Online gaming – The basics

Our online gaming advice for parents explores what online gaming is and how to help your child develop good online gaming habits to ensure they get the most out of their experience.

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What is online gaming?

Online gaming describes any video game that offers online interactions with other players. Video games used to be classified by an Online Content PEGI descriptor to signify whether they were online or not. However, as most games now provide online interactions this distinction is no longer used.

What is still different game to game, is the level of interaction on offer. How much information players share and how many people they interact with are the two key factors for parents to be aware of.

Offers clear benefits for children

Online games are important to understand because they offer a huge amount of fun, enjoyment, teamwork, collaboration and imaginative adventure for children. Played healthily they contribute an essential part of children’s development and socialisation.

However, it’s important for parents to understand online gaming so they can encourage safe and healthy habits in children and technology from a young age.

Things you need to know about gaming

Gaming is a fun and sociable way to spend time, encouraging teamwork and developing skills. All good stuff, but there are a few things you need to be aware of:

  • Some games let children play and chat with anyone in the world. This means they might come across offensive language and bullying
  • Not everyone online is who they say they are. Children should avoid giving out personal details that could identify them or their location
  • Some games encourage players to buy extra elements like loot boxes during the game – children have been known to run up large bills without realising
  • In extreme cases, bullying (also known as ‘griefing’), can be used as a tactic to win games. Children may find themselves either bullying or being bullied
  • Get involved by finding out what type of games your child enjoys and making sure they’re appropriate for their age
  • It can be hard to stop some games in the middle of a battle as there are penalties for quitting and children may feel they are letting teammates down.
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What are children doing while online gaming?

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Playing together

The most common aspect of online gaming is being able to play with other players from all over the world. They may be in different countries, be using different technology and be vastly different ages, but players can come together and share an online gaming experience together, often in an open world setting.

This is what drove the popularity of Fortnite. It’s a shooting game like any other, but it lets you play with 99 other players in a competition to be the last man/woman/team standing. Children play Fortnite with friends, but also — inevitably — with people they don’t know.

Parents should be aware of this aspect of games as it means that children can be in contact with strangers. There are simple settings and strategies to keep this safe on all consoles and mobile devices.

Trading virtual items

Online games that don’t offer direct gameplay interactions with strangers often enable players to interact with each other to exchange items and power-ups. Rocket League, for example, is a game that is played online against other players that also has a substantial trading element to the experience.

Players earn special paint colours and decorations for their vehicles by paying for passes and performing well in the game. They can then trade their hard-won items with each other. Although this kind of trading isn’t usually actively encouraged in the game there are usually third-party apps that enable players to connect and trade.

It’s important for parents to understand how this works as children can be incentivised to make connections with adults with the allure on rare items. Also, children can want to spend more money on games to unlock more items to trade.

Parents should be aware of this aspect of games as it means that children can be in contact with strangers. There are simple settings and strategies to keep this safe on all consoles and mobile devices.

Sharing information

Playing any aspect of an online game will usually require you to set up an account for the game. This may be on the game console or tablet itself or on a related website. This enables the player to have their own online profile and persona.

It’s important for parents to be the ones setting up these accounts so they can control the parental settings and select appropriate levels of privacy. Linking a parent’s email address to these accounts also ensures that any online messages are read in a timely fashion.

Social media gaming

Another aspect of online gaming is the blurring of the boundary with social media. As detailed in the recent OFCOM report, most children’s first experience of an online interaction with a stranger will be in a game rather than pure social media.

Add to this the fact that many social media platforms are combining games and game-like features and the two need to be considered as a whole by parents. This is important as it ensures that issues such as bullying, strangers, over sharing, fraud and scams are also considered and talked about for online games as well as Snapchat or Instagram.

Watching other people play

A popular and growing part of online gaming culture is watching videos or live-streams of other players. Sometimes children watch because the video is from a famous or popular YouTuber. Other times they watch because they want to learn about a game.

