Research-Article: Online games as risk generators for children and adolescents – Analysing risk factors in gaming environments

von Christian Wickert

@Bildquelle Alexa Pixabay CCO

By Diana Selck & Thomas-Gabriel Rüdiger

Abstract

Background: Children and adolescent spend a great amount of their leisure time on the Internet and in virtual worlds such as online game landscapes. Online games are a significant meeting point for communication and interaction with strangers. In Germany, approx. 26.4 million of the German population plays online games (BIU, 2014). Especially one case, the tragic case of Breck Bednar, a 14-year old boy that became victim of an online perpetrator and was found dead at his perpetrators home; shows how children and adolescents are at risk. The online gaming environment has changed over recent years, enabling players to communicate and interact with each other and thus open the possibility for strangers to easily approach children and adolescents. Online games are introducing not only different payment models such as F2P (free-to-play) and P2P (pay-to-play) but also making it increasingly hard for supervisors to understand mechanisms of online communication, interaction with other gamers and thus leading to a nearly unprotected accessibility to children and adolescents as well as great financial losses.

Purpose: The aim of this study is to recognise risk generators for children and adolescents in online gaming environments. In order to do so, registration processes regarding age recommendations were analysed as well as the enablement of payment options in free-to-play games. Additionally, game mechanisms such as chat functionality and thus the enablement to communicate and interact with strangers were tested. Strangers in this case can be adults, pretending to be of the same age group in order to lure children into dangerous situation namely online predation, grooming and exploitation. Underlining the lack of age restriction that could hinder either too young players or adult players through a verification procedure1 ...

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