5+ Video Games Where Predators Target Kids
How chats, comms, and video sharing expose kids to predators.
JAN 18, 2024
5+ Video Games Where Predators Target Kids
How chats, comms, and video sharing expose kids to predators.
Warning: Reader Discretion Advised
The following content may contain stories and references to predation and child abuse. Some readers may find this content triggering.
We believe that parents are best-equipped to protect their children when they are aware of the potential risks children may face in online spaces.
According to the FBI, as many as 500,000 predators are active online every day targeting kids ages 12 to 15. Their intentions include procuring sexual images from children and sometimes making physical contact with their victims.
Video gaming platforms offer predators an opportune place to lure children. Kids may have their guard down when playing games, while predators make overtures of “friendship,” sometimes pretending to be someone they are not.
“Where kids play, predators prey.”– Donna Rice Hughes, Internet safety expert
Any game where children can communicate with strangers presents risks. Predators can contact children in chat rooms (sometimes called lobbies) through written, verbal, or video means before or during a game.
Tragic, heartbreaking circumstances have been reported widely, from an 8-year-old on Roblox pressured for sexual images, to children being sexually abused after being convinced to run away with a predator met while gaming, to children being sextorted through gaming consoles.
Parents can make video games safer by limiting screen time, avoiding games with the potential for interactions with strangers, implementing parental controls to eliminate contact with others, monitoring their children’s online activities, and talking often with children about the dangers of interacting with strangers on or offline.
5+ Video Games that Predators Use to Talk to Kids
These are popular video games that predators frequent, whether played by phone or console. This list is not comprehensive and does not include every game that could be dangerous to kids. Caregivers should take caution with any game that allows for communication with strangers.
Roblox is a multiplayer gaming platform that offers all types of experiences for electronic avatars, but it’s no stranger to controversy and accusations of being unsafe. Last year, children were the primary players with adults representing only 14% of users on Roblox. Alarmingly, more than half of users are under 9 years old.
Roblox allows for open chat communication with other players, whether your child has accepted a friend request from them or not. It is very concerning that Roblox provides private rooms that are also used by predators to isolate kids in order to groom them.
How to set parental controls on Roblox
Roblox is crossplay compatible so parental controls vary based on the platform being used. Parents can customize parental controls on Roblox appropriate to their child’s age and disable Roblox chat features.
The popular murder mystery app Among Us doesn’t allow private chatting within the app, but there is a public chat feature for all players of the game. There is a risk of kids being lured onto a different platform to chat with predators privately.
Gabb researchers joined public chats in Among Us and found many aspects of the game that may be considered unsafe for kids.
How to set parental controls on Among Us
Parental controls for Among Us vary based on what console you are playing on — a handheld app, Xbox, PlayStation, etc. Public games pose the most risk as the chat feature used in the game for players to discuss who they think is the murderer is also used by predators for grooming and sexual solicitations.
On all platforms, there is a private mode to play only with people you know. Encourage kids to only engage with trusted friends by either hosting their own game or having a friend host (the host will provide a private code to join).
Minecraft is a creative “Lego” type building game where players try to survive while hunting and foraging for resources. The average Minecraft user is a 24-year-old male, while kids make up 20% of the game’s demographic.
There are different ways to play — you can create a solo world or join a public world where groups of strangers or friends play together.
Minecraft Game OptionsSolo
- A single-player world a child can create
- A user can play multiplayer safely by creating a free private server and sharing that server’s address with trusted friends
- A player can participate online with strangers randomly assigned to the same public world
Public multiplayer settings can leave children vulnerable to predators’ advances. It allows young players access to the virtual, worldwide chat function. Frighteningly, there is also a private chat feature available for one-on-one conversations over chat or voice calls.
How to set parental controls on Minecraft
Beyond playing only private games, Minecraft parental controls can be set up on all consoles. These controls allow guardians to disable the Chat and Multiplayer features for child accounts.
First-person Shooter Games: Fortnite, Call of Duty, Apex Legends
First-person shooter games present a unique opportunity for predators to target children since collaboration and communication are often essential to success in these games.
It’s important to note that you’d be hard-pressed to find a first-person shooter game that doesn’t have an element of multiplayer outside of the main story. We excluded games like Halo, Destiny 2, and Doom Eternal, but that does not mean that they do not carry a risk or that they should not be researched and limited for safety.
Here are a few examples where children may be more vulnerable to dangerous interactions.
This multiplayer battle royale game reports that more than half of players are 18 – 24 years old; however, it’s possible that this age range isn’t accurate. Younger players will often lie about their age in order to gain access to play since the game requires players to be 13+.
Fortnite utilizes “comms” rather than chat features so that players can communicate vocally rather than typing out lengthy messages. Players wear headsets to talk and plan with teammates to win the game.
With vocal communication, some predators will use voice-masking technology to earn the trust of other younger players. However, it’s generally no surprise to hear a child playing a round with adults; it has become so commonplace within the game that predators likely don’t need to mask their voices to build trust anymore.
