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The Online Gaming Risks You (and Your Kids) Need to Know

Eric R. Jones talks about online gaming risks and how to stay safe.

Many people enjoy playing games online. It can be a good way to spend time with friends who aren’t nearby, to blow off steam, or to relax and have some fun. And many parents realize that there are worse things their kids could be doing. But not as many people are aware of the risks and dangers of online gaming. And without awareness of online gaming risks, your kids could inadvertently put themselves – and you – in danger.


See The Risks of Online Gaming with Eric R. Jones for a complete transcript of the Easy Prey podcast episode.

Eric R. Jones is the father of two girls, ages eight and nine. By day, he works at a consulting company solving problems for large organizations. By night, he runs All Knowing Parent, a startup trying to help parents tackle technology problems. Every business has an IT department to help out with tech-related questions and issues. Eric’s goal is to be the “IT department” for parents and families. Tech stuff can become overwhelming very quickly and covers everything from modems and routers to gaming consoles to parental control software to strategies to protect your kids. Parents who aren’t already tech-savvy may have a hard time figuring out what their child is even doing online. Eric doesn’t claim to have all the answers – but what he does have is the time and passion to research those answers.

Protection and Transparency

As a parent, Eric takes a few steps to supervise and protect his daughters from online gaming risks and internet dangers. Every night, he spends some time on their iPad. He checks who texted them, if they responded and what they said, and generally what’s happening. He plays games or uses apps before he lets them so he can understand what it is. Eric is the father who friends his children’s friends to see what they’re posting. As teenagers, he knows this protectiveness is going to make them roll their eyes and be annoyed. But he’s willing to be “that guy” to keep them safe.

On the other side, though, there has to be transparency. Eric works in the IT industry full-time. He hates getting a corporate laptop full of spyware that tells someone what apps he’s using and for how long. So he’s up front with his children about the parental controls and app limits on their iPad. If they want more time, they have to ask Mom and Dad. They know that he can see their text messages and he knows their PINs. You don’t want your boss secretly snooping on you and then asking why you spent four hours on Facebook yesterday. Your kids don’t want to feel spied on like that, either. Just have a conversation about what’s going on.

I’m a big believer in transparency. I don’t think you can build trust and I don’t think you can really build a solid relationship if you’re snooping on them.

Eric R. Jones

Understanding Online Gaming

If you’re not much of a gamer (someone who plays online games or video games), it’s important to understand some basics about online gaming before you can understand online gaming risks. There are two categories of gamers: die-hard gamers and casual gamers.

Die-hard gamers love playing games. There are die-hard gamers who will sit and play a game for six or eight hours at a time. It’s a passion, and it’s a sport. Esports, or leagues of gamers playing a game competitively, is becoming a phenomenon. There’s actually an esports league in Eric’s county – if they wanted, his daughters could join an esports league and play games professionally.

Casual gamers are less common these days. If you call someone a casual gamer, it usually means they mostly play online games like Maniac Mansion or Candy Crush on their phone. Eric is a true casual gamer. He does play games on a video game console, but mostly on Tuesday nights with some friends.

There are also gaming YouTube channels where people post videos of themselves playing games. Lots of kids want to be “YouTube famous” and post videos of their games on YouTube. Eric’s nine-year-old constantly wants to record and post videos on YouTube. As parents, we have to be mindful of what we allow – both in terms of protecting our kids from online gaming risks and in following our own parental beliefs and philosophies, which may be different from other parents’.

Unexpected Online Gaming Risks

Many parents are aware of some of the online gaming risks their kids will encounter. You’re probably aware of the dangers of online predators, and you may be aware of the risks of data collection. But when it comes to online gaming risks specifically, you may not realize how dangerous innocuous things can really be. Eric has a constant conversation with his daughters about the dangers, both the obvious ones and the not-so obvious. He knows he’s doing something right when he daughters start teaching his principles to their friends.

It’s a scary world, to be honest with you. … It’s a constant conversation every day, all the time.

