Online gaming must-knows for your family's protection

These days, online gaming is more popular than ever before. You can now play multiplayer games on consoles, PCs, and smartphones.

And given the fact that the average child gets their first mobile phone by the age of seven and likely has access to a console or PC before then, it's something parents need to pay careful attention to.

That's especially true when you acknowledge the fact that online gaming communities can be dangerous places for kids. Left unsupervised, there's no end to the trouble they could run into. From lurking child predators to the slippery slope of microtransactions – there's quite a bit to worry about.

But there are ways for families to enjoy online gaming without taking any undue risk. And that begins with understanding the nature of the threats they might encounter online and knowing how to avoid them to keep things safe and fun. To help, here are the online gaming must-knows for your family's protection.

 

Beware of Online Bullying and Identity Theft

The first thing that families should know about online gaming communities is that they're rife with bullying and attempts at theft. And despite attempts by gaming companies to reign it all in, there's no sign that things are getting better. So, the first thing that parents should do to keep their families safe while gaming is to lay down some rules of the road.

The first rule is to never share any personal information with anyone online. This not only includes full names and locations but also account or financial information. Believe it or not, online predators will target children to extract such information because they're often more trusting than they should be. And the second rule is to never interact with other online gaming users outside of the context of the game itself.

Most modern games include online content

The next must-know is the fact that most modern games these days contain online components. For some, this extends to multiplayer gaming experiences and the in-game communications systems that make them work. But even games without multiplayer can still include online components to be wary of. For example, some game publishers require the use of a launcher to configure and run their software. And many of those launchers include links to online gaming communities.

That means parents need to take a long look at the games their kids want to play before they're allowed to play them. They can't assume that a single-player game is automatically safe. And if there are components of a game that allow data collection or contain links to other places – they should try to limit their child's access accordingly.

Parental controls aren't automatic

Although it would seem like a given that a device or platform with parental controls would apply common-sense defaults when you configure a child's account, that's not always the case. So, the next must-know about online gaming is that parents will need to review and configure parental controls if they want to limit their child's access to certain games or content.

The good news is that modern parental controls include some granular options that let you fine-tune access using a variety of factors. For example, it's usually possible to filter out profanity, set time limits, and restrict who a given account may interact with. Some parental control systems also allow for fine control of games based on their age rating. So, if you'd like to limit your young children to single-player, inoffensive games like Solitaire and FreeCell – there's usually a way to do it.

Device security plays a role in player safety

The final must-know for parents looking to create a safer online gaming experience for their families is that device security plays a role in player safety, too. This is especially true when it comes to issues like item and account theft. It's because there's an awful lot of money flowing through online gaming ecosystems, and scammers will do whatever it takes to grab a piece of it.

So, it's critical to keep games and platforms up to date at all times. But it's also necessary to be wary of where those updates come from. Scammers have taken to spreading malware via fake game updates and patches, so it's crucial to stick to games' built-in update mechanisms. The best rule of thumb is if you're ever asked to download an update or patch straight from a website – be suspicious.

And beyond that, it's also important to use security features like two-factor authentication (wherever possible) in concert with strong passwords on every online gaming account. Doing so will reduce the risk of any of your family's online gamers losing control of their online gaming accounts and profiles. At the very least, you'll make any would-be thief's job much harder.

Safe fun and games

The bottom line is simple. Online gaming is a huge and growing part of the modern family's shared digital experience. But it shouldn't be a free-for-all. Because there are persistent threats and potential problems associated with online gaming, it makes good sense for families to be careful.

And by keeping the four must-knows detailed here in mind, it's possible to make online gaming safer for the whole family. And that's as it should be. After all, games are supposed to be fun. And even if people are lurking online threatening to spoil it – families certainly don't have to let them have their way.

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