Your online nickname will help define fellow players’ initial impressions of you and maybe how they interact with you.
Some time ago I started adding people to my friends list who were from Saudi Arabia. I had no idea why but these chaps seemed to warm to me and were great to have a laugh with. While chatting with one of them he was surprised I wasn’t from Saudi too as my player name was the word they use for a little boys penis… I changed my name a short while after.
It’s worth noting that pretty much all online games and games platforms allow you to change your nickname so don’t stress about getting that perfect name…
Here’s a few things to think about when creating an online name for your child:
Avoid anything that may hint at your age, gender, beliefs or sexuality
It is good practice to avoid giving away anything about you as a person. Doing so will avoid others being able to direct unwanted attention to a particular aspect of you as a person. This will also avoid unwanted attention from those looking to interact with certain sexes or age groups.
Avoid anything contentious or related to current trends
Trying to get people to react to your username has been done to death. Current trends also are just as they are, current, and will change like the wind.
Don’t use glyphs (characters/ fonts that look like images)
The overuse of glyphs is usually associated with younger players so it’s good practice not to use them. Also, if someone wants to message you or seek you out to talk to you then these will make it difficult.
Keep punctuation to a minimum
For the same reasons as glyphs, punctuation should be carefully considered if used. Try to keep it limited to hyphens and underscores if you have to use anything at all.
If in doubt go generic or obscure
Early on in your child’s game playing just keep their names generic. As they play with others they might get some ideas for a good name or maybe the way they play might affect their name decision.
A quick search and you’ll find a few. Be aware that some will ask you to enter your name and, sometimes, other details. This is for the purpose of collecting your personal information. You don’t need to share your information to generate a name… just enter some false information and you’ll find that many of the suggestions are not related to the details you entered. (I’ve not linked to any as I’m not confident in any I’ve found so far).
Childcare.co.uk did a study of 2000 parents. 85% admitted to not following age restrictions for games. And over half said they’d let their children play games with an 18+ certificate even though only a fifth will let them watch an 18 cert film.
Seriously?! Is it ok for little Bobby to play Modern Warfare 2 where he gets to mow down a bunch of civilians while walking through an airport with a machine gun?
I could link to the more examples but the above should be enough, especially if you look up the play-through on YouTube. I won’t link to it…
Games have many elements that might adversely affect your child. Every child is different and, as their parent, you have to make that decision on whether they play a game or not. Here’s some things to think about to help you make that decision:
What age group is the game?
Like films and TV series there are guidelines to what age group a game should be played by.
In Europe there is the PEGI rating system. In the US they have the ESRB.
These are in game purchases. If you don’t want to risk your child emptying your bank account it is worth knowing if the game has them. I’ve dedicated a post to them here.
Are there any Gambling elements?
Many games take advantage of gambling mechanisms to extract money from players.
In Counter Strike, a very popular game played worldwide, you get awarded boxes at the end of a game, you then need to purchase a key to unlock the box and the player gets a random prize.
The player has to hope it’s a good one but more often than not, according to the odds, they won’t… Sound familiar? Of course, this is gambling.
Is it an online game?
Some games are playable online where your child will play alongside others from around the world. Unless they have pre arranged to play with friends then chances are they’ll be playing with randoms (random players from around the world) whose age, sex, location, beliefs are a mystery.
With young players, it’s a good idea to coach them in playing with others. Any age players should follow a few guidelines and I’ve written a couple of posts that might help:
It’s worth being aware that some games require a hell of a lot of time investment before they are really enjoyable.
A fine example is Fortnite. People in the know have given a rough figure of 50 hours before you’re going to start being able to build competently and compete with those that can.
Some games involve grinding away at very similar quests for the player’s character to gain experience points to level up, World of Warcraft can take a long time to level up your character to able to adventure into higher level areas. Trying to get your children to self regulate these kind of games will be a nightmare.
So why do kids play violent games?
The most common factor in all games that your child wants to play is their peer group. “Little Terry next door is stabbing people in ‘Generic Fighty Game II’, why can’t I?”. As a parent, who wants their child to be happy, you will think, “well if he’s playing it, then it’s probably OK… and I don’t want my little darling to be left out”.
