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Top Tips

Expert advice on how to play smart.

Staying safe while playing social games

Will Gardner

Social games, as distinct from traditional gaming, have become hugely popular as they offer players a chance to play games on their smartphones or tablets through apps or on social networks, often for free!  Whilst providing a range of opportunities for engaging with friends and family, it is important that the same rules for staying safe online are applied to social games because the online risks of Content, Contact, Conduct and Commercialism also apply to games.

Before you begin

Before downloading a social games app or playing a social game on a social network, there are a number of things to think about. Firstly, it can be helpful to check age ratings and reviews.  Remember not all games are suitable for all ages so encourage children to only access social games that are appropriate for their age.  App developers provide these age ratings on the app download page but they are not generally independently rated, therefore it is also important to look at app reviews online, as this can help determine what content is appropriate for which ages and whether the app is reliable. It is important that even if an app is a lower age rating young children using the app still know the rules for staying safe online – see Childnet’s 5 Top Tips to Stay Safe Online.

On most devices (like smartphones or tablets) there are parental control tools which can help with a number of things for example limiting chat features or managing in-app spending. There are also parental controls to help you restrict access to apps based on age ratings for example you could choose a setting that only allows apps to be downloaded if they have an age rating 12 or under.  Childnet’s Parents’ Guide to Technology has step-by-step guides for setting up parental controls on the most popular devices.

If, when downloading an app, it asks to access your data, for example your location or importing contacts, think carefully about why it needs to do that and what information you are sharing.

When you’re playing the game

Social games provide a fun and social form of entertainment often encouraging teamwork and cooperation when playing with others.  Typically social gamers will be playing directly against their friends or participating in leader boards within the app or via a social network.  The ability to interact with people all over the world means it’s important that gamers know how to protect their privacy and behave kindly to other gamers.

Fortunately most games and devices will have safety tools which can help protect players.  If you are playing on a social network, learn how to block other players and locate the means for reporting any issues if you encounter them.  When using online chats or sharing information, be careful never to give out any personal information, share pictures or agree to meet up with someone in person.  Think carefully about who you are talking to and what you are sharing generally, as it’s best to only talk to people you know offline and to keep your personal information, such as your email address and passwords, safe when playing online.

As social games can be played on the go, gamers may find they are playing them regularly and for extended periods of time.  To ensure games form part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle it is important to take lots of breaks.  Parents may wish to agree a set of family rules that set out how long a child is allowed to play for and how they should behave towards other gamers, remembering to always be kind and respectful.

Social games often follow the ‘freemium’ pricing model, meaning that access and play is free.  Whilst playing the game users may come across opportunities to purchase virtual goods and items.  Although it might seem tempting to click on these, these in-app purchases cost real money so it’s important to be aware of what you are clicking on.  For parents, talk to your child about agreed spending limits or use parental control settings to manage spending as necessary.  Reassure your child that they can always turn to you if something does goes wrong.  This also applies to ‘advergames’, which have been designed to promote and sell a product.

What happens if something goes wrong?

While many people experience social games and the internet as a positive and integral part of their life be aware that things can go wrong and knowing what to do when something does happen is essential to having a safe and positive experience.

Unfortunately, because of the social nature of social games, cyberbullying can occur.  If harassment does happen report this behaviour to the social network you are playing on and block the user.  Always be aware of who you are talking and do not reveal any personal information.  For parents, advise your child to talk to you if someone or something upsets them.

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, a UK charity working to make the internet a safe and great place for children, shares some tips on how you can stay safe whilst playing social games and what to do if something goes wrong.  

Back to top tips

Top tips for safe social game play
  1. Check age rating and reviews before downloading or using an app.
  2. Make the most of parental controls, which often offer a range of features, for example to help manage spending or chat features.
  3. When an app asks to access your data, such as your location, think carefully about why it needs to do that.
  4. Make sure you know how to protect your privacy.
  5. Think carefully about who you are talking to and what you are sharing.  Remember never share personal information with people you only know online and never arrange to meet up with someone.
  6. Be kind and respectful to anyone you interact with and follow the rules of the game.
  7. Take breaks.  It’s fun to play lots of games but it’s important to take lots of breaks too.
  8. Be careful what you click on.  Things you buy in apps can cost real money!
  9. Be aware of advertising and that some ‘advergames’ are designed to promote and sell a product.
  10. Tell someone.  If you come across anything or anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable make sure you tell someone.
Conversation starters for parents
  1. Talk through the top-tips for social games and make sure your children know how to stay safe when playing social games.
  2. Talk with your child about the types of game(s) they are playing.  If you’re not sure what they are playing, ask them to show you how they play and have a go yourself.
  3. Ask if they chat to people when playing games.  Find out who they are talking to and what kind of chat they have.  Perhaps they can show you the safety tools on the game.
  4. Ask them what they would do if something worried them and reassure them they can always turn to you if something goes wrong (without necessarily getting into trouble).