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We are proud to say that Engaged Family Gaming was featured as a part of an Iteam investigation with NBC New York.

We talked about Roblox, a popular online gaming platform and the potential dangers it poses to or children. Our Editor-in-Chief Stephen is proud to have had a chance to stand beside law enforcement and cyber security specialists as we all spoke about the very real threats we have encountered.

To reiterate the points made in the below video (and to add a bit more since we are not pressed for time here):

  1. It is very important that we talk to our children about the games they play.
  2. We need to encourage our children to protect their private information online the same way that they would in person (perhaps even more so).
  3. Online games almost always have a chat function. It is recommended that you disable these functions whenever possible to limit the access that dangerous people may have to your children.

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I posted a warning about Roblox earlier last week. I’ve received a lot of feedback about that warning.  As always, some of that feedback was positive and some of it was negative. There was one core commonality between the different pieces of feedback that I received: a lot of people don’t really understand what Roblox is.

A lot of people refer to Roblox like it is a singular game. This is where comparisons to things like Minecraft are made. The truth is, however, that Roblox is a bit more complicated than that. It is a web based service that allows people to create games using a standard set of Roblox assets and resources. Subscribers can then publish the games that they create and then earn real world money based on their game’s performance. This makes the service less of a game and more of a platform like YouTube.

The potential for this to be a fun and enriching experience is there. There are a lot of kids who are interested in learning how to design games and the Roblox tools are a great way to get started. They are straight forward (relatively) and easy to use. I also don’t know a kid who wouldn’t be interested in the chance to earn some cash for their playtime.

These creative tools have resulted in a lot of very cool games. There are games published on the service that are about post-apocalyptic survival, Pokemon, Role-Playing being part of a high school, and all sorts of other interesting things. Unfortunately, these tools can also be abused and result in things like Shower Simulator.

What does all of this mean though? Well, at its most basic level, this means that when your kids are “playing  Roblox” they aren’t just playing Roblox.  They are using Roblox to play any number of the hundreds of different games that have been created on the service. They may all look similar thanks to the fact that they share a common toolset. But, they may be completely different games with different target audiences and different pools of players in them.

My warning was criticized for being alarmist, and that might be fair criticism. But, I disagree that it was not warranted. I spent an hour playing some fairly innocent games before I saw things that I simply cannot unsee. With that said, I am not demanding that all parents immediately delete the game and ban their children from playing it forever. What I am advocating is that parents should be aware of the kinds of games their children play on the service and teach them how to be safe digital citizens.

It really is as simple as that. Roblox has a huge amount of potential, but it is hard to take advantage of when there is so much risk of exposure to undesirable content and behavior.

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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 at 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 was 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 you to 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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