Keeping your child safe while they play online games

By Keir McDonald on

A guide to understanding online games, their social implications and cyberbullying.

If your child plays online role playing games, then you might be wondering what they are getting up to for hours and hours on end.

This article aims to shed some light on the vast and complex world of online role playing games (RPGs). We can help you to settle your fears and gain a better understanding of these interactive worlds that your child is so engrossed by.

What you need to know about role playing games

RPGs are one of the most common forms of computer game. They can range from simple, virtual environments like Habbo, to complicated alternative realities like World of Warcraft. An RPG allows players to create a character and develop them. Many RPGs do not have internet content, but it is particularly those with Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) capabilities that parents should be paying close attention to.

Immersive Nature

Unlike typical games that can be completed in ten to twenty hours, MMORPGs are often endless, requiring thousands of hours of playtime to master. Many possess features that reward the user for playing indefinitely and encourage them to form strong attachments to their character.  

This can lead to your child spending less time socialising with real life friends and more time in front of a computer screen, which is often a worry for parents. Players receive positive reinforcement by accomplishing different tasks, and this is one of the features that makes any MMORPG potentially addictive.

Social Implications

One of the key features of MMORPGs are the in-game communities which arise.  Everyone has a ‘friends’ list to communicate with players they have met in the game. Players are encouraged to form socially intimate teams, usually known as ‘clans’ or ‘guilds’. Players often consider MMOs to be deeply social environments.

Those who spend a lot of time in MMOs often don’t draw a meaningful distinction between their online friends and their offline friends. In many cases, these lines blur as children will meet their school friends online after class.

Just as with any social grouping however, there is the potential for bullying or other kinds of abuse. Any gamer is capable of being cyberbullied by their peers, with MMOs it can be impossible to know the true identity of the other people playing. The social aspect of these games, if it leads to abuse, can have a detrimental effect on your child’s wellbeing.

Prevention

It might seem like the simplest solution is to forbid your child from playing MMOs, but this is not an approach that should be taken lightly. They may well have built deep social bonds with their team and you shouldn’t underestimate how important these friendships might be for your child.

Clint Worley, a senior producer for Sony Online Entertainment (now Daybreak Game Company) explains how “it’s not the games themselves that are addictive — it’s the social aspects of the massively multiplayer genre”. Be aware of this, and encourage your child to maintain their real life friendships too.

Be aware of the PEGI age ratings

Following the PEGI age rating is only going to alert you to harmful content within the game and cannot account for other, often adult players. If you know your child is going to play a game online you can look for the PEGI Online license. This verifies that the makers of this game have kept the content free of “illegal or offensive content”.

Talk to your child about ways to stay safe while gaming 

The best way to help prevent your child from any negative impacts is through communication. Explain the importance of keeping their personal information secret and protecting their password at all times even from their online and offline friends. Try to be involved by researching the game they are planning, asking questions about their clan, or which about character they are playing.

Play the games with your child

One of the best things to do is to sit down and play with them. This will help you understand the game better, and means that your child will be bonding with you rather than strangers. It is important that you don’t let your child be isolated in their virtual world.

It is very possible that your child enjoys playing these games more than they like spending time in the real world. Don’t make the mistake of underestimating these games, instead show your child the respect they deserves and help them to understand the importance of their life outside of their virtual world. The two can coexist.

Additional information

For further advice and guidance about how to keep your child safe while their playing online games visit:

Image attribution: Bea Represa under Creative Commons License