By Lisa Clausen
Do you know what your children mean when they talk about grinding? Or what FTW is? Or a guild?*
A new series of webinars on gambling-related risks for young people is focused on equipping parents to better understand the immersive world of online gaming.
In response to screen time ‘rocketing’ during last year’s COVID-19 lockdowns, Bethany Community Support introduced online parent forums to support the community.
The webinars were devised by Bethany Health Promotion & Prevention community engagement workers Hannah Martin and Lily Bourke, with funding and resources from the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.
Recognising the rewards of online gaming
Seeing gaming from a child’s perspective is a crucial skill highlighted in the webinars, which are part of Bethany’s commitment to building awareness of gambling harm and available support services across the Barwon and Great South Coast regions.
Acknowledging that gaming can be positive for young players is a vital first step towards an open dialogue with them, says Lily, who works across the Great South Coast catchment.
‘Gaming can provide a lot of social connection for young people, as well as ways to be creative and set challenges and goals for themselves. We start with an understanding of that in the webinar because sometimes parents come with a ‘how do I make them stop?’ attitude.
Seeing gaming from a child’s perspective is a crucial skill.
‘We hear stories of parents pulling the plug on their child’s console and the child just losing it. Creating that sort of you-and-them approach can be really negative.’
Encouraging parents to instead approach gaming with an open mind allows young people an opportunity to explain which games they love and why.
The webinar suggests that parents ask their children if they can game together, watch them play, or simply learn from their child how to use a gaming console.
Giving gaming a go themselves allows parents to understand first-hand what young players regularly experience.
However, Hannah believes many parents would be disturbed by common gambling-style features to which their kids are exposed, such as slot machines.
Some games entice players to spend real money to open treasure chests known as ‘loot boxes’, which contain random rewards. Players can also pay virtual coins or gems for access to a virtual lucky dip of ‘skins’ – add-ons such as armour – which help them progress through levels.
And some of these games remember credit card details, so a child need only access and enter them once to continue to make purchases.
The pressure on young players to embrace these gambling-type features can be enormous, explains Hannah, who’s based in Bethany’s Barwon office.
‘Many games make it more difficult to advance without spending money. If their mates are ahead of them in a game, kids often feel a lot of peer pressure to catch up by buying things.’
‘Many games make it more difficult to advance without spending money.’
Both Hannah and Lily believe loot boxes, in particular, need to be regulated to protect young players from the experience of gambling.
‘Although they’re not classed as gambling, they are gambling elements – loot boxes have a random reward system and a hierarchy of rewards,’ argues Hannah. ‘It’s exciting for young players because there’s an element of chance and it’s definitely opening up that normalisation of paying for an unknown outcome.’
Social casino games, which children can download as free apps on phones or other devices, simulate gambling, and are an easy pathway to actual gambling, says Lily.
‘A five-year-old can download one of these games without their parents having to approve it – and often it’s a slot machine or a pokies reel.’
Promoting positive relationships
By showing parents just how accessible and appealing these simulated-gambling features are, the webinar team hopes to empower families to manage the risks of gaming in a collaborative and positive way.
With their next webinar scheduled for September, Lily and Hannah are keen to see similar programs rolled out in communities across the state to meet the gaming-related challenges faced by many parents.
‘… kids feel connected to their friends through gaming.’
‘We need to open up this conversation so parents can really help their children understand that while there are positives associated with gaming, there are also risks,’ says Lily.
‘It’s really important to understand that kids feel connected to their friends through gaming. Our webinar is not about stopping children from gaming; it’s about knowing what the risks are and helping young people navigate them.’
Parents and carers can access more information about video gaming and gambling harms from the Foundation’s website.
- Grinding – performing repetitive tasks in gameplay to achieve a desired outcome or advantage or receive in-game loot
- FTW – for the win
- A guild – an organised group of video game players that regularly plays together in one or more multiplayer games.