It’s Time to Make Video Games Safe for Children

Video games, streaming sites and eSports are plagued with trolls.

Comments: 87

  1. I think that the writers spirit is in the right place but the solution would cause more issues than it would solve. I do agree that more pressure should be put on parents to not allow young children to consume adult material. Unfortunately many players of games like Grand Theft Auto are children, often under 13. In my opinion this vast and widespread oversight of parents leads to many of thees issues.

  2. Who is the author of this article exactly? I’m someone in the esports industry and I’ve never heard of him. Having a casual fan write a piece on this topic was a mistake if you ask me. They completely forgot to mention the conduct policies of esports professionals that have been developed alongside franchised leagues. They also forgot to mention that a lot of the toxicity in gaming is due to online anonymity. The ESRB indicates when users can interact, making it easy for parents to isolate their kids if they wish. Parents can change their children’s chat settings both on their console and in individual games.

  3. If you have children now, you should be more concerned with the destruction of democracy and the environment. Your children will surely face a reality that will force them to deal with it in a way that you never were. The least of their concerns will be whether they are good people as determined by those who think that conformity to a consumerist life is a patriotic duty.

  4. @Chris Hey Chris, surely the two are related. If kids are exposed to sexist and racist reactions while their young brains are forming, this content will form them. Young women who are exposed to sexually motived violence, or violence of any kind will become the kind of voters you don't want, assuming they survive in some form. And the boys who identify with the trolls will want to emulate it.

  5. Hello. Video game activist here. I worked with The Lion & Lamb Foundation back in the early 2000s to get better ESRB rating specifics on Mobile and Handheld games. You're welcome. In nearly every instance of online harassment, you can use MUTE, Report, and Remove features that are built into every single one of those games. Yes, I mute, block, and report people on Fortnite. Teach your kids to do it themselves. You're asking to regulate human behavior on a very specific level. That specificity is time consuming and a waste of valuable time for I.T. Read the instructions or look through the settings on your games and moderate speech around you, yourself. Unless you want give up your paycheck for the extra time that instance moderation would require. I'm sure they'd appreciate it.

  6. "Video games should be rated based on the amount of trolling that happens" I can't tell if he means the official ESRB rating (E/E10+/T/M) should be based on online interaction, or if there should be some separate rating of the game's multiplayer community. If the former, that's essentially untenable. Any game with online multiplayer would almost certainly warrant an AO (essentially NC-17) based on what some of the bad apples playing it do and say. I seriously doubt there's a game out there lacking trolls. If it's the latter, well, that's a little less onerous, but I don't see how that could be easily maintained. The current ESRB rating is printed on the back cover. In the very rare instances where a game has been re-rated, the publisher had to recall every copy and make new covers, at great cost to them. Even if this 'online community' rating is a separate entity, I would think that same process would apply, and despite how commonplace digital sales have become, many millions of physical copies are still sold per year. To re-iterate a previous point, this separate rating will still be near-guaranteed to be 'extremely bad' based on how terrible so many people are online. I agree with the author's overall sentiment of wanting to make online discourse safe for children. I don't think rating games' interactions would help, though, given how universal bad behavior is. Trying to police the speech and actions of millions of people in real-time is also really, really hard.

  7. You describe a real issue but come up with a surreal solution. You cannot police human behaviour. The issue will stay as long as anonymity exists, and it is really not a good idea to force people to show an ID to play a game. Besides, please note that the majority of games are not played by children, nor bought by them. The solution is education, and this includes educating the parents.

  8. The solution is education? Education will have limited results in an online gaming community. The games needs better oversight from the companies who develop and operate the games. The companies needs to be held accountable for the content that exists in their environment.

  9. @Joe I meant education to deal effectively with potential harassers. It is impossible to root out people with bad intentions, in bars or in gaming communities or at school. You can, on the other hand, be prepared. Besides, a game can have great success with 50k gamers. But this would in no way pay for the moderation of what those 50k people are saying live 24h a day in hundreds of different instances of that game's world.

  10. Interesting that the content of the games themselves isn’t being scrutinized a bit more. But what do I know, my kill/death ratio in Counter-Strike never was that impressive.

  11. Actually, I agree with the author. If games were rated by the ESRB based on their online content, then most online multiplayer games would be rated AO. This is the ACCURATE rating for these games! Developers should not be able to sell games to the public with delusional and useless rating scales based on ignoring 99% of the games' real content. Accurate ESRB ratings would make games developers think twice before allowing in-game conversations with total strangers. That would be good for everyone, not least the trolls who apparently need some serious help controlling their impulses.

  12. @James After we do that, we should punish people in Hollywood, the music industry, and all authors of books because people can use their products to justify and even facilitate awful deeds. Every car manufacturer is responsible for every car accident as well. Is that correct?

  13. @Opinionatedfish We're talking about CONTENT RATINGS, not criminal punishments. If I went to a movie and half the movie was video or audio of random people cursing at me, I'd expect it to be rated R or X, not G.

