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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.