But now you know there are games with 18+ certificates lurking out there so you’ll always do your own research as, chances are, nobody else has.
With the myriad of devices on the market it can be easy to get confused when trying to decide which is best for your child’s age group.
But first, don’t give your child a console as a personal present.
Buy it as a family or for the family. If your child receives the console as a present then it will be much harder to limit their playing, “It’s my console so why can’t I play it?!”.
This also goes for games. When you buy a game you can look into whether it is good for the whole family to play. Read more here about buying games.
The gaming devices
PlayStation, current version is the PS4. Now superseded by the PS5.
Xbox version One, the X series is now out and is made by Microsoft.
Nintendo Switch is a handheld device that can be docked to use a monitor or TV screen.
The controllers can be attached to the sides of the device to make one controller or 2 mini controllers for multiplayer.
Nintendo Wii is a console that changed the playing field back in 2006. It’s use of motion sensors in the controllers meant that hand gestures and movement were utilised to control games. This meant that very young and older people could play may of the games with ease.
PCand MAC You’ll probably have one already. Just be aware that some games will require high spec machines to play them.
A note on static and Mobile Devices
One major difference in all the above gaming devices is that between static and mobile devices. It’s worth knowing the difference when you’re thinking about you children gaming.
You have to set aside time to play as they are located in the home. The decision to play is a conscious one as there is the set up where you switch on the device and wait for it to startup. Also, in general, the games are more involved so you have to plan ahead to get the best out of your time playing.
Phones and tablets
As opposed to the above, you can dip into mobile devices whenever you have a spare 5mins, especially with the phone in your pocket. Therefore they are easier to binge/ overuse due to their availability.
Best device for early years gaming (6 to 8)
Simple to play, great value, family friendly.
Nintendo are the kings of family friendly gaming so there are lots of games that will suit your child. It’s very easy to play many of the games so you can play too. Even my mum could play it and enjoy it.
The controller has some clever motion detection that allows the player to shake or move the controller to play certain games. There’s also a pointer for the player to point and aim at the screen.
Some games are more thumbs only where the player presses buttons to move their character and make them interact with their surroundings but many of those games try and integrate the extra functionality of the Wii controller.
Finally, the console and games are very cheap to buy second-hand so you’re not making a large investment for something your child may have little interest in.
If you already have an XBox or Playstation you’ll find they are making a lot more games for young children. There are also some good peripherals available to help young children play more gesture based games.
Best device for young gamers (9-12)
Versatile gaming machine with great family friendly games
The Switch is a great machine for this age group and is a really good upgrade from the Wii. It’s very versatile with the controllers able to detach so you can play with one or more friends.
As with the Wii it has Nintendo’s repertoire of games that suit many ages and are accessible to people that don’t regularly play. It also has more mature games that you can play if you ever get the time…
The Switch can be un-docked to be a mobile device and should be treated as such. Although it is better than any other mobile device as it allows for the controllers to be removed to allow multiplayer gaming on the move.
Best devices for older children (12 and up)
PC or MAC*
Great value and choice of games
The primary reason is the availability of games and their price.
There is no backwards compatibility issues – where you can’t use your old games on your new games machine when you upgrade.
There are no monthly fees to play online (some games may do this but this is very rare). PlayStation and Xbox require a subscription to be on their network.
Chances are you’ll already have one.
Buying the machine in the first place is going to be expensive but in the long run this equals out.
You are able to play Xbox and PlayStation games on PC. This service is in its infancy. Xbox games are free to play on Windows 10 PCs. PlayStation is subscription based with an expanding repertoire of games.
Xbox or PlayStation
Great for playing together
I’ve included these as they are a great accompaniment to the pc or mac.
They allow for some great group play options when your child has some friends over for some couch gaming. Also, chances are, their friends will have one of these. They are so common now and a default for parents that just want to get their child a device to play on.
This might raise a few issues when someone wants to watch tv at the same time. But if you view games in a similar way to television shows or films then you will then end up balancing the amount of each.