  14. @James But in your example, all of the objectionable content in the movie was 100% controlled by the people who made it, and the rating would reflect that. The MPAA wouldn't re-rate Minions 2 'R' because some audience members started swearing in the theater. Admittedly, games are not 100% analogous since user interaction is required, while a movie can be watched with no one else around. In the case of multiplayer games, the very act of playing it as intended, and the experience thereof, requires other people and is shaped by how they act. But I don't see how you can rate a game based on something that its creators could not control. Even with a single-player-only game, if you can name something, there's nothing to stop the player from using swear words or racist terms. Should we rate every single-player game with text input AO because someone, somewhere will put bad words into a text box? It doesn't cause the interpersonal harm that yelling discriminatory things at someone else does, but on the other hand there's no iron-clad guarantee that someone's little sibling won't boot up that save and see things their parents wished they wouldn't.

  15. I would also like to note that in the "examples" that are sourced, every single one of those professionals faced criticism and consequences for their actions. There is already a community, that isn't a governing body like the ESRB, which already punishes bad behavior.

  16. I respectfully disagree with most of regulation proposals, as you expect the government full of older politicians, who don't play or understand online multiplayer games, to somehow find an easy way to judge trolling and impose standards. We still have politicians who still blindly blame video games for violent behavior, even though multiple studies have proven otherwise. The one proposal I can agree with, is Google should be able to make a Twitch for Kids application, similar to YouTube for Kids. Streamers would need to qualify for a "G" or "PG" rated stream, that kids could safely follow and watch. The chat room and live interaction would need to be limited, but there certainly would be a big market for it.

  17. @Andy Last I knew, Twitch was owned by Amazon, a company not concerned with even the appearance of social responsibility.

  18. "The most troubling aspect of this is that most games are intended for children and young adults." No, they are not. The average of a gamer is 34, and 72% are over 18.

  19. "Parents also need to shoulder some of the responsibility." I would say that parents need to shoulder almost all of the responsibility. Waiting for politicians to do anything is a fool's game...

  20. The author sounds like an aggrieved parent. Do you really think you can shield children from puberty? The Roblox incident is no worse than anything I experienced in junior high. We called it school. Chat rooms and instant messengers were even worse. There was never any discipline. Navigating the obscenity of trolling is not under adult supervision. Parents are obsolete and always have been at certain ages. If you really don't want your child to experience digital trolling, your only real option is to monitor and restrict their digital access. Take the iPad away. Play offline games. Go analog. Go to plan Lego. Without locking your kid in the basement until they reach 21 though, they are going to get trolled. If you do lock them in the basement, they'll have a whole host of other mental issues when you finally let them out. So what is all the supposed outrage really about? It's not the children. It's not about the video games. It's about the parent. It's about the parent's need to feel omnipotent and all protecting. My response: Get over yourself.

  21. Ask your kid's playmates parents what video games they allow to be played. I once brought my child over to a large (4 kids) family's home where there was an entire room lined up with multiple computers so that all of their brood had one to play violent video games. The windows were closed with the curtains drawn on a beautiful spring day. As the many 'children' sat in large desk chairs banging keyboards. Needles to say, I did not let my then 9 year old stay or go back again. I did not doubt for one second that this family also had guns within their home too. BTW they were a well to do family with a McMansion and the mother did not think anything was wrong with doing this on a play date. She even suggested that I was wrong for questioning this activity. I was culturally shocked by all of it.

  22. It seems your concern is exposing your child to inappropriate content. Understandable, but that is your responsibility. Almost every platform requires games to be rated by the ESRB before the manufacturer will allow sale. That includes titles like Fortnite and Overwatch, and League of Legends has a rating as well despite PCs not requiring one. If you believe content, even online, to be inappropriate for your child, then disallow your child from playing them. Just like you wouldn't want a young child to watch Game of Thrones despite its popularity, you should remove Fortnite or any other multiplayer title from your child's system. Lets also consider the comparison to traditional sports. The pros are held to high standards, but the kids playing a pickup game of football are gonna swear and tease and possibly make jokes of sexual natures. They might also be very polite despite the competition. That casual environment children find themselves on the block is no different from online games. Some games will have trolls, other games will have polite comrades. The fact that your team of five had only a single troll shows most gamers are not rude and in need of ratings. A kid on the block who refuses to play well will not get invited to the next pickup game. A troll in league will get flagged and eventually banned. Ultimately, you want online interactions to be completely sanitized. You already have options to do so. Mute the trolls, or don't play. Ratings wont fix online gaming.

  23. What we need is parents to monitor what their kids are consuming online whether it be video games or other content. This comes down to personal responsibility.

  24. One more thought, in addition to the ones in my reply to Colton: There are plenty of ways to verify age, e.g., sites that sell alcohol. I also believe it would be possible to link every esports and other gaming account to a credit card. So in theory, folks who don't want moderated streams because they enjoy (?) being exposed to stupidity (trolls) or don't like things too "PC" can verify they are an adult and play in unmoderated environments. And sane people and kids can play in moderated games. But either game experience should be the same cost for the player -- i.e., even though it costs more to run a moderated game. Enough "anonymity". At least around kids. This is something that could be worked out between parental/consumer demand action and pre-competitive industry groups.

