Kids' Safety

Play: Ensuring online gaming safety

Online gaming started years back with LAN parties, but has recently become a worldwide phenomenon spanning borders, cultures, and languages. Just about every gamer today participates in some level of online gaming, whether on a PC, tablet, game console, Android, or iPhone.

People of all ages make up the online gaming community. And online gaming has even become a competitive multimillion-dollar industry. There are hundreds of popular video game titles, and hundreds of popular streamers. Major brands offer pro-sports level endorsements to professional gamers, and many gamers have become nearly-overnight celebrities with vast numbers of fans.

At the moment, there are a few games that make up a large percentage of all online play. These include the free Epic Games megahit Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Call of Duty: Black Ops 4: Blackout, League of Legends, and more.

Entertainment may be the draw, but it’s not all fun and games. Online gaming could also come with safety concerns, especially for young children —including phishing, credit card theft, identity theft, computer viruses, cyberbullying, and mature content. Combine these issues with the real-money microtransactions in these games, and the potential threats become all too obvious.

Forty-nine percent of American adults play video games. Plus, there are millions of children and teens who also play online games. Here are some top things parents of online gamers need to know.

How to stay safe while online gaming

You can help your child avoid the risks of online gaming with these safety tips.

Avoid opening suspicious links

Your child might see a link that a player has provided in in-game chat. Best advice: don’t open it. Phishing and other link-based scams are all too common, and you never know who’s sending a link, or where it points, until it’s too late. Remind your child that the link is coming from a stranger. Opening the link could compromise your account. It could also put malicious software on your device, steal your credentials, and put your information and gaming assets up for sale.

Never share account information

It’s important to explain to your children why they should never share account information. Your child’s account may contain valuable personal information and digital data. Plus, it may be tied to a credit card account. They should also understand that there are types of information that game companies would never ask for — like bank account numbers or Social Security numbers. Don’t ever give this information out.

Cybercriminals value these types of information and could attempt to hack your child’s account or trick them into revealing the information.

How? Phishing is one way. A phishing email might look like it’s from an online gaming company. The email may ask your child to provide their username and password to win a prize. If they get the information, they can access your account and lock you and your child out.

What advice should you give your child? Be careful with emails, notifications, chat messages, and texts you receive from an unknown or untrusted source. Don’t click on suspicious links. Consider contacting a gaming company through official chat support if you need help.

Tip: If it’s available, two-factor authentication (2FA) can help you protect your account. 2FA can provide an extra layer of security. When you sign in, you will receive a text message with a code to complete access to your account. The Steam platform offers the Steam Mobile Authenticator, and Battle.net offers the Blizzard Mobile Authenticator. Epic Games offers advice on using two-factor authentication, as well.

Be careful with microtransactions and community markets

To take advantage of the growing gaming market, developers frequently release new in-game items, map packs, and updates available for purchase in their store. Your child might — or probably will — want to buy certain virtual goods. After all, the goods can enhance a game character or improve the gaming experience.

Some games have markets allowing players to buy, sell, and trade in-game content. If your child is going to participate, here’s some advice: only use legitimate markets on the game brand’s platform.

Although such items may be for sale on other websites, use caution! There’s a chance that items listed on unofficial sites and markets could contain viruses or malicious software. After all, if cybercriminals manage to break into your account, they could steal your personal information, such as credit card numbers. They could also sell your games or items and steal the profits.

Don’t use personally identifiable information (PII) in your user profiles

Personally identifiable information — or PII — is data that could potentially be used to identify you. It includes details like your full name, age, email address, credit card number, and a lot more. Cybercriminals can sell PII on the dark web or use it to commit identity theft.

How can you help children protect their PII in the virtual world? By not providing it.
Here’s one idea. Have your child use fictional information like that of a favorite comic book hero or movie character. Or just have them skip the profile-building process completely. It isn’t mandatory in order to play most online games. Whatever you put in your profile may be publicly available, so it’s important to be careful when it comes to your children.