Eric R. Jones

Communication is an Online Gaming Risk

Communication is an online gaming risk, especially for kids. And there are communication tools everywhere in online gaming. If your child plays game on a console, like an Xbox or Playstation, other Xbox or Playstation users have the ability to message them. Many games have an in-game text-based chat that lets people playing the same game at the same time talk to each other. Some games have a voice chat option, as well. There are even Discord servers that let kids talk about their favorite games while playing. Your kids have lots of options to play with others and to talk to them while doing it.

If your kids play games, they need to be aware of the online gaming risks of communicating with strangers.

Where this becomes an online gaming risk is when your kids are communicating with strangers. Eric and his friends play games together on Tuesday nights, but they communicate through a private Discord server. In order to talk to them while playing, you have to be invited. But in most games, anyone in the world can join. Lots of bigger games like Roblox, Minecraft, League of Legends, and Halo Infinite allow community play, and there’s always going to be someone there you don’t know.

Anytime you have that community of people, you invite people you don’t want.

Eric R. Jones

Some games, like Roblox, have done a great job filtering out bad or concerning words. But that doesn’t stop people who want to say mean or inappropriate things. They find ways around the blocks. You can do a lot with emojis. Even games that promote themselves as child-friendly and have strong filtering are not completely safe. A determined predator can still find ways around the restrictions. That’s why it’s essential that your kids know how to protect themselves from online gaming risks, even if you think they won’t be in danger.

Online Friends are an Online Gaming Risk

For Eric’s nine-year-old daughter, everybody she plays with is a friend. So she wants to send a friend request to everyone she randomly met in the game. But friend requests are a huge online gaming risk for kids. Once you make someone your friend, you’re giving them access to you. It’s like handing out your email. We don’t share our email address with everyone because we know some people will spam us. The same thing can happen in online gaming, as well.

Eric starts teaching friend safety to his daughters before they even start playing the game. One daughter asked to play Roblox for months, and Eric wouldn’t let her until he got on it to see what it was, how it works, and what kind of online gaming risks it had. Then he could have a conversation with her ahead of time about how the game allows her to have friends and how she could be safe. It’s very easy to friend someone in Roblox – you just have to see them and click “Friend.” It’s very possible to friend a hundred people in less than a minute. You can even set it to auto-friend everyone you played with. There can be up to fifty people in a Roblox server room – if his daughter were to friend everyone every time, she would quickly be “friends” with thousands of strangers.

Teaching Online Friend Safety

Eric tells his daughters that it’s great to play with people online, be polite, and have fun with them, but that doesn’t make them your friend. It’s like when they go to the playground – they may play with a kid there and have a good time, but that doesn’t meant they’re a friend. It just means they had fun with them once. The rule to reduce online gaming risks from friends is that if you’ve never met them in real life, you don’t send them a friend request in a game. You want to prevent them from connecting with predatory people as much as possible.

The rule in our house is simple: If we don’t know them, we don’t friend them.

Eric R. Jones

It’s important to have the conversations ahead of time. Kids need to know where the rules and boundaries are. When they know what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not, they have a framework to work from to stay safe. Some kids push against boundaries, and that’s a whole different conversation. But it’s much easier to prevent a mess before it happens than to clean it up afterwards. Have the conversation about online gaming risks now, and you’re much less likely to need an unpleasant conversation about all the things your child did wrong later.

It’s setting those rules ahead of time because then you don’t have to have the uncomfortable conversation later. I think that’s really the key.

Eric R. Jones

Reasons People Might Target Your Child

There’s a much wider range of predatory people now. It’s not just creepy people trying to groom children anymore – although those people are still out there. But there’s a wide range of reasons someone could be targeting your child. Very few people realize that some predators connect with children in order to target their parents.

People don’t realize that kids give out information so easily.

Eric R. Jones

Many children will happily tell someone they connected with in an online game what their mom and dad do for a living, information about siblings and pets, and even where they live. As your children get older, you need to push back and limit what information they’re allowed to share online. No kid is perfect – they’re going to make mistakes. But it’s important to recognize and catch when they shouldn’t be sharing some things.

