Cybersecurity experts are beginning to sound the alarm about Roblox, a popular virtual reality game for kids, as more reports emerge that the chat function is being used by adults to lure children into conversations about sex. Experts in Canada, Australia, and the UK have cited numerous examples of kids being approached in the chat function and told how to make the game’s characters simulate sex, and even attempts to meet up in real life.
Similar to Minecraft, Roblox is a virtual reality game in which players create lands, characters, and societies. Though it’s been around for over a decade, its popularity has skyrocketed over the past few years. Players create and customize their own characters in the game, create their own virtual worlds, and even create games within that world for their characters to play. Players can also interact with other players, which makes it very popular with children who can play virtually with their friends. Roblox boasts 500,000 game creators designing games and 30 million active monthly players.
Ironically, it is that social aspect of the game that is the source of more sinister problems.
The problems first surfaced when a father posted concerns on Facebook about the messages his children were receiving through Roblox. His post went viral, and further reports have prompted warnings from parents groups. The father describes his experience with the game:
He asked his two boys, aged 8 and 11, if they used the game and they said they did, so he decided to check it out.
Shockingly within 15 minutes of playing the 33-year-old father was shown sexual positions, and told he was “sexy” and “cute.”
He said from the outside the game looked fine, but when he went into a room with a pool he was immediately “propositioned.”
“They said ‘hi’ so I said ‘hi’ and they asked if I was a boy or girl and my age so I said I was an eight-year-old boy,” he says.
“They asked me to follow them to their house, then into the bedroom and asked me to lay down on top of them and then they started with the sexual movements.”
“They said ‘you look cute’ and ‘you look sexy.'”
“It was sickening reading all the comments pop up. My kids were completely oblivious as to what the words and stuff meant.”
This week, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection issued an alert on its cyber tip website:
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection wants to make parents aware of concerns in a popular gaming environment called Roblox. Roblox is a user-generated gaming environment where children are encouraged to create adventures using their avatar, play games and connect with friends in this multiplayer environment that claims to have over 44 million active users.
The Canadian Centre’s Cybertip.ca program has received reports concerning requests to meet up in person, and/or sexually suggestive chat messages being sent to children under the age of 12 within Roblox. It is important for parents to be on alert with any app or site that offers direct messaging chat features.
Through the chat feature, children can easily be exposed to inappropriate conversations or redirected to inappropriate content on other sites. Before your child starts playing a particular game, explore it yourself first. Is there an interactive (chat) component in the game? Is this an optional feature that can be turned off? Are there other optional features that can be turned off or on to improve safety? Does the game allow for an easy way to report inappropriate activity? Does an online search of the app or game find media articles that involve child safety-related concerns?
A spokesman for Roblox commented that they take security seriously, and have a team dedicated to reviewing chats, photos, and any files uploaded to the platform. They have also implemented filtering software in chats to flag offensive words, which are then reviewed by the team.
Nonetheless, parents should take steps to know all the apps and games being used on all their children’s devices. Make time to know how their games work, ask your kids if anything inappropriate has happened, and watch their browser history like a hawk.