Online gaming is hugely popular with children and young people.

From sport related games, to mission based games and quests inspiring users to complete challenges, interactive games cater for a wide range of interests, and can enable users to link up and play together. Online games and apps can provide a fun and social form of entertainment, often encouraging teamwork and cooperation when played with others. There are many ways for users to play games online. This includes free games found on the internet, games or apps on mobile phones and handheld consoles, as well as downloadable and boxed games on PCs and consoles such as the PlayStation, Nintendo Wii or Xbox.

Internet safety advice is directly applicable to the gaming environment because of the risks that are present. It is essential that children are aware of these issues and are given the skills and knowledge to help manage and reduce these risks, with the help of those around them. For primary aged children, the SMART rules offer straightforward memorable safety messages that can be applied to online gaming and the five accompanying cartoons are available within our resource bank.

For older (secondary aged) children, other safety considerations may need to be addressed in more detail, including content, contact, conduct and commercial risks.These discussions may cover age ratings and inappropriate material available online, unwanted contact from others online who may wish to bully or abuse them, risks caused by a child's own behaviour or the behaviour of others, and advertising or financial risks.

Top tips for online gaming:

  1. It may seem daunting, but one of the best things parents and carers can do is to engage with the gaming environment and play a game or two against your children. Once they explain the rules to you, you may begin to understand what makes it is so attractive to young people!
  2. Talk with your children about the types of game(s) they are playing and they like. Are they role-playing games, sports games, strategy games or first person shooters? Ask them to explain to you what it is about the game that they like.  If you are worried about the suitability of the game, read up about PEGI ratings which offer age ratings for different games. The PEGI icons also explain the content that is to be expected in different games.
  3. Some games may offer children the chance to chat with other players by voice and text. Ask them who they are playing with and find out if they are talking to other players. If chat is available, look at the type of language that is used by other players and remind your children never to share personal information with people they only know online If your child ever encounters problems with other players, make sure they know how to use the blocking and reporting tools.
  4. If you are worried about your child playing online games, look out for the many parental controls options that exist. Depending on the console, these controls can allow you to disable the internet browser, or the chat function in the game. They can also put in place time limits so you can monitor your child’s gaming usage.
  5. It is always a good idea to speak to your child about boundaries when using the internet. We recommend a family agreement where you can outline how much screen time is permitted a day, as well as ensuring your child promises to tell you if anything worrying or upsetting while playing online games.

What's new in gaming?

Virtual reality games:  Games like Google Cardboard or Occulus Rift, add another dimension to gaming which allow the gamer to immerse themselves into what feels like a real-life experience by stimulating their hearing or vision. Typically, a gamer will need to wear a headset to experience virtual reality games.

Augmented reality games: These types of games are also becoming increasingly popular, with games like Pokemon Go bringing people out of their house and into the streets, while still managing to continue to play games. Augmented reality games work by layering computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to allow gamers to interact with it. Gamers will ‘see’ things that they understand are not real, but will help them continue to play the game.

Things to know about gaming:

  1. Just like offline games, these games and apps can have educational benefits, and be used, for example, to develop problem-solving and team working skills and understanding. 
  2. Traditionally, games could be bought from shops, often in the form of a disc for use on a PC or console. Increasingly games are now downloaded online. 
  3. Games are played on many platforms, with those bought in shops often having an online component to them. Internet connectivity in a game adds a new opportunity for gamers as it allows players to find and play against, or with, other players from around the world (in a multi-player game). 
  4. Multi-player games allow someone to chat to and play against a player they may or may not know, perhaps who is in another country. This has many advantages, but can also present issues, such as when young people are playing against others who are in a different time zone to them, it can put pressure on them to stay up late. Furthermore, these people can be strangers and when chatting and playing with them,  it is important not to reveal personal information and to talk only about the game.