Chat also carries risks. Tell your children not to use their real names, not to share your IP address, and not be lured into providing any personal information. Instead, they should use pseudonyms and avoid posting their picture.

As noted above, voice and text chat can contain just about anything fellow players decide to share. Oftentimes, this is mature content that should concern parents of young gamers. A quick fix for many games is to simply shut off voice chat.

Despite the many potential issues, online gaming is a fun, social, and increasingly popular hobby — and even career — that’s not going anywhere. Your children will want to participate at some point and that’s probably great — just be aware of the risks and make informed choices to help protect them.

Popular online games

In order to make sure you fully grasp the online game landscape, here’s a deep dive on the most popular games and the Battle Royale phenomenon. Parents need to carefully consider which games are suitable for their children, as many may contain violence and common adult language in chats.

Fortnite

The game: Fortnite is a free-to-play survival-action game. Developed by Epic Games, Fortnite is a Battle Royale, part of the incredibly popular genre that has quickly taken over the online gaming world. The game is a shooter with multiple game modes, most of them free.

In a Battle Royale game, players fight it out in a last-man-(or team)-standing contest of looting, shooting, and building prowess. Like most Battle Royale titles, this game drops up to 100 players on an island, where they must quickly arm themselves, find equipment, and outlast or eliminate all other players. It’s an intense, high energy, and rewarding experience for players who value replayability, team and squad-based firefights, and ever-changing content. Fortnite is free to download through Epic Games with all kinds of in-game items, which can be purchased using real money.

Content and gameplay: Fortnite is a multiplayer game with a multimillion-person fan base. Fortnite has a squad-based online mode called Save the World, which is player-versus-environment (PvE). PvE means players fight various computer AI enemies. The most popular (and free) solo, duo, or team-based mode is Battle Royale, a player-versus-player (PvP) game. The violence is more cartoonish than gory, but adult language is all too common in voice chats. Parents should review this title’s content before letting kids play.

Vulnerabilities: Like other Battle Royales and online games in general, Fortnite has an in-game market where virtual goods may be purchased. Players can purchase assorted items, upgrades, or a premium subscription. Fortnite also has an online chat feature that works as text and voice. The chat of strangers may expose young players to profanity and adult topics as these features are often unrated.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)

The game: PUBG is an online game that started the Battle Royale trend. Up to 100 players compete to be the last man standing, much like Fortnite. PUBG is a more realistic simulation where players must account for things like bullet drop, environmental challenges, recoil, and more. The game costs $29.99 to download for Windows PCs. It’s free on mobile devices, with in-app purchases available.

Content and gameplay: Players get dropped on an isolated island, scavenge for items, and attempt to kill each other. It can be played solo, duo, or with a team, and it offers both first- and third-person perspectives. The game features realistic violence and blood, plus a text and voice chat that can be inappropriate for younger players.

Vulnerabilities: This game has microtransactions and many community markets filled with game upgrades like weapon skins, apparel, and more. In-game chat could expose young players to profanity, offensive commentary, and possible scams targeting personal information or in-game content.

League of Legends

The game: League of Legends came out in 2009, but it remains one of the most played online games, with stunning revenue and professional tournaments. It’s a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) based on the freemium model (free to play) and is supported by microtransactions. In fact, in 2017, it generated $2.1 billion in revenue.

Content and gameplay: MOBAs like League of Legends combine action games, role-playing games, and real-time strategy games. Players team up with strangers and challenge other teams in arena-based combat. The game has a cartoon-like look and contains blood and gore that’s not particularly graphic.

Vulnerabilities: Like the other online gaming titles in our list, League features extensive microtransactions and online markets where one can buy in-game upgrades with real money. A chat feature allows players to comment, share links, and exchange ideas. Occasional profanity and adult topics appear on-screen.

Tip: If you’re looking for a detailed guide to online video games, consider checking out commonsensemedia.org. It’s a family-focused nonprofit that rates and reviews video games and other media.

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