In my twenty-five years of clinical practice, I have had the unfortunate experience of treating many kids and teens who have had interaction with online predators and cyberbullies. And in many of those cases, there were steps the parents could have made to prevent this type of digital injury. First, parents must block inappropriate games and content using the rating system and parental controls (covered later in this article). Second, teach the red flags that kids must look for to spot dangerous inquiries. That’s why I created the Cybersecurity and Red Flags Supplement to add to our free Connected Family Screen Agreement (available on the home page of GetKidsInternetSafe.com). And finally, maintain a close parent-child relationship with ongoing topics for learning (offered in your GKIS weekly articles). Developing a knowledge base and intuition is an ongoing process that’s fueled by warm, nonjudgemental mentorship. To be a great mentor, parents have to learn what’s out there. Today’s article will discuss the risks of interpersonal exploitation in the multiplayer gaming world, expertly written from the perspective of an active millennial female gamer.
What is a multiplayer game?
“Multiplayer games” refers to video games where an individual player can either join a team in defeating a computerized enemy or can battle it out against other gamers. To play multiplayer games, Xbox and PlayStation require gamers to purchase memberships.
Battle royale is a relatively new genre of multiplayer gaming that can have over 100 people competing on a large map. These games embody the survival element as players are dropped onto a map with little armor or weapons. Players can either battle their way through the game with friends or fly solo, but the ultimate goal is to be the last man standing.
Before the likes of Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, battle royale was a concept heavily influenced by the popular movie The Hunger Games. In the early days, the only way to play battle royale was by downloading modifies to a base game. This modification was extremely popular in Minecraft as it added an extra dose of flair and made the game more challenging and intriguing. Brenden Greene made battle royale mods for the hit games DayZ and Arma III, which quickly became a huge sensation. In 2017, Brenden Greene released the highly anticipated game, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which paved the way for other games like Fortnite and Apex Legends.
Who plays multiplayer games?
According to Statista (2019), in 2018 28% of gamers were under 18 years old, and 45% of gamers were female and 55% were male. With this information in mind, child gamers are often exposed to a wide variety of players of all ages. Although multiplayer games are entertaining and fast-paced, there are dangers young gamers could be exposed to including chatting with random strangers, bullying, and child grooming by sexual predators.
Create a party for you and your friends.
One of the ways kids can gain access to voice chat over the PS4 console is to be invited via “party.” Party directly sets up player communications by automatically pulling up your friends list for direct invites. People can also request to join a party, but the creator has the option to deny specific player access. On PlayStation, the creator must specify whether the party is private or open to the public. Opening to the public will allow anyone to join the voice chat, meaning child players could be exposed to unsavory characters.
Xbox one has the same features, except, if the person receiving the invite does not accept it within a five-minute window, Xbox Live will cancel the invitation. and the person who sent the request will have to resend it. Voice chat can be a great way for socially isolated or anxious kids to connect with others. However, there are significant dangers, as well.
Meeting Strangers in the Lobby
A lobby is where players wait to join a team game in multiplayer games. This feature is also known as matchmaking because it randomly assigns players to teams.
While in the lobby, you can communicate with other joining players. In some instances, you can also check out what the other player characters look like and view their cache of weapons. You can also communicate with other players in the lobby if you have the microphone enabled.
When I play multiplayer games, I tend to disable the microphone feature (mainly by not plugging my headset in), unless I am playing with friends Because, even as an adult, I don’t feel comfortable chatting with people I don’t know online.
Bullying, Abuse, and Harassment
People can be cruel and unnecessarily mean over voice chat for no reason other than that they can. It can be as simple as insulting gaming skills or even using racial slurs and sexual comments. I’ve been in lobbies where players will threaten to find and kill you as a form of aggression and intimidation. And while harassment and bullying do happen to adults, in video games it’s younger children who get the brunt of it.
While scouring the Internet for answers as to why kids are harassed on gaming platforms, I came across a large number of blogs and forums dedicated to how annoying young children can be online. A majority of these posts were made by people in their late teens or older, and one of the biggest complaints is the language that younger gamers use.
It appears that when playing mature games, a plethora of youngsters love to curse at the drop of the hat and throw around racial slurs. While many gamers would just hit the mute button, some will take it to the extreme and harass the younger kid until they leave.
These young gamers are known as squeakers for their prepubescent voice and for playing games that are targeted at a mature audience. For example, the popular game Call of Duty was known to have a multitude of squeakers, and as a result, older players would often get frustrated that young kids were playing a rated M game.
As a female gamer, I’ve experienced an unbelievable amount of harassment and abuse, ranging from people calling me names like b***h and C you next Tuesday, to more extreme measures like asking for sexual favors. Some females have even experienced males masturbating over the headset feature.
According to ABC News, predators are grooming kids by making friends with them online and then gaining their trust so that they can meet in person. Fox News has also reported that Fortnite has recently become a favorite place to target young kids because of the volume of people who are playing online all at once.
Predators are using these features to gain the trust of young gamers to then potentially lure them out to undisclosed locations. The interactions between the young child and the predators are not always sexual. For instance, a young boy was murdered in cold blood by a man he met online. Breck Bednar was 14 years old and loved to play video games with a tight-knit group of people. The only person that was unknown to the group was Lewis Daynes, who over time, developed a strong relationship with Bednar. Although the relationship was not sexual, this chilling and disturbing “friendship” came to an end when Daynes lured Bednar to his home and killed him in cold blood.
There are plenty of ways to keep child gamers safe while playing video games and many of these features are available on the gaming console itself.
- Restrict age limit on games
- Disable communication with other players
- Set time limits for how long the child can play for
- Disable the viewing of other players content
- Disable the use of VR
- Restrict what websites the child can view on the PlayStation
- Restrict access to certain tv shows, movies, games, and apps
- Web filtering
- Parents can determine what type of apps can be downloaded
Tips to keep child gamers safe!
- Use parental features.
- Pay attention to the rating guide on video games. Avoid mature-rated games for kids and teens.
- Use anonymous and masculine or gender-neutral Gamertags.
- Inform kids about the importance of not sharing personal information while online.
- Don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
- And connect better with your child and set up your home for screen safety using the GKIS Screen Safety Toolkit and The Connected Family Online Course.
Thank you to CSUCI intern, Kassidy Simpson for providing parents with the information they need to help keep their kids safe on multiplayer games. If you learned something fun from this article, please “like” our GetKidsInternetSafe Facebook page so other parents can find us!
Want to learn more about the dangers of video games? Check out Sex and Violence in Video Games Change the Brain: What GKIS Parent Need to Know.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
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