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A Warning to Parents about Roblox

Editor’s Note: This topic was also discussed on an NBC News New York Investigation that we were a part of!

Roblox is an immensely popular “game” on the web. The website boasts over 30 million unique views each month. Many sites compare it to Minecraft, but I don’t think those comparisons are valid. Roblox is less of a game in and of itself and more of a game creation system. Players are encouraged to create their own game experiences and share them with the public.

Sounds great right? Why in the world would parents need to be warned about it?

I was asked late last week to take a look a story that was circulating around the internet. An Australian Rugby player reported that he witnessed child predators hunting children and encouraging them to participate in (digital) sexual behaviors. He didn’t provide video or screenshots, so there was plenty of reason to question his claims. In fact, Snopes even declared that his accusations were “Unproven” after their own research.

In an effort to investigate his claims on my own I created my own account on the service and logged into the game. I logged into various games and sat watching other players behavior within the digital space. Everything started fairly innocently. I saw kids trying to organize small groups to role play as families. I saw other kids fishing or running around randomly. But, then I clicked into a game that was called “Shower Simulator” and saw a bunch of characters… well… showering in a large open shower room.

None of that compares to when I walked into a private party that was hosted in one of the city simulator games. The party included up to fifty people and were held in what could only be described as a private home. The parties took place in custom designed houses that included multiple dance floors and rooms FULL of beds. In several of the parties that I stumbled into there were always multiple people on each of them using various in game emotes to simulate something (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a game of UNO).

That wasn’t all I saw. I saw dozens of players with names designed to express sexual intent while ducking whatever filters the system has in place.

My Recommendation

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend Roblox as a game for children to play on their own. It is simply too easy for innocent children to see stuff that they shouldn’t. I don’t know that any of these players were actually child predators as opposed to just clueless kids, but the fact is that no one can ever really know about that until it is too late.

With that said, I recognize the value that the game has. The options for creation are there and there is a lot of learning to be had.  I have to encourage that you play together if you decide to take advantage of those opportunities. This way you can help shield them from bad actors and encourage good behavior.

 

 

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published here in 2011. Some of the facts have changed, but I (and others) still struggle with this every day.


World of Warcraft has 11 million + subscribers right now. Every day a group of people three times as large as the state of Connecticut logs onto Blizzard’s servers to wage a virtual war against monsters, raid bosses and each other. Many of those people wage a more personal battle every day with a devil more devious than any heroic raid encounter: Addiction.

This is a battle that I am all too familiar with.

I was an active World of Warcraft subscriber for about 5 years. I raided. I pvped. I leveled four different characters up to the level cap (all of them dwarves). I had become a part of a tight knit guild full of people that I still think of fondly. I don’t regret the fun that I had or the people that I met, but I am happy to finally be able to look back on it.

If you asked me if I was addicted when I was in my prime, I would have told you no. I was “playing a game instead of watching TV”. It was only “a few hours a day.” It was “No big deal.” It was all too easy to conveniently ignore all of the warning signs and forget all of my most inexcusable acts.

Confession time:

  • I used to be proud that I had never called out of work to play WoW. But, taking a “mental health day” and then spending 6 of the 8 hours I would have been at work playing WoW was perfectly ok? Right.
  • I spent time thinking about WoW incessantly, even when I wasn’t playing. I read websites. I talked on forums. My wife knew what boss my raid group was on and what loot drop I wanted from it.
  • When I started to raid I promised my wife that I would never skip a social function to do so. But, I would lose my mind if my wife tried to schedule a dinner with friends on a raid night.
  • I went home from the hospital the night my first child was born to raid. My wife will tell anyone that she wanted me to leave because she wanted sleep, but she was clearly covering for me.
  • During my most “dedicated times” I would play four to five hours a day. Some weeks would be light and I would only play six days out of the week. Do the math with me folks. That adds up to almost thirty hours a week.
  • I still go through almost overwhelming urges to play. I had to uninstall WoW from my laptop to prevent myself from “relapsing.”
  • I don’t like making phone calls. I especially don’t like making phone calls to our telephone/cable/internet provider. I vividly recall being home one day and having our internet black out. I was on the telephone with them for almost an hour. I don’t think I would have called them for any other reason.

