"Mom! You can't pause an online game!"
I’ve always been someone who was kinda into gaming. So, if someone had a gaming console and a copy of that year’s FIFA at hand, I'd be keen to play. So it’s always been something that has been in my periphery, but recently I’ve taken much more of an interest in it (probably because I work for a game development studio now).
As I got to know the culture better, I noticed that there are a lot of parents who are confused by how the new generation interacts with PC and console games.
Gone are the days when a frozen game could be fixed by blowing into the cartridge - and if you are old enough to understand that reference, then this post might just be for you!
Why should we understand this? Well, gaming has become more popular than movies and it is more than likely going to be (or currently is) a big part of our children’s lives. If we want to be able to engage with them about it and help them make wise decisions while being in this world, we need to understand it ourselves.
So, here are some big ideas that will get you started:
If you have ever been told that “I can’t pause this game, mom!” then this is what your kid is doing right now. With the rise of always on, fairly fast internet connections (compared to dial up, at least), online gaming has become widespread.
Right now, the most popular online game is Fortnite, but there are many others - pretty much every game that comes out has an online element to it.
Since it is the most popular, let’s talk about Fortnite. It’s a Battle Royale Game (another popular game of this type is PUBG), where 100 players land on an island, collect weapons and resources, and attempt to be the last person alive. It’s effectively the Hunger Games, except rounds only last about 20 minutes.
You can play solo, duo or as a team of 4.
Since this is online, and people from all around the world are playing at the same time, you can’t pause the game in the same way you can’t pause a Zoom meeting. Leaving the game before the end of the round usually comes with penalties of some sort. In some games, doing this too many times can lead to a ban.
These games are made to be very addictive (especially Fortnite, with the quick rounds and constant stream of new loot to achieve), and can also open up your child to some rough people. It is possible to limit who they come into contact with, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Watching Game Streams
Sometimes, it’s fun to watch other people have fun. Game streams have become more and more popular over the last decade, with the most popular streamers raking in multi-million dollar contracts - aside from what they earn just from their fans.
So what is game streaming? At its core, it’s someone playing a game and broadcasting it to a service where other people can watch them do it. Usually they have a camera and mic and are chatting to the audience and commentating on their game while they play. Make no mistake - to do all this well takes skill!
Popular streaming services at the moment are Twitch and Youtube Gaming, with Facebook gaming coming a distant third.
There is a whole culture, language and economy built into these services, where viewers buy bits, which they give to their favourite streamers while also paying to subscribe to them. These microtransactions might seem tiny at first, but for the most popular streamers (like Ninja) this can add up quickly when you regularly have hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers.
The question that comes up most often is “Why would you watch other people play games?”.
Unless you are someone who has never watched and enjoyed sport or music or TV or movies, PLEASE DON’T BE THIS PARENT. There are so many reasons to enjoy watching these streams. Usually the streamers are interesting personalities, or they are really good at the game and watching is a great way to improve yourself, or a combination of the two. Communities also form around these streams and friendships can develop.
If you want to check out how it’s done professionally, by a South African, I can definitely recommend my friend, Grant Hinds:
That being said, since it is very much the wild west right now, there are all types of streamers that your child would have access to. I think that it is vital you know who they are watching, and what tone the stream takes. Many of these services are aware that children are watching, but they have struggled to keep a standard of conduct on their streams.
Hosting Game Streams
So...your kid has decided that he or she would like to be the streamer, as opposed to just watching the streamers?
Well, that’s a big ask. Firstly, while you can get by with a semi-decent gaming PC as both the machine you play on and stream from, you’ll still need a good internet connection, mic and webcam...just for starters.
Once you want to get into the better looking and sounding streams, the equipment can become very expensive, very quickly.
But much more importantly, streaming takes up other resources too. For instance, time. Obviously you can make your streams as long or as short as you like (which is the beauty of creating content online), but the algorithms that decide how “discoverable” your streams are usually take into account length - longer is better, to a limit.
Another thing to keep in mind is the mental toll it can take. The vast majority of streamers get very few actual viewers which can be massively disheartening, but the opposite can be even worse: success brings with it the stresses of dealing with all sorts of people, who might not have your child’s mental health in mind when they comment.
If your kid is insisting, it might be a good idea to convince them to start with making recorded videos which are uploaded to Youtube before going full out with the live streams. The reality of how hard it is to make content online might just convince them to stay on the viewing side of things.
The real truth here is that streaming, in general, is constantly evolving. New platforms come and go (see: Mixer), some streamers become popular suddenly and then fade away, trends and memes float in and out of the zeitgeist, and what was impossible to do online one day becomes commonplace the next. It’s up to us as parents to keep up with the basics as best we can, so we can help our kids make good decisions when it comes to how they consume these mediums.
Good luck, and happy gaming!