In general I wouldn’t buy from a shop while your child is by your side. Also, when you buy a game think that you are buying it for the family. If your child thinks of the game as theirs then it will be harder to control when and how much they play i.e. “it’s my game so why can’t I play it?”, as they would with any of their other toys.
Before you buy the game always do some research first. Online is the most obvious place to start this but also ask around other parents and see what their kids are playing.
Just make sure you do your own research too. Here’s a few things I look for in a game I am going to buy:
Fun gameplay that is not overly repetitive
Some games are just a mindless grind that will, in the end, leave you or your child feeling empty inside…
What’s the game’s age rating
All games will be rated by ESRB or PEGI and they are a great first stop for whether or not you should be letting your kiddo play the game. I’ve expanded more on these here.
Is there a storyline for them to engage with? Do they have to make choices that affect the storyline? Is there a team element that their friends can join in to play?
Anything that I think might be distressing
This is very much dependent on your child. Are there entities that try to kill the player? Are there interactions with other players that your child doesn’t know?
A number of parents at school have mentioned their children having bad dreams from playing Minecraft after being chased by zombies, I recommended they switch to creative mode (where you are not attacked) and everything is fine again.
Are there any micro-transactions?
These are in-game purchases. I’ve gone into more detail about them here. I am not against micro-transactions, a game developer needs to make money, it’s just that I am aware that some developers might make them integral to keep playing the game. It’s good to know the type of micro-transaction so when your child says they need to buy something, I know why. If your child has enjoyed the game then think about rewarding the developer by buying the premium version or an in game purchase.
Is my child going to have to spend an inordinate amount of time on the game before they really start to enjoy it? Fortnite is a good example where when you get to a certain standard of play you will enjoy it a lot more. But that time before that is going to be pretty painful. Another example is World of Warcraft, any player has to spend a massive amount of time playing to level up their character.
Does the game have any adverse effects on your child
Above all else you want your child to have fun and enjoy themselves. When they do start playing the game you’ve bought pay heed to your child’s attitude and mood during and after. If anything is amiss don’t feel bad about taking the game away and finding an alternative. Just explain to your child why beforehand.
Play the game
Any game I buy for my son I spend a couple of hours playing before he knows I have got it for him so I can check it’s going to be okay. Also, it would be nice if I want to play it with him.
Nine out of ten times ask my child what he would like to do, if he can do anything, and the answer will be to play games or watch TV.
I have always tried to promote a healthy attitude towards other forms of entertainment or interest but for some reason that’s his thing. So I try to promote healthy gaming habits.
One problem with trying to promote a healthy attitude to kiddies playing games is you’re up against a gaming industry where some developers are engineering games for addiction.
So what can we do?
Don’t have any screens in your child’s bedroom
This advice came from my brother-in-law and works so well through its simplicity and makes regulating screen time so much easier.
Try to make your child’s room a sanctuary from modern technology, a place to read, study and sleep. With such an emphasis on the virtual world in their modern lives they need a place to rest.
If you can get your child to regard their bedroom in this way then hopefully this will stay with them when they are older and help instilling some form of self regulation.
Don’t let games/ screens become a crutch for your child on social occasions
I believe social skills need to be exercised like a muscle and your kids aren’t going to improve if they bury their faces in a screen. Also, there’ll come a time in their life when that’s just rude.
Test to see if screens are becoming a little too important to their life by leaving mobile devices at home. How do your children behave without these devices? Does it change how they interact with others? How is their mood?
Be careful about the games you buy
Just because your child’s friends play a game doesn’t mean that it’s going to be okay for your child. 86% of parents don’t follow game age ratings… over half let their children play games with 18+ rating.
Don’t let games or mobile devices become a default babysitter
We all need some peace and quiet at times but try and promote other forms of entertainment before reaching for the mobile device.
With younger children have a grab-bag of things they like to do like colouring books, a container with some Lego in, reading books.
For older kids I can only think of books. Got any other suggestions?
Be mindful of setting precedents
My son still thinks he can only play games on the weekend. He’s not questioned why, that’s just the way it has always been and hopefully it will remain like this for as long as possible… The same goes for the amount of time your child plays.
