Last week we looked at some of the most common dangers your child may face while playing games online. Today, we’re going to look at the broader picture and identify a few gaming related dangers that occur outside of the game.
Dangers outside of the game
As surprising as it might be, the most pressing dangers associated with online gaming are actually those that occur outside of the game. These dangers present themselves when a malicious actor uses information or contact made inside of the game to facilitate a more serious crime.
Being griefed while playing a game is awful. But what is much worse is when this harassment follows a child outside of their game to places like their private email account, social media feeds, and through comments on other websites. While very rare, targeted harassment can sometimes follow a child out of the game and into their broader life.
There is no single cause of this kind of behavior. Sometimes it is just the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, sometimes it escalates from an exchange. Like traditional bullies, online trolls love it when they get a reaction out of somebody and if your child responds in a way they deem entertaining, that may be all the incentive they need to go after them. With the proliferation of easy recording technology, a heated or embarrassing exchange made in one game can be recorded and shared online, encouraging complete strangers to join in on the abuse.
This dangerous escalation of in-game trolling is a type of cyber-bullying that can be devastating to a child or young teen. There are far too many heartbreaking stories of self-harm and suicide as a result of cyber-bullying to take the issue lightly.
What can you do about it?
Online bullying like this depends on being able to identify the player on other platforms so the harassment can continue. Internet bullies will pull on any string they can to find out more about their target, digging into social media feeds, friends lists, and so on to try and find their real name or more sensitive ways to send bullying messages. The best way to prevent them is to not give them anything to go on.
Never allow your child to upload any identifying information, whether it be details of their life in their user profile, connected social media feeds, or even in their user name.
Every major online gaming platform requires a player to select a user name or gamer tag for their account, a name other people will see online. Now obviously, everybody knows not to use their real name, but there are plenty of other ways your child might leave themselves vulnerable here.
First, never use ANY unique information. Don’t use your first name or part of your last name as a joke or your year of birth or anything that could be used as a clue to your identity. No "RyanSkillShot” or "MysticMaggie09.” If someone is trying to find your child outside of the game, they can use those small bits of info to narrow down their search or as confirmation when looking for a victim.
Secondly, make sure your child doesn’t use their gamer name on any other platforms. It is extremely common for gamers to use the nickname they use to play on social media platforms like Twitter or as user names on gaming and forums sites. But when this happens, all someone has to do is plop the game name into a search engine and find a whole bunch of other sites they can use as vehicles of harassment.
Your kids might argue with you about this one, but insist on a degree of separation here. These are the same steps you want to take to protect against online predators who may want to ID a potential victim or insinuate themselves in a child’s life from grooming purposes. Don’t give them any clues to your child’s identity, no matter how small.
Traps and hacks
Anyone who has ever watched The Sting knows that the best target for a con is a crook. This is the exact logic that drives fraudsters to create honeypots for players seeking an unfair advantage in popular games.
These can run the gamut from offers to purchase high-level accounts (giving the player an unearned aura of prestige), a way to purchase in-game currency for a fraction of its normal price, or out and out cheat programs (programs that automatically aim for the player or allow them to see through walls or some other unfair advantage) that are actually trojan horses for the fraudsters to gain access to the would-be cheaters PC.
What makes these scams effective is that the defrauded party has little recourse because they were trying to cheat themselves after all. Every major game has explicit rules against purchasing accounts, currency from non-official sources, and hacks. The feeling is "swim with the sharks, expect to get eaten.”
Children and young teens are particularly vulnerable to this kind of predation. While it might seem silly from the outside, serious players highly value their in-game prestige and other player’s perception of their skill. Youths who don’t have the impulse control or maturity to make fully informed choices might feel sorely tempted to take a quick shortcut in pursuit of in-game glory.
What can you do about it?
This is another situation that requires more prevention than cure. If you see signs that your child is disproportionally frustrated with their performance in a game or drawing too much of their self-worth from a particular title, it might be time to have a talk about perspective. Games can be an important part of your life without defining you as a person. If a game is no longer making them happy but instead seems to be a source of stress and fixation, try moving them on to a different title or even another hobby. And of course, they should already know that cheating is wrong, but it never hurts to remind them.
"Hacks” need to be downloaded and installed to work and this is exactly how scammers use it to gain access to a computer. If you are having trouble with your child downloading sketchy programs, set the parental controls on your PC to not allow executables to be installed without a password. Or, move your child’s gaming to a console where hacks are not commonly available without extensive modification to the system.
Staying on top of online dangers
We’ve recommended a few steps to protect your children online, but the absolute best way to keep them safe while playing is to take an active role in that part of their life. If you can, don’t relegate gaming to something only done in their room or in the basement, bring it into the living room and watch as they play. Try and get a basic understanding of the games they play and the kinds of communities they foster. Know who your children have on their friends lists, who they commonly play with, and what kind of media they consume that is related to their favorite games such as streamers and YouTube channels.
Being aware is the first, and best, line of defense when it comes to your children online!