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Yarr!! Here be strangers: a new label for online games

Posted on 31 May 2017 by Paul

We recently got our grubby little mitts on the technical alpha of Sea of Thieves (which looks excellent), a whimsical game about sailing the high seas and looking for treasure.

The game is played ideally with a group of crewmates as much of the gameplay involves mundane tasks (changing the length and angle of the different sails, raising and lowering the anchor, and holding a lantern to see at night). Players can either work co-operatively, or competitively (through combat and attacking other players’ ships). What more could a kid want? 

What’s the deal with that descriptive note?

“Online interactions with strangers” may seem a bit odd, but the office felt as though it was the best way to carry our intentions across. It’s important for parents to know who their kids are potentially playing with.

This is all the more important because there’s no offline component to Sea of Thieves – players have to be playing online. If you’re playing alone the game automatically pairs you up with other players. We wanted to let parents know that when their children are playing games like this online, their children will be interacting with strangers who might say, do, or encourage their children to do things that they don’t approve of.

Aren’t games mostly online these days anyway?

Thanks, imaginary friend. While most games are online these days each game has different levels of interactivity built into them. For example, in Splatoon, players also play online but their ability to communicate with each other is limited (woomy!), and there’s no voice chat functionality built into the game.

Gameplay from Splatoon

As such, there’s actually not a lot of risk that kids will come across unsavoury characters (make sure you’ve changed the console settings as well though). Same goes for games like Street Fighter V. Then you have games like Overwatch where you can mute players but you have to proactively do so at the beginning of each play session. Even more communicative games might appear child-friendly but have been used by some players as a way to befriend kids in an attempt to sexually groom them.

Maybe they shouldn’t be playing online at all!

Look, we’re not saying that everyone your kid plays with online is going to try and groom them – that’s probably not the case. More likely your children are playing with older teens swearing abuse and throwing racist and homophobic slurs down the microphone – and it’s all right to take exception to that as well. Your kids probably don’t like being abused online. Knowing who your children could be interacting with online is important in equipping parents and caregivers with the knowledge to make decisions that are right for them and their kids. It’s one of the reasons why classifications are so important.

Characters from Sea of Thieves

If you’re a parent you know it’s completely impossible to have oversight over everything your child does. You wouldn’t invite adults into the sandpit in real life – you can find more tips on how to make sure you kids are staying safe online here.

Paul works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sea of Thieves cover art
PG: Low level violence and online interactions with strangers

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