Previously, we discussed how to keep your kids safe while they play console and mobile games. Yet there is one other major gaming platform we haven’t discussed: the computer. According to a recent report, Steam (the most popular online PC gaming platform) had 120 million monthly active players in 2020, showing just how big computer gaming is. As such, it is important for parents to be aware of the potential dangers it represents and how they can ensure their kids are protected.
Digital Downloads & Online Payments
Modern computers are almost exclusively available through digital downloads now, mainly through services like Steam. This means that your child will have to set up an account and get approval to use a credit card. If they don’t already have an account set up, you should help them create one yourself. Not only will you likely have information they’ll need to make the account, but it’s an opportunity to talk with them about the rules about buying games and playing online.
Just as with mobile and console games, there are also a growing number of PC games that include in-game purchases, or microtransactions. Unlike with most mobile and console platforms though, there aren’t as many options to block or limit such purchases when playing on PC. However, Steam does require that any games on its service that has microtransactions can only take money from the “Steam Wallet,” which sets certain limits as to how much money can be added at a time. Remember to talk with your kids and remind them to always ask for permission before adding money to their Steam account.
Most games that you will find on Steam or through other official storefronts are safe to download and play, but this is not always the case with mods. Many fans create their own custom content for their favorite games, often hosting outside of Steam or other official channels. This can present problems though, since not only are these mods sometimes not age appropriate, but they also represent potential cybersecurity issues. Mods can contain viruses that can damage your computer and give hackers access to your personal data. As such, you should remind your kids to only download games through official sources.
All online gaming services require you to create a username that any potential players can see. As such, you should make sure that your child’s nickname doesn’t include any identifying features. This includes things like:
- Their full name
- Their school’s name
- Their date of birth
- Their address
- The city or state they live in
- Their phone number
Also, if your account allows you to include profile picture, make sure that your child does not use one that shows their face or other otherwise includes information that could be used to identify them, such as their school logo.
As we’d mentioned before, many of the most popular games among kids have some online functionality, which means that there is the potential for cyberbullying and internet grooming. This is certainly no less true with online gaming services like Steam. Just like any other type of online gaming, you should encourage your kids to avoid playing with people that they don’t know. This includes not accepting Friend Requests from people you don’t in real life.
You can also adjust your account settings to limit inappropriate interactions online. For instance, under your child’s Steam account details, go to Preferences > Community Content Preferences. Here you can select options to filter profanity and slurs in any chat discussions, along with the option to add your own custom filtered words. Above all else, if someone says something inappropriate or makes them feel uncomfortable, they should come to you.
While Steam and other platforms have certain requirements regarding what kinds of games are allowed on their service, they are much laxer in terms of adult-oriented content compared to what you will find on the PS5, Xbox Series X, or Switch. Not only does Steam allow for the purchase of Mature-rated games like Grand Theft Auto, but it also features several “Adult Only” games that feature explicit sexual content. Granted, you do have to identify yourself as an adult to view these games in the Steam store, but this as easy as entering a fake birthday.
There are methods to limit access to these types of games: Steam allows you to block certain types of content when browsing the store, including nudity, sexual content, or violence. Still, this setting is easy to turn on and off if you know how to navigate your account settings, so while it will help make sure your child doesn’t come across such content by accident, it won’t necessarily stop them from looking for it.
Whether your children prefer to play on the PC, their favorite game console, or on their mobile phone, the most important way to ensure they are safe is to be involved in what they are doing. If you show an interest in what they’re doing, they are less likely to want to hide it from you. And if you’re involved, you can be confident that they are safe.