  25. What? Active parenting? Actually engage our kids one-on-one?? You must be joking! We are much too busy in our over-scheduled, manic life to raise proper children. Isn't that what the village is for?

  26. Children should not have electronics. The should play with real toys, read books, and do real world sports.

  27. @Jonathan Katz I agree that it is important for kids to not "live" on their devices, but to rule them out completely isn't okay either as the world is only getting more dependent on technology. It really does help to have tech introduced from an early age, but should probably be limited and kept track of by the parent or guardian.

  28. Yes, let's never expose them to electronics like computers so they can be totally incompetent with technology by the time they are adults. Smart plan.

  29. The faceless anonymity of cyberspace invites many to express their worst behaviors, often without consequence. I argue that the freedom of unrestrained hostility online has been strongly influencing the way people behave in real life, and I would love to find a way to rid all toxic people on and offline, but this is our reality now. Every gaming and social media platform should have means to block and report abusive users. It is impossible to police all jerkwads on the internet; I can't imagine what resources would be required to monitor everything for "safe language", plus privacy issues since many platforms allow private messaging. Trolls will also find ways to circumvent restrictions. There many reasons to limit your child's online time, period. Have them read an actual book, learn an instrument, play sports, interact with people and animals in person, etc. All these things are important for child development, whereas Youtube and online games are not. You can modify your settings to provide some protection when they do use it. You can teach them how to be decent human beings to others, and to report/block bad people--on and offline. Don't depend on a company to do your parenting for you.

  30. I simply don't allow my 8 & 10 yo kids to play multiplayer anonymous online games, period. How are you going to police everyone when they are anonymous? It's so pervasive and out of control, it's like having your children go out and play on the freeway and hoping a car doesn't come by. If parents simply make it off limits like this, then if game and streaming and online companies want to attract children they will have to thoroughly clean up the sewer they have created, or create a truly safe space separate from the free for all.

  31. No, no, and also, no. If you don't want your child being exposed to potentially rude, lewd, or otherwise offensive content, don't allow them to play multiplayer games or watch streaming content on the 'net. It's your job as a parent to shield your children from content you don't approve of. It is not, however, other people's job to parent your children and make sure that your subjective standards are adhered to and your child doesn't see anything that you wouldn't approve of them seeing. Likewise, there will always be various forms of misbehavior whenever you have an online community. You can burden the industry with draconian regulations (but you shouldn't), and it still wouldn't solve the problem. The problem is systemic, and won't go away as long as people are able to interact anonymously. So, no, it's not time to do anything with video games. It's time for parents to realize that they are the only people who are, or can be made to be, responsible for their child's media experience. And if there are sites, games, topics, etc... which they don't approve of, it's the parents' job to deal with that on their end. It's not at all reasonable to attempt to restrict the behavior of other people, even if it is rude, lewd, and offensive. Or to mangle a metaphor - your right to swing regulatory power ends where my nose begins. P.S. The majority of games are not made for children, they're made for the 18 - 36+ demographic as those people make up roughly 2/3 of gamers.

  32. @Daniel Schalit Indeed, adults make up the majority of the gaming community. In addition, if you're concerned about your children's gaming experiences, I recommend the single-player experience, and keeping an eye on what games you buy them. You're the parent; act like one.

  33. @Daniel Schalit What I hear you saying in your comment: "Gaming is for people like me (18-36-year old males) and no one else. Nothing should be done to improve toxic communities or protect children. All responsibility lies with the victims or their parents." As GamerGate showed us, the gaming community has grown substantially in the last twenty years, and those who were there at the beginning think they control it. Luckily, they don't! Gaming has a lot more positive forces to offer than the negative, slanderous, integrity-free voices of GamerGate. I'm all for finding solutions to improve the state of these communities. Sorry, but players don't have any fundamental rights to be jerks to one another. The ESRB has shirked their responsibility here by saying since the dawn of networked gaming that "online interactions are unrated." Let's start a rating system and enforce it... it doesn't require the government to get involved (just like ESRB ratings got started in the first place) it just requires the industry to wake up to the problem.

  34. @Avid "All responsibility lies with the victims or their parents." I completely agree. Gamers aren't victims either.

  35. Ratings systems won’t solve this or even come close. Ratings can only inform your decision whether or not to let your child play a particular game. There’s no real way to gauge how well a game’s community will behave or how heavily moderated it will be. The only thing you can do here is assume any online game will have trolls and treat it as if it has an M rating. If you want to help solve the root problem, treat your children to behave respectfully, even when they’re in an anonymous online environment. This is a societal problem with behavior that we cannot simply ban our way out of. People need to be taught to behave correctly even in the absence of meaningful consequences.

  36. @Eric Most of the toxicity I find in online games comes from children. Yelling into their microphones, blaring music, cursing for no reason. When I squad up, it's with other adults that I know. Most of which are also military, so it's enjoyable to talk to them about their day and lives while taking down other squads. When you play the games correctly, we all win. On a side note, if every community this person goes into is toxic.. there's only one thing that is constant between those communities. Hmm.....

