With so many games available today, children are facing more threats than ever when logging into their favourite video games. Playing local-multiplayer games, with all players in the same room, is becoming less popular as online multiplayer games become more popular. Also, recent world events led to more and more people playing online. As a parent, the gradual shift to an online world has made me rethink how my children interact online. I am not just talking about social media, but on gaming platforms as well. Let us explore a few ways you can make those online spaces safer for the most vulnerable individuals in your life.
What is online gaming?
Before tackling a few key ways we can make online play safer, let us first consider what online gaming is. Online gaming is anything we do online that involves other people. This includes playing games on consoles, PCs, or mobile devices. I like to consider online activity in two ways: active multiplayer and passive multiplayer.
Active multiplayer is what we all default to when we think about a multiplayer game. This would include games where you actively are engaging with other players, such as in Call of Duty or Halo. Passive multiplayer is when you can see others in your game, but you are not actually interacting with them live. A good example of this is Forza Horizon 5. This is where other players’ Drivatars can appear in your game as opponents in races.
Understanding what type of multiplayer activity your kids are taking part in goes a long way in deciding how best to provide them a fun and safe environment. The points below are good ways for you to watch and monitor what your kids are doing online. That being said, remember that every good online safety plan begins with conversations around online safety.
Enable parental controls
Whether you just built an amazing PC, or own a current generation console, there are many parental controls right at your fingertips. These parental controls will allow you to put in various restrictions for keeping your kids safe. You can restrict access to specific games, restrict the ability to chat online, and even set play time limits for games. You can generally find these controls in the settings menu. Thankfully, when setting up accounts for minors, the option to set parental controls is usually right in the setup process. Kids are liable to talk about anything and everything online. Until they understand how to filter what should be said, it is up to us to protect them. Built in parental controls go a long way.
Nintendo even has a Nintendo Switch Parental Controls application that will allow you to monitor everything your child is doing in real time. It even allows you to restrict access at any time. Couple the parental app with the Nintendo Switch Online Family Membership, and I know that my kids will have many great games to play, in a safe space.
On the blog, we have previously posted an article discussing numerous other things to consider when protecting yourself online. All of those tips will be applicable here as well!
Online threats don’t stop when the games do
One of the more eye opening experiences for me as a parent was realizing the potential threats to my children did not end when the games end. Many of today’s more popular multiplayer games have many content creators attached to them. Each content creator is likely to have online social platforms where their fans can come together to chat. While most creators are using Discord, others might opt for other social platforms, such as Facebook.
The Circle Home Plus (2nd Gen) has been a lifesaver for my wife and I. It is a great way to monitor what websites my kids are accessing on their devices. It also allows me to set limits on their online activity, block specific sites, and even tailor each child’s profile differently. Being able to limit access to Discord—by default, Discord is blocked on a kids account—I can be assured that my kids are not browsing in a space that is unpredictable. Most new routers have similar parental settings.
What can you do to combat unsafe online interactions?
Knowing what games and systems your kids use can help you benefit the community as a whole. Online games have built in reporting structures, so understanding how that works is a very important step in creating safe online spaces. These systems do not always work, so knowing what other options are out there is very important.
It does begin with knowing what games the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) suggests are appropriate for various age groups. On all Best Buy Canada reviews and product pages, we clearly highlight what rating each game we review receives. For example, our recent review of Mario Strikers: Battle League indicates the game is appropriate for everyone, ages 10 and up. When using the ESRB website to search for a title, you can also see whether a game has “Interactive Elements.”
The other option to be aware of is online communities working to combat toxic and inappropriate online behaviour. One such organization, The Watch, is working to eliminate various online problems. They also lobby major video game publishers such as Activision—the company behind the Call of Duty franchise—to do more to combat online abuse. By partnering and supporting agencies such as this, we may see more robust safeguards for future generations of gamers.
Moving towards a safer future
Our kids face real online threats every day, and we must remain vigilant to protect them. Education begins in the home, highlighting potential problems that might occur online, and what to do when those come up. There are so many things we can do besides education to create safe spaces for the most vulnerable. We hope the few suggestions above will prove useful.
Best Buy Canada continues to be an advocate for online safe spaces for gamers, and will continue doing our part by including ESRB ratings on all video game reviews and video game product pages. That being said, creating a safe space is something we all must partner on. Let’s get to work!
If you have additional suggestions to help our readers and their children stay safe, please share them in the comments below.