Online gaming safety tips

Online gaming has done away with the need to swap controllers between multiple people in the same room. However, alongside all the awesome features, are some risks. If you’re a parent, being aware of online gaming safety measures will prevent a lot of sleepless nights. If you’re a player, staying aware will help you to avoid the worst areas of online gaming.

How to avoid griefers, trolls, and other online gaming nasties

Gaming online is fun because you get to play with friends and other nice people. However, it’s not fun (or safe!) when you encounter unpleasant people.

It is quite possible to make friends when gaming online (we’ve managed it here at Ghost Gaming), and sharing the experience with others, even random people, can be a great way to socialise. At the same time, it’s important to set boundaries and protect your privacy, especially for children.

Never give out sensitive information to strangers

This may seem obvious, but people can be persuasive. Children are particularly vulnerable in this regard.

Advice for adults

If you ever feel uncomfortable, step away from the lobby or game you’re in as soon as you can. Establish boundaries with strangers from the get-go, perhaps keeping interaction with them to in-game chat, until enough trust has been established to move to somewhere else (like Discord). Gauge the situation and listen to your gut instinct.

Advice for kids

Explain to your child that they should never give out sensitive information, such as email addresses or real names. If they ever feel uncomfortable, encourage children to talk to a trusted adult about what is happening. Never let children meet friends they’ve made online without adult supervision, if at all.

Online gaming safety is an important element of positive match lobby interaction
Copyright © Epic Games

Dealing with online bullying

Unfortunately this has been an ever-present scourge within online gaming communities almost as long as the opportunity to chat in-game has existed. Learning how to deal with it when the situation arises can help keep gaming a safe experience for everyone.

Griefing is a term used to describe the bullying of others while gaming online, often targeting other players to get them to quit. The key is to not play into their trap and address the issue in a manageable way.

Advice for adults

If someone starts acting up, then do everything you can separate yourself from them. Close the chat, mute them on the voice channel, and block them from sending messages. If they make it difficult for you to play (by actively targeting you, attempting to destroy your stuff, etc) be sure to report them to the game’s admin team and consider leaving the current lobby/game/server you’re playing on. We’ve even had experiences of banding together with other players to route the griefers out. Remember: there are good people out there who will be willing to help.

Advice for kids

Consider setting up any and all online gaming accounts for children with an adult’s email address. This will enable any messages or activity to be recorded into an accessible account. Advise children to keep any social media accounts separate from online gaming, and not to add people they don’t know. Keep any consoles, PCs, or gaming devices in an accessible space where activity can be monitored, and encourage them to report people if they’re bullying or are speaking/ typing abusive language, as well as to leave a game/lobby/server afterwards. Most of all, help your child to understand that it’s OK to tell an adult if they experience any negative behaviour online.

The easiest way to keep kids safe online is to apply available parental controls built into the game’s options – many online games include these in their settings, as well as different platforms. Staying interested in what they’re playing will also be helpful to you and them.

How to avoid hacking, malware, and suspicious online games

Bad words aren’t the only thing to look out for when playing online. Other players, and even the games themselves, can infiltrate accounts and infect devices. Staying aware of the warning signs and knowing how to react can help to avoid the worst.

The importance of online security

Where there’s money to be made, some people will do illegal things to get it. Attaching an account to a regularly accessed email address, with a strong password, can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to staying safe against hackers. Which is why it’s a good idea for any child’s account to be created using an adult’s email address.

If an account is ever hacked, change the password and any passwords attached to the email address used, before cancelling any cards that may be attached to that account. Next, contact the support department for the game or service and report the compromised account.

Secondly, adopt an acute awareness of any suspicious adverts for online games, as downloading suspicious games on a device is almost certain to end in malware or worse.

online gaming safety iconsAdvice for adults

Be sure to install anti-virus and malware software, and only visit reputable online gaming stores (e.g. Steam, Epic, Origin, etc.) Avoid downloading games from unofficial or back-end sites – while they may offer good deals, there’s also a greater risk of picking up a virus.

Advice for kids

Once again, it’s always a good idea to have anti-virus and malware software installed. In addition, keep any PCs or devices in sight, so you or another parent / carer can ensure they remain safe. Consider locking down mobile or tablet devices used by children with a password or passcode (parental controls will help with this), so that they have to ask an adult before accessing anything. Most importantly, communicate the importance of remaining aware of suspicious adverts and downloads. Highlight the risks of clicking on pop-ups and visiting untrustworthy sites, reiterate the need to never provide personal information.

