This is step one of our Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit. You can find all other steps as accessible web content here.

Understand gaming

Learn about the risks, challenges and opportunities your child may encounter when gaming online.

Children in Aotearoa New Zealand play online for an average 84 minutes each day. The primary reason they play is to be entertained. Young people also use the internet and games to explore their identity, challenge adult norms and boundaries, experiment with relationships, and practise new behaviours.

Many common concerns about games are not supported by research. No amount of time playing games, or time online is directly harmful. Whilst many violent people play violent games, research shows that violent games do not create violent people.

A few games are distributed to shock or defraud users, but most games distributed through mainstream platforms can be relied upon to meet basic safety expectations. Most challenges of gaming are indirect. When a game is so entertaining the time spent playing it negatively impacts time available for other important activities, or spending becomes excessive – it becomes a problem. Social systems set up to connect players can create opportunities for bullies, or inappropriate contact.

Challenges also arise when young people play games designed for older audiences, as younger players might not be ready for violence or challenging themes within that game.

There are five categories of risk to understand related to gaming. They are:

  1. Excessive use
  2. Unwanted contact
  3. Excessive purchasing within a game
  4. Inappropriate contact
  5. Online bullying

To learn more about other challenges, visit netsafe.org.nz/understand.

Excessive use

Almost 50 percent of teenagers report having had some conflict with whānau or friends due to time spent online.

Most countries, including New Zealand, do not formally recognise gaming addiction. However, the degree to which young people skip meals and sleep, avoid homework and school, and swap family or social opportunities for time online, can seem like a addiction.

A Netsafe study found 33 percent of young people between 13 and 17 had been unsuccessful trying to spend less time online, and the same number had experienced conflict with family because of this. For these young people, parents have to set time limits and ensure they are followed. For the other two thirds, an honest conversation about balancing commitments might be enough.

Some games can be structured around milestones and considerable investment of time can be lost if playing time is truncated just short of them. It can help reduce disappointment and frustration if you allow flexibility around times.

How to help

  • Explain why you consider it important to balance time gaming with other activities in their life
  • Reinforce you do not want gaming to interfere with school work, socialising or quality family time
  • Set realistic boundaries and guidelines
  • Turn on controls to set time limits for playing
  • Discuss with your child a realistic way to balance time spent gaming with offline activities they enjoy
  • Talk with your child if you observe behaviours such as: gaming being their top priority, withdrawal symptoms when games get taken away, being unable to reduce playing time or the giving up of other activities to make way for gaming

Unwanted contact

Many games have a social element that allows players to communicate with each other. This can be a very positive aspect of gaming, and provide opportunities for developing teamwork skills.

It can also create the potential for unwanted contact between young gamers and offenders. This is a very serious, but less common challenge.

Most gamers are there to have fun. However, young people can be approached for a variety of reasons. They may be groomed into online or offline sexual encounters, recruited to the role of a money mule for scammers or approached by extremist groups. Gaming provides an easy opportunity to establish common interests – and some games provide simple ways to exchange gifts or rewards.

If you suspect your child is being groomed, contact Netsafe or the police and capture all available evidence.

How to help

Explain to your child:

  • how easy it is for someone to pretend to be someone else and why they might do that
  • the importance of keeping personal information private
  • ways to manage gaming friends safely

For younger children playing social games, it is worth having a regular check in on who they believe they’re playing with and who they recently added as connections.

Recognise that young people who get groomed often feel shame and guilt that prevents them reporting. Reassure them it’s not their fault.

More help is available at netsafe.org.nz/grooming-and-online-predators.

Excessive purchasing within a game

It is common for games to include opportunities for spending. For young people with limited income or parents with linked credit cards – costs can quickly add up and become problematic.

Many games use a “freemium” model. This means they can be played for free, but players can purchase items or upgrades within the game. Achieving progress through some games will become increasingly difficult without purchased items. Even games with an initial cost will often have in-game spending options. Players will be tempted by powerful weapons or tools, increased functionality, cosmetic upgrades for their character, or new environments. Like any purchase, virtual items can lead to disappointment if they don’t return expected value.
Loot boxes have become less popular but are still relatively common. They are a kind of lucky dip, as the content is unknown before purchase. This means players do not know how much money they will need to acquire a particular item.

What to do

  • Set up the account together and discuss what purchasing abilities or limits your child will have
  • Discuss purchases and their relative value, help children to make informed choices about spending
  • Have a conversation with young people about the way games make money
  • Set up payment schemes to be authorised by you

Inappropriate content

Online games come in many formats, with a variety of characters and story lines.

Some challenging content is highly visible, such as extreme violence, sexual themes or gore. Other inappropriate content is less obvious. This can include characters or play that promote unhelpful or harmful stereotypes.

What you decide is appropriate for your child will depend on individual circumstances – but the most obvious variable is age. Content older players will be comfortable with could be very confronting to younger players.

Major game retail and distribution platforms provide ratings that include an age guide (or restriction), content descriptors, and information about interactive elements.

A quick web search can also yield more useful information as most popular games are independently reviewed.

What to do

  • Use parental controls within games and on platforms
  • Review game ratings before purchasing or providing games to young people
  • Search the web for reviews of games your children ask to play
  • Discuss with your children the storyline and characters within games
  • Respond calmly if your child has seen content and has come to you for help

Most major games and platforms have rules that address abuse and harassment and systems to report.

In more serious cases, people in New Zealand can access services under the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA), which helps victims of online abuse and harassment.

Online bullying and abuse

Abusive exchanges can occur in games that involve verbal and written dialogue.

Criticism of playing ability is a common reason for abuse within games. This is especially so in games where players must cooperate for success. But abuse is by no means limited to topics related to the game.

At some point, young people are likely to receive, or at least witness: ableism, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. These exchanges can be very harmful.

Not all bullying involves words. Players will sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of more subtle bullying, such as being deliberately “kicked” or excluded from groups.

Most major games and platforms have rules that address abuse and harassment and systems to report.

In more serious cases, people in New Zealand can access services under the HDCA which helps victims of online abuse and harassment.

How to help

  • Establish whether your child is ready for games that allow interaction with others
  • Encourage young people to tell you about their negative gaming experiences
  • Discuss player etiquette and behaviour as part of a team
  • Encourage children to report and block abusive players
  • Let your child know if it’s not acceptable offline it’s not acceptable online
  • Ask your child to think about how the recipient of online bullying could feel
  • Explain there is a law that sets out how to communicate online, which includes gaming

Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit

This is the first step in our seven-step framework Online Gaming Whānau Toolkit. It’s designed to help parents and whānau with digital parenting in a rapidly changing world.

You can will find the other steps as accessible individual pages here, or download the full Online Whānau Gaming Toolkit (PDF, 37MB).

CONTACT NETSAFE

If you’re concerned about the immediate safety of you or someone else, please call 111. If you want help or expert incident advice, you can contact us. Our service is free, non-judgemental and available seven days a week.

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