If those don’t sound like the habits of an addict, then I don’t know what they sound like.

I know that some of you are might be getting a little critical with me at this point. I’ve heard it before when I bring this up. I am fully aware that the American Medical Association does not currently consider video game addiction to be an official DSM-IV diagnosis. This is clearly documented on the web. The AMA moves slowly on officially declaring something an official diagnosis (which is more than fair), but that does not change what I (and many others) am dealing with.

The Point:

If you are reading this column, then you likely know someone who is dealing with this right now (it might even BE you). I am writing this to encourage everyone to be aware of it. This is a sickness that often goes unnoticed and can cause irreparable harm. I spent so much time plugged in that I almost lost my wife. If it wasn’t for her and some of my closest friends I don’t know if I ever would have pulled myself away. Someone you know might need that kind of help.

There is a full list of symptoms for video game addiction here. I recommend that you take a look at it. It might open your eyes to things that haven’t occurred to you yet.

Each of us bears a responsibility to our friends, our family and to ourselves. Many of us would refuse to stand idly by if our friend was suffering from alcoholism and while we may have trouble seeing the parallels on the surface they are strikingly similar problems. If you see someone that behaves like I did, or fits any of the symptoms listed on that site… you need to talk to them.

I know that I am grateful for the help I was given. I sure your friends will be grateful too.

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Bioware

ESRB: Teen (Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Sexual Themes, Violence)

Original release: December 2011

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May the Fourth…er, Force, be with you.  This weekend marks the annual Star Wars holiday, which makes it a perfect time to play The Old Republic (SWTOR), the Star Wars based Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG, or MMO for short).

For those familiar with the Star Wars universe, the game is set in the past, before the movies.  Jedi are in their heyday, as are the Sith forces that oppose them.  There’s several races available, and several character types.  Players can choose wise Jedi, stalwart Troopers, wily Smugglers, or other classes.

Gameplay follows many of the classic MMO formulae: characters start in a tutorial area to learn the basic controls; they are given missions to perform, with experience points, money, and gear as rewards; and there are plenty of options for solo and group play.

The missions that you receive are one of the game’s strengths: its story-driven nature.  While there are certainly a vast number of side quests (inconsequential tasks, such as helping a local with a minor issue, something that can be easily skipped) to help your character grow stronger on their journeys, they are simply steps along the path in a greater story, an almost movie-like tale that focuses on you.

Another helpful feature of the game is the companion mechanic.  Each character is paired with a non-player character (NPC), a computer-controlled companion that helps you out, converses with you, and lets you know what they think about what is going on.  Though the companion has their own story, and own tasks, they are your greatest asset when it comes to completing the missions, which are woven into a consistent story line.  While players can team up with other players (for the short- or long-term), players can also play solo, with the companion’s help.

At the core of the game, though, is a series of moral decisions: there is a Light Side and a Dark Side to the Force, and that concept infuses the game.  While players can choose to side with the Jedi (Republic) or the Sith (Empire), they also have to decide whether to stay with the Light or the Dark, based on the decisions they make during their story: do they spare their defeated foe, and send them to a trial, or do they finish them off and end the threat?  These aren’t simply theoretical questions; characters are faced with not only the decisions, but the consequences.  Companions will change their opinion of you based on your actions, and characters will be marked by which path they take; fall too deeply to the Dark Side, and the corruption will start to show, as a character will start to look scarred and diseased.

The Light/Dark mechanic is the greatest teaching moment of the game, but is also the source of greatest concern, in my mind.  While the Light options are solid virtues to reinforce (honesty, selflessness, bravery), the Dark options can be very dark (senseless violence, torture, etc.)  I would recommend encouraging teens to stick to the Light side, and either keeping up with their progress to see how they’re doing, or by playing with them.

The other issue to watch for is play time.  By nature, MMO games are time-consuming, with many hours of gameplay going into completing “just one more mission!”  Parents will want to monitor the amount of time that players sink into the game.

