SINGAPORE, Feb 13 — About one in five (17 per cent) youths aged 13 to 18 who play online video games have experienced in-game bullying from other players, a recent survey by the Singapore Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) found.

Yet, close to half (48 per cent) of those who had experienced in-game bullying did not take any action. Only a minority (8 per cent) spoke to their parents about the experience.

The findings, which were released by MCI on Tuesday (Feb 13), came from a door-to-door survey conducted by the between October 2022 and February 2023. The ministry said the study was designed to better understand youths’ gaming habits and their parents’ awareness and efforts to manage the impact of gaming on their child’s well-being.

A total of 810 Singaporean youths aged between 10 and 18 years old, who played online or video games at least once a month, were polled, as well as their parents.

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Despite the prevalence of bullying in online games, the study found that parents generally had low awareness of their child’s gaming activities.

About half (48 per cent) of parents surveyed were able to give an accurate estimate of the amount of time their child spent on gaming, said MCI.

Only three in 10 (31 per cent) parents were fully aware of who their child gamed with, while one in four (25 per cent) parents were not at all aware of who their child gamed with.

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Why it matters

MCI said its survey sought to highlight the need to raise parents’ awareness of their child’s gaming activities and encourage youths to make more informed decisions about their gaming behaviour.

Online games and gaming platforms have come under past scrutiny for possibly carrying content depicting explicit sexual activities, inciting violence, or even serving as grounds for extremist groups to radicalise and sometimes recruit young people.

In particular, studies in Singapore show that youths are subjected to high risks of cyberbullying, given that their lives have become more intertwined with smart devices and the internet.

In 2022, a poll of 1,000 respondents in Singapore by the Singapore Sunlight Alliance for Action found that nearly half had experienced some form of online harm such as being stalked online and cyberbullied.

More than four in 10 respondents said they thought seeking help would not make a difference or did not know what to do, a similar finding to MCI’s poll.

Nevertheless, MCI noted that while its survey focused on the potential risks and dangers that youths may be exposed to, it does not conclude that online gaming “only resulted in negative impacts” for youths.

Other studies, including the Ministry of Health’s 2022 evidence review of screen use in childhood, found that youths benefitted from gaming. These online games enhance perceptual and motor skills, promote teamwork and prosocial behaviour, and serve as platforms for them to express creativity and imagination, said MCI.

Singapore is also hoping to cash in on the burgeoning e-sports industry and have been making investments here to grow the sector. The industry has seen global revenues surge to US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion or RM7.6 billion) in 2023, doubling from 2018 figures.

What the study also found

About one in two (47 per cent) youths aged 10 to 18 years old gamed every day, and those who game tended to play for two hours or more each time.

MCI’s survey found that more than one-third (38 per cent) of those 13 to 18 years old had sometimes or frequently come across vulgarities or violent content in games. Those who played first-person shooter games were more likely to come across both types of harmful content.

Additionally, more than one in three (36 per cent) youths polled by the authority had played games with strangers sometimes or frequently, while some 14 per cent had engaged strangers outside of gaming.

“Such behaviour presents a risk of potential exposure to adult predators and online scams,” said MCI.

In addition, the study found that parents who were concerned about their child’s gaming habits were more likely to actively manage their child’s gaming activities, including setting limits on gaming time (54 per cent) and using parental control tools (22 per cent).

Still, for youths whose parents set limits on gaming time, about a quarter (24 per cent) lied to their parents about the actual amount of time they spent gaming.

This suggests that restriction on gaming time alone is insufficient to manage youths’ gaming activities, said MCI.

Instead, more must be done to raise the awareness of potential risks and dangers associated with online gaming and to encourage youths to make more informed decisions about their gaming habits, the authority added.

New resources, initiatives

Today, MCI announced new resources and initiatives to support parents in guiding their children to navigate the online world more safely and responsibly.

The new resources and initiatives were announced by Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo today at a public engagement session at the National Library Building with academics, teachers, parents and youths, among others.

Part of the new initiatives include “bite-sized materials” by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) on a range of topics such as managing children’s screen use, cultivating healthy online habits, and safeguarding children from online risks such as cyberbullying and online sexual grooming.

Such resources would be organised according to children’s ages and digital milestones, such as a child’s first smartphone, social media account or online game, said MCI. They will roll out in phases from February on the Digital for Life Portal, the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s Families for Life Parenting website, and the Ministry of Education’s Parents Gateway.

Besides these, Digital for Life partners will also be conducting workshops, webinars, and family activities. Digital for Life is a national movement under IMDA to help citizens embrace digital, to enrich their lives.

“These efforts will ensure parents are adequately equipped to guide children to be confident and responsible users of digital technologies,” said MCI. — TODAY