How to set up Fortnite parental controls
Fortnite is another cross platform game so it’s available on most consoles or devices. The parental controls will depend on the platform you are using. Here are a few of the most popular:
Call of Duty
Call of Duty is a first-person shooter game with solo or multiplayer options. It also utilizes comms for efficiency.
With games like this, kids are already subjected to a high-stress environment where they have to rely on teammates to win the game. This is an easy way for predators to build up trust as they chase after a common goal.
Despite the violence that is heavily featured in Call of Duty, this game attracts kids as well as adults. In fact, the average Call of Duty player is around 27 years old. As with Fortnite, kids frequently play it alongside adults, so hearing a mature voice over the headset is common for them.
How to set up Call of Duty parental controls
Playstation 5 parental controls, Xbox parental controls, and Microsoft PC parental controls are available for all games played on the consoles, including Call of Duty.
Apex Legends is also a co-op game that requires the formation of teams to play. Only teams of about two or three players are allowed to participate in multiplayer gameplay against around 25 other teams.
This is a battle royale game similar to Fortnite that utilizes all kinds of comms for collaboration. But unlike Fortnite, Apex Legends features violent and extensive gore that may not be suitable for children.
The nature of interactive gameplay like what’s present in Apex Legends inherently carries a threat of predation on kids who play.
How to set up Apex Legends parental controls
Disabling the chat is not an option in a co-op game at this scale, but there are a few things that parents can do to protect children, such as adding time limits and viewing screen time. Some automatic limits will also be applied for users under 18.
Rec Room and Other Virtual Reality Games
Virtual reality gaming is a relatively new facet of online video gaming and one about which parents may have limited awareness.
Despite the fact that virtual reality games are being marketed to an increasingly younger audience, VR still poses risks for children. Physical symptoms such as cybersickness (similar to motion sickness) can arise shortly after play begins. After prolonged play, virtual reality has even been shown to inhibit a child’s ability to understand the distances of objects as they pertain to self.
But perhaps a more upsetting element of virtual reality games is the culture of abuse, both emotional and sexual.
In fact, within only seven minutes of play, one can easily encounter racism, sexism, sexual abuse and harassment, and grooming. This is exceptionally disturbing since VR doesn’t even allow one to turn one’s head away from vile hand or body gestures on screen since the screen is literally strapped to the head.
Let’s go over a specific example that parents may want to watch out for, a VR game that is daily increasing in popularity.
Rec Room is a sandbox-type multiplayer building game that allows players to make and share their own mini-games and inventions in a public “rec room.” Because of the creative and shareable elements of Rec Room, there is unfortunately inappropriate content that is easily generated and available for anyone to see.
This inappropriate content can range from racism and sexism to sexually explicit images and mini-games.
Players in Rec Room talk and interact with other players, and parents have noticed that their children are regularly talking with adults who have malintent to harm or endanger their children.
Unlike Reddit, it appears that Rec Room is fairly meticulous about its moderators and holds a vetting process for applicants to become moderators. However, once someone has made the cut and become a moderator, they are not required to monitor their rooms regularly, so inappropriate behavior could happen without many repercussions.
There is a reporting mechanism for those who violate the code of conduct, but several violations have to be reported for a violator to be banned.
In cases where a user is being inappropriate or harassing someone, the victim of such an attack can employ a “talk to the hand” gesture that will mute the aggressor. They can then vote to kick that person from the room.
How to set up Rec Room parental controls
Luckily, Rec Room has an option for kids under 13 to set up a “junior account.” This account protects the user’s identifying information, such as their name and username. A junior account also mutes all other users so the child doesn’t have the option to communicate with others. They are also limited from entering rooms that are sexually or otherwise explicit.
But like other games, kids can easily get around these controls by simply lying about their age.
Risky Online Gaming Features: Lobbies
Some gaming platforms have features that create risks for young players. Team shooter games like Fortnite and Call of Duty use “lobbies” to host players before a game starts. Lobbies are virtual waiting rooms where players congregate and chat before a game starts. By default, these lobbies are open to anyone unless game settings have been manually changed.
Lobbies can be on the continuum of quiet or loud, vulgar or appropriate, nice or aggressive. Even in public lobbies, private conversations are possible by muting the rest of the lobby to isolate the voices of two or more participants. This feature allows what is essentially a private connection between kids and strangers.
During stressful gameplay, predators may not be able to find a way to carefully earn trust and obtain personal information. However, in the lobby, predators can make overtures over time; a predator can stay in a lobby for as long as they want, waiting to ensnare a victim.
It’s possible to make private lobbies open by invitation only, but cumbersome to do so. In the case of Call of Duty, this could be quite a challenge, considering that at least 24 people are required to make a private lobby. Fortnite requires players to go through a complicated verification process before hosting a private lobby, and so it’s often more convenient to just play with strangers.
It’s here in the lobby that players can exchange personal information, an alarmingly common practice in the gaming community. A recent study showed that 14% of kids will share personal information online, even if they are not comfortable doing so.
Online Grooming Through Video Games
Grooming is the meticulous process that sexual predators use to intimidate, control, and silence their victims. A child can be groomed and preyed upon in a matter of hours, in the space between lunch and dinnertime.
