Kids’ games. Are they safe as they look?

With school holidays nearly upon us, long trips away for families can certainly be made much more fun with games to play while in transit. However, not all games are suitable for children. So what do parents have to look out for when downloading a new game for their child to ensure that it is fun, safe and age appropriate, while reflecting an individual family’s tastes? CyberSafety Lady Leonie Smith explains what you can do.

Check First: Parents must agree with their children that they do not download apps or games without permission, or set up parental control to prevent downloading without a parent’s passcode. This works well for younger children that may not yet be capable of respecting boundaries on digital devices.

Check on and Google the name of the game. The age ratings certainly help on the app stores, but can be unreliable. Some apps are correctly rated according to the app’s Terms Of Service, and some are rated lower than the legal age of play. The ratings usually also have a description of the game’s content - for example ‘Cartoon Violence’ or ‘Sexual References’.

Does Popular Mean Safe? Many app stores have a ‘Game Of The Day’ or promote the ‘Most Popular’ games. This doesn’t mean that the game is safe to play. It just means that many people have downloaded it, or the developers have paid to be promoted. App Store reviews may give an idea of the game’s safety, but reviews can be skewed so be wary. 

Online Vs Offline - Multiplayer: Offline games are generally safer for younger children, as there is no online chat with other players. Online multiplayer games may expose your child to other players’ chats, which could include swearing or bullying. They may also meet older or adult players, who bully others or participate in the game solely to groom children for sexual purposes.

Some games have moderators, but moderation usually happens only when a player is reported.

Cost: Apps make money through either an upfront purchase of the game, or via ‘In App Purchases’. If you don’t want your child to spend money, tell them and change the device’s parental control settings to block ‘In App Purchases’.

Gambling Type Games: Some games use gambling type visuals or mechanics to encourage children to keep playing. Any game that uses coins is a gambling mechanic; coins going into your child’s account may even sound like a poker machine.These games are not well regulated, and research is currently underway on whether they encourage gambling later on.

Advertising: Some ‘Free’ games are loaded with advertising, and you can receive incentives and coins for playing advertising videos. There is little regulation on advertising to children in mobile games.

Privacy and Terms & Conditions: Some games ask for access to your location or microphones. Denying access is generally safer. Understanding Terms and Conditions can be difficult, but scrolling through them will give you an idea of how regulated the game is, what data it may take from your child, and the legal age recommendation. 

Get to know the game by asking your child to teach you how to play, which can be fun and will start conversations about children’s digital world. Supervise younger children while they play to help with unexpected pop-ups, but be aware that this won’t prevent seeing something upsetting in a game. Video games can be fun for the whole family if you have an open mind and do your homework first.

Leonie Smith
The Cyber Safety Lady