An Interview with an Adolescent Gamer

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In the past year, I have attended symposiums and webinars addressing the dangers of social media. I am also aware of the nuance of continuing to fight for girls’ rights and how we turn a blind eye to boys. Both camps of gender are at risk for different reasons. These reasons have to do with societal pressures to conform to gender rules. In fact, we know without even having to look for this information that boys are discouraged from expressing emotions while girls are told to be “nice.” Despite these differences, the gaming industry calls for vigilance.

Gaming is a risky business, and according to The Spokesman-Review, a 21-year-old Washington man received a 15-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to child sexual abuse material he sought from exploiting two boys ages nine and eleven. The children’s mother alerted federal authorities.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed an adolescent gamer whose parent’s granted me permission to sit down with him to ask about his experience playing online gaming for a class I teach. He was very gracious and eager to talk with me because I mentioned to him a while back that I thought it would be cool to interview him about the dangers of gaming.

He had to stand to talk to me since he needed to move around and not feel confined to a chair. I think it is essential when we interview kids or adults who deviate from traditional interviewing styles to respect their needs. I was thankful that I had the space so he could move about freely to tell me his story. We had some laughs between this moment of me recording him amidst dogs barking, humans calling out, and a distant cawing sound.

He told me that he reports incidences as instructed on Fortnite’s website, but he cautioned me that it takes Fortnite 48 hours to respond. He said this was a bit of a problem, leading him to block anyone who is inappropriate with him or bullies him. I immediately had to check out what protocol Fortnite practices. Their website does have a category for community rules.

I spoke with the parents about what he shared with me. His parents informed me that he plays in the living room in their presence, and when he wears his headset, it is plugged into the controller and plays through the television speakers so that it is audible throughout the living room, and they can hear what is said. I asked them what they recommended parents could do. They emphasized always keeping an eye on your child. Do not allow your child to wear a headset when playing this game unless you are tech-savvy and know how to plug into the controller, so the dialogue plays through speakers. They also said that on PlayStation, you could set time limits. His parents told me he is swift to report and block “offenders.” They did confirm that once a gamer plays Fortnite, the rules are clear and stipulate to report any bullying or inappropriate behavior.

Okay. Well, the 48-hour range is troubling.

Fortnite has a platform referred to as Playground. Reading this section will probably bring back, for those of us who are way older than the hills, memories; some good and others not so good. The years of playing at playgrounds were fun; these were in real-time, unlike gaming playgrounds, but could also be terrifying for those of us who endured bullying by the meanest brutes in the area. Unlike gamers, we had no way to block the meanies in the neighborhood. Instead, the lessons with which our parents armed us were rolled into one sentence, “Walk away when you see them.” We had to learn shortcuts to our streets to get home via back alleys, and thinking back to those years, some of these shortcuts weren’t the safest routes.

Bullying has been “a thing” for years, and as kids, we formed friendships with others equipping us to stand up to the bullies. Power isn’t always in the numbers but in the supportive efforts kids show one another, even if only in twos. It is this message we could teach gamers. When you see someone bullied, please stand up for them.

This adolescent gamer said the same thing. Please stand up for one another, but sometimes the gangs have already formed a league of their own, and he said there is no standing up to them. He told me kids could report issues like cyberbullying to the game moderator. He hopes to be a game moderator someday, as he is for the game Roblox.

Our moderators, for those of us dinosaurs, happened to be our parents, neighbors, or friend’s parent. Usually, our moderators had the same mundane responses. “Walk away.”

Child safety experts at The National Center for Missing Children (NCMEC) provide a free online safety presentation, NetSmartz, that parents, educators, or anyone interested in using NetSmartz may use for presentations.

NCMEC also has a section titled, KidSmartz, which educates families about preventative measures to reduce the chances of abduction, and kids, K-5 can receive lessons at home. This whole notion of Stranger Danger is misleading according to NCMEC because most reports of kidnapping, solicitation, and assault, occur because the child or youth is familiar with the person. So, what does this have to do with gaming? Well, first of all, let’s face it, friends isn’t a word that refers to a camaraderie earned through building trust or in person. Hinging on your age group, today’s interpretation of “friendship” is based on how many “likes” someone gains, and anyone can be your “friend” without ever meeting the person or knowing anything about them. Offenders groom kids and adolescents, which can take place over months via social media and gaming.

Arming children early on is similar to teaching our children what to do when they smell fire. It is essential to differentiate between reporting and tattle. I remember the days when teachers would tell us to stop ratting out students. These teachers did not want to hear about the student who, on the surface, seemed like a good kid but was slicker than sly. Many of us ended up having to do battle on our own.

Parents pay attention here because while kids talk away about an upsetting experience, you may be caught up in your day-to-day stuff. Stop and listen.

NCMEC offers helpful tips, one of which is setting up a safety plan for kids. Walk the paths your kids walk daily and look around to areas where your kids can quickly go for help.

The adolescent’s feedback was eye-opening. He informed me that he has endured gamers telling him to kill himself and that he is fat and ugly. One gamer asked him his age and if he was a girl. The offender told the gamer he sounded like a girl. The adolescent played along. The offender built him a house and a bedroom. He instructed him to get on top of the bed, to which the gamer responded, “I said, ‘Heck, no!’ and I blocked him!” He also reported him, so he never knew the outcome because once anyone blocks offenders, they do not know what happens after that.

What if curiosity took over and this adolescent gamer continued to follow the offender’s instructions? Where would this have led him?

The adolescent gamer said he has friends who will share their faces on facetime when they play using their phones and that Fortnite is one of the games that can track an IP Address.

Now back to the parents of the adolescent. They did not know whom to report incidences outside of Fortnite and felt comfortable relying on Fortnite’s reporting structure. They are not the only ones, so this was troubling but easily circumvented since I could provide them with some of the links I have included. Here is a link to everything parents need to know about Fortnite.