  37. This really seems to be just an extension of the problem that the entire Internet has at this point. I don't see the logic in singling out video games as the only thing worth regulating - social media itself is even more toxic than video games, and the most toxic parts of the gaming community are the ones connected to it. The ESRB has said for years that their ratings don't address online interactions, and all of your complaints are about those online interactions. I don't know why you're blaming a paper bag for not being able to hold water. It was never meant to. I've been playing video games for the last, what, 20+ years, since I could barely read. I was there for the evolution of gaming communities and, yes, their descent into toxicity. I still quit all social media first, and if I ever had a child, I know which one I'd police more harshly.

  38. "Video games should be rated based on the amount of trolling that happens" Video Games are rated before they are released. How would you rate a game, based on the amount of trolling that happens, IN GAME, before the game is out? What would that rating system even look like? I can agree that Video Game companies should disclose more information about their reporting/flagging systems in order to make sure that they are reasonably responsive. Having streamers tag their streams with things like "Mature Language" or "Explicit Content" would also help some people know whether to expect something that might not be appropriate. But there is very little that can feasible be done when it comes to knowing how other users and gamers will behave. Ultimately, the user (or them and their parents) need to be responsible for taking actions to report inappropriate behavior. Teach the kids how to use functions like Mute, Silence, Block, and Report. The only other option would be to remove communications functions entirely. Hearthstone is a good example. You can't chat with your opponent unless they are on your friend's list and there is no voice communication, only emotes. People can still be jerks but it SEVERELY limits their ability to do so. It could be argued that the removal of these communications features hurts the enjoyment of some players but that is something that would interesting to see internal testing and responses on (and it doesn't require the FTC).

  39. @Michael B yeah...its essentially like asking for movie ratings based on the stuff people yell out in the theater, not based on the content of the film itself. Sure it can be obnoxious, and could harm the other people watching, but its just not realistic, especially when its a theater containing millions of people, rather than just a few dozen.

  40. This article has good intentions and speaks from a place of honest grievance, but misunderstands the source of that frustration - the problem is that their children are having interactions which they can't control. The author's experience with video games in their youth left them with the impression that games are a safe and solitary pastime for kids, and their subsequent integration with the internet has caught them off-guard. This is not a video game problem, but a digital age problem, and if they want to regulate their children's experiences while gaming they need to scrutinize the platform the same way they do facebook, television, media in general, and other humans. The author's complaint about the ESRB giving them a misleading sense of security is valid - the organization could do more to inform parents about games which feature online interactions. However, their proposed solutions to the problems of gaming culture are misguided at best. While multiplayer toxicity is a very real game design problem and certain games aggravate it by engineering high-stress environments, the behavior this article describes has more to do with human nature than e-sports. It would certainly be nice if some higher authority (government and/or companies, as the author suggests) could somehow stop young men from acting like young men on the internet, but I don't think that's the world we live in. For parents who share the author's concerns with ESRB, I recommend commonsensemedia instead.

  41. @Paul B “The behavior this article describes has more to do with human nature than e-sports. It would certainly be nice if some higher authority could somehow stop young men from acting like young men on the internet...” No thanks for your cynicism. We humans don’t throw in the towel and say “this is human nature”. You describe animal behavior, not human behavior. Human behavior is highly suggestible to social pressure and moral norms and we as a society cannot afford to throw in the towel and call it a day because it is the way we are. And mine you, I use Common Sense Media and it isn’t enough. Far from enough. CSM gives an overview of expansive games like Minecraft, that have online and offline versions and thousands of mini games. They are wonderful, but no, not even close to a solution.

  42. The writer actually hits on 1 idea that I think could be beneficial. Games should develop tools to empower parents to monitor their children. For example, create a system where the parent can set up a video game account for their child and monitor their child. Provide an option that allows the parent to disable some or all communications for their child. (If my child is between 4-10, i would disable all communication, and probably open it up when they reach 13) And send an email to the parent whenever the child is reported for bad behavior. It could include an automated screenshot or video clip of the reported behavior. This way, instead of having to hire thousands of moderators. You can outsource the moderation to parents. It would be great if thus sytem could be unified under 1 system, like steam, instead of having to create hundreds of accounts across all systems. The idea about improving rating systems about online interactions in games is unfeasible and a pretty useless idea.

  43. @Chris those tools exist, all 3 current generation game consoles have extensive parent control tools, including the exact ones you mention. I'm not sure about steam but...given the wild west nature of the store lately, I wouldn't bet on it.

  44. I've always likened playing online games to going down to the park to play pickup basketball or soccer. If you as a parent are comfortable with that, knowing your child, like my parents were, it just isn't a problem. Trolls can teach you the valuable life skill of doing your best when the outcome of a situation isn't under your control. On the other hand, if you're uncomfortable with that for one reason or another, you need to work that out with your kid. Though I agree, the industry needs to self regulate much more effectively.

