Do your kids live-stream their video games, sharing their digital adventures with friends, family members, or, more likely, an anonymous online audience? They’re not alone.
Video-game streaming is surging as a popular pursuit. A growing number of gamers today are live-streaming their video game gunfights, touchdown drives, and space battles with an online audience of fellow gamers.
And this sharing isn’t just about showing off high scores. Audience members enjoy watching the real-time reactions of gamers as much as they root for them to rack up high scores or defeat a big boss at the end of a particularly challenging level.
Video-game streaming, then, has become a prime source of entertainment in the gaming world, with players relying on such streaming sites as Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Microsoft’s Mixer to share their games with online audiences.
The challenge for parents? It’s not just about kids spending too much time in front of their screens. Game streaming also comes with several online safety issues: Hackers can infect the computers of gamers with malware, or they can trick gamers into surrendering personal or financial information.
Some particularly clever cybercriminals have even taken over players’ computers while they were live-streaming their video game exploits.
Here are six tips that parents need to know about video-game streaming and how to help protect their young gamers.
1. Your children might be streaming a lot more video game play these days
TwitchTracker — which, as its name suggests, tracks activity on video-game streaming site Twitch — says viewers watched more than 1.75 billion hours of video-game streams in May 2020. That's up from 1.2 billion hours in March.
Another interesting stat? TwitchTracker says viewers had watched more than 438 billion minutes of video-game streams from the start of 2020 through the end of May 2020. That's up an impressive 48.6 percent from the same period a year earlier.
So far in 2020, Twitch boasted more than 5.5 million monthly streamers, a jump of 50 percent from the same period last year.
COVID-19 could explain much of this surge. People are stuck at home. To entertain themselves, they are turning to streaming services, including those that stream video-game content.
This increase in streaming, though, means that parents have to be ever more vigilant in making sure their children are staying safe while online.
2. There are social risks to streaming video games
While streaming video games, gamers will often interact with strangers and other players through online chats. This social aspect is one of the more enjoyable parts of video-game streaming.
It can also be one of the more dangerous aspects, though, for younger gamers. Video-game streaming sites are attractive targets for online scammers who might try to convince gullible players to surrender personal or financial information.
A scammer, for instance, might promise a player improved armor for one of their game characters or an enhanced weapon that will help them reach higher levels and generate stronger scores. All the player has to do is provide the scammer with a credit card number. Some players, desperate to showcase their gaming skills before their online audience, might be tempted to take this offer.
Once scammers get gamers’ credit card information, they can run up charges on those cards to make in-game purchases.
Other scammers might befriend gamers over time and convince them to give up their real name, addresses, and birthdays. These cyberthieves can then use this information to steal players’ identities, perhaps gaining access to their bank accounts or credit card information. This can be a particularly high risk for gamers who are young adults and have their own bank accounts or credit cards, or who may be just beginning to build their own credit history.
Gamers are often vulnerable to these attacks when playing what are known as Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. These games allow players to create their own fictional characters and guide them through complex and time-consuming adventures.
Gamers can also use real money to buy upgrades for their characters, such as armor and equipment. Scammers can spend more time getting to know your children when they are streaming these complex games. Once they build trust with gamers, the scammers may be more likely to trick younger gamers into giving up important personal and financial information.
3. The technology-based risks are high, too
Video-game streaming comes with a host of technology-related risks, too.
The scammers that gamers meet while streaming could send them email messages — perhaps promising game tips or accessories for their players — that are embedded with viruses or malware. When your gamer children open these messages and click on the attachments, they might inadvertently flood their computers or devices with malicious software.
This software might allow hackers to intercept emails sent from these devices or to log the keystrokes of anyone using them. Armed with this information, hackers might be able to access your household's online credit card portals or bank accounts, giving them the opportunity to run up credit card charges in your name or drain your bank accounts.
Other scammers might rely on the chat services to convince gamers to visit malicious websites, perhaps convincing them that they can buy weapons, outfits, or special abilities for their game characters. Once gamers visit these sites, they might download attachments that again infect their computers with viruses. In the worst cases, hackers might be able to use this malicious software to take over gamers’ computers and other devices.
4. Education is key to helping protect young gamers
Parents can teach their children how to help protect themselves from these scams.
First, tell your kids to never provide personal information to anyone they meet online. This is probably the most important lesson parents can pass onto their children: Make sure your young gamers understand that not everyone who befriends them online has pure intentions. Many of the people they encounter may be criminals.
Make it clear to your children that they are never to give their real names, birthdate, address, or other personal information to people they meet online. This also means that young gamers should never use their real names when video-game streaming. They should always use nicknames or other online handles.
Second, tell your children to never provide financial information to people they meet online, including bank account numbers or credit card numbers.
Teach your children, too, about the dangers of opening email attachments, especially in messages they get from strangers. Tell your children to never click on any attachments until they check with you first.
The same holds true for clicking links to websites. Teach your young gamers that they should never click on a link in an email, even if someone promised that this link would lead to a site filled with freebies or other gaming accessories.
5. Setting limitations on access may provide an extra layer of protection
By setting up some reasonable limitations and rules for your young gamers, you can help lessen the likelihood of them being scammed.
As an example, don’t give your children the ability to approve credit card purchases for in-game add-ons. Make sure that they know they must get your permission first to make these purchases.
If children don’t have the ability to make in-game purchases on their own, they’re less likely to pass sensitive financial information to unknown individuals.
You can require that your children obtain your permission first before live-streaming video games. And if you want to be even safer, you can set a condition that in order for your children to stream video games, you must be in the same room to keep an eye on their game play.
6. Antivirus protection is key
Before allowing your children to stream their video game play, make sure the devices they use are protected by updated antivirus software.
Installing and running antivirus software can help prevent malicious software from infecting your devices even if your young gamer mistakenly clicks on a bogus link or downloads a malware-filled attachment.
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Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.
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