The dark side of online gaming

Over the past year, sales for games consoles have shot up. Young people (and adults) are spending more time gaming online than ever before. From battling to the death in Fortnite to carving out landscapes in Minecraft, games are a great escape. But there’s a darker side. We look at the rise of online gaming and what it means for young people. 

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Gaming and grooming

boy playing video games under covers

Making connections

Games often get a bad reputation — they’re too violent, the online community is toxic, kids just need to get out more. 

But what you don’t often hear about are the benefits. For most young people, gaming is a fun way to spend time with friends. They can learn skills, such as teamwork, concentration and problem-solving.

They might be working together to loot distant lands as pirates in Sea of Thieves or finding the quickest way to prepare and serve up culinary dishes in the chaotic Overcooked.

Twitch

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

Others just like to watch people playing games while chatting. Twitch, the popular live streaming platform, doubled its visitor numbers during lockdown. 

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

63%

increase in the UK gaming population since lockdown

3.6 hours

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

Talking to strangers 

Talking to strangers

Online grooming is when someone tricks and starts a relationship with a young person often to exploit or abuse them. It can be sexual, but it can also be to force them into crime such as distributing drugs or moving money between bank accounts.

With more young people online, perpetrators can build trust in virtual worlds, similar to how they would in real life – by offering gifts or promises of friendship. 

Take the hit video game, Fortnite. Unmoderated voice and text chat is a large part of the gameplay. This means children are encouraged to chat to strangers. Generally, everything is above board but the platform has been used to exploit children.

girl in unicorn onesie looking at mobile phone

Staying safe online

During Covid-19, more young people are online and exploiters will see this as an opportunity. Show an interest in the games young people play and build trust so they are comfortable telling you if something has happened to them online.

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.

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.