  45. @RMurphy, online gaming is not like going to the park to play a pickup game because online gaming is anonymous and there are no social stigmas to unacceptable behavior. IRL if one kid constantly kicks the basketball over the fence the others will not include that kid. He or she is out of the game.

  46. As a parent I live in complete dread and with an utter feeling of helplessness, in the face of the environment the article talks about. Yes its time to make the online world a truly conducive 'social environment' for the kids.

  47. While I agree that toxicity in online communities is an issue...part of the reason is because of how incredibly hard to police it is. I'd support some sort of code of conduct by various professional gaming leagues to try and tamp things down, similar to what you'd find for other athletes, but trying to manage everyday players is basically impossible, for the same reason that trying to tamp down the toxicity in youtube comments is basically a losing battle...partially because its the exact same people and the exact same toxicity. There is nothing special about trolling in games that you won't find on every social media site on earth. Sure you can institute filters but most games already do that, and actually moderating active games is functionally impossible due to the thousands on concurrent instances. As far as having the FTC implement some sort of oversight campaign...good luck, the supreme court already decided games are protected speech in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. 786 (2011) encouraging them to work on fostering good behaviors between players isn't a bad idea, but forcing them to is. Just parent your kids, I know the internet is scary, but thats not going to change, better to teach them to be skeptical and safe. Teach them to build a boat rather than try to empty the ocean.

  48. There is a plethora of gameplay videos on YouTube which parents can watch to educate themselves on the content of the video games their children are playing. In my opinion, if parents are not even willing to watch them, or are too ignorant to know that they exist, then there is no one to blame for their children's negative experiences playing these games but themselves.

  49. Totally ignores the question of is it wise to allow children to interact with strangers on the internet, unsupervised by their parents or guardians? Whether it is a game or a chat lounge shouldn't matter. If the device they are using allows them to connect to people all around the world then it has to be monitored by an adult or bad things might happen. Government cannot solve the problem and it is foolish to try to create another bureaucracy to do something a parent is supposed to be doing already. Don't want your children to be trolled on the internet, make sure you know what they do on the internet.

  50. As a gamer, if you want my informed opinion, the best way to go about this isn;t through ratings systems. You have to tackle the problem at its source: the very toxic "livestream" community which has become dominated by borderline alt-right personalities like PewDiePie and others. These streamers gain viewers not by entertaining or informative gameplay, but by stoking controversy through the use of obscene and offensive memes to increase click traffic and rile up their rabid base viewership, which consisted largely of young, immature white males. These streamers rely on a steady flow of cash from advertisers and subscribers in order to make their channels profitable. You take away that advertising money and their ability to raise cash online, you take away their incentive to cause trouble online. Furthermore, you send a message to the other trolls that their showboating will not be rewarded with popularity and revenue, but with sanctions and perma-bans.

  51. OK, so we take our kids out of the games. I get it. I do it with my son. But why do any of us at any age put up with the trolling? In games, in politics, anywhere. It's a behavior that has to be addressed as not appropriate in any setting. And P.S., whoever decided games for 18+ should be labeled "mature" when the behavior within them is anything but?

  52. If the author had ever played Fortnite, they might note that there is no typing nor even really interacting with other people unless you are on voice communication. This is a design choice. I'm not sure how you would "sexually harass" someone's daughter in Fortnite unless the daughter chose to voice communicate with strangers over the internet, which is a dicey proposition in the best of times.

  53. It's time to make the Internet a safer place for all of us. I googled a halloween costume recently and was shocked at the ads that came up. I'm sure my children have not been immune from this kind of advertising or the vile comments the come up under every online video. These companies need to take more responsibility for their content. The search engines, the streaming companies, the video companies, the game companies, social networks, etc. The shows, movies and other media by U.S. companies are so lewd and violent, that I can't help but think that we are one disturbed culture. We can produce plenty of good programming without the extreme words and images. I worry for our children.

  54. There are places where society needs to intervene for a child's safety; the streets, schools, malls, other open, public places come to mind. The internet, movies, and books are not public and not places. They are related to freedom of speech and thought. Parents can do a better jobs and provide more fitting guidance than any government could. Leave them to do their jobs and keep the government out of it.

  55. @Patrick Stevens I am not saying that we need to censor everything, but clean up the public spaces. Oh, by the way, the Internet is a public space; even if you don't want to believe it.

  56. "The most troubling aspect of this is that most games are intended for children and young adults." Maybe this sentence is poorly phrased, but this sounds uncomfortably close to the outdated thinking that videogames are only played by children, which is emphatically not true ( If I read this more charitably, the writer is concerned that most games are acceptable to be played by children, which is true ( If we take the latter reading, though, it comes off to me as saying that the issue is games acceptable for children being infested by cruel adults. Much of the vileness, however, comes from other children playing the game. Ultimately, I think this problem is a subset of the bigger issue of anonymity paired with effortless worldwide communication. If you're arguing for regulating communication in online games, you should really be arguing for regulating communication online, period (whether this is a good or feasible idea is a whole other topic). Even if you somehow get rid of trolling within games themselves, there are endless channels outside the game where people spew vitriol. They may not be as immediate and in-your-face as voice chat in a game, but you don't have to look very far online to find nastiness. Your kid could search for tips on how to be better at Fortnite and come across the exact same trolling, except maybe not directed at them.

