Keeping safe online 5: be aware

Fears about gaming

There are many popular games for children, such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin, Bin Weevils, MyCBBC and HABBO Hotel, with most children discovering the games they play through their friends. Games such as Medal of Honor have raised concerns because massive multiplayer games like this are so immersive that players may start to identify strongly with the political objectives of the group that they are role-playing, such as the Taliban. EA, the producers of the game, withdrew it in January 2013 because it wasn’t selling too well, unlike their bestseller FIFA games. Note that the game was pulled because of poor sales (despite the publicity), so let your wallet speak to the manufacturers, or, in the case of Guardians of Ancora, contact the developers if you have any suggestions.

Age-appropriateness

The Byron Review (2008) was keen to ensure that parents felt informed and confident about assessing the levels of risk in games for their children. The voices of these better-informed parents can then drive industry investment and continued innovation in the area of child safety in video games.

Guardians of Ancora is designed for 8 to 11-year-olds, but if you’re considering allowing your children to play other games, check out www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews, which offers age-appropriate guidelines, as well as reviews of the games themselves.

PEGI (www.pegi.info) was created in 1998 to offer a ratings system for games, although most parents seem to use the ratings as guidance rather than absolutes.  

Addiction?

Games have a particular reputation for causing ‘gaming addiction’. Research has demonstrated that it is more likely that those with addictive natures, or those who are missing something that is not being provided elsewhere, will become addicted to gaming.

‘Addiction’ is when a player is making gaming their ‘whole life’, playing an average of over 24 hours per week, leading to disconnection from typical family activities, muscle pains and poor hygiene! It is not the game per se that causes addiction, but the intensity of playing games is typically a symptom of another cause, which requires support, potentially from counsellors. Technology magazine The Next Web raises the question of whether ‘addiction’ is the right term:

Why do we stigmatize certain engrossments more than others? When my kid reads books all day, my partner and I are happy about it. When he plays games all day, we are not. Who is to say one is better or worse than the other? 1

Know your own children

It’s important in all aspects of life to know your own children, and to monitor how what they play and interact with are affecting them, including computer games.

If they seem more aggressive after spending time playing a certain game, discuss the game and help them understand how the violence that's portrayed is different from what occurs offline. That can help them identify less with the aggressive characters and reduce the negative effects that violent video games can have.

Encourage them to take regular breaks for their eye health (at least 5 minutes every 45 minutes), set time limits on their online interaction and limit access to passwords that could allow them to spend money on in-game purchases.

Dr Bex Lewis

Dr Bex Lewis is the Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint and the author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014), where you can find more information. Passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way and trained as a mass communications historian, Dr Lewis is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, with a particular interest in digital culture, and how this affects the third sector, especially faith organisations, voluntary organisations and government behavioural campaigns.

Quoted Lewis, B., Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014), page 190