From trolling to antisemitism—here are some of the key issues plaguing gaming communities.
Even before the term “metaverse” became a part of our day-to-day conversations, gamers had already been enjoying the metaverse experience. In fact, one of the first metaverses ever, Second Life, has been around since 2003. Another early adopter to the metaverse trend is the video game platform Roblox. The platform allows players to create their own games, or experiences as the company calls them. The metaverse creation tools on the platform are so easy to navigate that even children can use them. Apparently, it is too easy to use that some are taking advantage of the user-generated gaming platform to create games where problematic themes—sexual, racist, antisemitic, obscene and more—are lurking around.
The platform is, in fact, well-loved by children, with two-thirds of children between the ages of 9 and 12 in the U.S. using it in 2020. Due to its young demographic, there is a major concern about how the platform is moderating its content to stop exposing children to problematic themes. Let’s take a closer look at the thorny, alarming problem facing Roblox and some existing measures by gaming companies to make gaming child-safe.
Problematic content and Roblox’s response to it
In February this year, news broke out that Roblox hosted Nazi experiences featuring gas chambers and dead bodies. This experience—called “Camp Concentration”—included a room where players could click the execute button and release deadly gas from showerheads. The camp also had blazing funeral pyres, death trains and avatars dressed in Nazi uniforms.
Besides Nazi content, the platform also has reports of it harboring sex games. These sex games, also known as condos, are spaces where users can have virtual sex. The platform also reportedly hosts bondage acts, digital strippers and neo-Nazi ideological content.
To Roblox’s credit, they have been actively trying to shut down all the concerning content. “We have zero tolerance for content or behaviors that promote or glorify extremism, including antisemitism. We have removed the experiences in question and banned the individuals who created them,” said the company in response to the discovery of antisemitic content on their platform.
Similarly, most sex games on the website get taken down within an hour of being created. Roblox has also banned romantic gestures on the platform, such as hand-holding and kissing. Moreover, the platform has introduced parental controls on their website so that parents can restrict their children’s access to any inappropriate content.
Further, the platform has an age verification feature, wherein users have to submit an ID card, driver’s license or passport to use certain features, like voice chat. Users also have to submit a selfie to verify the authenticity of their ID. Roblox also has over 4,000 moderators and a content filtering algorithm.
Efforts being made to make gaming safer for children
Gaming companies have been proactive in addressing the need to ensure gamer safety, with particular concern for younger players. In 2020, three of the world’s biggest game manufacturers, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, joined hands to create a safer gaming environment. They laid out a set of safety principles that highlight prevention (promoting safety tools to prevent problematic activity), responsibility (ensuring company accountability for said activity) and partnership (cooperating with regulators and the gaming industry to advance user safety).
However, as the number of players on gaming platforms increases, it can be a challenge to track down individuals who are violating guidelines. Users consistently come up with ways to bypass the safety mechanisms within games. Roblox says that it is often hard to locate condos on their platform. No matter how many they remove, they just keep popping up again.
In other games, like League of Legends, trollers hurl misspelled abuses at users to avoid text filters blocking bad language. A game development theory called “Time to Penis” (TTP) even says that every platform or game has a certain time period before users find out how to create a penis on it.
The responsibility for creating a safe gaming environment is a bigger task than something video game developers can handle by themselves. Other concerned parties, like regulations and rating systems present today, need to be more attentive to how video games are labeled based on the amount of trolling and sexual content present in them. Moreover, parents also need to keep themselves educated about the kind of content their children are consuming. Collaborative efforts are needed to make gaming communities safe for our children.
Header image courtesy of Pixabay