Watching these videos together is important to ensure you know who and what they are watching. These videos can often be edited to include inappropriate clips such as the Momo Challenge character, or the person playing can use bad language.

How popular is gaming?

How many children play video games? 

Almost all parents claim children have played video games in some capacity.

What age do children start gaming?

Three in four children between the ages of 4-5 have experienced playing games on a tablet.

How much time do they spend gaming?

Children spend just over 2 hours a day during the week and nearly 5 hours at the weekend with variations by gender.

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Time spent gaming online increase with age

Estimated weekly hours spent gaming increase with age, ranging from 6 hours 12 minutes for 3-4s who play games to 13 hours 48 minutes for 12-15s

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Chatting to friends while gaming

Young people are twice as likely to talk to people they know while gaming than those they only know through playing the game (34% 8-11s, 53% 12-15s)

Source (all above): Ofcom media use report 2018

Gaming on the go: Web browser games

Apart from games consoles, smartphones and tablets have become portable gaming devices for young people. Through web browsers and apps young people can access an array of games for every age and interest. Below we’ve summarised the types of games that children play and provided examples.

Flash games or web-based games

These are simple video games that children play using a web browser. They are often free-to-play and do not need any extra software to start playing. Some may have social chat functions to communicate with multiple players and larger games may charge extra for in-game features. Also, some less reputable site may have a number of ads for the contest that may carry malware or spyware.

  • These are often featured on kids websites like CBBC and Nickelodeon
  • MiniClip and Krongergate are just a few examples of the most popular online gaming portals.
  • They are often aimed at pre-schoolers and pre-teens.

Multiplayer role-playing games (RPG)

These are the most common forms of online games. They can range from simple, virtual environments like Minecraft, to complicated alternative realities like World of Warcraft. A RPG allows players to create a character and develop them.

These also tend to be endless and immersive, unlike other games that can be completed over a certain period of time. These are often targeted at teens over the age of 13 as they allow players to interact with each other through voice or text within the game. Some also offer in-game purchases to access certain features. A popular example of this, it games such as Fortnite or War of Warcraft.

Key gaming trends

MMORPG - Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games

With the growth of games like Fortnite and World of Warcraft, MMORPG is the most popular type of game that offers players an immersive experience to interact with people in open worlds. These people come from all around the world and off users an opportunity to be part of a community while in the comfort of their home.

The instant popularity of games like Fortnite, which not only became the ‘game of the moment’ but also influenced the world culturally, showcases how Massively multiplayer online games (MMORPG) capture players imagination by offering an immersive shared experience that continuously evolves to keep players engaged and wanting more.

Mobile gaming

The growth of free-to-play games (games with options for in-game purchases), low-cost gaming apps for mobile devices and 4G has made gaming on the go accessible to everyone.

According to the Global games Market Report of 2018, mobile games now account for 51 % of global revenues in the gaming industry. By 2021 the mobile gaming sector will be worth close to $100 billion in annual revenues. So, although consoles are here to stay it’s important to be aware of the breadth of apps available for children and how to make the best use of them.

What are the most popular games? 

Learn more about Mobile Gaming

Augmented reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR)

Pokemon GO was the first game that introduced the world to AR allowing gamers to combine real-world interactions with the virtual world of gaming. Since then new games have been created that have helped raise its popularity.

Using the real world and taking gaming outside offers children a different way to engage with each other, however, as we saw with the Pokemon GO craze, gaming on the go can also cause issues if done at inappropriate times and places.

Virtual reality or VR has been slow to take off but it’s still an area that is growing as it offers gamers an immersive experience. Learn about its role in the metaverse here.

As the technology improves to give gamers better gaming experiences and more products are introduced that are cheaper like the Google Cardboard or innovative like Oculus VR it will become more accessible to take up.

More about Augmented reality 
More about VR

Social gaming

Increasingly games have become more social to add stickiness and give players a reason to stay engaged on gaming platforms. Facebook has led the way in creating social ‘Instant’ games that can be played on its platform to maximise on connections with friends and encourage players to compete against each other.

