As Operations Director at YGAM, I’m no stranger to the rapidly growing popularity of online video gaming, especially among young people. And as a parent, even at home I can’t escape the excitement surrounding the release of one of the most anticipated video game titles of this year.

Electronic Arts released FIFA International Soccer in December 1993. Available on platforms including the Sega Mega Drive and the Nintendo Game Boy. I was more a fan of Sensible World of Soccer, but the first instalment of the FIFA franchise was very different to its modern counterparts and it would have been impossible for anyone buying the game at the time to imagine just how advanced the world of gaming and technology would become over the next 27 years.

Fast-forward to today and the launch of FIFA 21, which is already expected to beat the records set by the series’ last release (which sold 1.5 million copies in 2019 in the UK alone). Since its launch in 1993, the FIFA franchise has sold over 260 million copies of games worldwide and is showing no sign of slowing down.

Parents across the UK, including myself, have been hearing all about the release of FIFA 21 for weeks now and the game has become just as popular as watching or playing football and no less competitive. However, I won’t be the only parent who has experienced the sometimes toxic nature of online video gaming. In 2019, a study released by the Anti-Defamation League showed that the majority of people who played online games received some form of harassment, abuse, or bullying. Over two thirds of those surveyed reported experiencing ‘severe’ harassment. This abusive behaviour has become commonplace in many online video gaming lobbies, with a sense of responsibility for personal actions removed as some people act in a way similar to trolls on social networking sites. As a result, this behaviour is often normalised or accepted by young people developing relationships, socialising, and playing in these online spaces.

For parents, it can be hugely worrying and unnerving to allow children to engage with friends and play online, especially with so many aspects of gaming being unfamiliar to many adults. Another area that causes concern and confusion for me and many parents is the use of Loot Boxes, or in the case of FIFA; Ultimate Team Packs (FUT Packs). The introduction of these games of chance in many video games played by children has led many to campaign for the reclassification of them as ‘games of chance’ making them subject to the Gambling Act. With what seems like an overwhelming amount of information out there, it is more important than ever that parents are able to understand the mechanics of the games that their children are playing. Being equipped to create reasonable and realistic boundaries is essential.

No child wants to feel left out and the pressure of being isolated from friends who play online can be very difficult for young people to deal with. Giving parents the resources and knowledge they need to understand games such as FIFA is key to being able to manage children’s safety online and minimise exposure to harmful behaviour.

Online video gaming can provide a hugely positive space for young people. However, it is crucial we safeguard them from the potential harms of the digital world. It is important that we teach our children that abusive behaviour is not acceptable when engaging with others online. A great place for this to start is with video games and by using YGAM’s resources tailored specifically to parents, some of the behaviours around gaming will no longer be shrouded in mystery. There are many great tips available through the YGAM Parents Hub on how to engage with children and help them stay safe. If your child is buying FIFA 21, or already has it, be sure to check out www.parents.ygam.org for all the information you need to keep them safe online.

Kev Clelland
Operations Director, YGAM