Gaming online is not new; it’s actually been around since the 1960s. However, new technology and high-speed internet connections have certainly helped playing online games like Call of Duty and Fortnite become the popular hobby it is today.

Online gaming can also refer to online gambling, for example, casino-like games, lotteries, and betting on sporting events. Like any form of gambling, there are the risks of addiction and the potential to rapidly lose funds invested in the game, but this article will not deal with this subject.

Online gaming creates an opportunity for people, including younger people and children, to escape to a virtual world and feel part of an online community. In the current Covid-impacted environment we live in, this is very important. Gaming on computers and consoles can also be educational and benefit children physically.

As technology has improved, the gaming environment is also changing constantly. Games that used to require desktops and hard drives can now be played just as easily on smartphones, making them more easily accessible and a number of different types of games and playing styles have become available.

However, this constant evolution and increase in popularity leads to a direct increase in the dangers and risks of playing online. Without the right guidance on what games to play or when to play, people (and especially children) can be exposed to various risks and pitfalls such as in-game cyberbullying, harassment, stalking, online grooming or in some extreme cases gaming addiction.

There are also certain technological social risks of online gaming that we need to be aware of, such as computer intruders exploiting security vulnerabilities and viruses, Trojan horses, computer worms, and spyware.

Many online games are meant for adults and usually contain themes, language and images that are inappropriate for children. Parents should ensure that they are aware of the age restrictions on the games and also access the game to ensure it is suitable for children.

Players in online games can communicate with each other by sending messages which can be typed as part of the game, chatting online while in the game or even physically speaking using headsets or microphones. Even though many of the games are moderated, some of them are not and this leaves room for cyberbullying or contact from potentially dangerous strangers.

Studies show that 65% of people who participate in online gaming say that they have been harassed or bullied while playing a game. This is a worrying statistic for underage gamers.

The risk of children falling victim to online predators is high. Online gaming gives predators the opportunity to build a sort of shared online experience, basically becoming the child’s defender, teammate and friend.  Children are often very naïve and give their personal details to strangers in online games.

A parent’s first instinct may be to prevent a child from participating in online gaming, but this may lead to them doing it secretly. An alternative route to follow may be to talk to the child and prepare them for the risks of online gaming and the types of negative behaviour they may experience online. It is also important to explain to children the immense impact that cyber bullying can have on others, and to make sure that they know they can talk to their parents if they are being harassed or bullied.

There are various applications that parents can download to monitor children’s access and use of the internet, and online gaming. We do not have a choice about whether we exist in this online world, but we need to know how to use the internet safely and protect ourselves and our children.

Should you or your child be a victim of cyberbullying or harassment when playing online games, there are legal steps you can take. You can for example apply for a protection order in terms of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 or an interdict through the High Court.

If you or your child is being defamed, the victim of hate speech or should there be a privacy breach of some sort, you also have the option to sue for damages and even lay a criminal charge in certain severe circumstances.

Here are some basic tips that we wish to share:

  • Talk to your children about the games they play and ask who they are in contact with;
  • Research games before letting your child play;
  • Acquaint yourself with the game by playing it yourself or watching your child play to make sure it is suitable;
  • Teach your child to use a screen name that doesn’t include any clues about their real name;
  • Teach your child to never give out personal information such as real names, phone numbers, email addresses or location;
  • Enforce time limits for when your child may play online;
  • Encourage your child to tell you if they are being bullied or if there are any users they feel uncomfortable about;
  • Teach your child to block and report bullies;
  • Teach your child to never meet an online friend without your supervision.

If you have any concerns or issues with cyberbullying, harassment, breach of privacy, hate speech or defamation when using the internet, social media or online gaming, feel free to contact us for advice and assistance.

We also provide workshops and seminars to educate learners, parents and teachers on the proper usage of social media platforms, including online gaming platforms, your rights, and the potential legal risks and liabilities that may occur due to incorrect usage.