What parents should know about social gaming
Social gaming is the “mall of this generation,” where kids and teens meet up in groups to game together online. A researcher shares insights and tips to support next-gen gamers.
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The social gaming phenomenon continues to grow—75% of people under 35 play these multiplayer games online, according to media research firm Magid. And kids are a big part of that phenomenon: More than half of Roblox’s 52 million social gaming users are under the age of 13. But it’s not just the game that kids are after.
“Social games are the mall of this generation,” says Michael Salmon, Vice President of Gaming at Magid. “Many players go just to hang out with friends.”
If you’re not a parent who games, social gaming refers to video games that kids play with more than one person. Kids can play on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles or computers. With so many kids meeting up and gaming this way, Salmon shares some insight into why social games are the new hangout and offers some tips for parents to help kids play responsibly.
What are social games?
Here are three examples of popular social games:
Minecraft is a “sandbox game,” which means players can explore the game world on their own, rather than following a set storyline. Players create an avatar and online identity, and can build their own virtual world, create worlds with other gamers and friends, or explore the worlds created by other gamers.
Roblox lets users create their own games or play games with each other. Players can also buy virtual items such as clothes, gear and pets for their avatars. Some Roblox games let players earn Robux that can be used to unlock special features.
World of Warcraft is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in a virtual world where players can interact with others. Players create their own avatars and work together to complete quests and fight common enemies.
Research insight: Social games can be a safe space
At the height of the COVID pandemic, social games were a safe place for kids to hang out. Today, it’s still a safe space for kids to hang out—such as kids who are neurodivergent or those who feel like they don’t belong to the cliques in their hometowns.
Kids will make friends online, like on TikTok, and invite them to play their favorite games. That’s because it can feel safer to show up to a game when you’re with a group of friends, Salmon says.
“Underrepresented groups like trans kids are routinely creating their own Discord groups to play social games more safely,” Salmon says. “They bring their friends into games rather than trying to find new friends in the game.”
Parenting tips: Ask your kid about the gamer group they’re building online: Who’s in the group? What about this friend group makes them feel safe online? How are they watching out for each other? Treat the conversations about these online friends the same way you’d treat conversations about the friends they meet at school.
Insight: Social games give kids a place to talk.
There’s a saying that it’s easier to have hard conversations shoulder-to-shoulder than eye-to-eye. For many teens, social games provide a place to talk with each other about their struggles, Salmon says. And they can bond with friends while talking through a challenge or dealing with toxic, competitive language from other gamers. That’s different from social media, where someone can leave a nasty comment and you never see them again. In the gaming world, players may disagree, but they still need to team up and work things out, Salmon says.
“In a game, there’s discussion, teamwork,” Salmon says. “Like, ‘Hey, we may not agree about the same things, but we have to team up and finish this task.’ Because you want to win together, you argue differently.”
Parenting tips: Understand that when your kids go online, it’s not always about playing the game. They’re going online to connect and relieve stress. However, stick to the time restrictions you both agreed on, and strive for a healthy balance of time online and offline (for every 60 minutes they spend gaming, they can spend 60 minutes doing physical activity).
Insight: Meeting friends online is a first step for kids who may be anxious about making friends.
Research shows that gaming is a stepping stone for kids with social anxiety, Salmon says. Gamers tend to be socially anxious, but they may be more willing to meet up with a friend they met in a game. For a parent of a kid who is socially anxious, that’s something to feel good about.
Parenting tip: Treat your teens meeting an online friend the same way you would treat them meeting a new friend at school: Keep your guard up as a parent, but be flexible about it. And don’t dismiss the friends your kids make online. Judge them on what they bring to your child’s life, Salmon says.
Insight: Social games provide teens with tools to play safely, and parents can help them learn how to use them safely.
Many social games give players options and tools to play it safe. Often, players can mute another player’s voice chat or report them during a game. While reporting a player once doesn’t mean they can’t come back, many games have features to ensure a player can be banned if they’re reported multiple times.
Tips for parents: Learn how to mute other players in the game and make sure your kids know how to do it, too. Find the safety tools in their favorite games and make sure they know how to report offensive players effectively.
Set time restrictions on game play with