In part one of Playing it Safe I talked about ways of keeping your personal information and accounts safe when you’re signing up for new games and websites, as well as understanding what the bad guys want to get from you. For this article I want to talk more about staying safe while playing online games and taking part in social websites.
Fasten your Seatbelts
First, and this is common sense, before you even download a new game or start playing you should always make sure your computer has anti-virus and anti-spyware/malware software installed and up to date, and that you’ve got a firewall up and running. If you’re unsure about this, you should ask a parent (And parents, if you don’t know feel free to ask your kids, they’ll probably know) . Also make sure you know what you’re downloading – only download and install software from legitimate sources. Never accept downloads from strangers![singlepic id=3303 w=112 h=150 float=right]
Know your emergency exits
When you first start playing any online game, as you’re learning how to play, make sure you learn how to block or report other players who grief you (do things to ruin your gaming experience) or make you feel uncomfortable. Also, if another player is making you feel uncomfortable or angry, don’t get into a fight with them or take action back; you should always tell an adult, and if someone is really getting to you, you can always just log off, because feeding into a fight can get you in just as much trouble as the person who started it.
Turn off all cell phones and electronic devices
Some games and services allow the use of voice chat or even web cams, which can be a great way to communicate in-game and coordinate big battles. You need to be careful with this, though, especially younger players. Voice chat and web cams should only ever be used with people you know in real life, not with people you just met in-game, and even then they should only be used with adult supervision. Remember – not everyone online or in-game is who they say they are.
[singlepic id=3311 w=200 h=200 float=left]Before you post those vacation photos…
A lot of people playing online games like to share things like screenshots and in-game videos. This is a great way to share your gaming experiences with your friends, as well as record big achievements. You need to be careful with these, though, and be really sure that you’re not accidentally including personal information in the screen shots and videos. I post gameplay videos and screen shots all the time at my blog, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, and even I have made this mistake; it’s pretty easy to do. Remember – sometimes taking a screen shot captures everything on your screen, and that could include anything from an email account to your real name if you’re not careful.
I’m going to step out of game for a moment and expand on the screenshots and videos discussion, because it’s something that a lot of people, even people who know a lot about online safety, don’t really think about. I see it all the time on social networking sites, especially Facebook. Before you post ANY picture or video online, make sure there’s no personal information included, like a picture of your house number, the license plate on your car, or your school name or address. Bad guys have no problem getting valuable information out of photos and videos if you’re not careful, and as I said in my first article, every piece of the puzzle they can collect gets them closer to you.
Meeting your other passengers
We all make great friends in game and online – that’s one of the things I love about online games and social media. When in-game people want to meet out of game, though, you need to be really careful. It should go without saying that you should never meet a stranger from the game in-person, but what about a ‘friend’? Someone you’ve played with and known for a while, maybe years? You still need to be really careful, don’t meet them by yourself, and if you’re a younger player ALWAYS involve an adult.
One more thing to add on this topic based on upcoming events – conventions and large gaming gatherings like PAX are great places for gamers to meet in person, and many do. If you’re planning on going out to a convention and participating in a game meet-up, in addition to making sure there’s an adult involved, make sure that the meet-up is legitimate and in a public place. Never meet anyone in a hotel room or other private place – again, not everyone is who they say they are, and not every game meet up is the real thing.
[singlepic id=3300 w=320 h=240 float=left]This is your Captain Speaking
Don’t believe everything you see or read online, especially about games. Information travels very fast online, and sadly no one has invented a ‘truth filter’ yet so somehow bad information travels about seventeen times faster than the correct information. It’s true – I’ve run careful measurements and tests. If you’re looking for information about a game you should only use the official websites and forums, and if you see some kind of report about a game on a blog or social network, it’s best to verify it with the official sites and forums before going all ‘I can’t believe company X would do THAT!’ and re-posting or reacting to the information.
Now arriving at our destination
Online gaming is great fun and there are amazing worlds out there for you to explore and enjoy. There are a lot of bad guys out there too, sure, but playing it safe is easy if you understand the risks and use common sense. The rules for online and in-game safety are pretty simple and easy to follow – here’s a quick re-cap in case you missed any:
1. Keep your personal information safe. Things like name, address, phone number, your school and other personal information should always be kept private.
2. Use strong, safe passwords, and never give your password out to anyone.
3. Be careful when installing any software and never download software from a stranger. Always use proper anti-virus software.
4. If another player or person online is making your feel uncomfortable, tell an adult, report them, or just log off. Don’t retaliate.
5. Don’t use voice chat or web cam video chat without adult supervision.
5. Be careful posting pictures, screenshots, or videos online, and make sure they don’t contain any personal information.
6. Never meet any online or in-game stranger in real life, and be very careful meeting any online friends in the real world for the first time.
7. Don’t believe everything you read online or in-game.
Finally, while not specifically safety related, one of my big pet peeves about online interactions is just being polite! If you wouldn’t say something to someone in person, don’t say it online! It’s simple and it’s common courtesy. Just because you’re typing the words instead of speaking them doesn’t make them any less true, and they hurt just as much.
Whether you’re new to the Internet or you’ve been online gaming for years, the bottom line is to stay smart and stay safe – that’s the most important thing. Thanks for reading!