Kids and Online Games: Can They Play Nicely?

Kids and Online Games: Can They Play Nicely?

Online multiplayer is simultaneously gaming’s best and worst achievement over the past decade. MMOs and online campaigns add untold depth to what was previously viewed as a solitary pastime. We can make friends around the world and game with them anytime, anywhere.

On the flipside, we have what Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik once referred to as “The Greater Internet F***wad Theory:” If you take a normal person and put him or her behind the opaque curtain of online anonymity, he or she will feel less reservations about spewing profanities to the (also unseen) competition.

This extreme breed of rudeness seems to especially thrive in Xbox Live multiplayer titles, such as Halo and Call of Duty. Michael Rawlinson, the director general for The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) spoke at a Westminster Forum on October 12, wherein he outlined the importance of kids learning about online safety and courtesy.

“The videogames industry is committed to taking responsibility for educating and protecting consumers,” Rawlinson said. “By being creative in how we get our messages to young people we have a much better chance of being listened to. There is much that we can do individually and collectively and we look forward to working with government, UKCCIS, third sector organisations and other relevant partners to come up with more creative ways of getting our vital safety messages to the young people who need to hear them.”

Government-issued messages are one thing, but most parents who game with their children will agree that online etiquette begins at home. Parents who are on the front lines–or in the living room, as the case may be–should be the first on-hand to intercept trash talk.

“All it takes is parents to be active with their children,” says Greg Kalmbach, the parent of a teen. “My son started playing World of Warcraft with me when he was ten. One thing I’ve always tried to instill in him is proper game etiquette. How to speak, following rules, and treating people like they are actual people, not just pixels on a screen.”

Kids, being kids, will slip up or show off once in a while, especially if a particularly colorful trash-talk session is ongoing. Such behavior, Kalmbach says, must be rebuked without delay. “I have seen [my son] slip into the typical Xbox Live ‘teen ways.’ It didn’t take to long to break him of that.”

Justin Hoeger is a gamer whose ten-month-old daughter is currently incapable of saying anything over Xbox Live except maybe “daddy” and “cookie.” But Hoeger believes that online gaming etiquette should be taught alongside everyday manners.

“I’m not sure why so many kids even get to talk the way they do,” Hoeger says. “I guess a lot of them are playing when their folks aren’t home or are in another room, but I’m sure not going to stand for the kind of crap that comes out of some younger players’ mouths. I know my parents wouldn’t have, and my kids won’t be able to hide away in their rooms with an Xbox and cuss at strangers all day.”

Hoeger touches on a primary reason why kids spew forth insults over Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Network: Televisions and game systems, once restricted to the family den, are finding their way into kids’ rooms more often. Not only does this give young children an opportunity to seclude themselves and talk trash, but it also robs the family of what can be an enriching hour playing video games together.

One mom, “Beth,” has her hands full with three kids aged 12, 14, and 16, but she keeps the peace online by laying down some ground rules. All three kids are free to enjoy the hottest titles the Xbox 360 has to offer, but they’re not allowed to add random strangers to their friends’ lists. Only friends from school and church can make the cut.

“My kids know to mute when language gets sexually offensive or racist,” Beth says. “The N-word and F-word are so overused by children and adults. Words like [that] should not exist.”

As for making parents’ lives easier when monitoring their kids’ gaming habits, Beth has an idea for Sony and Microsoft. “I wish there was a button on PSN/XBLA where you can alert the network of this kind of talking, and have a way to ban or remove these people from the networks.”

Rick Curnutte, who works with Area 5 Media, has three kids aged ten, 12, and 13. All three are avid gamers, as are their father and mother. Curnutte’s game-heavy background, along with his fiancee’s, has given him a great deal of insight as to what works when educating kids about the importance of online courtesy. Rearing children is no longer exclusively about monitoring their learning and growth; parents have to keep an eye on how their kids play, too.

“Kids these days are extremely sharp and culturally sophisticated,” Curnutte says. “If we don’t keep up with them, help mold their learning and their play, we will be completely left in the dust. I think that’s where the currently abhorred generation of annoying online gamers comes from: a generation of parents that simply don’t get gaming/social networking/ etc.

My generation is a different breed, the first brought up with videogames as a part of our formative years. That can only lead to better understanding of the art form and, thusly, better implementation of the proper tools to guiding gamers into online adulthood.

“Before I let my kids play anything ‘controversial,’ I’ll discuss it with them. When my kids are online, they’ve already had the talk from their parents about how to behave online. As gamers, my fiancé and I know what is expected of a socially responsible gamer (which, I still believe, is exactly what most gamers are). With the proper guidance, these teen gamers will get there much quicker than we expect them to. We just need for the gamer parents to take the lead.”

Curnutte’s remarks reflect a slow but gradual transformation that’s stealing over the field of entertainment: Gamers are raising gamers. We know the benefits and hazards of online play, because we’ve been there. We know what our kids should be protected from, and what they’re mature enough to handle.

We have no excuse to avoid teaching our children about what’s acceptable online. Failure to do so means letting kids down, and ourselves. Government legislation and messages can’t replace a parent who cares enough to put effort into their discipline.

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About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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