Why do people play online?
Playing online has become increasingly popular during the past two decades. A recent survey in Germany has shown that around 50% of the population play online and the worldwide number of daily gamers was said to be 144.9 million in 2013. During the same year Riot Games, producer of LoL, claimed that their game had 12 million active daily players.
A shift from traditional board and card games to the new digital devices has undoubtedly taken place even though in many cases the “old” games are being played in a new form. Their availability (depending on the game) not only on PCs but also on tablets, play stations, cubes, mobiles phones, etc. has enormously increased their attraction. The fact that you do not necessarily need to meet in person to play but you can also do so over a (long) distance makes it even more interesting for people on the move, busy people with little time, people with reduced mobility, … Additional points of attraction might be the easy access especially to free-to-play games, but also the fact that those which you need to pay for can be purchased online. Anonymity could also play a role especially for very introverted people, people with low self-esteem or a high level of insecurity. For many players it is not only a nice way of staying in touch with friends living further away but also a possibility to meet new people with similar interests which can certainly be an advantage but also holds dangers which we’ll look into in the next chapter.
We therefore need to consider this phenomenon as a new way of playing and interacting which is going to last even though considerable changes and developments have already taken place within the world of online-games despite the short time of its existence. It is important to keep up to date with these developments by asking the children which games they are playing, with whom and why. Based on this information parents can go out and find out more about extensions, new versions and new games via the internet or adequate sources in their countries. Often ministries of education or family provide lists with recommended games and indication of suitable age.
Some of the games have reached the level on international tournaments like the World Championships of League of Legends which took place in Berlin in October 2015. They are considered e-sports and those events take place in huge football stadiums with the attendance of an audience as large as for a football game.
It is certainly at least as important to encourage also other ways of socializing like being part of a sports club, playing a musical instrument in a group, meeting friends in person to chat and play, doing barbeques, inviting friends over to stay, going to the movies or a theatre performance together, attending concerts, festivals or dancing classes, etc.
Risks and opportunities of online games
As already mentioned in the previous chapter every medal is two-sided and there are no advantages without risks.
The possibility of meeting unknown people and making new friends is directly accompanied by the danger of falling prey to people with bad intentions who try to get in touch with youngsters for other purposes than just playing online. This kind of risk is certainly higher in the social media like Facebook and Instagram but game chatrooms are an open space for all players and can therefore also been misused for establishing a first contact for later continuation through private messages, SMS, phone calls, etc. It is therefore important to sensibilize kids for dealing with eventual “bad company”, teaching them caution in this respect. Establishing an e-mail address just for new internet contacts, not giving away any personal data (address, when they’re away on holidays,…) from the start, not confiding more in someone they’ve never seen than in their “real” friends and family, not sending any pictures to strangers or letting them know about personal issues (problems with teachers, family members or friends,…) are useful measures that can be taken together in order to increase the safety level. Participating in chats could be compared to going to a football stadium where you would probably share the joy and the fears of other spectators, talk about players, the game, referee’s decisions, and so on but you wouldn’t tell everyone your name, address, phone number or any other personal matters.
As with other games online games have different features and aims and may therefore serve different purposes. In order to find out the specific objectives of the game your child is interested in, talk to him/her, let them explain to you what it is all about and why they find it so fascinating. In most cases they’ll be proud to show you something they know more about than you do but you’ll also be able to ask questions they might not have considered before and take them on a journey of investigation about their game. This will give them the feeling of being taken serious and of been respected for their knowledge and skills even though you might not share their excitement and enthusiasm. On the long run you’ll be able to mention your reservations and concerns and discuss possible ways of reducing dangers and risks to a minimum.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.