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The dark side of online gaming

Over the past year, sales for games consoles have shot up. People are spending more time gaming online than ever before. From battling to the death in Fortnite to carving out landscapes in Minecraft, games can be fun, sociable and rewarding. But there’s a darker side. We look at the rise of grooming through online gaming, and how we can keep young people safe. 


Gaming and grooming

boy playing video games under covers

Making connections

Games are often criticised for being too violent or a waste of time. But they can also teach young people skills such as teamwork and problem-solving.

There is also a whole community of people who like to watch people playing games while chatting. Twitch, the popular live streaming platform, doubled its visitor numbers during lockdown.   


I play with friends and then I meet new people through those friends

And like anything online, it opens up more opportunities for young people to be in contact with someone they don’t know. As online gaming becomes more popular, so do reports of them being used to groom and exploit young people.  

Facts about gaming during Covid-19


increase in the UK gaming population in recent years

3.6 hours

is the average amount of time children spend online daily in the UK

4 in 5

parents are worried about children being groomed online for criminal exploitation

Talking to strangers 

girl in unicorn onesie looking at mobile phone

Talking to strangers

Online grooming is when someone tricks and starts a relationship with a young person often to abuse them. It can be sexual. They may be forced into crime such as distributing drugs. Or they could be made to move criminal money between bank accounts. This is known as child financial exploitation.

With more young people online, criminals can build trust virtually, similar to how they would in person – by offering gifts or promises of friendship. 

For some games, unmoderated voice and text chat is a large part of the gameplay. Children are encouraged to chat to strangers and these games have been misused to exploit children.

young man on computer

Keeping children safe online

Young people have the right to safe online lives. By understanding the dangers of being online, we can help keep children safe from exploitation and abuse. 

Staying safe online

Games are a place where young people can be independent, imaginative and have fun. They shouldn’t have to worry about people grooming them every time they power up their console. But they do. 

More and more young people are now being groomed by criminals online, including into carrying out fraudulent financial activities, which can have a big impact on their future when they're found out. 

Talk to children and young people and help them stay safe online. Let them know you’re interested in their online lives, just as you are in their day at school. 

As well as parents and carers, gamers may be in a position to spot exploitation. If we all learn to spot the signs of online exploitation, we can stop this abuse from happening. Our accredited e-learning training — Act on Exploitation — is there to help your company create safer spaces for young people, your colleagues and customers.