Are online games a new form of social media?

By: Sarah Kimmel Werle

With more social interactivity in online gaming, it has become a primary way teens are bonding with friends. Here’s what you need to know to help them play it safe in social gaming.

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Daughter Gaming | Are Games Social Media

I started working in the IT industry in 2003. In the lunchroom of my first company, there were several TVs with attached gaming systems. Most of the techs would gather there every day to play multiplayer games during our lunch break. Many of my current friendships grew from the relationships I formed at that company.

Today people are still bonding over games, but for kids, it’s usually happening online instead of in the same room. Gen Z’s top online games, like Minecraft and Roblox, let players become characters who go on quests in worlds that can be almost entirely created by the players themselves. Minecraft is the most popular game for Gen Z, and according to that same Morning Consult study, players “actually spend more time interacting with their peers inside video games than they do at school or at work.”

So what do parents need to know about multiplayer games as social media?

Are multiplayer games social media?

Preteens and teens are no longer content to just share photos and status updates with their friends on social media platforms—today they want to interact with their friends. Which is why platforms like Roblox are so popular. They let kids compete, play and spend time with each other.

Instead of your teen simply seeing a photo of what a friend ate for dinner and commenting on it, they can go on an adventure together or build a city. For kids who grew up on technology, coordinating strategies or problem-solving together is much more enticing than simply sharing status updates.

But if the idea of online gaming as social media is still new to you—or your kids—here are a few things you can both keep in mind to make sure everyone is playing it safe.

Play in the open.

When they’re playing a game together, kids can communicate through text-or voice-based chats. These chats let kids interact while they’re on quests and building worlds, and let them work together to solve problems.

However, some chats are open to the public. One way to help your child stay safe while gaming online is to allow social gaming only in open areas of your home, and maybe even limit it to larger devices, such as the main TV in the family room. If they play on a larger tablet or smart TV in the family room, you can keep an eye on things without hovering. If someone is being inappropriate, you can have a conversation with your child about what happened and what they can do about it in the future.

Many games will allow parents to turn on filtering for chat functions, but this can only work for text-based chats. Voice-based chats are a little harder to monitor since the filter wouldn’t be able to detect words in real time.

As chats can be limited in-game, many kids prefer to take their discussions outside of the game and into another platform, like Discord. The age of your child plays a real factor here, so unless your child knows the person they are talking to from school or their neighborhood you should be very clear about what your rules and expectations are if someone is trying to take the chat to any other platform.

A great suggestion for your kids is to have them call their friends on the phone or hook up a video conference while they play online together. This will allow them the same interaction as sitting together in the same room.

Screenshot this for later

Play it safe in multiplayer games

  1. Have kids play multiplayer games in an open room, like a family room—not in their rooms.
  2. Tell kids they should never share personal information online, such as their phone number or home address.
  3. Check the game’s Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s age group.
  4. Kids should only “friend” players they know from real life and only accept other friend requests while receiving guidance to keep them safe.

Talk about the potential dangers.

Is there someone asking your child for personal information, such as a phone number or the name of the school they go to? Are they asking your child or other players to take the conversation out of the game? Are they overly complimentary? All of these things should be warning flags.

Teach your kids they should never give out personal information, including social media usernames, in the game. And plan to have uncomfortable but important conversations. Teach them how to recognize grooming. Grooming is when a stranger in the game shows a lot of interest in your child or someone else in the game and offers them in-game rewards or constantly tells them how good or smart they are at the game. Let your child know that it can be tempting to interact since it feels good to be complimented, but not to put too much effort into the conversation and perhaps even limit the conversation further by moving on from that game for a little while.

Talk with your kids about “friending” strangers. Once two accounts become “friends” inside a game, they can interact in private chats and continue conversations outside of the gaming session. Guide your kid to become friends with players they know in real life first and then, as their age and maturity allows, provide guidance on expanding those connections in a safe way.

Check the game’s rating.

Most games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which should give parents a good idea of what age groups the game is appropriate for.

The ESRB website can give specific details about the game, such as “users interact,” meaning that not all interactions are completely monitored, which might affect your decision to let your child play the game. A lot of research goes into these ratings, which also include age recommendations. And if possible, see if the game has good built-in parental controls.

Check your speeds.

If your teen is going to play games often as a form of social interaction, make sure they have the appropriate internet speed and device to play properly. If the rest of the group is constantly waiting on your teen to finish their part of the construction or the group has to wait on a response to a question in order to finish the game, the group may stop asking your teen to play. Speed and connectivity play a crucial role in the overall gaming experience.

Play it safe and talk it out.

Gaming has definitely changed from the days of Pong and Pac-Man. The social aspect has transformed the experience into much more than just a game: These are fully immersive interactive experiences. Start the conversation early about what’s appropriate—and keep the conversation going.

Pause the internet, monitor screen time, and apply content filters and more with Smart Family.

About the author:

Sarah Kimmel Werle is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their homes. She also gives quick tech tips daily on her Instagram account @FamilyTech.


The author has been compensated by Verizon for this article.

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