With the increase in popularity of various social media platforms and online communities, most parents are thinking about how to monitor their children’s online activity. The focus tends to be on how to monitor chats, texts, and social media accounts. But what about games like Minecraft and Fortnite? Are those games safe for our kids?
Unfortunately, Minecraft, Fortnite, and other online video games boasting favorable reputations and large fan bases are not immune to evil. Since these video games are available through an internet connection, anyone with an internet connection and a supported device (i.e., a laptop, smartphone, etc.) can play.
Recently, instances of predators lying about their identity to sexually exploit children have come to light.
Connecting Through Gaming Sites
The internet provides a unique opportunity for video games by making them collaborative. Because games like Minecraft and Fortnite have interactive features, players can enjoy these games alone, with friends or strangers. It is easy to understand why the games are so popular when looking at the purposes of the games.
Minecraft is a game where you create your own virtual reality through collecting and earning materials to construct your world. You can make houses, go on adventures, and find materials to add to your personal world. There is no set storyline, so you can exist in your reality as you please. Plus, there are different modes you can play in, and these different modes change your playing experience. An article explained Minecraft as a game where users create worlds and share them with others. Ultimately, players get creative freedom to bring their imagination to life.
On the other hand, Fortnite is a survival game where users must collect and make resources and tools to survive. The game takes place in the present day, but most of the human population is wiped out. Not only are players trying to survive, but they fight other players along the way.
Both games allow users to exist in a creative space, collaborate with others, and play through different internet-accessible platforms.
Gaming Console Communities
While there are many different ways to play online video games, one of the most popular means of playing video games is through gaming consoles. Furthermore, two of the most popular gaming consoles are the Xbox and the PlayStation.
Xboxes, specifically the newer Xbox Ones, have features where players can interact through Xbox Live and Xbox Live Gold. Both options allow for community interaction, but Xbox Live Gold includes more features accessible through a subscription. Some of the available features include Netflix, ESPN, music, and free games.
The PlayStation 4, the newest model of the PlayStation, has a Community feature that focuses solely on community interaction. Each group is made and categorized by players based on shared interests. These groups allow members to play games and chat with one another. Plus, considering the groups can have up to 100K individuals, it is safe to say not everyone knows one another in real life.
If you are not familiar with these systems, perhaps you have heard of games like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Grand Theft Auto. These are just a few of the many games available for these devices. Since these games are very popular, it is no surprise they bring in a diverse crowd of children, teens, and adults.
Players of All Ages
Anyone can play video games, and the demographics of video-game players in the United States vary significantly. Take a look at the graph below to see the age demographics of video game players.
Find more statistics at Statista
Gaming and Grooming
While most adults play video games for fun, there is a population of predators that exploit the anonymity of screen names and the trusting nature of children to groom and sexually exploit kids.
Grooming is when predators insert themselves into the child’s life by exploiting the child’s vulnerabilities. The predator creates a false sense of trust by filling a need in the child’s life and isolating the child. During this process, the predator sexualizes the relationship and ultimately gains control of the child. This process typically happens over a range of months to years.
Predators Caught and Groomers Exposed
Unfortunately, instances where predators groom children online have occurred on Minecraft. This inappropriate communication began through the game’s interactive feature and ultimately moved to other messaging platforms.
There was a case in Europe where a man groomed two boys, aged 12 and 14. After connecting on Minecraft, the man moved communication to Skype, Snapchat, and text message to pursue sexual conversations and ask for sexually explicit photos. What’s worse, this man was on the sex offender registry before joining the game, yet he was allowed to play the game and speak to young players.
That said, Fortnite has had similar issues. There have been multiple reports of parents overhearing predators try to groom their children through the audio function of the game.
Not to mention, the Attorney General of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, announced arrests of 24 individuals in September 2018. These individuals were arrested for allegedly trying to entice minors into sexual activities. These individuals were caught using gaming sites including Fortnite as well as other social media sites.
Now that we have a bit of background on what is possible through online gaming, we want to offer some insight on how to move forward.
Here are some internet safety rules we encourage you to share with your children:
- NEVER share personal information or photos with strangers online (including social media handles)
- Only chat online with people you know in real life
- Never meet strangers from the games in real life
Parents, if you’re looking for some way to monitor your children further, we recommend:
- Put the gaming station/computer in a common area
- Keep up with their online behavior
- Control privacy settings to make sure your children have private accounts
- Set controls that prevent your child from accepting friend requests without your permission
All in all, we felt the need to highlight these particular examples because these games are popular outlets with millions of users. Online gaming’s interactive and community features provide opportunities for predators to hide their true identities and prey on children.
We are not sharing this post to discourage you or your children from using these sites. Instead, we want to encourage you to be vigilant with how your kids spend their time online.
Let this be a reminder that child pornography is prevalent and in places you may not expect.
The Innocent Lives Foundation is dedicated to unmasking anonymous online predators to help bring them to justice. We work closely with law enforcement by developing files and providing actionable evidence to aid in predator prosecution.
We work to allow every child the enjoyment of an innocent life by making a positive impact on their behalf.
Stay tuned for our next couple of blog posts for more information about online grooming through social media, what to do if your loved one is being groomed, and how to protect your loved one from online predators.
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