Tech

Why do we ignore gaming in the digital world?

Children are spending more time online than ever, exacerbated by the unprecedented digital shift brought about by the pandemic.

As Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen clearly revealed, platforms may be well aware of the risk their products pose to children, but they regularly fail to implement the necessary safety measures. More recently, we’ve seen this unraveling, with the likes of Roblox and the Metaverse accused of facilitating sexual harassment and other harmful practices.

At what point do we say enough? Slowly, lawmakers are realizing that these issues need to be addressed, influenced by the powerful testimonies of the victims of these platforms and by ever-increasing public pressure to reign in the powers of high technology.

When she introduced the long-awaited online safety bill to parliament in March, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said, “We risk sacrificing the well-being and innocence of countless generations of children in the power of uncontrolled algorithms.” Other countries around the world are taking similar lines.

It seems that the times of self-regulation are coming to an end. While this is to be welcomed, current regulatory approaches are too narrow. While algorithms designed by data-hungry and profit-hungry companies are turning meaningful opportunities into harmful opportunities, we mustn’t forget that technology can be used as a positive force. It allows children to connect with their friends, learn about the world around them and access a new world of possibilities.

So yes, to give kids the best possible online experiences, safety and privacy should be key, of course – but don’t kids deserve more? Attacking the question: Can we redesign platforms to not only protect young users, but to provide an environment in which they thrive?

Recognizing this, a growing streak has emerged within this new generation of technological regulation, defined by a so-called “By Design” approach. Instead of endlessly responding to the problem of malicious content, he argues that regulators address the problem at its root by forcing tech companies to redesign their products and services with wellness and safety as a priority rather than profit. The goal is not only to give children the safety and privacy they deserve online, but also to ensure that the digital environment is one in which they can thrive.

Offline, the public has a vision of what beauty is: local, child-friendly, imaginative and safe places to play that are not hidden from the world but are part of it

When we advocate a digital world that recognizes children as users and meets them and their needs, we often tend to compare what they already benefit from in the offline world versus the online world. Take the game, for example.

A child playing creatively with a cardboard box makes parents smile. Everyone loves to remember their childhood playing outdoors, with muddy knees and no eyes on playgrounds, parks and green spaces, but online we don’t recognize these equivalent places. Can they exist?

What is the digital equivalent of playing with a cardboard box? It’s Minecraft, for example, and if not, why not? Why can’t society confidently answer such questions, several decades since the internet was invented?

Offline, the public has a vision of what beauty is: local, child-friendly, imaginative and safe places to play that are not hidden from the world but are part of it. Places for fun, growth, sociability and, yes, a bit of risk-taking while adults keep an eye on them in case their help is needed. These are the result of widespread public expectations, sustained support for children’s play and, of vital importance, public policies to engage, research, regulate and deliver.

It is time to stop blaming parents for making their children play online and it is time to raise society’s expectations by providing for the needs of children in a digital world. After all, kids will continue to spend a significant amount of time online, so we need to understand how this time can be beneficial to them instead of complaining about it.

Security should be the bare minimum

At the Digital Futures Commission, hosted by the 5Rights Foundation, we are determined to give children and young people the digital world they deserve.

That’s why we support Playful by Design: an evidence-based guide for designers and product developers to learn from the rich cultural history of offline gaming and build online spaces that are imaginative, open and sociable, engaging without being compulsive, supporting the agency for children and diversity, and let them grow and experiment without being dangerous.

Our survey of nationwide representatives aged 6-17 found that they want digital products that are creative, age-appropriate and affordable, and that don’t shower them with advertisements, sell their data, or expose it to people. in different ways they cannot control.

I’m not asking for a nostalgic return to pre-digital days, nor to wrap babies in cotton wool so that nothing risky, engaging, or unexpected can happen. But surely we can agree that regulators and designers alike should strive to create an online world that recognizes children’s right to play, benefits them, and helps them grow and develop.

The teacher. Sonia Livingstone OBE is a professor in the Department of Media and Communication of the London School of Economics and Political Science. She currently heads the Digital Futures Commission (with the 5Rights Foundation) and the Global Kids Online project (with UNICEF).

Why do we ignore gaming in the digital world?

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