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What Is Online Gaming?

27/07/2021 08:00:32

Author: Andy Robertson


Online gaming is an increasingly important part of the gaming experience for children. These are games that enable multiple players to collaborate and compete when not sat in the same room. These range from football and car racing with a few other players, to online war games involving hundreds of other players from around the globe.

Online gaming requires the latest version of the game, a good internet connection and reasonably new console, smartphone, tablet or gaming computer. While some games allow players from different consoles to play together, it’s worth checking which system your child’s friends have, as this guarantees they can play together online and makes finding each other easier.

Part of the enjoyment children get from online gaming is chatting to friends as they play – both to socialise and to communicate game strategies. Unless you disable these features, they can exchange messages with other players and chat via a headset. The language and maturity (or immaturity) of this talk falls outside the PEGI and ESRB ratings, which means a child may hear swear words from other players, even in younger-rated games.

When children are older they may want to use a headset with a built-in microphone to enhance this communication. Dedicated headphones improve the quality of the game audio, but most systems come with basic headphones that will do the job. In fact, any pair of headphones with a microphone on the cable will work.

It’s important that you understand who your children are talking to and that you use the parental controls on the system to limit who they can friend and what information can be shared. Do this from a young age in conjunction with your child. Aim to create an open conversation so you understand the impacts of these boundaries and that they know what to do if anything happens online that upsets them.
Playing online games usually requires a monthly subscription to the online gaming service related to the console or system you are using. Xbox Live Gold, PlayStation Plus and Nintendo Online are required to play most online games. There are exceptions to this, with some free-to-play games like Fortnite offering online play on these systems without subscriptions. Although online gaming services represent an additional cost, they also provide access to a small catalogue of games you can download each month and extend online functionality of your system to include features such as backing up game progress to the cloud.

In addition to online gaming services you can access more games by subscribing to ready-made game libraries for your particular system. Once subscribed you can download a digital copy of the included games and play straight away.
  • On the Xbox you can expand the library of games substantially with an Xbox Game Pass subscription that provides a library of 100 top tier titles.
  • On iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Apple TV, an Apple Arcade subscription provides access to over 100 games with no adverts or in-app purchases. It offers many exclusive games, from developers it supports, not available elsewhere for a period of time.
  • On Amazon Fire tablets the Fire for Kids Unlimited subscription provides a library of games (and movies, books and TV shows).
  • On Android devices, Google Play Pass subscription (only in the US at time of writing) offers hundreds of games with no ads or in-app purchases.
  • On PC, the Humble Choice subscription offers hand-picked games each month with 5% of the fee going to charity.

These game library services are an affordable way to access a large number of games provided in a ready-made digital library. The games have been carefully selected for the service and, although there will be a wide range of age ratings, the high quality of the selections and absence of in-app purchases or adverts (on Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass) makes them a good option for families. It’s a great way to ensure your video game spending is predictable, and it can also help you discover new games as they are added to the service.

Online streaming services like PlayStation Now, Google Stadia and xCloud on Xbox are another up-and-coming way to access games. Rather than purchasing high-end hardware, you subscribe to access games that are streamed to your screen in a similar way to services like Netflix or iPlayer, only here you are also controlling the action with a gamepad. This two-way communication needs a fast internet connection and can be less responsive than playing on a console running the game in your own home but it grants access to hundreds of games without having to own dedicated gaming technology.

For example, a PlayStation Now subscription currently enables you to play 700 PlayStation games on your Windows PC (or PlayStation 4). It also includes the option to download 300 PlayStation 4 games and play them on your console in the normal way. xCloud is the Xbox equivalent (in preview at the time of writing) and enables you to play Xbox games on a compatible Android device.

This article was first published in the Taming Gaming book.


Image of the cover of the hardback edition of the Taming Gaming book  by Andy Robertson Image 311 Thank you for using our resource, supported by AskAboutGames, ParentZone and PlayAbility Initiative. We are editorially independent, written by parents for parents, but welcome sponsorship, partnership and suggestions. Email our editor for details on these opportunities.

The information on this database is designed to support and complement the in-depth discussion and advice about video game "addiction", violence, spending and online safety in the Taming Gaming book. If you have any concerns or questions in these areas, email our editor who is quick to respond or can arrange for a one-to-one conversation.

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