If you have kids between the ages of about seven and thirteen, you’ve probably heard about ROBLOX.
As someone who doesn’t have children, I wasn’t aware of the website until my nine-year-old niece asked me to join up, so I could talk to her online once I returned to my house, six hours away from hers.
So I did, and what I found was both intriguing and alarming.
For those of you that don’t know, ROBLOX is an online multiplayer social gaming platform released in 2006, which, according to the website, has fifty-six million active monthly players.
It hosts more than twenty-nine million user generated games which users gain access to once they’ve created their free account.
You can add your friends and family, start chats with them and update your status on your home page. Sound familiar?
In essence, it’s Facebook with a hint of Minecraft.
When I first logged on, I was amazed that there was this whole virtual world inhabited mainly by children under the age of thirteen, or so it seems, and I had no clue it even existed up until now.
Of course, with millions of users logging on from all over the world, the question of safety does come to mind.
The fact is, this is a social networking site and there’s nothing stopping users from talking to complete strangers and, although it seems more geared towards children, there are adult users such as myself.
So how does the corporation protect its young users?
ROBLOX is one of a number of companies that are on the board of the Family Online Safety Institute, or FOSI, which dedicates itself to ensuring the safety of children online.
The ROBLOX company has enforced a strict ‘safe chat’ filtering system since 2007 for users under the age of thirteen.
Users comments must comply with safety guidelines and anything deemed unacceptable is immediately blocked out with hashtags.
The multiplayer website prides itself on being family friendly and in March 2017, parental controls were introduced allowing parents to shut-off the chat capability and activate restrictions on which games their child can or cannot access.
The sharing of photos and other media is prohibited and instead of a profile picture, you create your very own avatar.
A user is given basic facial expressions and clothes to style their avatar however they would like.
They can purchase extra styles using ROBUX, the sites own currency which can be bought with real money with parental permission.
One of the things that intrigued me the most about the ROBLOX website, is the fact that anyone can design their own game using the ‘Develop’ option.
This was one of my favourite features on the site.
It’s educational, creative and encourages young children to take an interest in game design and web development, two extremely prominent industries in today’s society.
Users can even earn money from the games they create through the Developer Exchange program, however you must be at least thirteen years old to do this.
Despite these kind of fantastic opportunities, ROBLOX is, for all intents and purposes, a social networking site, and just as with any other social networking site, it has a dark side.
Bullying isn’t an uncommon sight whilst playing a game through ROBLOX.
Children are inquisitive and can be cruel so if need be, they can easily find a way around the safe chat system in order to hurl childish insults at another player.
In some games, you can have someone kicked out if their behaviour becomes too much of an issue and it’s easy to report someone for bad language or inappropriate behaviour.
But despite all of the safety measures put in place by the company, it only takes one person to ruin it for the rest and I have personally seen things I never thought I’d see in a game aimed at children.
Some of it is just childishness however it’s not what I would class as ‘typical’ childish behaviour.
For example, a few months ago I was playing a game in which you can manage your own pizza place.
Kids are just like the rest of us, some of them work really hard to motivate their team and others let the power go to their head and turn in to tyrants.
Nevertheless, it’s all in good fun and of course, everybody wants to be the manager.
In order to do this, you have to wait for the current player in that position to quit the job or leave the game.
This can of course cause arguments and some players will attempt to guilt trip others in to making sure they get a turn.
I witnessed this first hand, only this player seemed to take things to the extreme by entering the game and announcing that she had a terminal illness resulting in her having just one week to live.
Now, this could easily be true and could have just been a way for the child to vent.
However, she seemed to use her ‘illness’ as a way to encourage the current manager to give up his position and give it to her stating it was all she wanted out of this last week in her life.
To an adult, lying about having a serious terminal illness would be seen as outrageous and unacceptable.
But to a child, who might not understand just how upsetting that kind of lie could be to another person, it might seem like the perfect way to get what they want.
When questioned by other players, the child who made the comments seemed to become agitated and abusive.
As an adult, I felt the need to intervene at this point but after telling her my age and suggesting this wasn’t the best place to talk about this kind of thing, she stated that she was exactly the same age as me.
Of course, this seemed far too coincidental and in my opinion completely untrue but ultimately, it wasn’t my place to explain to this little girl why what she was doing was wrong.
Although these could seem like a harmless, unacceptable yes, but harmless remarks, it could also potentially have an effect on the other young players in the game.
Perhaps they had known someone with a terminal illness or maybe they didn’t understand what that was and it could have been very confusing for them.
Either way, it creates a confusing and upsetting environment and seems like something that should be discussed with a parent rather than online.
If a player is being abusive or talking about something a child doesn’t like or understand, they may very sensibly just leave that particular game.
But this isn’t true for every child and in some cases, an incident will happen before a player has the chance to remove themselves from that situation.
This is what happened whilst I was playing one of the many building games ROBLOX has to offer.
In certain games, you can use a role play name instead of your original screen name and one player had decided to call himself Adolf Hitler and had the outfit to match.
Of course, this isn’t something I think is Ok, but it’s not the first time someone has used the Adolf Hitler image as a joke.
Things took a much darker turn however, when somehow the player identifying himself as ‘Hitler’, managed to modify the game and create something which strongly resembled a gas chamber.
All of the other players were rounded up against their will, redressed in clothes that looked very similar to pyjamas and put into a box type structure that largely resembled a shower.
The players were then all killed, myself included, by some sort of gas, whilst the ‘Hitler’ character remarked ‘HEIL’.
This completely shocked me.
I never would have expected to see that kind of reconstruction in a child’s game.
The detailed execution of the other players, right down to the blue and white striped pyjamas, left me speechless and was rather unsettling.
If an adult such as myself found it upsetting, how would a child feel? Would they understand what just happened? Would they mimic this behaviour?
If the user was in fact a child, then they clearly don’t understand the seriousness of the Holocaust and this presents a problem because although some people might mock Hitler, mocking the death of millions of people seems so callous and isn’t something I personally would of expected from a child.
If it was an adult, then quite frankly it’s just disturbing to do that to children online.
Of course, all of these things were reported and hopefully dealt with by the ROBLOX moderators.
But the fact remains that this kind of thing is going on and your children are being exposed to it.
No matter how much a company tries, it seems people will always find a way to get explicit, insulting or upsetting content online.
However, of all the social networking sites, ROBLOX does seem like the safest for children and in all fairness, it is a lot of fun.
But as with any other social media sites, this user would advise you talk with your child about how to conduct themselves online before allowing them to join and of course, monitor their activities closely.
Sooner or later, these children will all be using other forms of social media, and personally, I believe this is the best one to ease them in to the online world before joining the giants of the online playground like Facebook and Twitter.
To learn more about ROBLOX guidelines and safety measures you can read the Parent’s Guide here.
For more advice on how to keep your child safe online, visit the NSPCC website here.