I thought I would write this article as a concerned parent to alert others who may be considering buying their children a gaming console for Christmas this year.
Our children have been playing console games ever since our eldest could handle a controller back in about 2008 and over the years I have been a close observer of online play and the evolution of gaming.
I was an 80's kid myself who experienced the boom in arcade games. Every Saturday before tennis fixtures me and about six good mates would ride on our pushbikes to our local arcade 5 Star – in Toowoomba with a pocket full of 20c coins and play for several hours on the machines. We loved playing electronic arcade games – the competition to beat each other's scores or get further than the last time or even to clock the machine kept us coming back time after time. Boys are attracted to electronic gaming like flies to shit (pardon the French) they always were since pong paddle ball on Atari and they always will be…
Times have changed a LOT since Atari though, and who would have thought back then that just 40 years later a child would be playing such sophisticated games with others all around the world from their own home. The gameplay, graphics, and operation of video games today is incredible! Cloud storage combined with instant live play online really is mindboggling but worrying at the same time.
Kids safety online
Most of us these days are well aware of the dangers when playing or working in the online world. We (as parents) implement safeguards such as web filters to protect our kids from accessing adult content and give them boundaries when surfing the internet or chatting to others online in general.
At our place, we've even gone one step further and have installed a powerpoint timer (found on Amazon here or eBay AU here) operated by an app (Kasa) so that we have total control over how long our kids can play online. The Kasa plug can be scheduled for certain time periods when the gaming console, TV, and PC are allowed on or the power points can be managed manually like a kill switch right from the parent's mobile device to cut power simply with a touch of a finger. I also made some crude but effective modifications when installing our Kasa plugs to ensure they were tamper proof and could not be removed.
However, what many parents don't realise is despite all these safeguards your child is still open and vulnerable to serious abuse and even direct supervision of your child's internet usage may not pick it up until the damage is done. Abuse can happen to your child by strangers literally right under your nose and there's not much that parents can practically do about it besides abstaining from group gameplay altogether.
Online gaming is one of these areas where "safe spaces" are certainly not safe and just because certain platforms have age restrictions with several layers of inbuilt protections for kids it doesn't mean they are close to being safe for children to use.
I suspect thousands if not millions of young children around the world are being traumatised, bullied, and belittled every day by older gamers and I know this because I have witnessed it first hand through my own kids and specifically just recently to our 12-year-old son.
Whilst Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation have community guideline rules that are enforced through flagging/reporting of breaches whereby individuals can be punished via suspensions or complete bans from the platform, these "enforceable" rules do little to stop online bullying.
In fact, according to my two boys often these "rules" are abused by savvy older gamers to manipulate the system, for example, using the reporting system to remove skillful player opponents or people they simply don't like from the game.
Older teens, young adults, and older neckbearded adult gamer losers routinely destroy the self-esteem of younger gamers through manipulation, trickery, bullying, and grooming tactics.
It's one thing for filters or player reporting to pick up bad language and blatant poor or aggressive behaviour but it's a whole lot harder to prove psychological warfare or just plain mean-spirited gameplay from older gamers deliberately taking advantage of their younger immature peers either for weird kicks or sheer nasty domination. Try finding the "Report Button" for trickery, manipulation, or grooming… there isn't one.
A personal story of online danger
A few days ago, I had the displeasure of monitoring my son's gaming for about a 90 minute period. I was listening from my study (whilst I was working) which is next door to our children's rumpus room. I was alerted to something going wrong when I started hearing my son pleading through his headset to the neckbearded moron on the other end to "not do it" and "please help me" or "come on, please give them back."
Initially, I thought my son was faking the distress and just mucking around but his pleading became increasingly desperate to the point of almost crying and then I realised something was wrong!
I opened the door and asked my son what was going on? Why was he pleading and fake crying like that – it was annoying me – what was the problem? He told me that it was nothing and that he was just playing but I could see that he was unusually aggravated and upset.
Anyway, he waved me off so I left the room but before going I said, "settle down hey or I'll switch the Xbox off." I went back to my study and continued to work at the same time keeping a keen ear out for what was going on next door.
Within about 15 minutes, I started hearing the same pleading, distress, and frustration coming from my son as he played his online game. Then shortly after I heard him crying uncontrollably as if something terrible had happened.
To put it into context, it's unusual for our youngest son to get upset as he's typically a very happy go lucky optimistic boy who rarely dwells on negatives. Therefore, to hear him crying out loud like that was out of the ordinary and quite concerning so I quickly ran into the room to see what was going on only to find him staring at the TV screen in despair with tears rolling down his face.