Note the cumulative amount of time your child spends on any screened device
Hopping to and fro between games and social media is a habit to be wary of.
Social media employs psychologists to keep you scrolling. Going from one highly addictive activity to another is a whole barrel of trouble.
Don’t see social media as downtime from gaming.
Treat screen time as anything that involves a screen and regulate it as such (with the exception of research for school).
I reckon young children, under 11, shouldn’t be let loose on public servers. Keep to closed groups/ private servers with their friends from school, relatives or you. At this early stage of development we’re trying to nurture them in a safe environment and give them a healthy attitude towards games.
Even after 11 I’d be careful about letting them loose on their own in the online world. My 12yo nephew still plays Fortnite on single player or with friends due to not liking random players.
A note on single player games
There are plenty of great single player games to play. While they’re playing the game they can still chat to friends online. Especially good if they’re playing the same game.
Playing online with others
If you or your child play online games on public servers or join public forums there will come a time when you interact with others: they might have a great game and want to express this; spend 6 hours completing a bunch of quests with some good folks and want to add them as friends; someone might say something that they disagree with or something that angers them…
Here’s some tips to help you navigate your child through the social side of gaming:
If it’s negative then don’t bother
If someone says something nasty, belittles their efforts, criticises their methods of play then they need to let it go. Will it matter in an hour’s time? Nope. Will it matter in a week’s time? Nope. Remember, it’s just a game and played for enjoyment or escapism from the stresses of daily life.
The same goes if you find your child doing the above. If they are belittling others online then it’s probably time for them to take a break and time for you to chat to them…
Going down this path of negativity so early on is probably a sign of greater issues. At least you can identify this behaviour early and start addressing it (which is way beyond the scope of this site).
Don’t be quick to add friends
From personal experience I found that I ended up with a large list of people on my friends list that I don’t hear from or interact with after the initial honeymoon period. Also, you may find out very quickly that the person you’ve added has some hidden facets that you don’t want to be associated with…
Here are some questions your child should ask themselves and tips that may help them regarding online friends:
Is the potential friend a similar age? For kids 11 and under I would be asking if you, as a parent, knows this other person. It’s best to stick to the people your child already knows.
Manage friends. Most platforms that allow friend lists will have a delete, mute or block function.
Don’t accept friend requests from people they haven’t talked to! Just because someone played a game with you doesn’t mean you add them. And if they didn’t communicate in game they probably won’t do so in the future.
Use voice communication wisely
Many players rely on hearing the slightest of sounds to give them an edge for their gameplay. Chatting about your day or not setting your microphone up properly is not going to go down well.
Many chat programs will have an option for ‘push to talk’. This means pressing a button to broadcast to the chat group and is excellent for managing what is said and when.
Don’t give away personal information
Minimise the personal information you share! Don’t say your exact age, instead give an age range e.g. teen, under 16, under 18, 20s, 30s, old git (my age range). Don’t ever give away a surname. Maybe consider giving your first name or nickname your friends call you by but only if you’ve known the person for some time.
No gaming devices in the bedroom
Don’t let your kids have any electric devices in their bedroom. This rule came from my brother in law and it works so well through its simplicity, phones stay downstairs along with everything else. This lessens the possibility of bad communication massively. It’s easy for you to keep an eye on your child’s behaviour/ reactions to messages.
The best and worst of gaming online
One of the things that makes internet gaming so great is the global scope of its players. I’ve met so many people from around the world: Norway, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Lithuania to mention a few. These are people that are on my friend list that I’ve had great times with – past tense as I have little time for gaming any more 🙁
In gaming online there is nothing as annoying as a fellow player who is an arse. I’ve met every single kind of idiot in my gaming life. From pure shouty hatred idiot to insipid comments about my aim statistics being below par idiot… When you’re happily playing your game, ignoring the stresses of daily existence, having someone stick a spanner in the works is a jolt to the system.
Learning how to deal with idiots is something your child will have to do in real life and online.
Unlike real life, most games with in-game communication will have a mute function, I reach for this the instant I’ve got my doubts about someone. Many games will also have a report function so you can report a player – then mute them… Other than that it’s a case of letting things go.
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