Wonder what really goes on in your kid’s video games? We have you covered with everything you need to know about some of the most popular Online Multiplayer Games.
Let’s face it, kids and adults alike love video games. With over 2.5 billion gamers worldwide and three-quarters of U.S. households owning some sort of gaming device, it’s no wonder video games are such a hot topic. They’re fun, interactive, and challenging. Meanwhile, they can create a sense of camaraderie and foster true friendships—even a place to find “your community.”
But there’s also a downside when gaming is overused, distancing young children and adolescents (as well as adults) from needed physical activities and real-life interactions. It’s all the more true for today’s youth. With the advent of social platforms, influencers, and instant access to it all, games can quickly become a retreat from the real world.
Gaming companies aren’t helping the matter, either, as they get better and better at triggering the pleasure centers of our brain and keep us craving that next reward, creating video game addiction. Whether playing on smartphones, gaming consoles, or PC/Mac devices, kids can get sucked in fast—for what can end up being a huge amount of time if left unchecked.
The main incentive for these “free” games are microtransactions, where kids can purchase custom loot or skins for actual money. This is how these games make the majority of their revenue, alongside ads.
Beyond that, the darker and possibly more ominous side of online gaming is the toxicity that can spring up through forums, chat rooms, social media, and, most notably, voice chat. From consoles like PlayStation and Xbox to apps like Discord, the amount of harmful activity can be staggering. Hurtful comments and cyberbullying can affect your kid’s mental health and well-being. Many online games, chat apps, and platforms have strict guidelines and community rules pertaining to harassment and profanity or issues like hate speech and cyberbullying. Some gaming platforms have a zero-tolerance policy and take it very seriously, and some, well, not so much.
How To Choose Appropriate Games for Your Kids
The age that's appropriate for video games is up to you as a parent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends under one to two hours a day of total entertainment screen time for kids. Younger kids should be toward the end of that range, and kids under age two shouldn't have any entertainment screen time.
Kids of nearly all ages can play games, provided they’re age-appropriate and played in moderation. In fact, a study by the Annals of Neurology found kids who play one hour of video games a week had improved psychomotor skills, but there were no benefits beyond two hours a week (and negative impacts for kids who played nine hours or more).
You can decide which games to allow based on your kids' ages. A good resource is Common Sense Media game reviews. These reviews can give you a general sense of the appeal of a game and what to look out for without needing to download and play the game yourself.
You can also search a game's rating using the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) or Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating systems.
In the United States, the ESRB descriptors are most common:
- Everyone - Appropriate for all ages
- Everyone 10+ - Appropriate for kids 10 and older
- Teen - Appropriate for kids ages 13+
- Mature 17+ - Appropriate for young adults ages 17+
- Adults only 18+ - Only appropriate for adults
You may also see "Rating Pending" and "Rating Pending, Likely Mature 17+" in promotion for games that haven't been rated yet.
In order to make sense of the noise, let's take a look at some of the most popular online games. We’ll be referencing ratings that explain what’s in a game or app so parents can make informed choices about which games are suitable for their family.
Games Rated Everyone 10+
This ESRB video game rating includes exposure to fantasy violence and suggests that it is suitable for kids ages 10+. Along with the rating, you will also find notices about your kids’ interactions and purchases. However, the rating also includes a Users Interact notice and an In-Game Purchases notice. These let parents know that players can communicate with each other, create and share games, and make additional purchases within the game.
Some versions of these games can include a higher age rating and are dependent on the version downloaded.
Available on all major game systems, PC/Mac, mobile, and Raspberry PI
Cost: Free to $29.99
What is it?
One of the best-selling video games of all time, Minecraft is an immersive, first-person adventure game, referred to as a “sandbox” game due to its open world stylings—meaning players have the freedom to go anywhere in the game’s world no matter where they start.
Why is it popular?
Minecraft’s popularity comes from its simple design that offers a huge variety of entertainment. There are several different modes—including single-player or multiplayer—which allow kids to explore the world over, build homes or fortresses, or even recreate real-life buildings, much like a digital LEGO set. The possibilities are endless.
What do kids do in it?
Players dig, mine, and harvest resources to craft tools and gear, construct worlds, fight zombies, meet friends, or play minigames. Minecraft’s rich user interface allows for creative freedom, like few other games, all while encouraging design, problem-solving, exploration, and discovery. This interface, along with the social aspect, makes for an engaging and rewarding experience that has kept many coming back throughout the years.
What should parents watch out for in Minecraft?
