It used to be parents who had to keep a close eye on video games to make sure kids weren’t exposed to inappropriate images. Now there’s a whole new way kids are playing games, and the danger is a lot more disturbing.
“You can play hundreds and thousands of games, and you can create your own worlds.”
Eight-year-old Elias Gaus is obsessed.
“He just wanted to play this game, he really wanted to play,” said Elias’ mother, Casey, “He would sit on the computer and I couldn’t believe how fast his little fingers would move, and he still plays it now.”
The game is Roblox.
“Roblox is a platform for user-generated content and gaming,” said Charles Palmer. Palmer is the Interactive Media Program Leader at Harrisburg University.
“Roblox is Legos. Is Legos a game? Not necessarily,” said Palmer, “But you can build things with it in order to have fun or facilitate entertainment.”
Roblox is a global sensation. More than 100 million users play it every month. That’s even more than Minecraft. With its colorful characters, it’s especially popular with younger kids. Many under the age of 13. But it’s not just kids playing.
“So I could go into this one space that is very Minecraft-like or I could go into here, an area where sex and violence, shooting, guns are actually the primary reason for engaging,” he said.
Palmer says the biggest danger in this game, and others like it, is exposing your kids to things you may not want them to see.
“Simulated violence, simulated sex, simulated rape,” he said, “A lot of these things are happening on these platforms, and people are unaware that it’s happening.”
In fact, there are reports of children’s on-screen characters being attacked physically or sexually. Palmer says this virtual problem can have real-life consequences.
“This is something that we are going to find in the next decade or so,” he said, “People are going to be traumatized by something that’s happened to them in a virtual environment, and we’re going to have to treat that exactly like we treat a physical abuse.”
Another issue with children so young playing these online games is that they become friends with strangers, and reveal personal information. You can turn off the online settings, but Palmer says that’s not enough.
“You may not have had ‘the talk’ with them,” he said, “The talk about internet safety. The talk about what to share with other people.”
That’s something Elias’ mother has had with him several times.
“I don’t want anyone else to interact with me because it might be too dangerous, because there might be grown-ups on there trying to make me do stuff,” said Elias.
“My big look on the internet is that kids these days, it’s just part of their life so you have to explain to them what’s going on. Not pretend it’s not happening,” said Casey.
It’s not enough anymore to just sit your kid in front of a game and let them play.
“When they were kids they didn’t have any of this stuff so it’s kind of confusing for them,” said Elias.
Confusing or not, Palmer says you have to be aware.
“If you’re talking about the safety of your child or you’re talking about the actual activities that they’re engaged in, spend the time,” he said.
“Be open and honest with your child,” said Casey, “Don’t be afraid of it. You can’t keep your child safe from everything. Education is the best thing to do.”
Palmer says games like Roblox do a good job of shutting down inappropriate content once it’s reported to them. But so much content is being created, there’s always new stuff to be on the lookout for. Parents should always do their research before letting their child play these games. There are some excellent websites out there to help you do that.