  57. I'm pretty sure all these solutions would do is create a new troll sport of pretending to be young to go into these games for children for the express purpose of trolling them. People on the internet can be weird and have too much time on their hands; children's games would quickly become more toxic than any League of Legends game.

  58. The recommendations made in this article are hopelessly misguided. "Video games should be rated based on the amount of trolling that happens, and streaming sites should be rated just as video games are... Second, the F.T.C. should run extensive tests on video games and streaming sites to understand the toxicity and trolling of gaming communities." There is literally no way to assess this. The ESRB does not give a rating to a game's online experience because it is impossible to control how people act online. If a game has voice chat, there is no way to stop someone from shouting abuse at you until you mute them. If it has text input they will find a way around language filters. If it has emotes, people will find ways to use them in unexpected ways (like "sexually assaulting" someone via Roblox - give me a break!). Gaming communities evolve organically. If the FTC were to test or rate a new game, that nascent environment is no reflection of what the community might look like in a year. The truth is that there is no guarantee of a good experience in an online game, and it's possible that some games become so infested with trolls that you can just give up. Really, not a huge tragedy. It's just like any other part of the internet. Parents should be aware of what their kid might encounter on the internet and supervise their screentime accordingly.

  59. '...a 7-year-old girl’s avatar was sexually assaulted in a Roblox game' - no, this is not the case. Sexual assault occurs between biological humans. The incident you refer to was a case of hacking in the same way that a rape scene in a movie is not a case of criminal rape. There is a great and significant difference and it is demeaning to the genuine victims of sexual violence to conflate the two.

  60. It's time for parents to prevent their children from playing video games.

  61. Regulation is inevitable being that much of the toxic behavior that people take issue with is actually illegal, notably harrasement and lewd conduct involving minors. The stuff you hear adults telling what sounds like very young children would get anyone arrested instantly if said offline. Those who think its on the parents to shield kids from damaging environmens are entirely right, but still show a missunderstanding of how the law deals with the actual perpetrator. You dont get a get out of jail card for being in a game lobby or not "knowing" kids are around.

  62. It's sad that we have to recognize the troll mentality as a fundamental of human nature. But we do. We never get far away from the kind of thinking that insists on either harming or exploiting someone else to get by. And worse yet, now it's a thrill seeking thing.

  63. Trolling is part of gaming culture. And if you want to be safe from obscenities, do something else or play offline. None of the games mentioned here are meant for little children, and if your children play them anyway that is your fault and your responsibility. I absolutely reject censorship of games for adults and older teenagers in the name of protecting children.

  64. @GS Well, isn't that special. Children should not be exposed to these ideas and simply because you wish to do so, it isn't a right. It isn't a right anymore than denial of privacy. You do not have a right to harm children because you reject the idea. Laws are put into place to protect others. Trolling is nothing more than small-minded individuals inflicting harm on others that they would not do in public. In real life, where people re face-to-face, if they acted that way, there would be consequences. Trolling is nothing more than acting on the worst human impulses behind a keyboard, and it denies empathy, the most basic emotion that exists, to other human beings. It creates a sick, twisted individual that would be rejected in society at large. Children should be shielded online from predators and miscreants. It's their rights that matter, not yours.

  65. Are many gamer communities toxic, and trolling abundant? Yes. Is this a problem? Yes. Does this opinion piece offer any solutions? No. This is a problem endemic to the internet in all its forms, and not one you can regulate away. Even if you could, singling out one industry would not be the way to do it.

  66. Trolling on the internet is as old as the internet itself. I do not think the author's suggestions will work. There are plenty of other places where someone can get trolled/harassed online (think message boards, fan sites, etc). Trying to adjust ESRB ratings or getting the FTC involved is like playing whack a mole. Second, as we have seen with fake Facebook and Twitter accounts, this is an extremely hard problem to police. Has Facebook or Twitter been very successful applying their policies to prevent trolling and fake accounts? Does anyone think game makers like Roblox (who must have significantly fewer financial resources then Facebook) will be any better at this? The only way to achieve the end goal of what the author wants (and I assume that is ending trolling completely) is to essentially regulate the Internet as a whole much more strongly. I do not see this as practical (given the global and open aspects of the internet) or legal (due to free speech concerns). For decades people have been saying, "Think of the children". Whether it was Rock and Roll, movies, MTV, video games... there is always something. At the end of the day it is the parent's responsibility to create a safe environment, not that it is fair, but because it is the only option.

  67. A realistic solution would be for the ESRB to label such games clearly as Unrated. That would most fairly represent the fact that a large portion of the game is developed ad hoc by unidentifiable amateurs, and cannot be assumed to adhere to any rating guidelines. If it's processed by the game engine and output to the screen or speakers, it's part of the content of the game. Developers can't build a game that produces this content, then wash their hands of it.

