By Gamers, for Gamers: Young People Share Real Advice
July 23, 2021
The “stay safe online” message is being heard loud and clear – but these young gamers can see beyond “don’t talk to strangers”.
The “By Gamers, For Gamers” Project was developed by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation in Australia. The project was initially conceived by adults to be co-designed and developed in close partnership with young people. The intention was to gather the advice and experience of gamers aged 15-18 years, and then share that advice in their own words with younger children and their parents.
We worked with 12 teenage gamers from a variety of different backgrounds to develop a small suite of resources for parents and primary-aged gamers. The insights and advice from the design team demonstrated maturity and understanding that is rarely represented in most mainstream reporting and stereotypes of youth video game culture.
The lived experience of young people is often undervalued. But allowing meaningful and authentic contributions from children and young people is important in the design process because the lived experience is often where their expertise lies, and what makes them so valuable as co-designers. I do not mean that it trumps all other knowledge forms, but it has a place alongside research, policy. and other forms of expertise. Our process— in which young people provided the content, which was then edited by an 18-year-old who made key decisions about how the content was used— was crucial to creating a final product that is resonating with both child and parent audiences because the authenticity is obvious.
When the “By Gamers, For Gamers” participants were tasked with offering advice for younger gamers on how to stay safe while gaming online, almost all of them offered by-the-book responses such as don’t reveal personal information, turn off chat settings, and only talk to friends or people that you know. As 17-year-old Iluka points out, if your microphone is on, it can give away information that you might not want to share—who knows what mum and dad are saying in the background!
At the same time, for these young people, playing video games online with people that they’ve never met before is a big part of their lives. As 17-year-old Sam observed, “talking to strangers online is basically the entire Internet at this point.” And as we started to unpack their stories and practices, we found a more nuanced understanding of how to interact with others through gaming.
Sam tells a story of how he met a group of friends while playing the game Sea of Thieves. They met on Discord, a popular social network amongst gamers, where Sam joined a “looking for crew” channel. And while he cautioned that Discord is “a very weird place…” and that there are challenges in navigating and moderating those channels, he went on to explain how it led to him forming real friendships with a group of like-minded gamers in the United States. After playing together for about a year, they did a “face reveal” where they finally got to see the person who sits behind the avatar.
“I feel like the majority of people on the Internet are good, and there’s a minority that aren’t. And it’s the minority that makes themselves heard…” (Sam, 17)
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation tapped into the experience of Iluka, Sam, and 10 other young gamers to create the Gamer’s Guide, by Gamers, a handbook of advice for the younger generation of gamers. The guide opens with expert advice on how to choose between gaming consoles and what games to start out on, before moving into a range of strategies to stay safe and game responsibly.
Alongside the handbook is a video for parents that answers questions, encouraging them to play with their child, take an interest in their gaming, and recognize that it is more complex, interesting, and fun than they may think. And, it is in this advice that the capacity and intuition of the lived experience becomes clear. We know that positive relationships are one of the most protective factors for children and young people, and intuitively that was the key advice from our co-design team – to play video games with your child.
Daniel Donahoo is a Senior Advisor at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation where he pursues creative and playful participatory approaches and projects. He is author of Idolising Children, and co-author of Adproofing Your Kids.