Gameplay is a combination of mouse and keyboard work; the mouse controls movement, while actions can be selected by keyboard or mouse.  Actions happen in real time, so younger players (and maybe even a few older ones!) might be challenged to determine what to do during a fight.  Problem-solving and tactical skills will definitely be put to the test.  Fortunately, if you’re defeated, you are simply sent back to the nearest medical station, from where you can continue your story.

The visuals are good, but not phenomenal; they’re to be expected of a game that’s 2+ years old.  The sound, on the other hand, is top-notch, full of familiar Star Wars music and excellent voice-acting.  Dialog is also subtitled, allowing someone to read along with the dialog (either to work on reading skills, or to play with the sound down in case younger siblings are sleeping.)

Following a recent trend in MMO, there’s two tiers of play in SWTOR: free, and subscription.  Subscribed members earn better rewards from missions and have more options as a result of their paid status.  For folks not interested in paying out $15 a month for a full subscription (or who play too infrequently or erratically to warrant a subscription), there is a mechanic to unlock subscription benefits in an a la carte manner.

Overall, Star Wars the Old Republic is a good game for fans of Star Wars.  The Light/Dark mechanic is a great method to teach (and reinforce) moral decision-making skills, and the Free play option makes it accessible for gamers on a budget.  For mature teens (and parents!), this is a good way to get your lightsaber fix, but the younger crowd might want to skip this one.

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By: Stephen Duetzmann, Editor and chief

Funcom released a trailer for a new MMO based about LEGO properties called “LEGO Minifigures Online.”

We are short on real details, but the trailer they posted on YouTube today shows off a very ambitious product. There are a TON of different LEGO worlds included here. The timing for this can’t be much better considering there is a LEGO Movie coming out next year.

Take a look at the trailer and sound off in the comments. What do you think?

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Author: Jason Jarusinsky, Collectible Card Game Editor

Stainless Games LTD

ESRB Rating: T for teen

Release Date: 06/26/2013

Version Reviewed: 2014 Release on Steam (Also available on Playstation Network, 

Overall Review:

I found Magic 2014 – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014 (DoTP 2014) to be very enjoyable. A new version of this game is released by Wizards each summer in preparation for the release of their next Core Set of cards. DoTP 2014 made iterative improvements across all areas of the game. The animations were smoother, the sound design was excellent and the interface was overhauled nicely. (Editor’s note: This sounds like a perfect fit for a Magic: The Gathering game. This is what Wizards does with the card game does as part of its business model.)

The game is intended to be enjoyed by everyone in order to help spread interest in the card game itself. As a result, it accommodates all levels of experience with Magic: The Gathering (M:TG). Players are able to select their expertise level with the game which dictates the amount of hand-holding that players get. I experimented with them all, but ultimately chose to play through on the highest setting (“Planeswalker”). This allowed me to skip most of the tutorial sections that are otherwise mandatory. The lower the setting selected the more the game will walk you through the game set-up as well as the basics of how to play M:TG in general. This is an excellent way for a young player to get their feet wet and learn the game since they can learn at their own pace and can simply retry levels if they fail.

If a player has any experience with previous releases the game will seem very familiar, and allow for quick entry into whichever mode of gameplay that is chosen. I will detail these difference a little later on in my review.

The one drawback that I have experienced is that I have not found a way to upload all of the decks and cards that I had previously unlocked with Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 within DoTP 2014. I have submitted a Support Request with Steam to see if this is possible and I have not located the functionality as of yet. As of the time of this review’s publishing I have not received a response, and will provide an update once I have received an answer. If this is not possible it would mean that any player who unlocked different decks and cards, or purchased foils or deck expansions would not have access to these within the 2014 version.

Another neat change in the DoTP 2014 release that was not present in the previous year is your story is narrated by Chandra Nalaar, one of the powerful Planeswalkers in the M:TG universe. Chandra is aligned with the element of Fire, and through campaign mode you are working with her to unravel a mystery. I found this to be a welcome change as it gave the game a more immersive feel as opposed to feeling just like an M:TG simulator.

