Dubai's Al Ameen Service warns parents over potential risks to young gamers

Gaming professional says strict moderation is needed

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Dubai's Al Ameen Service, which connects relevant authorities with tourists and residents to help resolve issues, has warned parents of the risks young gamers face when playing online.

While parents take many efforts to safeguard their children's online activity, the nature of gaming allows players to interact anonymously with others from around the world.

Younger players can inadvertently find themselves interacting with people engaging in criminal behaviour or activity, according to officials.

They also said playing for long-periods can lead to emotional and psychological issues.

Experts have said, however, while there are dangers involved in online gaming, studies have shown it can have a positive effect on young gamers, including enhanced brain activity and decision-making skills.

Online gaming is a fast-growing industry in the UAE. The gaming market across Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt is expected to be worth $3.14bn by 2025, according to California-based market research and consulting firm Niko Partners.

Al Ameen Service urges parents to step forward and set a time for playing online games
Omar Al Felasi, Al Ameen

Al Ameen Service, part of the State Security Department in Dubai, said it has received numerous reports from parents concerned about the impact of gaming.

Omar Al Felasi, general supervisor at Al Ameen Service, told The National that children playing online games can often spark up conversations with others who may be posing as a teenager but in actual fact are trying to lure them into committing illegal activities.

In a recent incident, a nine-year-old Arab boy was blackmailed online by a stranger in a chat room while playing the game Fortnite.

The stranger attempted to encourage the boy to increase his game avatar points in return for private pictures and 'immoral activities'. The boy told his parents who alerted Dubai Police.

In a second incident reported in Dubai, an 11-year-old girl received a request from another stranger to send indecent pictures of herself in return for points in an online game.

She did not alert her parents and instead sent an amount of money to the stranger. However, she sought help when the person asked her for more money.

Health issues have also been reported by parents, with children suffering spasms and spinal issues after playing online for long hours.

“The service received reports from parents that their children spend all their time in front of the computers playing online games,” said Omar Al Felasi from the Al Ameen Service.

"Parents said their children become more violent and have negative behaviour if they request them to have a break.

“Parents say that their children became isolated from their surroundings as well as lack communication and social skills with others.”

Mr Al Felasi says online gaming exposes the teenagers to multiple risks, like account hacking and theft of data, which can lead to personal information, photographs, text and audio messages being used as threats for extortion.

“Al Ameen Service urges parents to step forward and set a time for playing online games. Children are still immature and curious to meet strangers, so parents should vigilant about what they are doing online,” said Mr Al Felasi.

Moderation from game publishers

Chloe Brissaud said there are a number of studies that show gaming has a positive effect, so long as it's played in moderation.

Chloe Brissaud, communications lead at YaLLa Esports, told The National that gaming has always had a negative reputation and has been accused many times of influencing "bad behaviours”.

However, she said there are a number of studies that show gaming has a positive effect, so long as it's played in moderation.

A recent study by Georgia State University found that playing games enhances brain activity and helps with decision-making skills.

"Video games can contribute to producing sensible, intelligent and capable young adults and foster the learning of academic skills, provided they are done in the right way and with moderation," said Ms Brissaud.

A 2021 study led by the University of Limerick found that video games can help lower depression and anxiety.

The Middle East's gaming industry has seen a major boom in the past few years, with many e-sports teams forming to play competitively. Getty

"One main issue among gaming communities is toxicity," Ms Brissaud said.

"As per a survey led in the US, 70 to 80 per cent of players have experienced harassment, abusive behaviours, racism, and violent threats while playing multiplayer games.

"Such toxicity is, however, not limited to gaming and exists all over the internet and social media."

Ms Brissaud believes the issue calls for strict moderation, mostly from game publishers.

"Most of them are very much aware of this issue and they are implementing ways to tackle it," she said.

"The most popular games now have tools to report toxic behaviours and reward friendly and helpful ones."

As a professional gamer based in the UAE, Ms Brissaud says gaming has allowed her to develop strategic and communications skills and make lifelong relationships.

"While many people seem to think that video games are a lonely activity, I would claim the opposite. To this day, I still interact with friends I met more than 15 years ago, even though I never met them in real life," she said.

She encourages parents to educate themselves about online gaming and learn how to recognise problematic behaviours and addictions.

"They need to be able to help the youngest to navigate online better, have a positive gaming experience and a balanced lifestyle."

Penalties for online offences

Meanwhile, legal adviser Mohammed Najeeb told The National that article 35 of the UAE Cyber-Crime Law says that anyone who encourages or seduces to sin online will be jailed for a minimum of two years and/or fined between Dh250,000 to Dh1 million.

Mr Najeeb said if the person threatening or blackmailing someone online, then the jail term is the same but the fine is between Dh250,000 to Dh500,000.

Legal adviser Mohammed Najeeb said threatening another person and pressures him or her to do something online against their will is liable for punishment as per the law. Photo: Mohammed Najeeb

“The person who blackmails or threatens another person and pressures him or her to do something online against their will is liable for punishment as per the law,” Mr Najeeb said.

“The jail term will be increased to 10 years if the threat is to commit a crime or attack someone's honour.”

Al Ameen Service was launched in 2003 so that people can communicate with the authorities confidentially with any problem or concern, and callers bear no legal accountability for relaying information.​

Members of the public can access the service through social media on @alameenservice or its toll-free number 800 44 44.

Updated: August 19, 2022, 8:33 AM