Video gaming is the go-to hobby for children and young people in the lockdown

It's important to understand the risks and keep them safe.

The majority of children and young people in the UK play video games, either alone or with their friends, and these can be a healthy social past-time: a fantastic opportunity to relax, have fun and get creative.  And, of course, with schools closed once again, they provide an important means for connecting with friends – particularly for teenagers who are used to having an active social life outside of their homes. Indeed, the surge in gaming time during lockdown periods suggests children and young people have been kept going by the social element of gaming as a way of keeping in touch with friends when they’re not allowed to see them.

However, if risks aren’t addressed, young gamers can be bullied, exposed to inappropriate language and the possible link between gaming and gambling is also a hotly debated topic.  It’s important to remember that those who do have harmful intentions towards children and young people will always gravitate towards where they are - while the games may not be inappropriate,  it's the public chat feature of many gaming platforms that provides the opportunity for predators to groom and exploit young players, presenting serious risks to their safety, welfare and wellbeing.

In recent months we’ve seen a surge of incidents linked with video game-play.  Two games that stand out right now are Among Us, which has become hugely popular in recent months, and Cunch-line Chronicles, which has a small but growing audience - that's very engaged with the mature content themes.  Read more about these video games below.

 

While online multiplayer games have long been a great way to socialise, they provide much-needed contact with friends during lockdown and games like Among Us have undoubtedly benefited from a captive audience.

With over 100 million downloads and a massive player base, Among Us is now one of the most popular games in the world.  Released by independent studio InnerSloth, in 2018, it wasn’t until July last year that it surged in popularity - as a result of high-profile streamers broadcasting themselves playing on Twitch, then popular YouTubers and TikTok influencers following suit.

 

  • As players can connect and chat with other players from anywhere, the stranger risk is inherent in this game and players can be exposed to inappropriate and harmful language.  
  • Players can share personal information with strangers in chats, and this often happens in the waiting room before the game starts.
  • Usernames that players choose (and are visible during game-play) can be mature, inappropriate and offensive.

 

Among Us is a simple online and local party game of teamwork, deduction and betrayal!

  • Between four and ten players are trapped on a spaceship on its way back to earth, trying to work out who among them is an ‘Imposter’.  Imposters obstruct crew-mates from completing simple tasks that will get them home, and kill them off in gruesome ways - although the impact of this is diffused by the light-hearted, cartoon-like visual style.
  • When a player suspects another player, or a dead body is found, a meeting is called - players discuss and vote for who they think is responsible. The game doesn’t have a built-in voice chat function so players use the written chat function via the in-game chatroom or use a separate voice chat app like Discord.
  • The imposter has to lie try to frame (innocent) crew mates to avoid being voted off.  Players enjoy trying to work out who is lying and who is innocent.  
  • Players are randomly assigned to the role of Crew-mate or Imposter:  Crewmates have fun trying to unmask the Imposters, while Imposters enjoy causing mayhem!
  • Games are short-lived – around five minutes – and the last player standing wins.

Good to know

  • Private invite codes can be used so players only play with their friends rather than connecting with strangers
  • There is a ‘kick’ feature which allows other players to eject someone from the game if they are behaving inappropriately or using bad language.
  • A ‘censor chat’ feature is available in settings, but gamers can easily get around it by using slang or substituting numbers for letters. 

 

This game can be played on Steam via a PC and on iOS and Android devices.  PEGI rating: 7+.  

Released last November, Cunch-Line Chronicles is a relatively new Mario style game about running your own County Lines operation, that promises a realistic depiction of London’s gang scene and draws on the “gritty reality” of gang culture, drug running and police chases.  It perpetuates harmful stereotypes, glamorises gang and drug culture and potentially puts young people at risk of being groomed by County Lines gangs in real life.

Free to download onto any android or Apple device, players jump over obstacles– collecting and delivering drugs, visiting ‘trap houses’ (drug dens) and unlocking new characters – while being chased by the police. 

  • The aim of the game is to avoid obstacles, deliver and collect drugs while evading the police, to make money.
  • Players earn trophies and in-game currency, and unlock new features, as they progress and reach higher levels.
  • If caught by the police the player can pay bail or watch an advertisement to continue.

Given the drug culture and child exploitation themes, this game unsurprisingly has a PEGI 18 ‘mature’ rating (17+ on the IOS apple store) but age-verification is easy to bypass.

“In reality this [Cunch-line Chronicles] is an exploitation risk for young and vulnerable people as it appears to have an in-chat facility which could enable grooming and recruitment to real life County Lines gangs”

Lancashire Constabulary

So, what does the word "cunch" mean? 

  • “Cunch” is an abbreviation of the word country and is used on the street to denote an area, often rural and out of sight of the city police, where dealers go to sell class A drugs.
  • Street slang (words and phrases) is a rapidly changing and extensive vocabulary shared across today’s multi-cultural society and, while not all who use it are criminals, is undeniably linked with crime and gang culture.  Fuelled by various music genres, notably R&B and Hip-hop, it spreads rapidly through the power of the internet and social media.

 

The dedicated team at eSafe works tirelessly to stay up to date with the way young people express themselves through language: it’s the only way to ensure all risks are detected and accurately assessed.