If you have a multiple M:TG player household there is an option that can bring up to 4 players together to determine your household bragging rights: Multi-Player! Each player would need to be on a separate Steam Log-in and have their own copy of the game; however once you do each person can be invited and choose from any of the decks that they have unlocked to play with your family! This one option itself has countless hours of fun potential. If you think that this might be a costly endeavor think of it this way. If you were taking a family of four to the movies for a weekend release you would be paying upwards of $40 for tickets plus concessions, and after your 2 to 3 hour film ends there is no further return upon your investment. Now for the same $40 you can purchase 4 copies of the game, and have as many hours of multi-player games as you desire. Plus as an added bonus with each purchase of the game you receive a code for an alternate art foil card for the trading card game. The card that this reviewer received a voucher for is Scavenging Ooze. Now as of this review the card price for the original is over $8.00. So if you have your four copies of the game the players of the trading card game in the house receive up to $32 of product to add to their collection. Not a bad deal at all if you ask me.

Family Gaming Assessment:

This game is rated T for teen by the ESRB. The vast majority of this rating is derived from the artwork on several of the cards (many of them are somewhat macabre) and the themes expressed in the story mode. If you are concerned about your skittish child being upset by some fo the card art, then it is worth doing a google search for DoTP 2014 cards. Flipping through the various images will give you an idea.

Playability Assessment:

As I touched on earlier every player has the option to choose their level of expertise at the very beginning of the game. So even if you have someone who has never played the game there are visual and auditory tutorials that will walk the player through every aspect of the game. In addition there are tool-tip that pop up regardless of your expertise to help remind you of certain aspects of gameplay. In addition the control menu explains what each keystroke accomplishes within a match. As a player becomes more comfortable with their level of experience the tips can be turned off which speeds up gameplay.

As one might imagine with a computer port of a card game, there is a lot of reading to be done. If your child has trouble reading things quickly under pressure, then this might not be the best game for them.

DoTP 2014 has challenges for every player. From the basic story mode to challenges that have you needing to find your way out of seemingly Impossible situations. Even the most savvy M:TG veteran will have their skills put to the test.

Conclusion:

I would absolutely recommend Magic Duel of the Planeswalkers 2014 as an addition to any families gaming library. The price point certainly makes even buying multiple copies affordable, and the multi-player option makes family replay value high. I look forward to exploring deeper into the content, and maybe I will see you for a duel on Steam if you are up for the challenge!

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I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the Playstation 3 beta for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the holiday weekend. I have been a lifetime Final Fantasy fan, so it was like Christmas in July. I spent about a dozen hours playing through the beta on various characters over the weekend and I wanted to share some important information.

#1: Playing an MMO with a controller is hard

There are a lot of people who will say that playing MMOs in general is hard. But, it took a lot of adjustment to be able to make basic combat commands work. The keyboard and mouse functions are far more intuitive because they involve clicking on a guy and pushing a number key. The bottom line is that unless your child can easily handle using the trigger buttons on the PS3 controller then it might be best to stick with the PC release.

#2: The game is stunning

I know we come to expect that games produced for current generation consoles are beautiful, but MMOs are a unique case. They often have to give up a lot when it comes to visuals in order to make the game run smoothly. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn bucks that trend. The animations are smooth. The textures are incredible. Even the spell animations were neat to look at.

#3: The Lalafell race may just be the cutest thing in the history of video games

Look. Some people like to pretend to be big strong superheroes when they play video games. I was one of them. But, then I realized that I could create a digital person that both looks like my four year old son AND can manipulate the elements. I was instantly converted.

I see this as something that might have a lot of appeal for younger kids. I know my youngest got a lot of enjoyment from watching himself run around on the screen.

 

#4: The introduction and tutorial is LONG

I’ll admit that I might be looking back on my previous MMO experiences with rose colored glasses, but the introduction was very long and pretty dry. I am afraid that some kids will have difficulty sticking with it. The good news it that they don’t have to share every single experience that the game has to offer so many of us can just slog through the opening on our own after they head to bed.

