Gaming4GoodJan 17, 2024
By Cristian Helu, Seasonal Public Relations Intern | Digital4Good
20% of all video gamers in the U.S. are under the age of 18. That is 618 million of our children hopping on Fortnite to get the top spot or joining Discord chats with friends to defeat other teams on League of Legends.
Naturally, online gaming can pose a threat to the cybersecurity and wellness of our teens. There are a multitude of risks that come with gaming, such as cyberbullying, grooming or exclusion. Luckily, there are many protective measures that we can take with our kids and students, allowing them to utilize gaming for good in order to create more positive change in the world.
Let’s first discuss the potential risks and preventative measures that our children and students need to know when engaging in online multiplayer games.
Cyberbullying is a growing risk that plagues our kids in the gaming community. A July 2022 survey reported that 86% of gamer participants had experienced a form of online harassment; a 3% increase from 2020. Online gaming bullies tend to use verbal harassment and discrimination, targeting other players' race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or any profiling insults that they can think of. Doxxing, or revealing another player's personal information like their real name, address, or contact details, is another form of digital perpetration that cyberbullies will use to harass other gamers.
Exclusion is another potential threat to our children who engage in online gaming. Similar to cyberbullying, gamers may be excluded due to their race, gender, sexual orientation and more. Gamers may purposely single out others based on their identity or their abilities in game play. This can result in gamers completely ignoring or isolating other players based on prejudice.
Grooming is a possible danger within the digital gaming realm. It has been estimated that half million of online predators are active everyday, with the FBI reporting over half of online sexual exploitation victims between the age of 12 and 15. There are many older game players that coerce young gamers into abusive relationships for sexual behaviors, financial exploitation, or even drug distribution. These dangerous connections may begin on unmoderated game chats or communication servers like Discord too.
These gaming challenges may seem daunting to parents and educators, but don’t fret– here’s how to prevent this threat.
Activate Your Defense
Make sure that your child or student has the appropriate settings activated such as location privacy and limiting game activity visibility for other players. Your child should also be aware of how to access the report or blocking features on the game or server if they ever feel threatened by another player.
Setting a designated time limit for game play can allow your child to practice healthy digital boundaries and restrict possible conflicts that can arise from prolonged online engagement.
Many online bullies have been picked on themselves, so make sure that your child practices respectful language and empathic behavior with fellow gamers. Educating them to step away from an unpleasant encounter rather than adding fuel to the fire can protect them from escalating a potentially dangerous situation.
While you may have no personal interest in gaming, be aware of any inappropriate behavior that may be exchanged while your kid plays. Monitoring for key phrases like “Let’s keep this between us” or “Don’t tell your parents” are a red flag of a possible groomer. Constant profanity or negative language may also be a sign of distress from cyberbullying. Get familiar with the game and learn how the chat features work too!
Make sure your child knows to only accept requests from gamer friends that they know or have met in real life. Don’t be afraid to ask your kid about other gamers that they frequently connect with online.
It’s important to communicate with your child on transparency and notifying you if there are any fellow gamers that may be asking them for suspicious favors or information, as well as any harassment that may compromise their safety.
While there can be some negative elements to online video gaming, it can also be used to make a positive impact for themselves and for others.
Charitable streaming has been a growing effort in the gaming community. On game streaming platforms, like Youtube Gaming and Twitch, creators will stream and raise donations for different causes and organizations. Twitch has especially been pushing the do-good initiative by implementing a built-in fundraising tool called Twitch Charity, in collaboration with PayPal. This feature allows streamers to go into “charity mode” in order to activate a donation button and incentivize gaming viewers to contribute to the cause.
Education and Advocacy
Education and advocacy have utilized gaming as a powerful tool too. More gaming companies are taking collaborative action on informing their users of different global issues. For example, in 2021, the Institute of Engineering and Technology worked with Fortnite players on an environmental campaign called Difference Makers. Gamers were encouraged to chop down virtual trees within the game, which were then replanted in real life as an effort to combat deforestation. Many gamers were motivated to stream this campaign event on Twitch, which brought more awareness to deforestation and invited more players to join their initiative.
Therapy has taken the form of online gaming, in order to treat mental health challenges in the youth. Especially in children who struggle with social isolation and anxiety, clinicians have been using gaming as a therapeutic tool to improve social-emotional wellbeing, enhance peer interaction, and strengthen family relationships. From the Frontiers in Psychiatry Journal, 18 out of 22 studies for evaluating serious and commercial games found significant improvements on psychiatric symptoms in children and adolescents.
Once we take appropriate digital action, we are able to recognize the many innovative ways that gaming can be a beneficial asset in our children's lives.
Wrapping It Up
Online gaming presents a concern for the cybersecurity and well-being of our younger generation. Although gaming comes with a variety of potential dangers, it is key to take action by actively checking in with our kids and ensuring they implement online safety tools to protect themselves. By embracing these digital safeguards, we can empower our teens to use gaming to make a greater difference for generations to come. 🎮🔑
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