Today online gaming continues to have become a sky-rocketing business market. It is by no means a small industry. Perhaps, by the last quarter of 2021 approximately about 2.7 billion people globally is believed to be engaged into the segment of playing online games. This is accounting almost one-third of the total population across countries. Factors like increasing smartphone penetration, internet penetration, young population and adoption of digital payments adoption has been determined as major growth drivers for such booming gaming industry.
Online gaming is hugely popular among children and adolescents mostly, though adults also find it as a source of leisure, entertainment and escapism from everyday world. In otherwords, it has become a societal realism of 21st century to continuously be with the quest of attaching self-identity with the innovations of internet and social media, surpassing reality. Online games give children the chance to learn to, collaborate with others, connect with friends around the world, learn new things, and simply have fun.
Risks Attached to Online Gaming
Gaming addiction – a psychological problem
Sexual Grooming and Inappropriate Content that can make a user fall prey to abuse and pornography
Cyber bullying which is considered to be one of the causes of death or suicide among young users
Poor physical health that can lead to insomnia, thrombosis, cancer, heart ailments due to spending hours at one place and getting exposed to blue rays from a monitor or a smartphone
Exploitative DLCs and In-app purchases that can make a user lose money
Risk of downloading malware
While online gaming is an excellent entertainment outlet, it contains several risks that must be acknowledged and addressed by parents, gamers, and the government. Cybercriminal activity, for example, is something that needs to be contained. Aspects like addiction, cyberbullying, and indecent exposure also need a look. Recently, a 13-year-old boy, died by committing suicide after losing about Rs. 40,000 in an online game named Free Fire in India. A suicide note was discovered at the spot, written by him, apologizing spending the money for the game. In January 2021, a techie took his life after losing money to online gaming. And that is not the end. In the last few years, many children, adolescents and adults have lost their lives, getting trapped into the infamous Blue Whale game.
With precedence’s of multiple incidents of online gaming in mind, CyberPeace Foundation conducted a study with the objective to provide deeper insights towards children, adolescents, young adults and concerned parents. In August 2021, CyberPeace Foundation released an Integrated Report with awareness note and guidance for children, adolescents, parents, and the larger society to save them from being victims of the online gaming world.
With smartphones and unlimited data plans along with games with localized content, live streaming, multiplayer and social elements, the intensity of digital consumption and eventually playing games has become more popular. Major sets of games include – PC games, Web games or Application apps, Consoles and Mobile games. While many countries have put complete ban on online games including India on PUBG, however that is the NOT the end strike to deal with a global world of 21st century, in which we our everyday lives are connected and dependent on advanced techno-virtual applications. The Action must be focused on safeguarding ourselves, our children and the upcoming generations. We at CyberPeace have noticed that strengthening strategies on the following nodes could not just prevent us but to our next-door neighbors as well through eternal sharing.
Some of the Basic Self-Protection Steps are
Create and use stronger passwords.
Creating a family e-Mail address for signing up for online games. If anything, bad happens while playing online games, stop immediately and take a screenshot (using the “print screen” button on the keyboard) and report it – using the screenshot as evidence.
Use antivirus and anti-spyware programs. Be cautious about opening files attached to e-Mail messages or instant messages.
Verify the authenticity and security of downloaded files and new software. Configure your web browsers securely. Use a firewall.
Set time limits for children. Spend More hours with your Children in a friendly note and discuss about such matters as an advanced awareness.
Never download software and games from unknown websites. Beware of clicking links, images and pop-ups in the websites as they may contain a virus and harm the computer.
Never give personal information over the Internet while downloading games including your financial/banking information.
Teachers/Schools and Parents can a very critical role in preventing children from becoming victims of cybercriminals, bullies, or perverts. To safeguard their children’s life parents can provide uncompromised attention to the lives of their children. Teachers represent faculty and staff who are responsible for using a variety of instructional strategies to address individual students’ strengths and needs, thereby ensuring each student has an opportunity to learn and succeed. As teachers interact with their students while providing instruction, they play a very important role in establishing a safe, supportive learning environment along with parents. Highlighted below are some guidelines specifically what role Parents & Teachers can play:
It’s never easy being a parent. But we can always encourage children to open up about any online activities disturbing them. Keeping a note of how long is your children spending on electronic gadgets and playing online games over them. Joining our children in some sessions and learning their pears, what nature of games they play, from which websites, etc. will enable us to protect our children better
Parents should set up online interaction settings in the Parental Control option on video game consoles. It helps restrict children from accessing dangerous websites. Discourage children from using headsets when playing online games. Switching on the speakers will enable parents to know the kind of language used by strangers on the Internet and take appropriate action.
They can turn on notifications in their accounts when installing consoles like Xbox or PlayStation to get direct messages. Parents should not allow children to use their debit/credit cards for making in-app purchases. Instead, you can use gift cards.
