Lots of parents we talk to are aware of what games their kids are playing, on a console, handheld device or computer, and many of them have rules as to which games their kids can play and for how long. Very few parents we talk to have any idea of who their kids are playing online with.
We’ve written before about some basic guidelines for parents with a mind to keep their kids safe while gaming online. I thought I’d do something different this week.
My 15 year old son is a big time gamer, and his game of choice is Team Fortress 2, a First Person Shooter that he plays online both solo and with other people. He plays it almost exclusively on his laptop in multi player mode. I have spent time watching him play so I could get an idea of how safe and age appropriate it is but I asked him to write me a summary of the game, who he plays with and whether he thinks it’s safe.
Here it is, slightly edited for grammar and clarity:
Team Fortress 2 (TF2) is a first person shooter game created by Valve. It originally came out as part of The Orange Box bundle in 2007, at the same time as Half Life 2 and Portal. Today it is free to play, and averages over 60,000 players at a time playing. A player can select one of 9 different classes, join the RED or BLU team and attempt to complete an objective, like push a payload into the enemy’s base where it explodes, or control a central point for 3 minutes.
On the computer, Team Fortress 2 is made possible by Steam, a gaming platform largely on PC. Through Steam you can interact with other players, purchase games and accessories, or play games you already have. Virtually anyone can send a friend request to anyone else, and after this request is accepted, you can talk with that person about whatever you want. You can even start a voice chat with them, if both of you have a microphone.
Most of the people you talk to will be complete strangers, and you have no way of knowing who they are or what their intentions are when they are talking to you. There is a possibility that some of these people are something like a child predator, and with a large portion of TF2’s community being underage, this could easily become an issue. Surprisingly, after over two years of playing the game and being involved in the community, I have not heard of any issues involving stalkers or predators. Neither the game nor Steam require you to give out any information about yourself, so it would be difficult for your average Joe to get online and stalk someone.
I would advise extremely young children who do not know the dangers of the online world to stay away, but if you are educated and smart online, predators/stalkers should not be a problem.
First of all, the game is rated M for Mature, which means it’s generally suitable for ages 17 and up. Since my 15 year old has been playing for 2 years, we won’t be winning any traditional Parent of the Year awards.
Second, it is instructive to note that he appears to believe that predator risk is limited to being stalked by someone who knows who you are in real life. While he has not divulged his real name online, as far as I can tell, a predator simply targeting teenage boys in Central New Jersey may see him as an appropriate target. His online anonymity has given him a false sense of security.
Third, there is no mention of bullying or foul language. From what I’ve seen, a lot of the communication that happens in MMORPGs could be considered bullying, and there is certainly no shortage of foul language. It doesn’t bother my kid but that doesn’t mean that it won’t bother yours, or that you want your kids exposed to it.
Putting aside that fact that 15 years olds shouldn’t be playing M rated games in the first place, we need to raise awareness with our teens that even if they don’t use their real names online, there may be people looking to figure out who or where they are and trying to connect in real life.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.