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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Tips on how to keep young gamers safe: Online play dates and virtual backgrounds

74 per cent of parents in the Mena region are worried about their child’s safety online

Children are at a very real risk of interacting with predatory strangers in the online gaming sphere. 
Children are at a very real risk of interacting with predatory strangers in the online gaming sphere. 

With families spending more time at home, virtual entertainment and online gaming have risen in popularity among younger internet users. While this pastime offsets boredom during a pandemic, it also brings to the fore the hazards of socialising and playing online.

A report commissioned by Mobily eSports to coincide with Safer Internet Day this week, revealed that 74 per cent of parents in the Mena region are worried about their child’s safety in the virtual gaming sphere, with 67 per cent of parents calling on the gaming industry to do more to protect their children online. Until that comes into action, however, parents need to be proactive and implement safety strategies of their own.

Organise virtual play dates to shut out strangers

The report surveyed a total of 1,518 parents with children between the ages of 1 and 17, who play video games online in the UK, US and Mena region. The aim was to help parents find out what they know (or don’t know) about their child’s gaming habits. A staggering 84 per cent of those surveyed are concerned that strangers will approach their child via online gaming platforms, and, on average, parents think their child will talk to a stranger online more than three times a week while gaming.

A virtual play date works similar to a real-world one... Parents choose a platform and select a time for children to log on and play with their friends

While it’s commonplace to teach children about strangers in the physical sense, that doesn’t always translate to the virtual world. “Stranger danger” is a real threat online, and parents can help their children avoid contact with people who are unknown to them by establishing virtual play dates.

A virtual play date works similar to a real-world one in terms of how it’s established. Parents choose a platform and select a time for children to log on and play with their friends. This allows young ones to enjoy the social aspects of gaming without giving them unfettered access to online gaming communities. In this way parents can narrow who has direct access to their child in these forums.

Adopt voice-changing technology to make children sound older

To raise awareness about the potential dangers of unsupervised online gaming, Mobily eSports and MullenLowe Mena partnered to create the ProtectSet headset, a pioneering device that uses voice-changing technology to make children sound older. By masking a child’s true age, the software, creators believe, will serve to deter predators who target young gamers online.

“We want to transform a common headset into a powerful device that raises awareness about the hugely important issue of gaming safety,” says Loui Kofiah, director at Mobily. “In addition, we want to highlight the dangers of engaging in personal conversations and disclosing information with strangers in online gaming environments.”

While companies such as Mobily are doing their part to protect children, Kofiah also encourages parents to play an active role in setting boundaries and rules for online gaming. Almost half of parents (45 per cent) predict that their child spends up to 10 hours or more online gaming each week. Those periods shouldn’t be regarded as a timeout for parents. Instead, more effort should be made to ensure safety during those times.

“We believe in the potential of the ProtectSet to make the internet safer for younger gamers,” says Kofiah. “But more importantly, we hope it helps raise awareness of online safety, and prompts parents, authorities and the industry to take proactive and positive steps towards tackling this incredibly important issue.”

Set up virtual backgrounds to protect against prying eyes

Watching other people play online has become an increasingly popular pastime, too. Once upon a time, children watched previously recorded gameplay on YouTube. Today, live game-streaming platforms, such as Twitch, are growing in popularity. Twitch, which allows gamers to broadcast a split-screen, enables viewers to watch the gamer and whatever is being played on his or her monitor. This double dose of action is what makes the site popular, but it’s also cause for concern.

Whether your child uses Twitch, Zoom or any other videoconferencing platform to engage with other gamers online, consider the downside of prying eyes. Everyone isn’t welcome inside your home, and the same should hold true with respect to the internet. Virtual backgrounds are a quick and easy way to conceal your children’s environment, and better protect their privacy.

Use the kitchen from hit TV show Golden Girls as a virtual background for your Zoom video calls. Courtesy Modsy
The kitchen from 'Golden Girls' is available as a virtual background for Zoom video calls. Courtesy Modsy

Zoom has a built-in virtual background feature, but Twitch requires the use of third-party software. XSplit Vcam offers background replacement, removal and blurring that’s possible with any webcam and without the need for expensive or complicated green screen set-ups.

Whether children enjoy gaming online for 10 hours or 10 minutes per week, there are genuine threats to their safety that shouldn’t be taken lightly. While it may seem daunting to figure out which strategy to use to keep your young ones safe online, the worst thing a parent can do is nothing at all.

Published: February 12, 2021 09:07 AM

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