, the ability to escape into an online world offers relief from real life—no one knows who they are, what school they attend or what they look like. This anonymity cuts both ways, however. This may start out as the gamer version of poor sportsmanship. As noted by Get Safe Online, some players take advantage of their anonymity to “grief” other players by deliberately making the game less enjoyable. This could include “kill stealing,” which is when griefers conquer or capture needed quest targets before other players can get to them; or “chaining” groups of high-level challenges to block the progress of low-level players, causing them to die.
In some cases, griefing escalates to cyber bullying. Although cyber bullying sadly has countless forms, some forms are particular to gaming platforms. In “whispering” cyber bullies target players directly with hurtful and harmful messages, or by spamming global chat channels with derogatory comments about their victims. According to Stay Safe Online, it’s critical for kids and parents to understand their options. Most games allow players to “block” chat and messages from other users, and in some cases, the bully’s words or actions may be a violation of the game’s terms of service. It’s always a good idea to write down or take a screenshot of any offensive conversation and report it to game administrators.
Stay Safe Online also recommends that kids never create usernames that are derivatives of their real names, or that might reveal any other personally identifiable information (PII), such as their location or age. According to US-CERT, the social nature of online gaming allows cyber criminals to manipulate conversations. They may single out your child in a general chat channel and then start sending personal messages that ask for detailed personal information. By piecing together data from games and other sources, hackers may be able to access other existing accounts such as social media or establish new accounts—even entire digital identities—in your child’s name. As in any online forum, never give away any personal information and be sure to vary usernames and passwords are across different games, platforms and accounts.
Personal Information on Consoles, Computers and Devices
Another online gaming danger comes from consoles or PCs themselves. When they’ve outlived their usefulness, many families take these devices to the local electronics recycling center or sell them on swap sites. Users often forget how much personal information is in the files saved to these devices and fail to delete their profiles and information, putting their financial and private data at risk. Before getting rid of any computer, game console, tablet or smartphone, you should wipe all personal data from and then perform a factory reset.
The specific tools or procedures needed might vary depending on the type of device, so it’s important to research this for each device. Also, remember that some devices might include storage areas that aren’t affected by the device’s erase functions. If a device uses computer-compatible storage drives, like SD cards, connect them to your computer and securely erase the data. For computers, don’t rely on the “Delete” function or even reformatting. These features are designed to permanently erase all user data from disk drives. Instead, you should use a program that completely removes data by overwriting the data multiple times.
By following these simple tips and strategies, you can start winning more often at online gaming. So what are you waiting for? Start putting these tips into practice today and see how they can help you take your game to the next level!