Online gaming is hugely popular with children and young people. Annual research conducted by OFCOM shows that gaming is still one of the top activities enjoyed by 5-16 year olds online, with many of them gaming via mobile devices and going online using their games console.
From sport related games, to mission based games and quests that inspire users to complete challenges, games cater for a wide range of interests, and can enable users to link up and play together. Most games now have an online element to them; allowing users to take part in leader boards, join group games, or chat to others. Internet connectivity in a game adds a new opportunity for gamers as it allows players to find and play against, or with, other players. These may be their friends or family members or even other users in the game from around the world (in a multiplayer game).
Online safety advice is directly applicable in the gaming environment as risks can be present in the game’s content and chat features. Young people can also pose a risk to themselves through the choices they make whilst playing an online game.
How often are young people gaming?
OFCOM reported on young people aged 5-15s use of online gaming within it's recent Media Use and Attitudes report. Theie findings showed:
- The estimated weekly hours spent gaming will increase with age, ranging from just over 6 hours for 3-4s to nearly 14 hours for 12-15s
- Children aged 12-15 spend on average 1.5 hours more gaming each week in 2018 than they did in 2017
- More boys play online games than girls in all age brackets, with the difference by gender increasing with age, e.g. girls aged 12-15 spend around 9 hours per week (9 hours 18 minutes) whilst boys of the same age spend nearly 17 hours (16 hours 42 minutes).
- Gaming can have a strong social element; close to two in five online gamers aged 8-11s (38%) and three in five aged 12-15s (58%) say they use online chat features within the game to talk to others.
- Children are more than twice as likely to chat through the game to people they already know outside the game (34% 8-11s, 53% 12-15s) than they are to chat to people they know only through playing the game (10% 8-11s, 25% 12-15s).
- Boys aged 12-15 who play online games are also twice as likely as girls to say they chat to people they only know through a game (30% vs. 16%).
Virtual reality games (VR)
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Wearable headsets such as Google Cardboard, or Occulus Rift, add another dimension to gaming by immersing gamers into what feels like a real-life experience. When wearing the headset, all audio and visuals are generated to allow gamers to feel like they are actually in the gaming environment and their own movements can also impact on the game in a very lifelike way.
Augmented reality games (AR)
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These types of games are also becoming increasingly popular, with games like Pokémon Go making the environment around us part of the gaming experience. 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 be incorporated into the game.
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Games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have become hugely popular due to their battle royale games. These are battle based games involving large numbers of players who fight to kill off all other players until only one is left standing, this player is then the overall winner. These games require players to develop skills and strategies in order to succeed and often need to be played in a set amount of time.
What do I need to know about gaming?
- Games, just like films, have age ratings which are regulated by PEGI. These show how old you need to be in order to legally buy a game in the UK. PEGI have also created a set of content descriptors which show at a glance what content will be seen in the game and give an indication to why it received its rating.
- Many games have a chat feature which allows gamers to communicate with other players. On some games this is an open chat box where comments can be typed, whilst others may only allow a gamer to select from set phrases. Chat within games can happen publicly, so that other players can see it and interact, or privately in the form of a personal message. Many games also allow you to chat verbally via a wearable headset.
- Cyberbullying can happen in games as well as on social media or messaging apps. It could be through unkind comments or messages or targeting other players within in a game. Most games have reporting and blocking features which can be used to support a young person who is being cyberbullied.
- Lots of games offer in-app purchases which are usually in the form of additional features, lives or levels. These can be purchased using in-game currency like robux in Roblox, or by spending real money via a linked card/online account like PayPal. Find out how to turn off or restrict in-app purchases through The App Store, Google Play or Windows Store.
- Games can have different timescales and require varying skills and attention spans from their players. Some games need to be completed in their entirety or a player will lose any accumulated points, whilst others will allow you to pause and save a game. This can impact on setting time limits for playing a game, as not all will be the same.
A simple rule for young people when chatting and playing with others they only know online is to stick to chatting about the game itself. If the conversation changes and becomes more personal and/or other player/s ask for things like personal information, to meet up in the offline world or for images and videos then it's important for a child to show these messages to a trusted adult. Make sure your child knows this rule and knows that you are there to help and support them with anything that happens online.
This kind of contact from others online can be blocked, reported to the game and reported to CEOP.
Click below to find out how you can support your child at different ages of their life with online gaming:
More advice and resources to help you support your child with staying safe online