How to avoid wasting your money in online games

Free-to-play games have exploded in popularity in recent years, with Fortnite currently hosting around 250 million players as of last count. One of the big reasons for Fortnite’s immense popularity is that it doesn’t cost anything upfront to play, meaning you could theoretically play the game without paying a single penny. How its creators, Epic Games, make their money back is primarily through microtransactions and loot boxes.

For the uninitiated, a microtransaction is the collective term used to describe anything you can spend money on beyond buying a game outright. In Fortnite, players can spend real money on V-Bucks: an in-game currency designed to be spent on new costumes (or skins) for your avatar.

Loot boxes fall under the bracket of microtransactions. They can be purchased for real-world money, but they’re also a special case. Unlike other types of microtransactions, wherein the buyer knows exactly what they’re purchasing, loot boxes add an element of chance by keeping it a surprise until after the purchase has been completed.

Overwatch lootboxes
Copyright © Activision Blizzard

What risks are associated with microtransactions and loot boxes?

Many microtransactions and loot box business models are designed to encourage players to spend money on them (especially if this is where the game generates most of its profit). With no limits to speak of, players could potentially spend hundreds of pounds in a matter of days.

Loot boxes are particularly notorious in this regard; they can encourage players to keep spending until they get what they want. The loot box concept has been subject to regulation in some countries because of the similarities between the emotional manipulation involved in purchasing loot boxes and real-world gambling.

As they may lack the maturity to be objective and mindful of their behaviours, children can be especially susceptible to these marketing tactics. Some schools have reported instances of bullying over the use of default skins in Fortnite (i.e. options for a character’s appearance which do not require an in-game payment).

There have also been enough instances of children spending large sums of money on loot boxes, with one parent losing over £500 due to an in-game enticement to engage in microtransactions within the Fifa football game series.

With all this pressure to pay out for in-game goodies, how do you avoid having your money poured down the drain?

Advice for adults

This is a tricky one: as an adult you have every right to spend your money on whatever you like. However, if you know you’re susceptible to games of chance and testing your odds, then perhaps stay away from online stores, or even just any game that contains loot box mechanics. If you research a game online, you should be able to discover whether it contains any in-game purchases in advance, thereby avoiding temptation entirely.

Advice for kids

For really young children, you can prevent them from accidentally spending money either by putting your device in aeroplane mode (if it’s a mobile) or by tweaking the parental controls to ask for a password when making any purchases (this is possible on most consoles as well). If they’re older children, consider emphasising the fact that these purchases cost actual money. But the best thing to do is to put measures in place to prevent children from making in-game purchases without you knowing. Removing any credit card details stored against your account or password protecting payment services like PayPal will restrict the ability for transactions to be made unwittingly.

finding balance with gaming addiction

How to approach online gaming addiction

While online gaming is awesome, some players can struggle to do anything but game online.

WHO (the World Health Organisation) recently added gaming to its list of ‘disorders due to addictive behaviours’, but it’s not an unsurprising move. With the promise of reward always just around the corner, it’s easy to see how players can get hooked.

This behaviour becomes a problem when it starts to negatively impact other areas of life. For example, wanting to start another game instead of going out with friends or family, attending work, or – in some cases – sacrificing basic personal hygiene. When that next hit of dopamine becomes more important than looking after themselves, it may be time for an intervention.

What you can do to counteract gaming addiction

Advice for adults

Gaming addiction is a serious problem, so if you think you or someone you know is suffering from it, the first thing to do is to seek professional help. Besides this, consider staying away from online games that involve a lot of time investment (e.g. MMORPGs like World of Warcraft) or are designed to hook players in with social elements (such as games featured on Facebook). Consider putting your own restrictions in place: start a timer when you begin playing to remind you to stop, or have friends call to remind you to do something else.

Advice for kids

Most children spend about two hours a day playing games, and around five hours over the weekend. This number is also predicted to gradually increase as they get older, which is why putting measures in place to establish a healthy approach to online gaming from an early age is important. Try communicating restrictions children can exercise themselves, by writing them down somewhere viewable and providing warnings a few minutes before gaming time ends. Doing this will help children to develop their own sense of self-control. If all else fails, almost all consoles and devices have parental controls to restrict screen time.

 

It’s perfectly OK to play games online if everyone involved is aware of what to avoid and what to embrace. Remember to keep your personal details protected, to be wary of suspicious ads, and be careful with your money and time. These rules apply equally to children, along with a healthy dose of supervision and open communication.

For more advice about staying safe when gaming online, or even how to get started online, be sure to drop us a line on our contact page.

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