Often offered at no cost these games, like Candy Crush, are for casual gamers rather than those seeking an immersive real-time player versus player engagement. For keen gamers, multiplayer games offer deeper social interactions to encourage players to get real-time feedback, build communities and add to the immersive nature of the game.

In addition, there are a number of popular social gaming platforms like Steam and Twitch offering gamers a way to share game hints with friends, upload and stream their gameplay (often called Let’s play videos).

Although this can help children nurture their offline friendship, it can also open them to risks of being contacted by strangers and in-game bullying. Understanding how they interact with others on these games and setting the right boundaries on the games they play can help them make safer choices while gaming.

Learn more about Social networking in gaming

Live streaming games

Through our research into live streaming we found that ‘Let’s play’ videos were the most watched type of live stream.

These are simply real-time videos of people playing a game hosted on sites like YouTube and Twitch. These videos show people playing popular games and adding their own often funny commentary. Popular YouTubers like PewDiePie make these videos and this has earned him over 38 million subscribers on YouTube.

The unpredictable nature of these types of videos does mean that children can be exposed to content that they were not expecting and as it is live, there is no way to manage this. If your child is watching these types of videos, spend time watching them together to advise them on whether they are suitable for them.

See live-streaming guide


This is “a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.”

As free-to-play games which feature in-game purchases become the preferred way for game publishers like Ubisoft and EA to generate more revenue, cryptocurrency offers a way to make these purchases accessible to a wider international audience, faster and more secure than existing methods. Examples of these types of cryptocurrency include Bitcoin and Ethereum.

GNation and Pixel Wars are just two games that are allowing cryptocurrency to be used to pay in-game purchase.

More about Cryptocurrency in Gaming


What is eSports?

Although competitive gaming otherwise known as esports has been around for years, the improvements in technology has made it much more accessible to play worldwide with a larger pool of players. Essentially, esports is ‘organised gaming’ where players compete in worldwide tournaments as individuals and teams to win large cash prizes that can run into the millions. This type of multiplayer gaming is rapidly growing to the point that tournaments have been hosted in big arenas like the O2. The types of games that are played include Call of Duty and Rocket League.

In order to take part players often spend up to 12 hours training to improve their gameplay which can have an effect on their physical wellbeing. Therefore, if your child plans to become an esports athlete it’s important to consider the impact it can have to their overall wellbeing.

Learn more about esports

Cloud-based games

This is a new concept of gaming which allows players to run live games in a cloud server and stream it on their mobile devices without having to download any software or app. All you need is a smartphone, a good internet connection and you can take part. This is making gaming much more accessible to a range of new players.

More about cloud gaming

Tips to keep online gaming healthy

Each of the sections above offers suggestions of specific aspects of online gaming for parents to be aware of. In addition, there are some excellent steps you can take as a parent to guide your child to safe and healthy online gaming.

  • Get involved by finding out what type of games your child enjoys and making sure they’re appropriate for their age.
  • Play games together with your child and keep the technology in shared family spaces rather than bedrooms.
  • Talk to them about who they are playing with and what information they are sharing.
  • Talk about what information is and isn’t appropriate to share, particularly personal details that could identify them or their location.
  • Talk about the financial costs of games and agree how children will spend their money online.
  • Discuss what they would do if they were bullied online, and what the appropriate steps to take are.
  • Ensure you have setup accounts yourself on regularly checked email addresses and with appropriate settings for your child’s age.
  • Agree how long is appropriate to play in one session and how many sessions in a day. Then setup these restrictions in parental settings with your child.

Check out the PEGI ratings

Watch to learn more about PEGI games ratings and how they can help

The PEGI (Pan European Gaming Information) labels appear on a game’s packaging indicating one of the following age levels: 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. They provide a reliable indication of the suitability of the game content for different ages. Descriptors will indicate the main reasons why a game has received a particular age rating. There are eight such descriptors: bad language, discrimination, drugs, fear, gambling, sex, in-app purchases, and violence. If you’d like to know more about these see ‘Pegi games ratings explained’ from Parent Info.

