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Nicolas Hanisch

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Is it all just a game? - How parents can protect their children in gaming

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When people talk about "GG", "Easter Eggs" or "flaming", many don't understand what it's all about*. Many parents feel the same way when they talk to their children about their gaming hobby. 

According to a recent study, 67 percent of 12-19 year olds play digital games several times a week, 41percent even on a daily basis. In this age group, it is more boys who play online games. However, at 56 percent, the number of girls who enjoy playing online games is also high. 

Our Teachtoday initiative aims to promote the media literacy development of young people aged nine to 16 and puts a focus on online gaming as well. In one of the articles a mother reports on her desperate and mostly unsuccessful attempts to limit her son's gaming consumption. In fact, parents often watch digital game play with great uncertainty. They often know the content of their children's games only very rudimentarily from the few stories their kids tell them. They wonder how much game consumption they should allow.

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What parents can do: Get to grips with online gaming!

The JIMplus 2020 study by Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest shows that gaming platforms are playing an increasingly important role as communication media. Here, 12 to 19-year-olds were asked how they keep in touch with friends despite school closures. Messenger apps and the phone were at the top of the list, but computer games came in third with 36 percent.

The range of importance of gaming is wide. It ranges from educationally valuable changes in perspective and the formation of new friendships through close exchanges with like-minded people, to the consolidation of exclusionary stereotypes and the misuse of the platforms for hate, agitation and radicalization. Group-related misanthropy is not uncommon in gaming chats and forums. 

As in real life, it is important for parents to ask themselves what and with whom their own child spends their free time in the virtual world.

Here are a few tips for parents to keep the fun going:

  • Accompany your child in the world of games. Play games together or look at games, game progressions and gaming platforms together. Don't rely solely on the age rating for the game. Even if you are not a gamer yourself, you should know how the chats work, how to block people, how to turn off the chat function partially or completely, and how to report offensive content. Also, as a family, decide how much gaming time per week is okay.
  • Be open and willing to talk as a reliable partner for your children. Let your children tell you about the game and its successes. Also ask about your child's play partners. In computer games and the associated communication platforms, it is often not visible how old the people are with whom the child has contact or what their motives are to be there. And if there are problems with gaming, keep in mind that bans on gaming as a punishment are more likely to lead to children playing secretly and thus hiding difficulties in gaming communities or chats.
  • Discuss what data your child is allowed to disclose. E-mail addresses, telephone numbers, personal data such as full name or age and even more so photos are private and do not belong in game chats. It is important that your children develop a critical and questioning attitude at an early age. Above all, they should learn to say "no".
  • Be sensitive to hidden, racist, radical or right-wing extremist positions. Especially in games and on gaming platforms, such world views and ideologies are often conveyed subliminally or as part of the game. This is another reason why it is important for parents to get deeper into the game.

Get help from experts

Many initiatives and organizations that provide information about online gaming and the opportunities and dangers in the virtual world of online games, make their offerings available digitally and free of charge:

Teachtoday provides material for parents and educators. On the subject of gaming, there is a separate topic dossier with interviews with experts and articles with background information on the aspects to keep an eye on in games.

In the current interactive media magazine Scroller "Gaming: Keeping it fun" (in German language) for children aged 9-12, Tom and Trixi playfully guide them through the world of games, introduce their favorite games and explain what annoys them about online gaming.

The German Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) is responsible for testing computer games in Germany. It issues age ratings that indicate the age at which a game is approved. This information serves as an orientation but does not replace the parents' examination of the content of their child's desired game. At European level, PEGI tests online games.

The Federal Agency for Civic Education (German: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, in short: bpb) has created the spielbar.de platform. The German website explains games and, unlike the USK, analyzes how educationally valuable the games are.

The bpb also offers Eltern-LAN series of events on digital games with guided game sessions where parents can try out games themselves. The workshop leaders also present various other games and evaluate them from a media education perspective.

Would you have known?
"GG" stands for "Good Game" and is a fair congratulation for a good game. An "Easter Egg" is a hidden secret level or funny anecdotes and allusions to other games or media. "Flaming" or "flame" refers to insults of other players in the game.
 

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