Is it cyberbullying or play?


By Adam Earnheardt

acearnheardt@ysu.edu

Part one of two.

There’s a fine line between cyberbullying and play. My kids recently learned this lesson, and thankfully, in a safe environment.

The environment? Roblox.

Our fearless 8 year-old loves to play Roblox.

Never heard of Roblox? It’s a huge online sandbox for game creation. We call it a “massively multiplayer online game,” or MMOG. Players can create their own games or play games created by others.

There are millions of games on the platform.

Roblox regularly appears among the top downloaded, most played games for kids and teens.

It’s billed as a site where virtual explorers come to create adventures, play games, role play and learn with friends in a family-friendly, immersive, 3D environment.

To the casual observer (i.e., parents) it looks like a giant world filled with Lego blocks. Roblox is similar to other world-building games like Minecraft – but as my kids will tell you “it’s not the same at all” (emphasis on the “at all”).

For my 8 year-old and the 70-million-a-month players who access the platform, Roblox world-upon-world, seemingly infinite space for creativity and play.

As MMOGs go, Robolox is a fairly safe platform for kids, until the occasional deviant player waltzes through to ruin someone’s day.

I suppose this is true of most MMOGs – Fortnite, Overwatch – and other online games. Just like social media and message boards, there’s always the possibility of a troll lurking in the background hell bent on disrupting other players, even 8-year-old little girls.

And this was certainly true of Roblox last week when “Tam07” harassed my daughter to the point of tears.

Okay, harassed may be a bit overdramatic, as was my daughter’s reaction.

Still, my oldest daughters looked on and immediately labeled Tam07 as a bully. “That player is cyberbullying her, Dad,” they exclaimed. “Do something!”

I did not do something. In fact, I did nothing.

I don’t even like to use the term cyberbully in these cases because, truth be told, it’s a game-someone wins, someone has to lose. Better she learn that fact now that later in life.

This is not to suggest that bullying doesn’t happen on Roblox. It does. This was different. This was game play.

She wasn’t being bullied. She was losing to a player who was for more advanced, and probably a lot older.

What happened next is when and where the real teaching took place. Before I could blink, her older sisters swooped in, grabbed the keyboard, and reported Tam07 for bullying.

“That’s not bullying,” I told them, as they sat, albeit reluctantly, for another Dad Tech Talk. “I may not know how to play Roblox, but I know cyberbullying when I see it. That’s not it.”

In next week’s column, I’ll share with you the advice I gave my kids for identifying and reporting a cyberbully when they see one.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.

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