Resources document

Interested in learning more about mobile gaming and how to keep kids safe? Check out our comprehensive guide.

See guide


Social networking is now a big part of gaming, learn how it works and what to watch out for

Online gaming FAQ

Take a look at answers to some key questions parents have about online gaming to support your child.

What is a safe amount of time for children to play video games?

There have been a number of studies on the impact of screen time on children’s wellbeing which have shown that screen time is on the whole beneficial for children in moderation. Both the UK Government and the RCPCH released advice earlier this year to offer parents recommendations on how to make use of screen time highlighting the need to negotiate screen time limits with children based upon the needs of an individual child.

UKIE, the trade body for the interactive entertainment industry in the UK recommends that gaming should form part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle and as a guide games players should take five minute breaks every 45 – 60 minutes.

From Ofcom research we know that children aged 3 – 15 spend between 6 – 13 hours per week playing video games, time increase as children get older.

Working together with your child to establish limits on what games they play and when is the best way for them to respect the boundaries you set. Also, taking time to review these limits periodically based on the impact on their commitments offline (i.e. homework) is key to make sure it is still working for your child.

Although moderating the time they spend is important, equally as important is managing what they are playing to ensure that this is having a positive impact on their digital wellbeing. Choosing games that will help them develop key skills that they can use beyond the game is beneficial, these could be puzzle games or games where they have to develop strategy to get through the game.

What is the best way to encourage children to switch off the game when it’s tempting to keep playing?

Video games are created using persuasive design to encourage players to keep playing. With the addition of social media in many of the newest games, interactions with other players is one more reason why players keep playing and want to play for longer.

One of the first things to do to help your child balance their gameplay with their offline activities is to have a talk with them to make them aware of this point and together work on a family plan that sets boundaries on when they play, what they play and how long they can play.

Children will often, bend or break agreed rules so it’s important to be consistent if you have agreed to a set of limits and stick to them with clear consequences if they are broken.

In addition, helping them to respect the rules by using tech tools to stop gameplay when they have used up their time in a day or a week can be a great help. Many of the consoles and smartphones have controls settings that you can make use of for free.

Lastly, giving them a simple 5 to 10-minute warning before they have to stop could help them wind down the game and not feel the pressure of stopping mid-game.

Article to read: A Fine Parent: How to handle your child’s video game obsession positively

What do I do if their friends are encouraging them to play less appropriate games?

It can be hard for children to battle the pressure to not play certain less appropriate games that ‘Everybody’ seems to play as they don’t want to feel left out.

Talking to them about the reason why these games are not appropriate and valueing their point of view is one way to help them understand why you may not want them to play these games.

Also, if your child encounters these games whilst at their friend’s house, it can be difficult to stay in control of what they play.

The best way to manage this is to talk to their parents to explain why you have set boundaries for your child so that this respect as far as your child is concerned. Lastly, trying to steer their attention towards age-appropriate games that offer the same amount of excitement is a good way to keep engaged and widen their view of what games are available for them to play.

Visit: Video Standards Council

What parental controls are available to keep them safe while gaming?

Although only 19 percent of parents enforce or set controls to manage screen time for their children, there are some great tools available on most platforms and devices to help set digital boundaries on games children can play any time they can play.

All game consoles come equipped with parental controls that can help you stay in control of the types of games children have access too. They can also help you manage whether they can communicate with others online and the time they can spend playing on the device. These parental controls are password protected to make sure they are not easily changed.

Some also offer a way to manage screen time through apps on parent’s smartphone so you can see in realtime what your child has been doing on their console.

For mobile devices and smartphones, depending on the type of operating system, you can use set restrictions on the apps your child can download and whether they can make in-app purchases.

Individual games also offer their own privacy settings which allow profiles to remain private or public to help them manage who they are talking to online.