Eric tells his aspiring-YouTuber daughter, for example, that she shouldn’t tell people she’s a YouTuber. If they respond with something like, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen you on YouTube,” what kid wouldn’t be excited about that? If someone they don’t know claims to know them, that’s a red flag. Eric has taught his daughter that. If she only has seven followers, the chances that the person she’s talking to on her game is one of them are incredibly low. Now, she recognizes that these people are scammers.

The Risks of Sharing Information in Online Games

Many parents hear about the online gaming risks of sharing information and want to know what they should tell their children to never share. Eric’s answer is, “Everything.” As an IT guy, when he sets up a firewall, the first thing he does is close all the ports. No information gets in or out. Then when information does need to go through – someone needs to send an email or browse the web – he can open up just the email ports or just the browser ports.

Your kids should do the same thing. Shut down everything. Don’t tell them your name, your favorite color, or that you have a cat. Eric is giving away more information in this article than he lets his daughters tell people online. The key is to make sure the stranger can’t find anything that lets them create a relationship. A huge online gaming risk for kids is that someone could create a relationship out of a tiny piece of information, like that your kid loves dance or football or horses. Really, this is social engineering protection for your kids.

We want to teach them that information is sacred because as they get older, that’s the same kind of information that a scammer may call you up on the phone and [use for] social engineering.

Eric R. Jones

At the very least, your kids should never share any names, their email address, their gamer handles, any information that would narrow down where they live – not even what country – or anything personal, like they have siblings or pets. Ideally, they shouldn’t share anything with anyone. Teach your kids that strangers they play games with shouldn’t be asking questions about their personal life. If they do, teach your kids it’s a sign they should go play with someone else.

Online Gaming Risks for Adults

Kids aren’t the only ones who experience online gaming risks. As an adult, you’re still at risk of giving out private information that can be used against you. Even your gamer tag can give something away. If you’ve used that same username on other sites or on social media, just googling it can give someone a lot of information about you.

It can even risk your physical safety. There have been incidents where an in-game rivalry between serious gamers results in one of them finding the other’s address and showing up to their house with a gun. “Swatting” is another threat, where an angry fellow gamer reports a serious law enforcement emergency that results in the police or a SWAT team showing up to your house ready for violence.

If you've shared too much information, an in-game rivalry can turn dangerous.

Some gamers are extremely competitive. When they feel they’re being beaten, they react badly. Online communities mix personalities, ideals, morals, and political affiliations. But you can’t see any of that through a profile name or gamer tag. You have no way of knowing who you’re playing with.

I think as we get older we feel like we’re smarter, like that can’t happen to me. But you never know when you’re going to make a mistake.

Eric R. Jones

One night when Eric was playing a game, he accidentally friended someone. It was a complete stranger – he didn’t know this person or anything about them, and he didn’t want to be their friend, even in-game. He had to quickly go unfriend and block them. If you don’t know who they are, it’s better to be on the safe side. Eric may be extreme with that kind of stuff, but you have to be careful what you share.

They Do Want To Hack You

There is always someone out there who will want to hack your accounts. We like to say that nobody will hack us because we’re not important – nobody really wants our data. And that’s probably true. Hackers likely don’t want your data. But they still want to hack you anyway. It may not have anything to do with you, but they can use your information or your system to take the next step towards their real target.

Eric has some friends who were criminal hackers and turned around and became good guys. They have told Eric that for most people they hacked, they didn’t care what was in their bank account or on their hard drive. These people just provided a system and they could use to launch another attack. And because it was launched from a victim, it would be harder to trace it back to the real culprit

Making sure your devices stay updated can help keep hackers out. When we’re playing a game, data is coming in and going out, and we don’t think about it. We hope the game is secure, but there’s always some online gaming risks. A lot of gaming consoles are good at that. They don’t let you get online and play unless you have the latest updates for the game and the console itself. Eric wishes more companies did that. It really does help.

