It may seem strange to consider that online gaming could pose a threat from predators, since the hallmark of online role-playing games is the anonymity of an avatar through which the player interacts with the world.
However, one study observed that “pathological gaming addiction had a direct effect on levels of personal and sensitive data disclosure and participants who were disclosing high amounts of data were considered more vulnerable to exploitation and predation.”25 In layman’s terms, this means that the more someone plays an online game (which may be very addictive for certain individuals) the more personal information they tend to give away—and the more susceptible they become to online predators.
Many role-playing games support a real-time audio channel in which players can communicate verbally during game play. In the olden days we referred to that as “talking on the phone.” Audio chat strips away some anonymity. For example, gender is much more difficult to mask when audio chat is permitted. Similarly, a pre-pubescent boy who spends his days as a battle troll in a virtual world quickly finds that his guild knows he must be a young teenager as soon as they hear his voice. That breakdown in anonymity renders the young person more vulnerable to predators.
To complicate matters further, children who talk to others online are more likely to give out sensitive, personal information:
From her years as “KidDoc” for AOL’s parenting channel, Dr. Guy26 realized that people let their guard down when chatting online. She fears that the precautions used by children in typed chat may not apply for long when voices are concerned. “Once a child is talking to someone, it’s difficult to convince them not to give out their telephone number. After all… what’s the difference between chatting on a computer microphone wearing a headset and on a telephone receiver? To a child or teenager, there is little difference.”27
While some gaming consoles (such as Xbox Live) support parental controls to block verbal communication, not all consoles and websites provide such capabilities.