Play it Safe – An Introductory Guide to Online Gaming for Parents
Online games are played on the internet via a computer console, mobile device or application. What makes it different from more traditional gaming is the ability to play and communicate with other gamers online. Games can range from task/mission-based activities to sports-themed games and anything in between. Online games can be an excellent way to link up with people, develop teamwork skills and of course are a source of entertainment and recreation for young people.
Many of you will be familiar with the more traditional gaming formats where you buy physical games for popular consoles, such as Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo.
What Types of Online Games Are There?
There are many different forms of online games. These range from free games or apps that can be downloaded on mobile phones to games that can be played on internet-enabled consoles, for example PlayStation or Xbox.
Web Games and Apps: Games that can be played on the internet through specific websites, or through apps that can be downloaded to mobile phones. This type of games includes games played via social media services, for example via Facebook, which allow players to connect with friends.
Console Games: Games that are played via entertainment consoles, for example Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo. Consoles are connected to TVs and games can be purchased in stores or downloaded online.
Mobile Games: Games that can be downloaded to your mobile phone. Many are free to play initially, however charges are often introduced within these games. For example users can sometimes pay to gain additional functionality to help them complete a game. These in-game purchases can normally be deactivated in the users’ mobile settings.
Handheld Games – Devices like iPads or Nintendo DSI’s also host online gaming.
What Are the Risks of Online Gaming?
Inappropriate Content: Some online games may not be age appropriate for your child and may contain violent or sexual images. All online games come with an age recommendation. To prevent your child from accessing inappropriate games, ensure parental settings are active on your computers/consoles and check the age rating here on the games your child is accessing.
Information on parental controls for the most popular consoles can be found here:
Xbox – xbox.com/en-IE/parental-controls
PlayStation – support.us.playstation.com/app
Nintendo – nintendo.co.uk/Support/Parents/
Multi-Player Gaming: Many online games allow for multiplayer modes which can pose some risks to young people. In multiplayer mode, users can play other gamers from anywhere in the world. Some of these games allow users to send messages to each other via text or audio modes. In some cases, young players can experience abuse/harassment online from other gamers, particularly when emotions are high after a competitive game.
Players can be exposed to inappropriate language from gamers and in some cases, young people may leave themselves open to unwanted contact by sharing personal information via their profiles or by talking with other players.
To avoid this, ensure your child’s profile is private and encourage your child not to use real photos or full names for their gaming profile and not to share any personal information. It’s also a good idea to let your child know to speak to you if they feel uncomfortable or are not sure about something they have encountered while gaming. Make sure your child knows how to block a player who sends upsetting messages.
Pay to Play: Many online games are free to download. However, these games can offer additional functions, once the game is live, which users can purchase. It is a popular practice among downloadable games and apps to offer players the chance to buy access to the next level of a game or to purchase functions to help them complete games. It can be very easy for players to inadvertently run up bills on these games. To avoid this, parents should ensure that they have a password set on their phone/device for in-app purchases or that they switch off this option on the phone/device; this can normally be done within the app/mobile settings.
Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe
Here are a few helpful tips to ensure a safe online gaming experience for your child.
- Check the age rating of the games your children are playing and ensure games are age appropriate.
- Advise your child not to share personal details online or in their profiles. In the case of teens, it may be best to discuss the dangers of sharing information online.
- Encourage your child to play fairly and treat other gamers with respect.
- Use family safety settings to protect your child from discovering games which may not be age/content appropriate.
- For many parents it is useful to agree time limits on gaming with their children.
- Playing games online can leave computers/devices open to risk of a virus. Protect your computer by ensuring you have up to date anti-virus software in place.
- Ensure your child knows how to report or block other players who engage in online harassment or any other unsuitable behaviour.
Useful Links for Parents
Age Rating and Game Reviews
Pan European Game Information (advice on age ratings and suitability of games): pegi.info/en/index/
Reporting or Blocking Players
PlayStation – support.us.playstation.com/report-inappropriate-or-abusive-users