This article was adapted from “Play It Safe When Gaming Online” by Microsoft, a member of the Cyber Security Awareness Alliance.
Online games span sports, strategy, puzzles, rhythm, first-person shooters, and role-playing. Children can play on consoles (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation, Wii), mobile phones and tablets, computers, portable devices (Nintendo DS), and social networks (Xbox Live, Facebook). Children play alone, with others in the room, or online—against the game itself or another person, with a team of players, or in games with hundreds of thousands of players at any one time.
Games are great fun, but there are risks
- If children download games or apps from less-than-reputable sites, they may also be getting offensive content or malicious software.
- Some gamers play to harass and taunt other players or to cheat or attack them.
- Bad people may try to trick a child into giving their online credentials and then impersonate him or her.
- Some adults try to earn the trust of gamers by pretending to be children, sharing tips on how to win, or giving gifts such as game points. They may be trying to run a scam or angling for a phone call or an in-person meeting.
Practical advice for safer gaming
Play with children or sit with them while they play—you’ll have fun and learn about their gaming, too!
Explore online games together. Check the ratings of the games children want to play as you discuss the most appropriate games with each child.
Stick to well-reviewed games or those from reputable sites like MSN Games, Xbox Live, Yahoo! Games, or iTunes to reduce the risk of viruses or scammers.
Review the game’s terms of play. Find out how the game service:
- Monitors players and responds to abuse. Xbox Live, for example, helps gamers protect their identities and report objectionable content and behaviour.
Agree on rules of play
Work with your children to create guidelines that fit each child’s age and maturity.
- Should children play only against the game? Only with friends? With just anyone?
- How many hours a day or week should they play?
- Is your child ready to use text, voice, or video features? If so, with whom?
- What can your children see while they play? Players can create objectionable content within a game, so think about whether to limit these settings.
- Can children upload gameplay with video or audio of themselves playing?
- Should your child be allowed to use real money within the game?
Teach children rules for safer gaming
Keep personal information, including passwords, a secret. Advise children NEVER to share their real name, email or home address, age, gender, pictures, etc.
Protect game accounts with strong passwords that are long and random, and use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Learn how to create strong passwords here.
Create smart gamer and screen names that don’t reveal anything personal, aren’t suggestive, and don’t make children easy to locate.
Get help from technology
Defend your devices against Internet dangers. Install reputable anti-virus software. Keep all software and apps up to date, automatically whenever possible. Never disable the security features on your devices: don’t turn off your firewall or jailbreak your phone. Use tools to set limits.
- Most gaming consoles allow a parent to set limits on the type of games and apps that children can play based on the content rating, and limit who they can play with.
- Many PC- and tablet-based games offer tools to help you specify the games your child can play (by rating), set time limits for play, and the like.
What to do if there are problems
If the child is in immediate danger or someone threatens, harasses, or tries to lure him or her into meeting in person, call the police immediately.
Teach children to trust their instincts. Encourage children to tell you if anything unsettling occurs. Make clear that you will not punish them or take away game privileges for telling you.
Teach children how to respond to objectionable behaviour by other gamers. They should ignore the behaviour, or ask the player to stop, or block them. Children should also report improper content and behaviour to the game service.