  68. @James The games are rated for their offline content. They are already required to indicate that the online content is not rated by the ESRB. It's absentee parents that are failing their children and not reading labels.

  69. First, GamerGate was mostly a consumer revolt against a video game press that was too cozy with game developers, and reviewers who were lying to the consumers about the games and their personal relationships with the devs. Second, "Won't someone think of the children?" is risible precisely because it's such an emotional plea. Third, most video gaming requires no verbal interaction with other players. You simply don't HAVE to be plugged into the conversation. Fourth, Jack Thompson in the 1990's. Look him up. The "vidya games are dangerous!" panic has been going on for DECADES. Fifth, you simply cannot nerf the entire world, or protect your kids from everything. But you can arm them to handle it appropriately: if someone is saying hurtful things, disengage with that player. Go find people who are fun! We are legion.

  70. I expect, and frankly hope, such a push will be about as successful as the devoutly religious' (e.g. Orthodox Jews') attempts to live a life with themselves and their children insulated from the outside world. Mute/Ignore/Block, Kick/Remove, and Report the problem player. Don't be surprised if no post-ban communication or even post-report ban comes of the report, ESPECIALLY with such a (IMO, too-)popular game like Fortnite; support teams generally have a LOT, and often worse, on their plate. This is not a job for the ESRB or any ratings group, because this is a much a problem in real life (and comments sections like this one!) as in games. Leave your keyboard and monitor, look up, and you'll find weirdos and worse and people who do their best to keep us safe from 'em. Nor is this a problem to demand Real Name harassment for, as many trolls happily do so under their real names (see: YouTube comments), or once per soon-to-be-banned account. Speaking of which, DO. NOT. FEED. THE. TROLL. Telling them they'll get blocked is as meaningless as telling "covfefe" he's a failed autocrat or an anti-press creep or a Greedy, Slaggy, Frumpy, Gropey, Sleazy, Hostile Crock; in both cases, our reaction is the goal and their irrelevance is the cure.

  71. Let's learn a lesson from the mass shootings: Violent video games should be taxed ..…. to death.

  72. How does slapping a rating on these games change anything about who has access to them? These actions would merely be symbolic and wouldn't change the character of these games. Often, it's children themselves who are shouting obscenities in ingame chat and the like. The only way to change the communities is from within. There's been a failure from the bottom up in these games to foster a collaborative culture that is emotionally healthy. That's mostly the reason why I've stopped playing League of Legends. The community is unbearable and there's very little incentive to foster good will because of the nature of the anonymous relationships. The only way to fix it is for everyone in these communities to collectively start to look very negatively on that kind of behavior. There's tons of things the games themselves could do, but ESRB ratings are pointless.

  73. It's time for some parents to stop trying to force the world to raise their kids. The world is a cruel, mean place. Teaching kids that danger and discomfort does not exist is just as bad as any troll.

  74. I’m a parent of a 13yo boy. I generally disapprove of online game play with chat, because the chats are disgusting, empty, ridiculous and I don’t want to live in a world in which kids communicate with each other by writing ill-spelled, never-capitalized, lazy short burps of horribly rude stuff. I make exceptions with playing art competition games on Minecraft, but I cannot count the number of times some kid (or adult?) made a swastika as their artistic creation and wrote something unwritable about Jews as if it was just random and funny. We are dependents of holocaust survivors and the experience of my 13yo reporting a swastika into the void is just — surreal. I don’t understand why no one seems to mind. I am just so dumbfounded by how asleep the world seems to be. Something very different seems to be going on, kids are growing up in a very different world, yet the world carries on as usual.

  75. I can't stand toxic gamers... but this is ridiculous. Teach your kid that what they see is inappropriate. Teach them about anonymity. Teach them that character is what we do when no one is watching. But we can't bubble wrap the world so your kid feels safe.

  76. Yes. Let's keep kids safe on computers so they be slaughtered by AR-15s at school, in church, at movies or in synagogues.

  77. Where are the parents in all of this Mr. Choi? So many parents in Seoul let their kids play games without supervision. Why don't more parents talk to their kids about the games and hang out with them more often? While some sort of online referee might be useful in getting rid of greifers, too much censorship is still too much. I would remind you that South Korea has some of the heaviest internet censorship outside of China.

  78. The flip side is that the RPG un-nature of gamers has seeped into society with all these preposterous conspiracy theories. If you've ever taken ten minutes to scamper down the Qanon rabbit hole you'll see it's just an interactive fantasy. Remember all those decades ago when Dungeons and Dragons was first wildly popular and people were supposedly becoming so divorced from reality that they thought they were playing the game for real in caverns and subways? Trump cultists are playing out their fantasy in Bizarro Trumpworld, a warped unreality in a maze of sewers.

