What is in-game chat?
In-game chat is one of the keys to success in online multiplayer games. It allows players to quickly coordinate with their team through the game's built-in chat functions, using voice (via a headset) or text.
Playing in a team can be exhilarating – but it can get aggressive, especially in ranked matches. Most in-game communication is immediate and unmoderated, and in some games swearing and insults are pretty common – especially when one player hasn't performed so well.
Younger or more sensitive children may benefit from having in-game chat switched off until they are older. It's important to explain to children why this may be helpful for them, and be ready to review settings like these in the future.
Settings vary according to the game and the platform, but most allow you to limit who can communicate with you. Some games and platforms offer the option to set up a chat which can only be joined by invitation, which can be a great solution for children to play with friends they know in real life.
What do parents need to be aware of?
Sometimes, competitive criticism via in-game chat can start to feel like bullying. Mean comments or insults can really hurt. Be sympathetic and remind children experiencing this that the issue is not with them.
Make sure that children understand how to mute or report unpleasant or mean players. If you mute someone, be aware that you will still be able to see the player in the game and possibly in future games, but no longer be able to see or hear what they are saying.
All games will have a reporting function. You can usually find this by going to the in-game menu, but make sure that you have a thorough look and understand how they work.
You'll typically be able to see a history of previous text messages on a platform. However this often isn't the case for voice messages, which are rarely recorded by default. This can make it difficult to report voice messages which are offensive or inappropriate.
Responding to this difficulty, Xbox announced in 2023 that it would be making it easier for players to report voice messages – introducing a tool that allows users to capture 60 second video and audio clips. Players are then able to pass these clips on to moderators when making a report. This feature is only available on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. PlayStation offer a similar reporting tool on some of their consoles.
If you know a child who has been affected by bullying, there are several free support services available.
Remind older children that most game's chat will probably include younger children who might be upset by harsh jokes or insults. Talk to them about being kind online as well as face-to-face; they have a choice whether or not to contribute to an aggressive game culture.
At the same time, let them know that they can always come to you if they have problems online – even if they think they might not have behaved kindly.
Most children have fun gaming with friends and strangers without any problems, but there have been some reports of children being contacted by abusers through voice chat, so it's important they know what to watch out for.
Make sure that children understand that they should never share photos or information like their real name, school or home address. They should be very wary if someone they talk to using in-game chat asks to stay in touch on social media or wants to start a private chat on a different platform; and of course, they should never agree to meet up with anyone they haven’t met in person before.
Make sure they get to know the reporting mechanisms of the game, so they can quickly block and report anyone who makes them uncomfortable. And if you come across something you suspect might be online grooming, go to the NCA-CEOP site where you can quickly report it.
Some children may not be ready to chat with people they don't know online. You can adjust the parental and privacy settings on whatever console they are using so that they can only talk with friends. Again, make sure that you explain why this is safer.
Spot something that doesn't look quite right? You can email email@example.com to submit comments and feedback.
This article was last updated on 17/07/23.