By: Maryana Munyendo
According to Wikipedia, a gamer is someone who plays interactive games. The term is used almost exclusively to refer to players of video games, although games have also recently evolved into other forms.
Gaming can be a fun way for kids to connect with others, but it’s important for them to understand the risks and know how to handle certain situations. There is no limit to how or where kids can play video games, but the good news for parents of gamers is: with the multitude of options, it’s a lot easier to find great games.
There are exciting and engaging games that can enhance what kids are learning in school and help them develop skills for future life and work success. Some of the best video games can help kids develop their communication, team building, and problem-solving skills. And more games now include physical activities that get kids off the couch and moving.
That said, the positive aspects of gaming also come with some risks. Many video games have violent themes, and some studies link kids’ exposure to violent video games with increased aggression and lack of empathy. And gaming isn’t cheap. With new titles coming out regularly, the costs — as well as the time kids spend on these devices — can add up quickly.
KNOW THE PLATFORMS
Parents should get to know the different type of gaming platforms. Parents usually think of gaming as something kids play on consoles (like an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or Wii) and hand-held devices (like a Nintendo DS).
But games are also commonly played on computers, tablets, and smartphones, as well as in web browsers and through social sites.
- Boxed Games – traditional disc or cartridge that is inserted in a console or computer
- Digital Downloads – games are downloaded directly to a console or computer (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii have their own online marketplaces)
- Mobile Games – apps or games downloaded to a mobile device
- Subscription Games – game that is streamed and accessed through an account
- Free-to-Play – ad-supported games that are free but include paid upgrades and add-ons (such as extra lives and tools), frequently found on mobile devices
- Social Networking Games – connected with and played within social sites (often through Facebook), pulls user information from profiles and offers paid upgrades and add-ons
Ask your child which platforms they are playing and familiarize yourself with that style of gaming.
REVIEW GAMING RULES WITH THE CHILDREN
Set clear gaming rules and expectations with your child.
Set a strong password. Whenever possible use a password that is at least eight characters and includes at least one number, letter, and symbol. Avoid using the same exact password for every login.
Protect personal information. Do not create accounts that use your personal information. Create vague usernames that do not include your personal details (username ArsenalFan01 instead of LiamKamau01). Never list or offer up your location, gender, and age. Do not send out materials to fellow gamers that contains personal information and/or data.
Hide physical features. Some games include voice and/or video chat. Do not use either of these items unless you are able to disguise yourself, and do not post a personal photo to your user profile. Use an avatar instead.
Avoid uncomfortable interactions. If another user makes you uncomfortable with their tone, language or dialog, remove yourself from the situation. Tell an adult and block the player. Trust your gut. If the situation feels unnatural, it is more than likely inappropriate.
EDUCATE YOUR CHILDREN – SAFETY TIPS
Understand the limits of online friends. Online friends should remain online friends. Let your children know that they are never to agree to meet a player in real life. People are not always who they say they are.
Always ask before downloading or buying a new game or upgrade. Your children should never download a game without parental permission. This is especially true for paid games. Parents need to review each game before giving permission for play.
Never accept a download or a “mod” from another user. Other users may offer codes, mods (modifications), or downloads to you (often saying it will improve your performance in the game). Urge your children to never accept those requests as they may include malware which is harmful to your console, computer, or phone.
Play out in the open. If kids are playing by the rules, there should be no reason that they can’t play where their parents can see it. Parents should keep game consoles in the open and periodically check-in while kids are playing.
Be a good digital citizen: Know the risks and practice good judgment.
UNDERSTAND THE RATING
You can research games’ ratings and content on www.esrb.org. This website is maintained by the Entertainment Software Rating Board which rates thousands of games each year. Use this rating system to determine which games are right for your kids, see what information will be collected and possibly shared, and to see how users are able to interact with each other.
https://www.youtube.com/user/FamilyGamerTV explains different online games in video guide
The IARC process, created by a global coalition of game classification authorities is now adopted by Google Play and Firefox Marketplace, bringing PEGI ratings to a large body of apps and games. http://www.pegi.info/en/index/
Keep a clean machine: Before your kids start playing, be sure your computer has an activated security suite: a firewall, anti-spyware software and anti-virus software. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system is the best defense against viruses, malware and other online threats.
Remain positively engaged: Let your kids know they can come to you if they feel uncomfortable when playing a game. Participate in the game with your kids.
Empower your children to handle problems: Make sure your kid knows how to block and/or report a cyberbully. Tell them to keep a record of the conversation if they are being harassed and encourage them not to engage the bully. You can also notify a game’s publisher or online service about the offender. Check the online service’s or game publisher’s Terms of Service for instructions on how to file a complaint about another player, and be sure to include as much information and evidence as possible about the player in question.
The writer is the Founder and Lead Trainer at Simba-Safe Kenya. Her motto is “Safety is as simple as ABC –ALWAYS BE CAREFUL”.
Simba-Safe Kenya is a Personal Safety Education Programme (PSE) that teaches children and young adults, age appropriate safety skills necessary to protect themselves in risky situations.