The Social Aspect of Online Gaming Risks

Gaming can be used for socialization. You can learn a lot about someone from what games they play and how they play them. You can learn if they’re competitive, if they’re a jerk, and what kinds of games they like to play. If their profile is set up for it, you could even go see every game they have and what achievements they’ve gotten in each. Someone could go to your profile and quickly identify what games you like to play. Or they could see you’ve been playing Halo Infinite for the past six hours and send you a message saying, “Dude, isn’t Halo Infinite amazing? I’m impressed by all your trophies.” That’s a mutual interest that can create the beginning of a relationship right there. And you have no way of knowing if that person has ulterior motives.

Because we are so stuck on our screens … we’ve kind of lost that idea of having that connection and that relationship. Whenever someone does show interest in us, we grasp onto that a little bit more, whether we’re doing it consciously or not.

Eric R. Jones

This can even happen on innocent games like Words With Friends. It’s very much like Scrabble and doesn’t seem threatening, so people let down their guard. You may mention to someone you’re playing with that it’s raining, and they start commiserating. You feel like you’re building a relationship and start to give out information you shouldn’t. It always starts off innocent.

You Don’t Realize What You’re Giving Away

Even besides the technical aspects like your IP address, you may not notice how much information you give away just in conversation. Take a look back at this article. Eric has given out his name and the fact that he has two daughters. You could probably figure out the area where he lives pretty easily. If you find more places online where he’s talked about things, you can get even more information. A dedicated person could easily track down his address. That’s how simple it is to give up information, even on casual games.

Children have less-developed brains. If you don’t realize how much you’re giving away, they definitely won’t. And they may not have the critical thinking skills to know someone shouldn’t be asking about certain things. Kids just want to be friends with everyone. It’s sad that they have to lose some of that innocence and trust, but it’s important to protect them from online gaming risks.

A game’s first concern isn’t your personal safety – it’s about getting you to buy in-game currency or spend hours playing. They know that connecting with people through the game will make you more likely to keep playing, so they make it easy to connect. But they don’t have your best interest at heart. We have to put up protections because the systems aren’t made to protect us.

Avoiding Conflict When Playing With Others

One way to reduce online gaming risks is to play in a way that avoids conflict. If you don’t have conflict with other players, they’re much less likely to attack you or threaten your physical safety. Eric recommends playing with “Thanksgiving rules” – no talking about religion or politics. When playing with strangers, assume the boundaries are very high. Be careful what you say and be extremely kind.

Many gamers get competitive and want to talk some smack to their opponent. But it’s easy to take that too far. We have to remember that the person on the other end of the voice or text chat is a human with a heart, soul, and feelings. If you want to be treated like a jerk, by all means, be a jerk – they’ll probably be a jerk right back. Just like on social media, it’s easy for something small to get amplified and blown up into swatting, cyber attacks, or badmouthing across the internet.

All Knowing Parent is a Resource

Eric got the idea for All Knowing Parent when his wife’s friends started asking him questions. The questions were about all sorts of tech-related topics – Instagram security, TikTok, setting up routers, and more. Eric kept recording video answers for them through the app Marco Polo. Finally, someone said they were going to pay him for it. He thought that was a great idea.

Every family has that one person iwho is the family IT support. Eric is providing that service. All Knowing Parent is subscription based, and plans start at $5 per month. Their goal is to educate people to feel empowered with the technology in their home so they can re-engage with their families.

One customer asked if they should let their ten-year-old play the game Cuphead. Eric did research and gave the client a write-up. It included details like it is a two-dimensional side-scroller game and has some violence. He provided links to some videos so the customer could see the actual game be played, and gave examples of games with a similar amount of violence.

You can think of All Knowing Parent like the research guy you never had. Sure, you can Google, but how do you know what answer is right or if the answer is good? There’s no cookie-cutter answers for anyone. All Knowing Parent takes time to see what something is and give you the context to help you understand and make better decisions.

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have the time to find those answers.

Eric R. Jones

You can find All Knowing Parent online at allknowingparent.com and on Twitter and Instagram @AKPSocial. There’s also a special discount available for readers at allknowingparent.com/easyprey. If you have questions, All Knowing Parent is ready to help.

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