Naturally, I immediately asked him what had happened to upset him so much. I mean, to me, it's just a computer game and so what if he "lost" or whatever… except I found out it wasn't about winning or losing at all – it was about trickery, deceit, bullying, and psychological manipulation.
Due to how distraught our son was it took several long minutes for him to calm down and tell us what had actually happened. Basically, he was playing the game Fortnite by Epic Games on his Xbox console with a group of other gamers one having the stereotypical username DRxDeadpoolx – going by his deep voice and excusing himself from the game on occasions to have a cigarette my son assumes he is at least over 18 years of age. Fortnite is universally rated for players 12 years and above. Interestingly, our eldest child (15 y/o) claims Fortnite is a "kids game" and he personally doesn't play it so essentially we had an adult playing a kids game in this instance.
Anyway, this neckbearded DRxDeadpoolx "hardcore" gamer dude used manipulation to acquire several items of important in-game equipment that our son had painstakingly accumulated over a long period of playing time. When my son requested he return these items DRxDeadpoolx declined. The consequences of this action meant that our son lost his gameplay status and protections leaving him vulnerable and humiliated.
To a child, being fooled or deceived by an adult is a sinister act and it's a big deal to have what you consider special achievements collected over a long period of time unfairly taken from you. A young mind being mildly exposed to this kind of trauma occasionally can help prepare and educate them about the realities of life but to experience this type of bastardry regularly has the potential to scar them mentally into the future.
The bottom line is our young boy trusted an adult player who acted like he was trying to help (as a team) but the whole time his actual intent was to take the resources from a fellow player so that he didn't have to spend the time working/playing to accumulate them himself. In other words, this adult used his maturity and life experience to target, manipulate, and con a minor into doing something they wouldn't necessarily normally do.
Dare I say it, but this type of manipulation is very similar to techniques pedophiles use when grooming young children or luring them into dangerous situations where they can then be taken advantage of… It's a sick minded adult who employs these psychological tactics on children no matter what the intended outcome.
Adult gamers should be mindful of the innocence and vulnerability of children gamers treating minors responsibly online as they would in a real life situation rather than taking advantage of them.
Now, you might be reading this and not have much sympathy at all for our son with the view that it was his gullible fault and so what the boy lost some equipment that isn't even tangible anyway. Perhaps you think he (and his parents) learned a valuable life lesson?
Ok, that's your opinion, however, a solution to stop this kind of issue from happening is easier said than done when trying to balance the social needs and recreational activities of a child in the modern world. Put yourself in the shoes of a 12 y/o boy excitedly navigating the wonderful new world around him with the number one aim to have fun, be accepted by his peers, and contribute to a game he loves to play – he shouldn't be subjected to any kind of underhandedness outside of fair gameplay itself.
We were all there once… In my day, we didn't have in-home gaming entertainment so instead, we played sport and games (like tag) with other kids around the neighbourhood. Those were great days and I remember them fondly.
What I don't recall were strange adults running around playing tag with us kids – that would have been weird and even back then our parents would have put a quick stop to that!
Nevertheless, here we are in 2018 routinely allowing adults to play games with children albeit in an online setting but strangers freely interacting with minors just the same. I'm not quite sure that this mix of adults and minors in the online gaming environment is a good thing, in fact, I'm pretty sure it's not.
Online gaming regulations need reviewing
That's why I would like to see the online gaming world regulated even closer than it currently is – not for gore or other explicit material because I think that is actually regulated enough – more, for who gets to play with who.
At the very least, parents should be able to manage the age range their children can play with during online gaming. Children should be able to clearly see if the person they are playing with or against is an adult or another child.
I'm not saying every player's exact date of birth or age should be publically displayed but there should be some indication whether this gamer is an adult or a minor with parents able to see this information.
Options for minors to play only with minors or adults with adults should be clear and easy to access. Don't listen to anyone who tries to say filtering age groups is impractical or impossible because it is not (it's actually very easy – Microsoft, Sony, Google know all these details already) and anyone who fakes their age on these online platforms should be immediately banned.
Parents wouldn't let their children chat and play with strange adults at the local park so why are we being undermined in our own homes by gaming consoles acting as a bridge for warped minded weirdo adults to access our kids?
I'm surprised there isn't more of an uproar or concern in society about this aspect of online gaming. There is a lot of noise from leftist groups about what is actually IN these games such as gore, violence, and the "objectification" of women, but there's very little about who our kids are interacting with whilst playing these games.
In my opinion, the potential harm from what kids see or do in games is negligent compared to the potential long-term damage that can be done from whom they interact with – namely neckbearded adult gamers.
Oh, and a message to DRxDeadpoolx if you are reading this: forget the online world – you and I – one on one – in the real world, and see how long you last…