Predators skillfully manipulate a child into feeling sympathetic and friendly toward them rather than on the alert. Once a predator has secured trust, they can send the child inappropriate content, and convince them to reciprocate.
One in five children between 10 and 17 years of age report receiving an unwanted sexual solicitation online.
Using the content they receive, predators can blackmail the child for money (called sextortion), request the child’s personal information (including their home address), and entice them to meet in real life with the intent to harm them.
Keep an eye out for concerning behavior from your children, such as isolation, constant internet use involving games and platforms where they can communicate with strangers, and/or fear of internet use. If you suspect your child is being groomed, contact local authorities immediately.
Predators move the conversation outside of the game
Typically when a child is targeted by a predator on a video game, the child isn’t harmed or tracked down on the platform where first contact occurred. They often move conversations to more convenient and less secure platforms, such as Discord, Whatsapp, or the child’s cell phone.
The most common communication software that gamers use is Discord. In fact, its primary use is for correspondence while gaming. Kids in the gaming community are vulnerable because predators prefer lurking on Discord over many other social media sites.
All Discord users are public users, meaning that users have access to everyone’s profile. A child could easily “friend” anyone on Discord and start talking with them. There is no way to verify who one is talking to on Discord because users are kept completely anonymous; a 12-year-old could unknowingly be chatting with a 32-year-old.
The platform operates using servers, which are similar to community forums, where everyone who’s been invited onto a server can post, participate in discussions, and communicate together. Unlike other forum-type platforms like Reddit, Discord allows for public video chats within their servers.
Predators have nothing to lose by casting a wide net—their attempts will eventually result in a malicious and devastating connection with a child.
Servers on Discord can only be accessed via invitation, meaning that a child cannot access a dangerous server without being sent a link to it. Predators will often contact kids via private messaging and then share links to servers that contain sexual content, luring unsuspecting kids into conversations revolving around sexuality from the first contact.
Predators skillfully manipulate the child into feeling sympathetic and friendly toward them rather than on the alert. Sometimes, they may catfish a victim.
Catfishing is a tool predators use to gain the confidence of their victims. A child may be more trusting of a fellow adolescent gamer who has similar interests than an adult.
That trust is the foundation for the grooming process to manipulate the child into making more compromising choices, such as sending nude content, engaging in online or in-person sexual activity, or as a form of blackmail called sextortion.
Seeing people as computers: the deindividuation process
The “deindividuation process” causes kids and adults to stop seeing their peers online as people and more like computers. When someone is wearing a mask of anonymity, they’re far more likely to be aggressive, which is why you sometimes you may hear your kid screaming at their video game console.
The gaming culture can be aggressive and angry, which desensitizes kids and leaves them more vulnerable to threats and demands. Predators may feel more at ease making an aggressive demand on a victim while playing Call of Duty than over social media, for example.
Tech Companies Slow to Act
The video game industry has numerous predators, and many tech companies have been slow to provide robust protection for minors. While none have been directly prosecuted for the illegal activity happening on their platforms, some gaming companies are in litigation while yet others have only been fined.
For example, Epic Games, the parent company of Fortnite, was sued in December 2022. While they haven’t yet been prosecuted, they’ve paid almost $300 million in fines for violating the privacy of their young players. Although this fine may seem significant at first glance, it only amounts to about 5% of their projected $6.5 billion dollars of revenue just for 2023. A slap on the wrist is unlikely to motivate meaningful protections for children.
How to Make Video Gaming Safe
Research has found kids can benefit from video games. Beyond being a unique form of play and social interaction, succeeding in a difficult video game can help kids develop self-confidence.
Age-appropriate games can be a great way for kids to safely work through negative emotions in situations within their control.
Here are some suggestions for safe ways to play.
With proper precautions, caregivers can reduce the risks of predators interacting with their children on video games.
Parents can prohibit public multiplayer games, disable chat or comms, allow online activities only in public areas, reduce their child’s risk of talking with predators by limiting screen time, and make gaming profiles anonymous (available on Fortnite, Call of Duty, Roblox, and Among Us).
Consider a tech in steps approach with your child. You know them and their maturity level, so provide a tailored introduction to technology that allows them to build digital skills before being thrown in the deep end.
Keep on Talking
Ideally, a child would never be contacted by strangers online. However, children have access to the internet in a variety of ways at home and when away. Grooming can happen to any child in as little as 18 minutes.
Grooming can happen to any child in as little as 18 minutes.– Dr. Rowenna Baldwin, Senior Research Assistant at Manchester Metropolitan University
Parents can work to build an open line of communication with their child and offer a shame-free place for kids to go when they make a mistake or are being manipulated online.
Conversations about online dangers can be frequent, ongoing, and grow as the child matures.
Children can learn to be on alert online. Sharing basic information like the school they attend, names of friends, or the name of the street where they live may seem harmless to kids, but even that information can be dangerous in the hands of predators.
When young people understand the importance of digital citizenship, they will be empowered to protect themselves by turning off chat, blocking messages, reporting suspicious activity online, and recognizing the signs of grooming.
What did we miss? What have your experiences been with online video gaming? Let us know in the comments!