When parents allow cyberspace to become nannies, questionable content is bound to find its way to children. Abet Ongkingco, a college game development professor and a developer himself said, the deeper problem is the erosion of Filipino values of caring for children, making the children open for cyber abuse, which allows the abuse in the first place. “We have made these gadgets our babysitters,” he said, creating a situation where many children are now
unsupervised. Ongkingco traces the peak of gaming in the Philippines during the Ragnarok Online craze in 90’s.

The game was a multiplayer online role-playing game created by Gravity based on Ragnarok by Lee Myung-jin. It was released in South Korea on 31 August 2002 for Microsoft Windows. Adding to the spectacle and ease of online gaming is the fact that it has no commercials and though it started to be played in internet cafes, the birth of social media in 2004 has likewise increased accessibility to online gaming, Ongkingco said.

A survey on children and gaming

In a school in the ILocos region north of the Philippines, 56 students in the 4th and 5th grades aged 10- 11,
successfully opened email accounts and registered into online game applications despite being minors. 32 students, representing 57.1% of respondents, affirmed they all have personal email accounts. Thirty (30) of these children dedicate 2- 4 hours a day for online gaming, with five (5) responding that they indulge in online games for five to six hours a day. Four (4) have attested they spend 7-8 hours gaming while eight (8) said a mere 30 minutes is given to the online recreation. Only five (5) children said they do not play online games.

Majority of players confirmed to engage withy Roblox (62.5%), followed by Call of Duty (10.7%), Minecraft (7.1%), Mobile Legends (7.1%), Volarant (3.6%) and puzzle games (3.6%). While Robolox is said to be a safer platform for children, adult content can still find its way to child-users and can also become a Pandoras box for cyber bullying, scammers, hackers, and online predators. Children usually sidestep authentication questions like age by simply clicking a box, saying they are over 13 years old, leaving children like those in the Ilocos region vulnerable to receiving notifications, advertisements and susceptible to in-game chats or microtransactions.

Open targets

Meloy, a former software and game developer, relates there are no solid safeguards for children in gaming. “As a former game developer, I’m going to be honest with you, game development is a business and games are the product, so in essence, the end goal in developing games is to profit,” she said. Meloy (her real nickname but prefers not to reveal her family name) who has since retired from the industry after a 10-year tenure to focus on her children, said safeguards depend on the type of applications used as there are those which target children and require users to be 13 years old.

Any younger than that, the users will need their parents’ permission or for their account to be tied to a parents’ account, but there are many who still lack these safety checks. Meloy said “China imposed a law where minors can
only play a certain number of hours and only on certain days and can only play certain games, but for them, it is doable to implement because their government has measures in place in their society to monitor everyone’s moves. While in the USA, they call it a HIPAA compliance — this means any game or app you want to publish in the US needs to comply.”

Amianan Balita Ngayon