NSPCC offers advice on gaming platform Steam

NSPCC Campaigns Manager Emma Motherwell looks at the apps and sites children are using and how you can help keep them safe.

Emma Motherwell
Emma Motherwell

Today we’re looking at a gaming platform called Steam, which allows users to play, purchase, store and organize games online.

Steam is available as a PC download, and has apps in the IoS and Google Play stores. These apps can be used to chat with other people in the Steam community and stay up-to-date with gaming news.

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Social features on Steam include in-game chat as well as voice chat, live streaming of gameplay, and friends lists and groups. Users can also comment on other people’s profiles and review games, and you don’t have to have a public profile to be able to view comment threads.

Children who gave feedback about the app to the NSPCC/O2’s Net-Aware like being connected to people who play similar games as them, enabling them to discuss tactics and gameplay.

But one 17-year-old boy said: “I like the ability to play with your own friends, but the majority of games on this application do tend to have a toxic community.”

And this was the main concern among the young people who reviewed Steam – six per cent thought it was unsafe due to the potential for bullying on the site.

It’s worth noting that while the default settings allow only friends to post comments, these can be changed by the user to allow anyone to comment. But only friends can be blocked. This is done by opening a chat with a friend and selecting the ‘block all communication’.

The minimum age recommended by Steam is 13 years but when we asked a panel of parents to review the site, they in fact felt a minimum age of 12 was appropriate.

However, parents also thought it would be easy for a child to pretend to be older in order to sign up to Steam.

So, how can you keep children safe on Steam? The platform has a feature called ‘Family View’, which allows parents to restrict their children’s access and limit the games they can play or download.

You can set up a family account to manage what your child is playing by visiting Steam support pages for ‘Family View’. From your child’s account open the Steam menu and go to settings where you can select the ‘Family’ tab. This allows you to access ‘Family View’ where you can select the content you want your child to see.

It’s really important that parents talk to their children about being safe online, spotting the signs of inappropriate behaviour, and how to report it. The easiest way to do this is to explore sites and apps together; talk about things you might see online which make them feel uncomfortable; reassure them that you won’t overreact – you’re just looking out for them; and talk to them about what is, and is not, ok to share online.

Call our Online Safety Helpline for advice an all things online safety, including setting up parental controls, on 0808 800 5002. You can also book an appointment with an NSPCC-trained O2 Guru in store for support, whether you’re an O2 customer or not.

Net Aware is available as an app or at www.net-aware.org.uk