Right to play? Online gaming and child rights

9 Nov 2020 08:40h - 10:10h

Event report

Children have a right to play games and to be entertained and it is important to correct the misunderstanding that all games are designed to exploit weaknesses of humans, shared Ms Yufan Bai (Child Representative).

Children play games to communicate, connect, share, seek information, for leisure and to relax, added Ms Amanda Third (Principal Research Fellow in the Institute for Culture & Society, Western Sydney University). Dr Jing Sun (Director of Game Research Center, Perfect World) highlighted how online games can empower people.

However, while playing games online children can be exposed to a variety of risks of harm. Commercialisation of children’s games, under-regulation of gaming platforms, harvesting of data by third parties, platforms ill-designed for children, exposure to inappropriate content, and cyber-bullying were some of the concerns Third raised. Dr. Peter Etchells (Professor of Psychology and Science Communication, Bath Spa University) expressed additional concerns over gambling-like mechanism in games, such as buying loot boxes.

While the new generation of parents are changing their views on gaming, many may not be adequately gaming-literate to understand the consequences of games for their children, shared Ms Manisha Shelat (Communication & Digital Platforms and Strategies Chair, Centre for Development Management and Communication). She also pointed out that while the gender gap is diminishing among young gamers, the issues related to gender and gaming persists. She emphasised the importance of understanding when games may benefit and when they may harm.

Etchells cautioned that due to different approaches adopted by researchers, no clear idea is available regarding how many children suffer from gaming disorders. The need for evidence-based research was highlighted by most speakers. Third additionally advocated for integrating a child rights approach into research. Etchells further expressed concern over the fact that game developers do not understand the psychology of gamers; he emphasised the need for game developers to keep their social responsibility towards gamers in mind while designing games.

To mitigate risks, Third proposed following a rights-based approach to governance of online gaming and suggested highlighting the three dimensions of childrens’ rights laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC): provision, protection, and participation; and the four guiding principles: the right of non-discrimination, looking after the best interests of the child, the right to survival and development, and the right to participate.

Mr Lanky Zheng (Assistant General Manager, Tencent) highlighted the initiatives taken by Tencent in protecting teenagers. These initiatives include improving the functional play in games using traditional culture, frontier exploration, and focussing on youth care. He shared the work done by Tencent research and its partnerships with various academic institutions to develop meaningful games for children.

Building capacity between different communities was highlighted by speakers. Shelat highlighted the need for media literacy among parents, teachers, media, game designers, and policy makers. Sun emphasised the need for building gaming research capacity among the communities; he also mentioned the need for parents and educators to understand games and what their children are playing, to provide a fixed time for playing. He suggested that policy makers could invest in academic research, in industrial innovation, and in building public gaming literacy.

The importance of concerted efforts by all stakeholder to address issues related to gaming was highlighted by most speakers. Shelat suggested the need for having open dialogues on gaming culture among the different stakeholders.

Responding to a question on what should be the top priority of the gaming industry to protect children, Third suggested embedding children’s rights at the very heart of gaming design; gamers could follow the safety design pack created by the e-Safety Commissioner in Australia. Etchells considered the need for industry to share data with researchers in a collaborative way and Shelat suggested the need for gaming companies to take girl gamers more seriously in terms of safety and empowerment.

To conclude as a young gamer, Yu Fan shared that she hopes gaming companies make more creative games in the future, games that will make children happy when they play, rather than richer.