One of the misconceptions around gaming that I often come across is that the bigger or ‘gnarlier’ the game, the more chance there is that someone is going to be contacted or connected with when playing it. Certainly, the big games such as Roblox get their fair share of media scare stories, and it’s true that the predators generally go to whichever game or app is most popular with children and young people. It’s important to be aware, though, that even the most innocent-seeming games can attract unwanted attention.
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I had this brought home to me recently playing Words with Friends, a Scrabble game. In the game you challenge other players who are online to play a game of Scrabble, which can go on for minutes, hours, days or longer. The app offers a chat facility, and I began to notice a pattern among the men that challenged me to a match. Within minutes of beginning a game they would start a chat, and then if I responded (as I did at first, not thinking that Scrabble would be a hotbed of flirting and sexting!) the chat quickly turned sexual. After this had happened several times I simply ignored any chat requests, but it got me thinking about how astonishing this was when there are so many dating/connecting apps out there – why would these men choose Scrabble as their flirting platform?!
Of course this simply highlights the fact that any game which has a chat facility is open to abuse by predators. Among Us is a very popular game right now, but has a chat function that can be used to ask inappropriate questions. My next door neighbour’s daughter (8) was asked by someone in the game whether she was a girl, and where she lived. She knew not to answer, but that just prompted the questioner to say ‘well we know you’re a girl and we’re coming to get you’. Clearly this was just kids mucking about, but it shook my neighbour’s daughter and we spent some time chatting through online safety. Although many games have safety filters set to stop emails or phone numbers being exchanged, predators can often find ways around them. Always make sure you talk to your children about using chat features safely, not giving away any personal information, and for primary age emphasise that friends you know in real life, rather than online ‘new’ friends are the best way to keep smart and safe when enjoying their time online. Best of all, turn off the chat facility completely (if that is an option) to be able to rest easy when your children are gaming.