The Non-Gaming Parent’s Guide to Online Gaming

Children and teens spend a lot of time playing video games. But if you’re a non-gaming parent, the games, the technology, and the whole culture surrounding gaming can seem impenetrable. This article won’t get into every single detail, but it will tell you what you need to know about online gaming as it relates to cyberbullying.

Gaming Platforms Are Social Networks

When people think of social networks, they usually think of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. They usually don’t think of Steam, Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network, or the Nintendo Network, but these platforms offer a lot of the same functionality as more familiar social networks. Users can have friends lists, publically and privately message each other, trade virtual goods, and more.

What does this mean in terms of cyberbullying? Well, any kind of harassment that can happen on Facebook can happen on a platform like Xbox Live, including racist messages, password theft, dissemination of intimate images, and more.

Single Player vs. Multiplayer

A single player game is a game where it’s just the player versus the game. No one else is involved. You don’t need to worry about your child being cyberbullied within a single-player game. Interrogating your child about cyberbullying and single-player games may result in your child rolling their eyes and calling you lame. Note, though, that while your child plays a single-player game they can still be online and connected to one of the above-mentioned gaming platforms.

Multiplayer games are a different story. A multiplayer game involves the player with or against a lot of other players. In a first-person shooter like Counter-Strike, this means that they can be playing with a dozen or so strangers or people from their friends list for a short match. In a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft, they may be playing with hundreds of people they see regularly in guilds more organized than the average PTA.

When it comes to multiplayer games, your child should know how to block other players who become harassing or otherwise bullying. In general, the larger the social context a game has, the more opportunities there are for your child to be bullied. If your child plays a round of Counter-Strikewith a bully who keeps spamming nasty messages, it’s a simple matter to block that player and move on. However, if there’s a member of your child’s World of Warcraftguild who is harassing and is attempting to doxx your child by working out their real-world identity (to doxx is to broadcast private information about someone), the problem is a bit bigger and requires more of your attention. If you’re at a loss, it’s a good idea to contact an administrator of the game your child is playing or the platform they’re using.

Accounts, Games & In-Game Items Have Real-World Value

It’s hard for non-gamers to imagine, but in-game items like Team Fortress 2’s Bill’s Hat have real value. In this case, it’s worth about $4.30. The economies of video games can be huge. EVE Online’s economy is worth more than $50 million, for example. Valve, the company that owns Steam, once had Yanis Varoufakis as their in-house economist. Varoufakis’ next job was Minister of Finance in Greece. Items are worth what other players are willing to pay, games are worth what the publisher sells them for, and your child’s account—where all this stuff lives—is worth the sum total of all it’s attached games and items.

Now here’s the cyberbullying angle. Pre-internet bullies might beat up a victim for their lunch money. Modern cyberbullies try and scam their victims out of in-game items or even entire accounts.

Remember trading hockey cards or stickers as a kid and getting swindled? That still happens, but now it’s your kid accidentally giving away a rare Team Fortress 2 hat. It’s a good idea to supervise young kids who want to make trades.

The bigger danger, in monetary terms, is a cyberbully attempting to hack or take control of your child’s game account. For example, a Steam account with twenty or so games and a bunch of items can be worth a few hundred dollars. A cyberbully who does this may also chose to impersonate your child or send harassing messages to their friends. It’s very important to keep accounts private, keep them clear of too much personal data, enable two-factor authentication, and adjust parental controls such that you’re kept informed of changes to your child’s account.

The Bottom Line

Gaming can seem overwhelming to a non-gamer. However, if your child is an active gamer and you’d like to protect them from cyberbullying, it’s important to understand a little bit of it. Next time, we’ll give you some specific tips to help you navigate the gaming world.

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Put Away the Pitchfork: Explaining the Dangers of Online Vigilantism to Your Child

You’ve probably seen some vigilantism in your Facebook newsfeed. Maybe you’ve seen an unhappy customer accuse a local business of something terrible and encourage others to inundate the business with bad reviews. Or a parent at your school has a disagreement with a teacher and takes it to Facebook, leading to dozens of abusive messages getting sent the teacher’s way. Or someone shares around a picture of someone else doing something they think is morally shameful—say, hunting or fishing—and encourages others to track the person down and make their life as difficult as possible.

Unfortunately, online vigilantism and public shaming are very much in vogue. In a world where social media allows everything to be recorded and shared instantly, witch hunts have become turbo-charged. Social media is a tool for instant gratification, and sometimes the gratification users want is in the form of vigilante justice.

Online vigilantism is happening all around us, every day, in situations as banal as a tech conference and as serious as a terrorism investigation. And unfortunately, some of those vigilantes are children and teens.

Of course, witch hunting is bad and online vigilantism gets ugly fast. The wrong people get targeted. Or the “punishment” is disproportionally brutal compared to the “crime”. Or there are messy legal consequences. Here’s what your child or teen needs to understand about online vigilantism:

Online Vigilantism Can Be Bullying

The website Jezebel once catalogued a series of racist tweets written by 16-year-olds about President Obama. However, they also published their names, contacted their high school principals, and made sure to include their hobbies and activities to ensure that potential colleges would find the students when they googled their extra-curricular activities. Most of the kids deleted their twitter accounts, but the Jezebel article still appears whenever their names are googled.

What those kids wrote was disgusting. Racism isn’t acceptable. However, is it fair for a website with a readership in the millions to punish 16-year-olds? Is it fair for that punishment to exist in perpetuity? And is it fair for Jezebel’s readership to then seek out those 16-year-olds and write them thousands of nasty messages?

Racist teenagers should be punished. But online vigilantes don’t care that it isn’t their place to mete out punishment and sites like Jezebel don’t care about the massive power differential between themselves and teenagers. The result is bullying.

Online Vigilantes Frequently Hurt Innocent People

Complicated police investigations and lengthy trials don’t feel very emotionally satisfying, especially to an online public who want injustice punished, but at least they make sure justices is applied accurately. Vigilantes tweet the wrong address. Or they hunt down the guy accused of writing something racist on a Red Lobster receipt, but can’t or won’t undo the damage when it turns out that the whole thing was a hoax. Or they attack a cancer victim’s charity fundraiser as being a hoax, sending nasty messages, reporting the fundraiser to the FBI for fraud, and harassing the cancer victim’s family—only to find out that the fundraiser is legitimate. Vigilantes, as you can see, are pretty bad about getting the facts straight.

Online Vigilantism Has Legal Consequences

Some people who’ve engaged in online vigilantism have been arrested, typically as a consequence of the damage they’ve caused. In Canada, online vigilantes have been hit with mischief and harassment charges.

Your child or teen needs to understand that online vigilantism isn’t a valid way to solve problems. Instead, they need to talk to an adult. If they know of some kind of misconduct or even a crime, then authorities like school principals or the police are the right people to handle it. And if the issue provoking the online vigilantism isn’t significant enough for school authorities, then chances are said online vigilantism has become bullying.

If you need more information on cyberbullying, be sure to visit our cyberbullying resource page.

If you want to read more about online vigilantism, consider reading Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publically Shamed.


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