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The online gaming industry and child rights

New discussion paper addresses challenges for children and the gaming industry

Sajad Al-Faraji, 16, from Basra, Iraq, plays Agar.io, an online game at a refugee housing center in a former abandoned seniors hospital in Heitzing, a suburb of Vienna, Austria. Online games are becoming the most popular entertainment source for children all over the world.

 

(9 September 2019) How should the booming global online gaming industry take child rights into consideration? A new UNICEF discussion paper, Child Rights and Online Gaming: Opportunities & Challenges for Children and the Industry, tackles the opportunities and challenges for children in one of the fastest growing entertainment industries.

UNICEF Innocenti’s expert on digital technology and child rights, Daniel Kardefelt-Winther co-authored this discussion paper in collaboration with UNICEF’s Child Rights and Business Unit, supported by many colleagues from UNICEF country offices and national committees around the world.

“As more and more children around the world play online games, society needs to learn more about how we can help our children balance the many positive aspects of online gaming with some of the more risky or potentially harmful aspects,” said Kardefelt-Winther.

Because online gaming is one of the largest entertainment industries in the world, expanded internet capabilities, mobile technologies and affordable connected devices have opened the door to millions of gamers including large numbers of children. The trend is changing the way children communicate and interact with other gamers both as players and as spectators. It is also determining how children buy, play and interact with games, applications, online communities and services.  As more and more children are exposed to online gaming, there is an urgent need for careful consideration of the risks and opportunities presented by the industry in the context of children’s rights.

 “The online gaming industry plays a critical role in making the gaming environment a healthy and positive experience for all children. This paper explores some of the opportunities and challenges that we can jointly seize and address,” said Ida Hyllested, Child Rights and Business Manager in UNICEF’s Partnerships division and co-author of the discussion paper.

The discussion paper explores the following topics:

  • Children’s right to play and freedom of expression (Gaming time and health outcomes)
  • Non-discrimination, participation and protection from abuse (Social interaction and inclusion, Toxic environments, Age limits and verification, Protection from grooming and sexual abuse)
  • The right to privacy and freedom from economic exploitation (Data-for-access business models, Free-to-play games and monetization, Lack of transparency in commercial content)

 

The new paper on Child Rights and Online Gaming highlights that the risks the online gaming ecosystem may pose to child rights mirror other aspects of children’s online participation. These range from the collection and monetization of children’s data to cyberbullying, hate speech and exposure to other inappropriate conduct or content. Similarly, emerging issues in e-sports – in which multiplayer video games are played competitively for spectators, usually by professional gamers or teams – echo those of traditional sports, such as overtraining or match-fixing. Some risks, however, are unique to the online gaming environment, as a result of immersive virtual reality environments or the use of gambling-like features, such as loot boxes, to drive commercial engagement.

How can gaming companies incorporate a child rights perspective?  This paper aims to address this question and more in light of growing concerns over data use, privacy, and ethics. While individual gaming companies and industry associations are already doing a lot to create environments that are positive, inclusive and safe for children, these efforts remain somewhat fragmented and without clear oversight. UNICEF’s discussion paper explores how children’s rights are relevant to online gaming companies and what challenges they will face in the years to come. It also presents industry best practices and UNICEF’s next steps in this space.

Learn more about our Global Kids Online research project.

Publications

Is there a ladder of children’s online participation? Findings from three Global Kids Online countries
Publication Publication

Is there a ladder of children’s online participation? Findings from three Global Kids Online countries

There is broad agreement that internet access is important for children and provides them with many opportunities. Yet crucial questions remain about what we hope children will do online and if the opportunities provided are translating into clear benefits. What do children actually need to be able to benefit from the opportunities that the internet brings? Is there a gap between expectations and reality? The answers to these questions matter to: Governments striving to provide connectivity for families in homes, schools and communities; parents and educators who must overcome problems of cost, risk, or lack of skill, so that children may benefit from online opportunities; child rights advocates and practitioners who call for resources to empower and protect children online; and children themselves, many of whom want to take advantage of online opportunities for personal benefit.
HOW DOES THE TIME CHILDREN SPEND USING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IMPACT THEIR MENTAL WELL-BEING, SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY? AN EVIDENCE-FOCUSED LITERATURE REVIEW
Publication Publication

HOW DOES THE TIME CHILDREN SPEND USING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IMPACT THEIR MENTAL WELL-BEING, SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY? AN EVIDENCE-FOCUSED LITERATURE REVIEW

Based on an evidence-focused literature review, the first part of this paper examines existing knowledge on how the time children spend using digital technology impacts their well-being across three dimensions; mental/psychological, social and physical. The evidence reviewed here is largely inconclusive with respect to impact on children’s physical activity, but indicates that digital technology seems to be beneficial for children’s social relationships. In terms of impact on children’s mental well-being, the most robust studies suggest that the relationship is U-shaped, where no use and excessive use can have a small negative impact on mental well-being, while moderate use can have a small positive impact. In the second part of the paper, the hypothetical idea of addiction to technology is introduced and scrutinized. This is followed by an overview of the hypothetical idea that digital technology might re-wire or hijack children’s brains; an assumption that is challenged by recent neuroscience evidence. In conclusion, considerable methodological limitations exist across the spectrum of research on the impact of digital technology on child well-being, including the majority of the studies on time use reviewed here, and those studies concerned with clinical or brain impacts. This prompts reconsideration of how research in this area is conducted. Finally, recommendations for strengthening research practices are offered.
Global Kids Online, Research Synthesis 2015–2016: Summary
Publication Publication

Global Kids Online, Research Synthesis 2015–2016: Summary

Research is invaluable for contextualising online experiences in relation to children’s and families’ lives and the wider cultural or national circumstances. The Global Kids Online project aims to connect evidence with the ongoing international dialogue regarding policy and practical solutions for children’s well-being and rights in the digital age, especially in countries where the internet is only recently reaching the mass market.
A Global Agenda for Children's Rights in the Digital Age: Recommendations for developing UNICEF's research strategy
Publication Publication

A Global Agenda for Children's Rights in the Digital Age: Recommendations for developing UNICEF's research strategy

For some years, UNICEF has been researching children’s online risk and safety, promoting digital citizenship, and conducting both programmes for awareness-raising among children and for communication for development through the use of ICT. A revised version of this report was published in the Journal of Children and Media
Child Safety Online: Global challenges and strategies
Publication Publication

Child Safety Online: Global challenges and strategies

The Internet, mobile phones and other electronic media provide children and young people with levels of access to information, culture, communication and entertainment impossible to imagine just 20 years ago. With many of their extraordinary benefits, however, come hazards. Globally, children and young people tend to become early users and prime innovators on the Internet, and are often far ahead of their parents and other adults in terms of use, skills and understanding. It is becoming increasingly important to both empower and to protect children in this environment.