As with many games, single-player is usually the safest way to play, as Minecraft is a mostly peaceful game. (There are zombies, too, so if your kid is easily scared, you can turn those off!) Online play is unmonitored, so if kids are allowed to play online, it’s good to make sure they understand that anyone can communicate with them and to report any inappropriate behavior, both to Minecraft support and to you as parents.
What is the recommended age to play?
Thanks to its simple setup, lack of violence, and detailed worlds, kids seven and up can play this game, but it’s recommended they play offline.
Available on PC/Mac, mobile, Xbox One
Cost: Free to $30
What is it?
Roblox is an online gaming platform where participants can play games designed by other users or create and share their own using in-app game development tools.
Why is it popular?
Roblox consists of user-designed games that are featured in an ever-changing list in order of popularity. New games are constantly available, and the gameplay itself spans simple puzzle games to murder mysteries, shooters, and much more. This constant refreshing of content makes it the perfect contender for “Most Attention-Draining Game.”
What do kids do in it?
Kids can choose from thousands of games, from every genre imaginable, with different goals, challenges, and play styles. Players can download Roblox’s developer tools to create their own games as well—which could be a valuable tool for introducing kids to coding and game design. There is also a digital community where players buy and furnish digital homes, wander around, and talk to other real people in their online neighborhoods.
What should parents watch out for in Roblox?
Roblox is free to play but features microtransactions. Parents who let their kids play should stay vigilant for ads encouraging kids to buy “Robux,” the in-game currency, and talk with them about what that means.
In-game chat systems are available but decently moderated, even going so far as to have real people reviewing messages and AI that recognizes and automatically blocks out swear words. Parents are encouraged to talk with their kids about what kind of people they may encounter online and to report any suspicious behavior.
Online Games Rated Teen (13+)
Due to depictions of violence, some realistic and some albeit cartoonish, and exposure to playing with other gamers who may be much older, it’s recommended not to allow kids under the age of 13 to play games with this ESRB rating.
Make your judgment based on your kid’s maturity and your personal comfort level. Take some time to play the game, or find screenshots or gameplay videos online to get a feel for what your kids will experience. Help them understand how to deal with difficult players or situations.
Available on all major platforms: most mobile devices (iOS, Android), PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Cost: Free to $11.99/month
What is Fornite?
Fortnite is a free-to-play sandbox “battle royale” style third-person shooter game. There are several gameplay modes for players to choose from, ranging from a you-vs-everyone mode to teaming up with other players in teams and competing in games that play like Capture the Flag or a more straightforward team elimination game.
Why is Fornite popular?
Fortnite’s popularity comes from its fun, cartoonish style, short matches, varied maps, customizable characters, and quick reward system. Matches are easy to play in small doses with a high replay value.
What do kids do in Fortnite?
Kids start with a simple character and weapons, then compete against other players in death matches or other challenges. The game allows players to build structures during fights, which adds a layer of creativity and skill. Rewards often include new outfits, upgraded weapons, and special skills so that kids can customize their characters for an added layer of personalization.
Is Fortnite played online?
Yes, it is played almost exclusively online. There are a few “offline” options in the game but only for training purposes. The main gameplay is experienced in public online matches.
What should parents watch out for in Fortnite?
Since Fortnite is almost exclusively online, parents should watch for potentially negative comments from other players. Make a plan with your kids about what to do if someone is saying mean, abusive, or hurtful things, and be on the lookout for cyberbullying. Unlike many other games, Fortnite matches last about 20 minutes and cannot be “paused,” so make sure chores are done, or it’s not almost dinnertime, before letting kids have an extra round to keep arguments at bay.
Another thing to watch out for is microtransactions. Fortnite is free-to-play, but players can also make purchases to upgrade their outfits or skills, so parents may want to turn off their in-app purchase settings just in case.
What is the recommended age to play Fortnite?
Due to depictions of violence, albeit cartoonish, and exposure to playing with other gamers who may be much older, it’s generally recommended not to allow kids under the age of 13 to play Fortnite.
Is Fortnite addictive?
Fortnite has many addictive aspects, such as outfit, weapon, and skill upgrades that come from long hours of “grinding” (repeatedly doing mundane tasks to gain experience). One behavioral specialist compared Fortnite’s addictive qualities to heroin. Parents should be on the lookout for signs of addictive behavior and are advised to set expectations early on.
Available Online on all major platforms, PC/Mac, Mobile
Cost: Free to $30.00
What is PUBG?
PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) is a “battle royale” multiplayer game originally based on the Japanese movie “Battle Royale.” It’s a first-person shooter (FPS) where up to 100 participants play solo or in small teams until the last man is standing. PUBG is one of the best-selling, most-played video games of all time and made the ”battle royale” genre popular for games like Fortnite and Apex Legends.
Why is PUBG popular?
PUBG’s gameplay allows for a lot of variation in play styles as well as weapons, explosives, and vehicles. Kids can do things like re-enacting intense movie-type scenes where they are driving a burning car off a cliff. The crazier things get, the more fun it can be for the kids.
What do kids do in PUBG?
As a “battle royale” style game, players begin rounds by parachuting onto an island and proceed to fight everyone in the vicinity. The game’s map has zones that decrease in size over time, forcing players closer together and into fights. They can choose to form teams to help take out the competition, but the only way to win is to be the last person standing. Like Fortnite, kids can completely customize their avatars from head to toe with quirky hats, shirts, pants, and so on by finding loot or taking it from fallen enemies. PUBG matches take longer, sometimes up to 30 minutes, as players are eliminated from the game until only one remains.
Is PUBG online?
Yes, PUBG requires an Internet connection and is entirely online, with no single-player option.
Is PUBG addictive?
Much like Roblox and Fortnite, PUBG can be addictive due to its fast-paced play style and easy-to-access loot boxes. These, like Roblox’s Robux, or the similar loot boxes in Fortnite, can lead to problems if parents haven’t adequately set boundaries or limits or talked with their kids about what to watch out for. Just like other games, parents should be on the lookout for how much time kids are spending on PUBG.
What should parents watch out for in PUBG?
Out of all the games reviewed here, PUBG is by far the more mature and for a 13+ audience. Blood spatters are common, and explosions occur frequently. And with up to 100 people per match, it’s nearly impossible to monitor contact between players—so anything could be said or sent in a message. As with almost all games released these days (especially mobile games), parents should be on the lookout for microtransactions so their kids don’t end up accidentally buying in-game goodies with real-world cash.
Available on all major platforms
What is Apex Legends?
Apex Legends is another free-to-play (in most cases), class-based, multiplayer first-person shooter in the “battle royale” genre. This game is based on the Titanfall series and is team-focused rather than individual.
Why is Apex Legends popular?
For starters, the game is free, and like many others, it’s a “battle royale” style game with huge maps to navigate that are easy to jump into. The gameplay is fast and frenetic due to the cool game mechanics that allow you to wall run, teleport, and zipline through the environment at breakneck speeds. The unique abilities and load-outs of different characters, along with the cartoonish styling mixed with a good physics engine, explain why its continuing popularity gains new users month after month.
What do kids do in Apex Legends?
As with most of the games on this list, the objective of this team-based game is to be the last man standing. You, along with your teammates, combat against other teams of players online within a shrinking play space. Use special abilities, sensors, grenades, and guns to get a leg up on the competition. One of the great things about this game is that you don’t need a mic to communicate with your teammates. Apex has a ping system with built-in commands to notify your team where enemies are, where you are located, or what you are doing—all great for those who don’t want to be on a mic or don’t have one.
What should parents watch out for in Apex Legends?
You should know that it’s necessary to have an account to play Apex Legends, meaning your kid will need to provide an email, username, and age declaration. Apex enables voice chat and text; depending on the platform you use, you can mute or disable those functions. The game shows violence, though it is more of a cartoonish type without blood and instead uses a points system showing hits or damage to other players. As with most free-to-play, in-game purchases (loot boxes) are available, which help players progress or attain certain skins and items for their character.
The Bottom Line
While many games and gaming platforms can do a decent job censoring online activity and communication, they are not foolproof. We, as parents, probably used secret ways to communicate with our friends; kids today are no different. They can be very creative, and methods for getting around restrictions can be shared at the speed of light. Pay attention and be inquisitive, set good examples, and build some trust with your kids so they feel safe coming to you when it matters instead of looking to unsavory “friends.”
Many kids spend a lot of time online through games or social apps, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that for a lot of them, these are not just merely games or places to overshare. They have become the equivalent of the neighborhoods that many of us remember from our childhoods—only their neighborhood can span the globe, not just a few miles.
Have your kid help set and track online time limits, so they feel involved. Monitor content and explain the expectations and what they can expect from you. Go over the rewards and consequences for sticking to or breaking the conditions you set together. Most of all, talk with your kids. Help them create a more balanced gaming experience.
There’s no substitute for active involvement in your kid’s life. Taking a genuine interest in what they enjoy and who they enjoy it with is paramount. Having conversations about the pitfalls of online play and the permanence of your online footprint is just as important.