 

#5: For all its beauty, it is still an online game

There is no way around it. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is still on online role playing game. As a result, there was still no shortage of borderline inappropriate names and obnoxious chatter over the chat channels. These are the kinds of problems are baked into online play. You just can’t separate yourself from them. They are less of an issue for kids who can’t read, but you are in a different world once those symbols on the screen start to hold meaning.

There is another round of beta testing beginning this weekend. I’ll post again if anything significant changes.

Have you or someone you know been in the beta? What were your thoughts? Post them in the comments! I’d love to hear them!

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Contributor: Joe O’Malley- High School Intern (yep, an honest to goodness Teenager, folks!)

The Justice League is back!

KABOOM!—We begin our story with the chilling fact that the Joker has used a nuclear bomb on Metropolis- killing millions of people. Needless to say, Superman is furious! The scene starts with him using his heat vision to make an entrance through the wall of the police building where Batman is already trying to get answers from the prince of crime, who’s even more insane than usual. Superman proceeds to throw Joker around while the clown mocks him for not being able to stop the bomb. The Joker also teases Superman about the death of Lois and his son. In his rage, the last son of Krypton punches straight through the Joker (though you don’t actually see it) and lets out his last sinister laugh.

ELSEWHERE,—We join the J.L. in the midst of a fight over a Metropolis (which hasn’t been destroyed. Yet.) as well as The Watchtower. All of this fighting seems to be led by Lex Luthor, aided by all of the headline villains we know and “love”, including Sinsestro and Doomsday and Ares and Bane.

MEANWHILE,—The Caped Crusader goes to check out on the Joker at Arkham, only to find the Joker has escaped again. Batman is ambushed by the assassin Death Stroke. Following a quick battle, and then another with Bane and Luthor, Cyborg and Batman discover Joker preparing his nuclear weapon. Batman arrives at Joker’s location just as joker is about to detonate the nuke.

BAM!—They are teleported somewhere else which is now out of range for the trigger to work. And this is only the beginning of this EPIC and CHAOTIC story.

Growing up as a kid who preferred DC over Marvel any day of the week, I think that this game lives up to the standards of the franchise. The plot does take a slightly darker turn when we find out that Superman is an evil dictator. The storyline was an interesting change of pace from the recent Arkham Asylum series. With the Mortal Combat gameplay style and the creative character match-ups this makes for fun gameplay. The voice acting stays very accurate to the expected characteristics that go along with the all of the DC icons. However, we do not get the low scratchy voice of Christian Bale who has recently played the Dark Knight in the Batman movie trilogy. And this is the first time the Joker is not voiced by Mark Hamill in a video game in many years.

After you finish the campaign take a look at the other options of play in the single player menu. Personally, I enjoyed the battles where you have many choices of fights as any player that you want. The different modes include classic where you do battle with 10 randomly selected opponents of both heroes and villains, or if you only want to fight a select groups there’s also Heroes Only and Villains Only. But, if this isn’t tough enough for you, you may also play Poisoned where you are constantly losing health. You can also play Survivor and have your health bar carry over and you can only regain health if you preform special moves.

Parents, you needn’t be concerned for most children when they play this game. It’s classic comic book fighting that brings all of your favorite heroes and villains together. But, it is worth noting that the action is intense enough that some younger children might be better off not watching or playing. It’s somewhat graphic and there is a little foul language, but nothing major. Kids, you will be happy to know that this game also has a one on one multiplayer mode making for a friendly competition with your friends.

The game has adjustable difficulty depending on your preferences, but overall is a good challenge that won’t frustrate you once you get use to the button functions. Speaking of which, the game is very much of an all-out button mash at some points. For those of you who may not know, button-mashing is simply pressing random keys hoping for the best results. The tutorial makes reading the instructions not as important. At first the tutorial may seem like the hardest part of the game because you have to do each move 3 times to keep moving on, but you have the choice to skip it so you can get right to the actual game. Although, just a fair warning, it turns out to be quite helpful in the long run.

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