Fresh Research Reveals Children Face Bullying for Not Investing in Free-to-Play Games

Is this a fun game or a pressure cooker? Fortnite sparks debate on bullying over virtual outfits.

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Thomas Brodie

· 4 min read
Children Face Bullying for Not Investing in Games

Credits: Epic / Kotaku / Neilson Barnard (Getty Images)

A new study from Norway dives into the surprising ways video games can impact children aged 10-15. Researchers at Oslo Metropolitan University examined how these popular games influence kids' social behaviors and spending habits. The findings raise concerns about potential bullying, exposure to in-game advertising and scams, and a growing pressure to spend money on cosmetic items to fit in with other players.

"There's no sharp distinction between their online and offline world," said Steinnes, one of the researchers. "These are just different parts of the social world they navigate, and appearance, or skins, are important identity markers." This quote highlights a key finding: for kids, online and offline social lives are increasingly intertwined. In video games, cosmetic items like "skins" function similarly to clothing in the real world, signifying status and belonging.

Further underlining the social pressures, a 13-year-old participant named Frank adds: "If you don't play with anyone, you kind of have nothing to talk about at school." Frank's comment emphasizes how video games can be a common ground for social interaction among kids. However, not playing, or not having the latest items, can lead to feelings of exclusion. Reich, another researcher, expands on this point: "Kids into football play FIFA and spend money on in-game items that confer status, while others spend money on effects from Nike, Balenciaga, or Star Wars. They are influenced by memes and trends on platforms like TikTok." Reich highlights how these pressures to spend extend beyond just video games, with trends and brand endorsements on social media playing a significant role.

Game Companies and Publishers Target Young Players

Today's gaming scene is seeing a worrying trend: game developers and scammers are exploiting young players. These companies have mastered the art of bombarding kids with game ads and tempting in-app purchases. This constant marketing makes it difficult for children to enjoy other aspects of their lives, intensifying the urge to own the latest game cosmetics. For those who can't afford these luxuries, bullying and exclusion are real threats. Unfortunately, this issue hits girls even harder, facing gender-based harassment both in and out of the gaming world. 14-year-old Sidra shared her experience of receiving graphic insults simply for being a girl gamer.

I heard things like ‘go back to the kitchen’, and it was like ‘you’re a girl, die, die, die’

The pursuit of the latest skins and digital items is also sparking concerns about children's digital self-esteem. Moreover, young gamers are falling victim to scams, lured by the promise of cheap game currency or exclusive deals. This is often because they haven't yet developed the critical skills to identify manipulative sales tactics, which pressure them to make quick purchases or miss out.

Researchers point out the danger of leaving kids to navigate these nearly unregulated digital marketplaces alone.

"Children and young people are navigating these spaces without the necessary awareness, making them exceptionally vulnerable," Reich notes.

This evolving digital landscape, where games increasingly resemble casinos more than traditional forms of play, is a minefield for young people and their guardians. As gaming continues to grow, especially on mobile platforms, the challenges only seem to be mounting.

Thomas Brodie

Thomas Brodie

Defender of the deep. Passionate about marine conservation, he works tirelessly to protect our oceans and their inhabitants.