When a parent on the Uproxx staff came across an unsettling local story about a pedophile luring a 12-year-old boy into sending nude photos through Minecraft, he instantly sent a flurry of panicked messages to Uproxx‘s resident gaming expert to get educated on this challenging new aspect of parenting. We’ve republished an edited version of that conversation below as a resource for any parent looking for similar answers.
Ryan Perry: Dan, I just came across this disturbing story about a local kid. What the f***?
Dan Seitz: While it’s rare, pedophiles and other assorted creeps will use Minecraft and other games to try and contact kids. It’s a problem you find across the whole industry, unfortunately, in part because game companies are terrible about communicating any aspect of their game to anybody who hasn’t handled controllers since birth.
I had no idea Minecraft allowed communication like this. My six-year-old daughter plays all the time. I thought she was just running around looking at block-y trees and stuff.
You’re probably not alone. Most games at this point either are automatically wired to the internet or can connect to the internet and usually have some sort of chat support. A lot of games are designed by adults for adults, and developers tend not to realize that people will just hand kids any video game, regardless of what’s on the cover. With a game like Minecraft, which is fairly kid-friendly and exploded out of nowhere, it’s a huge problem.
How can I make sure my kid isn’t susceptible to stuff like this?
It starts with your kids. All the basic rules for being out in public apply to being online, really. Don’t talk to people you don’t know; if somebody wants you to go somewhere (i.e. click on a website), you shouldn’t do it without a parent or other trusted adult present; kids should understand that not everybody on the internet is a nice person or is who they say they are. Don’t make them paranoid, but stress safety.
Fortunately, unlike the public, you can go into your kids’ games and usually lock off or shut down certain functions. With any game your kid plays, take a close look at the chat and “friends” system. You might have to Google a bit for the settings, but when you find them, you can usually tweak who your kids are talking to. You can also play with them, if you have the time.
What other games/companies should I worry about?
Mostly it’s a question of the audience the game is intended for and how it’s set up. For example, Nintendo has a complicated system for playing with friends online that’s deliberately a huge pain to reduce the chances of somebody using Nintendo’s products to lure kids to a van. Most games aimed at kids are similarly paranoid because nobody wants the screaming headlines about how Candy Crush got a child abducted.
Still, don’t take anything for granted. Before your kids go hog wild in a game, poke around in it, see what it’s like, and set some ground rules. If your kid has a lot of friends on the same system, you can limit them to that friends group. Honestly, especially with advanced game consoles, that’s probably a good idea anyway. Leaving your kid alone with a game console connected to the internet is like leaving them in the boy’s locker room at the local high school and asking them to babysit, really.
Thanks for that visual. How is this legal and why aren’t there stricter regulations?
There’s been no real leadership on this issue, politically. The solution most politicians have come up with is to try and outlaw video games altogether, and once it became clear that was never going to happen, there’s just been no interest in addressing the issue. It doesn’t help that one of the most high profile anti-gaming crusaders turned out to be selling guns to the mafia.
What are some games I can feel safe about?
Really, the best way to feel safe is to get involved. Look at the software, look at the chat functions, and talk with your kids about what to do if a stranger tries to talk to them. You can’t protect your kid from the whole internet, but video games are a good way to teach them the skills they need to stay safe both inside and outside the game.
So there’s no easy fix and I should remain paranoid all the time. A microcosm for parenting in general.
Yes. Now, as to when their favorite YouTube personalities lose their minds, I recommend burning the computer and considering joining the Amish.