It is advisable to create a lobby of friends the children know. Such lobbies prevent strangers from gaining access to the closed group.
Schools are an important place to connect with parents and disseminate information about online safety. Invite parents to workshops about cyberbullying, and cyber safety practices and share the schools policy.
Schools together with teachers and special instructors/ counselors can implement several cyber policies and procedures to help keep their students safe from online threats. Create clear processes and practices to manage classroom and online behaviour and respond to any incidents that may arise such – the creation and implementation of responsible use policies to ensure that students are aware of appropriate online behavior, the use of filtering and blocking software’s at school and at home (PCs) to prevent access to inappropriate content, and education about the risks of being online and how to stay safe.
Incorporating digital citizenship curriculum in schools. It is basically the ability to use technology in safe and appropriate ways. Teachers can encourage students what it means to be a responsible digital citizen as part of a broader strategy of promoting a positive school climate. A digital citizenship curriculum can include topics such as privacy and security, relationships and communication, cyberbullying and digital drama, digital footprints and reputation, self-image and identity, information literacy, and creative credit and copyright.
Governmental Regulations are essential to provide a better environment for gamers. It is especially vital since gaming deals with various age-groups of end users who are being overrun by trolls, cyber criminals, racists, pedophiles, and worse. There are many steps a government must take to protect the interests of the society at large. The regulations stipulate that organizations strictly follow the rules. Governments worldwide find it easy to ban online games. However, that is not the ideal solution to the problem. Other Safeguarding pointers that CyberPeace mechanisms think that the Government can implement for a secure gaming experience for users, include:
Assign ratings for online games, depending on the gamers age. Making it a more effective systematically, age filters can also be put in place for downloading these gaming apps and cross check authentication of age proof by ensuring- upload of any UID’s as age proof for age restricted games. Further, it is essential that guidelines be set for the same.
Licensing online games is an excellent way of regulating it. Governments can make it mandatory for gaming service providers to obtain a license before offering it to subscribers. Governments can exclude games involving skill from the licensing requirement. Thus, it leaves the games that depend on chance or the luck factor. In this way, it can control online gambling, while allowing legitimate online gaming to continue.
Approval for Apps is a significant key. Gamers download gaming apps from either App Store or Google PlayStore, depending on which OS they use. Governments can be strict on these online marketing resources and stipulate that they should seek prior approval of the Government before allowing the gaming app to be made available for downloading on the internet.
Ensure that the data collected from gamers in a particular country is stored in servers located in the same region and not shared elsewhere.
Maintain strict compliance with various laws, regulations and required minimum internal controls pertaining to new games being launched in the market. It must also include fines and penalties, leading to complete bans in case of human rights violations. A grievance redressal mechanism should be set up by the operators for dealing with disputes that arise as part of the games.
Maintain effective controls over the financial records of Registered Gaming Companies, including establishment of stringent checks on the procedures for internal fiscal affairs and the safeguarding of assets and revenues.
Create special Legal-Tech teams similar to nature of special Task Force with Cyberlaw Division of Governments who would be liable on ensuring that periodic reports with gaming companies are filed.
Just like we all have certain responsibilities towards creating a Balanced Ecosystem for each other living in this society. Companies comprising the Online business world are bound to bear quite essential responsibilities towards its clients/end users, for whom actually they are able to make a livelihood for themselves. They are accountable to ensure that the gaming experience is not causing detrimental effects to the psycho-social, economic landscape of any individual playing their games. These Guidelines are for the Online Business Industry (Game Developers, Publishers & Marketing):
Investment and attention must be given on R&D by the developers of games in creating age specific games. Cautiously design and decide, varying demographics, words, sound note, etc introduced in a game
Ensure games are inclusive environments, representing the diversity of the players, providing positive role models, avoiding stereotyping and overtly sexualized representations, and providing characters that all genders from diverse backgrounds can relate to.
While designing games, consider how some features might be restricted if required for underage players. This could be related specifically to monetization features, such as loot boxes or turning off in-game purchasing and setting spending limits. It could also apply to regulating communication features or being able to play games in offline mode.
Make information about community guidelines, privacy policies, and terms and conditions easily accessible and visible to all age group users. Do not collect unnecessary personal information and financial data of individuals.
Provide information to parents to help them be more in control of their child’s gaming experience. Explain how the games work, how interaction in the game works, how purchases in the game work and how they can teach children about safe online behaviour and also restrict access to certain games
Gaming can be socializing fun elements but today it has risks attached. The advisory/study by CyberPeace Foundation shall be treated as basic threat protection and awareness generation article beyond national boundaries.
In order to take steps for a better Online Gaming World for its netizens, CyberPeace Foundation would be sharing this report with the Government, the Online Gaming Industries, UN agencies, academia and civil society organizations. To read the full report, visit the official website – www.cyberpeace.org