Safer Gaming – A Guide for Parents

Gaming is the act of playing electronic games or video games on a game console (Xbox/Playstation), personal computer, handheld device (Nintendo/Game Boy) or mobile device (phone/tablet), in other words ‘playing video games’.”

The term ‘gaming’ is also used to describe the practice of gambling, in particular casino gambling and poker machines.
Modern video games are exciting, rewarding and engaging. People often spend extended lengths of time playing these games. Players can become completely absorbed in a game and play for long hours. Increased skill can mean more time spent playing to get the same level of enjoyment. Players can often experience withdrawal when trying to stop gaming.

As with drug use and gambling, excessive gaming can overstimulate a chemical in our brains (called dopamine) which helps control feelings of pleasure and reward. When overstimulated the chemical can make us crave activities that aren’t good for us.
When children start playing games it’s important for parents to understand the risks and help children enter the world of gaming as safely as possible.

Is it gaming or is it gambling?

  • Simulated gambling is digital gambling-like activities where players play for points or virtual coins; but no money is wagered. They look, feel and play like casino games (i.e. pokie machines or Blackjack), and give players the opportunity to practice gambling.
  • Some video games include gambling (The Sims/Grand Theft Auto) and allow players to engage in gambling activities inside the game. Many games simulate gambling by using gambling imagery and terminology, such as betting or bookies. Games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (R16 in New Zealand) have been linked to underage gambling, and although the actual game does not feature gambling, players can place bets on teams in E-Sports tournaments using third-party websites. Instead of betting real money, they purchase or win virtual items, called ‘skins’ and wager them in a raffle or roulette. Rare versions of skins can sell for thousands of dollars online.
  • Free games on mobile devices are largely unregulated so the gambling industry can use this as an opportunity to advertise to your child. Games are designed to keep the player hooked and in ‘the zone’ (Candy Crush has been likened to the addictive nature of a pokie machine). Game developers use techniques that make it hard for a player to stop, and in-app purchases allow players to progress further in the game by purchasing credits or random rewards.

Gaming addiction

Modern video games are exciting, rewarding and engaging. People often spend extended lengths of time playing these games. Players can become completely absorbed in a game and play for long hours. Increased skill can mean more time spent playing to get the same level of enjoyment. Players can often experience withdrawal when trying to stop gaming.

As with drug use and gambling, excessive gaming can overstimulate a chemical in our brains (called dopamine) which helps control feelings of pleasure and reward. When overstimulated the chemical can make us crave activities that aren’t good for us.

Download the safer gaming fact sheet.

As a parent what can you do?

Talk to your children

Talk to your children about the games they play online and about what information is appropriate to share. Sharing personal information online (name, age, birthday, location, contact information) can be risky.

Some games or websites let users upload a photo of themselves as a profile. Instead encourage your children to pick an avatar (an icon or figure representing a particular person in a video game, Internet forum) like a picture of a favourite animal or cartoon character.

Get to know the game

  • How does the game work?
  • Who does your child play with?
  • Who does your child play against?
  • What is the rating of the game?
  • How good is your child at the game?
  • Can you spend real money on the game (in-app purchases)?

Don’t give your child access to your credit card

This avoids your child racking up unwanted debt by purchasing items online or through app purchases. For more information see ‘Parental Control’ below.

Time management

If children are spending excessive amounts of time gaming there could be a reason.

  • Is the home tense?
  • Are the parents stressed?
  • Is the child being bullied?
  • Is the child struggling at school or tertiary institution?
  • Are there other relationship issues?
  • Are the parents overworking and needing time out form their child(ren) so allowing their children to be on a device too long?

Netsafe have some good tips on time management, overuse and Internet addiction:

  • Set parental controls on a specific device
  • Set restrictions at the router or modem to limit the time online

Routinely change the Wi-Fi password and only give access once chores or homework are completed.

Parental Control

There are many ways you can restrict access on your own or your child’s computer, mobile device or tablet.

Restrictions to prevent purchasing on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch
Apple has some easy to follow instructions to follow that allow you to use Restrictions (Go to Settings > General > Restrictions) to protect your iTunes Store account from unintentional or unauthorised purchases.

After you turn Restrictions on, you can require a password for purchases, prevent certain types of purchases, or disable purchasing completely.

If your child is over 13 or has an account through the Apple ID for Students program, you might want to let them make purchases from iTunes using iTunes Gift Cards. If you use Family Sharing, you can let your child initiate purchases with Ask to Buy.

Android devices

With Android you can” filter the Play Store to only show apps that are appropriate for children and restrict costly in-app purchases. You can also set up user accounts with restricted permissions that can only access certain apps on the device. Some handset manufacturers also have additional settings or modes/apps that help with filtering.

There are also many Android apps to filter adult content and even monitor calls, texts and web activity.

Blocking software

There are many types of ‘blocking software’ available so we suggest you do your own research and find the one that suits your needs. Some are free but some are not. PGF Services does not endorse any of these products but welcomes feedback.

McAfee® Safe Family: 30 day trial available – grant and block access with time limits and age-based rules

Norton Family: Parental control software for multiple devices, free for 30 days

Links for further information

Net Addiction NZ
Netsafe
Net Nanny
GamBlock
Betfilter

Google: support.google.com and search “parental controls”

Apple: support.apple.com and search “restrictions”