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When the circle of friends consists of avatars – communication in online games

2 minutes reading time
6-17 years
Social Media
Foto: Sean Do/Unsplash

The child in front of the screen, the game console in hand and on the head the headset … – this sight is familiar to you? Then your child is a gamer in digital gaming worlds.

Popular with many children and young people are games that allow them to chat with others online, such as in Fortnite (from age 12) or FIFA . You can create digital communities and teams with friends or with other gamers. You can communicate live via text messages or a headset, directly through the game or with the help of additional programs such as. Teamspeak, Mumble and Discord . Players talking during the game. For example, they discuss game strategies, give each other tips, and pick up praise for skillful actions. Digital friendships” can develop in the process.

Positive effects of chatting in games

Communication during the game trains social skills. Similar to the schoolyard, everyone takes on a certain role: one person determines the conversation, another ensures that there is no argument, yet another person makes jokes. Whether digital or analog, rules must be observed. When children and young people can only talk to each other without seeing each other, they are particularly challenged: Game situations have to be explained in an understandable way, quick instructions have to be given, and agreements on further tactics have to be made.

Risks in virtual communication

When people are just chatting in online games, it’s hard to tell who is communicating with you. Therefore, there is a risk of cyberbullying and cybergrooming. Hate and insults among gamers are not a rare phenomenon either. Since the chats in games are not always moderated, i.e. there is no third person to ensure that communication rules are observed, the danger is increased. Players feel safe because they can hide behind an avatar (the name of the characters in an online game). Because for the registration often a name and the e-mail address is enough. A secure age query is not possible.

In the “play frenzy” there is also the danger that your child will disclose private information to the outside world unnoticed. In addition, the incentive is high to want to play on and on in order to stay in contact with his team and to get recognition there.

What should parents pay attention to?

Pay attention to age recommendations and risk assessments of games. In addition to the age ratings of the USK, use pedagogical ratings, e.g. from Spielatgeber NRW or Spielbar.

As a parent, you are in the best position to assess whether your child is ready to chat responsibly in the game or whether he or she can assess the risks. Observe how your child behaves during conversations outside of the Internet. Also play together sometimes, so you can understand the enthusiasm for a game. The shared experience additionally builds trust between you and your child. Then it knows it can turn to you if it finds something scary or uncomfortable. Also, make yourself aware of the settings options of the game in question. If possible, specify the age of the person playing so that parental control settings can take effect automatically (if they exist). It may be possible to disable the chat function separately. For example Fortnite the voice chat can be deactivated or individual players from the team can be muted.

For younger gamers under 14, consider games that do not rely on online communication. Feel your way in slowly with your child and explain possible communication risks and how to deal with them.

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