Take a look at our Gaming parental control how-to guides to find out how to set controls on a range of consoles, apps, and platforms.

Although these are great tools, they may not be foolproof so we’d always recommend spending time talking to your child about the risks they may face when gaming to prepare them and give them good coping strategies if something goes wrong.

Is there a way to report something on the games they play?

If your child is exposed to inappropriate content or is being bullied by a player on the platform, the first point of call should be to contact the moderators of the game. Often games will have features which allow you to block and report users directly on the platform. As part of equipping them to stay safe while gaming, it’s a good idea to explore where these reporting functions are located on the platform so your child can take action as soon as there is a problem.

For advice on how our to report abuse on the most popular games, visit Cybersmile

Article to read: Foul play: Tackling toxicity and abuse in online games

What games should my child be playing?

This depends on the age of your child and what they enjoy doing (or watching) and the type of device they will be using. No matter what they are interested in from dinosaurs to outer space there is a wide range of games that you can choose from. Here are a couple of ways to decide whether or not a game is suitable for your child:

  • Read what other parents say about the game – reviews are invaluable to when it comes down to choosing whether or not to invest in a game.
  • Checking the PEGI rating to make sure it’s age appropriate will make sure your child will not come across content or themes that they may not be ready for
  • Starting with Free games – sites like CBBC and Nickelodeon have great free games that your child can play without downloading any app or software.
  • Find games that match what they like to do offline, it might be playing football or reading books about dinosaurs or outer space
  • Make games a family affair so that you can play together and stay engaged in what they like to play
  • Mix up your game picks so they can enjoy a varied diet of educational games and others that are just great fun

Popular gaming slang and terms 

Acronyms used in-game:

AFK – Away from keyboard

GLHF – Good luck have fun

n00b / Newbie – This is slang for a somebody with little experience or a beginner in the game

RTS – Real-time strategy

GTG – Good to go

PUG – Pick-up group (used in MMORPGs) – means a group that isn’t formed by people you know

OOC – Out of character – used when a character wants to break character

TLDR – Too long, didn’t read

IGM – name in-game

BBIAB – Be back in a bit

Beast mode – dominating the game

dl – download

Fail – Failure

FUBAR -Fouled up beyond recognition

PK – Player Kill

MOD – modified game by changing characters, introducing custom levels etc.

IRL – In real life

IDK – I don’t know

FTW – For the Win

PWN – owned / to gain ownership

IAP – in-app purchase

Gosu – someone who dominates that game (Korean term)

HF – Have fun

WOOT – used to show excitement

Types of gamers to watch out for

Campers – players who attack other players to gain an advantage

Cheaters – exploit the games bugs or errors in the code to gain an advantage in the game

Griefers – deliberately bully and harasses other players

Hackers – players who hack the game to find ways to cheat in the game

Trolls – Like Griefers these are players who incite hate in forums or in-game by targeting other people with abuse.

SMURF – This is an experienced player who pretends to be a new player to the game by creating a new account.

SCRUB – someone who does not play well or relatively new to the game (newbie)

Common acronyms and types of games

DLC – Downloadable content – additional downloadable content for a game distributed online

MMOPRG – Massive multiplayer online game – where a large number of players play together in real-time

RPG – Role-playing game (player controls an avatar in the game to play)

FTP – Free to play video games also known as free to start that have in-game purchases to access premium parts of the game

Sandbox – gives the player more freedom to roam and change the virtual world they are in (Minecraft is an example of such a game)

PvP – Player versus player – this is a type of gameplay in a multiplayer game

NPC – Non-player character – this is any game where you are not in control of the character (they might be controlled by the computer)

Grinding – time spent doing repetitive tasks in the game to unlock a piece of the game

Lag – when a computer game is responding slower than expected

Level up – where you move to the next stage of the game

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Learn how to keep your child safe while playing online games to ensure they get the best out of their experience.

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Gaming advice by age