24 January 2023,
On the 17th of January 2023 a debate was held at the European Parliament’s plenary sitting in Strasbourg on the subject of Consumer protection in online video games: a European single market approach. The document adopted the next day tackles among others a matter of various risks that online video games’ environment poses for young children and minors as well as sexual objectification of women that characterises many of video games.
With “73% of children aged 6-10, 84% of those aged 11-14 and 74% of young people aged 15-24 playing video games.”, it is to be welcomed that the European Parliament stresses the importance of this subject and proposes solutions for enhancing children’s and minors’ security.
While the European Parliament recognises the value of the video game industry, not only when it comes to technological development, but also its impact on creativity, education and finally mental health (especially during the pandemic), it also identifies threats to the adequate usage of video games by young children, minors and adults that too can be manipulated by their content.
The document addresses the problem of the lack of specific consumer protection mechanisms at European level when it comes to children being manipulated into in-game purchasing and the often compared to gambling effect of so-called loot boxes that encourage using real money to buy items which may lead to addiction.
While it mentions children’s right to participate in the digital world under their parents’ supervision, it emphasises the crucial role of the industry in providing tools for parental control, facilitating its usage and spreading awareness about the gaming disorder and the risk of addictive behaviour. It brings attention to the EU Kids Online research project which gives an insight on children’s online experiences by providing high-quality data and highlights the problem of hate speech and cyberbullying, especially damaging to children. The European Parliament calls to explore the possibilities for enshrining PEGI (Pan European Game Information) – a content rating system that provides information on the recommended age, about content and paid features etc. – in EU law in order to ensure children’s and minors’ safety, especially when it comes to avoiding harmful content.
FAFCE underlines the “hyper-sexualised representation of many female characters in game design”. This widely spread phenomenon, that has become “normal” in the majority of games is extremely dangerous as it results in objectifying women, creating and supporting disrespectful stereotypes and can lead to discrimination and sexual abuse (“37 % of girl gamers experience harassment as a result of their gender in online multiplayer games”).
In a world that becomes more and more familiar with technology and the internet and where the vast majority of children and young adults play video games, it is crucial to ensure their online safety as well as mitigate the risk of any dangerous impact on their mental health whether it be caused by inadequate usage or harmful content. In this process, the central role of the family and the responsibility of the parents should never be neglected.