  79. There are many game and hardware developers who work hard to produce creative, fun, and interesting video game experiences for children. Nintendo offers many parenting options for their consoles and the games they develop. Many more smaller developers have parental interests at heart when developing their products. Additionally, an online component is not necessary for most games to be enjoyable. Your child can be playing so many other games than Overwatch and Fortnite! To insist that these online games should conform to your parenting style and bullheadedly ignore the plethora of quality, child-appropriate and offline titles and platforms is just baffling to me. To restate Mr. Choi's point differently: parents who insist their young children play the newest and hottest AAA, online titles are facing a crisis. Safe games already exist for children. Twitch and Youtube are not you babysitters.

  80. This article represents an important contribution to a subject that dominates the immersive online experience for millions of very young kids. While the years fly by as we battle to regain truthfulness in political processes, children quickly grow up. Psychological toxins can do lasting damage; recovery can be difficult and costly. For many, it will be permanently out of reach. The Scientific American and other authorities report on recent discoveries that stressful experiences in a father will be transmitted to offspring, effectively changing the kind of children that father will have, from the healthier ones he might have had. It's time to close the loop and ask ourselves if watching simulated killings -- or participating in their simulations -- might not also be absorbed by the brain as a stressful or traumatic ordeal. Some of us are scarred even by certain nightmares. My father fought on the front lines in several bloody conflicts. As a child, I frequently dreamt I was in a battle; I remember the traumatic nightmares vividly, although now they are rare. The profit motive cannot be an excuse for inflicting lasting damage to the mental health of others by indulging one's own propensity for violent or menacing behavior. Get help if you have that problem! Seriously, get help! And the industry must also step up and do more. People will play whatever games they are offered. So design games that test the mind more, and involve less aggression. Mental health costs us all!

  81. It's good training. After playing a few hours online microagressions in the real world won't seem so bad. You'll also get an inoculation against fake news/propoganda. The trolls are trying to push your buttons to gain advantage. They're just a little less sophisticated than our political elite and news sources.

  82. Why any parent would let a young child play a game like Fortnite either on or off line is beyond me. Yes, these shooter games are fun, but there is something truly twisted about running around in a virtual world shooting at everybody else. Mr. Choi has a problem with virtual verbal harassment, but apparently has no problem with virtual murder. I think he needs a reality check.

  83. I also worry that a lot of video games are recruitment tools for the defense indistry too. For instance when my nephew was young he was a great iPilot. And an airlines pilot told me the iPhone’s Fly Hawaii was very realistic! Myself I miss the one where you blow up the Death star from the first Star Wars and my nephew ran rings around me at that, too.

  84. Sheesh, whatever happened to the idea that "it takes a village"? Today kids get shot at in their schools, cyber bullied by their peers on social media and now subjected to toxic language and behavior while playing video games? And that's okay? No other parents have ever had to shoulder this intense of a burden of raising kids in an atmosphere so devoid of civility and courtesy. And why do even adults want to be exposed to racist, homophobic and misogynist language and behavior in online games? Seems rude and unnecessary and corrosive.

  85. Games with offline content rated "E" will still indicate that "offline content is not rated by the ESRB". If the online content could potentially subject my child to conversations with adults or unsportsmanlike gameplay, then I might not buy the game for my child. It's as simple as that. Basic parental supervision can never be substituted with actions made by the FTC. Mr. Choi appears to have greater qualms with the rampant indecency to which the internet can provide access. Gaming and eSports platforms that tap into this connectivity can minimize the indecency that gets passed on to the consumer. Platforms accomplish this either by reducing the means by which users can interface with each other, or by investing in a regulating system that can address problematic users and their behavior. The former may require that the platforms undergo significant changes, potentially to the point that fundamental services are no longer appealing to the user (e.g. chat wheels vs voice communication). The latter can require significant effort from platforms that might rather invest that effort in implementing content improvements with known positive effects for their products (e.g. fixing bugs). If a platform is failing to provide these decency options to users that desire them, then those users should stop using the platform and switch to one that does instead of insisting that the FTC get involved. Don't let your daughter play Fortnite. Don't let your son watch content unsupervised

  86. In the somewhat distant future, we will have educational video games for children that show them what happens when you interject beliefs into the pristine human mind. These games will illustrate to their young minds why we don't want to do this. Of course, adults have to understand this first. In the near future, we will program the human mind in the computer based on a "survival" algorithm, which will provide irrefutable proof as to how we trick the mind with our ridiculous beliefs about what is supposed to survive - producing minds programmed de facto for destruction. These minds would see the survival of a particular group of people or a belief as more important than the survival of all. When we understand all this, we will begin the long trek back to reason and sanity. Within that trip, we will teach children the danger of beliefs. See

  87. If anyone does a serious study of these issues, here's what I think he will find: the damage done to children by violence, sex, and trolling is minimal compared with the damage done by spending hours every day staring at screens, regardless of how benevolent the content is. Long-term damage to their health, their attention span, and their psychological well-being. Children need more time throwing balls and less time clicking buttons. As a country we need to spend less time asking "What danger makes the most spectacular headlines?" and more asking "What danger affects the most people?" I would love to see the media leading the way toward such a shift, because right now they are part of the problem.