A groundbreaking new partnership will aim to protect children in the UK from being targeted and sexually exploited in online games.
The initiative will see researchers from Abertay University work alongside the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Led by Dr Darshana Jayemanne at the University’s School of Design and Informatics, the partnership will focus on improving age-appropriate design standards for the games industry, as well as looking into how developers can improve the safety of products used by young people across the country.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Jayemanne said: “Improving young people’s safety and privacy while playing digital games is something we have been researching at Abertay for several years, and it’s fantastic to now be taking this forward with such a wide range of partners.
“There are a number of complex issues around child safety in gaming, and it is important that we work together.”
The partnership was launched with a roundtable discussion at the University and will draw upon recommendations and insights from a range of industry figures and contacts.
Participants of the roundtable, which included London-based Space Ape Games and Beano Studios, explored several key issues for the sector. These encompassed several recent developments and talking points, such as as the UK Government’s Digital Charter, the ICO’s Age-Appropriate Design Code and the DCMS Immersive and Addictive Technologies report.
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Increasingly, online games are being used as a means of grooming children and young people, NSPCC research suggests. As such, the organisation is exploring new ways through which developers, companies and law enforcement can help improve child safety.
Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, commented: “We know that children are at risk of being sexually groomed while playing games online, so the opportunity to work with other experts and those in the gaming industry on these issues is extremely positive.
“To protect children from coming to harm on these platforms, it is vital that safety measures are built into the games when they are designed – something we hope that can be achieved by working together.”
Karen Hutchison, senior officer with the NCA’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command, said: “Protecting children from online offenders is one of the NCA’s most important objectives. We’re very proud to be part of this games sector partnership, which is dedicated to combating child sexual abuse and exploitation.”
Max Bauer, head of customer service at Space Ape Games, added: “Safeguarding our communities is one of our top priorities. After all, they are what makes our games alive.”