In Depth

What is Roblox and is it suitable for children following ‘gang rape’ outrage?

Mother warns other parents after seven-year-old daughter’s avatar is attacked

Parents are being warned about Roblox after a mother witnessed her child’s avatar being “gang raped” on the popular online gaming app.

Amber Petersen, from Raleigh, North Carolina, said her seven-year-old daughter showed her the screen and asked what was happening after her character in the game was attacked. 

Petersen posted a message on Facebook describing the incident, along with a screen shot that “showed two male avatars attacking her daughter’s female character”, says the BBC.

The shocked mother wrote that she felt “traumatised and violated on so many levels”.

“Parents/Caregivers... not only do I urge you to delete this app, I hope you will take another look at all of your devices and their security settings,” she said.

The game’s maker, Roblox Corporation, say the users involved in the attack have been banned.

What is Roblox?

Roblox is a virtual reality world where players can do anything from eating pizza to dancing and taking part in sports. Uders can play existing games or design their own, using virtual blocks.

According to technology news site Recode, Roblox has about 64 million monthly players, most of them children and teenagers, and is targeted chiefly at “kids around the age of 11”.

The multiplayer game can be accessed online through laptops, mobiles and game consoles. It is free to play, but players can buy in-game currency, called Robux, to use to purchase virtual items.

Is it suitable for children?

The game carries a 7+ age rating from European classifier Pegi (Pan European Game Information), and a 10+ rating from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) in the US.

Petersen’s experience is by no means the first, however. Earlier this year an Australian mother reported that her six-year-old daughter had been invited into a “sex room” in the Roblox virtual world.

“I was sitting next to her and noticed out of the corner of my eyes that one of the characters [had] breasts, so it made me look closer,” the mother told parenting website Kidspot. “Luckily, she had absolutely no idea what she was looking at, but I would hate to think about what would have been said to her. I explained that they were not kids like her and that they were actually adults being naughty.”

A number of clips of controversial material uploaded to Roblox have appeared on YouTube since the game launched in 2005, “including levels that have been designed to look like strip clubs and others that allow Roblox players to go through the motions of a school shooting”, say Newsweek.

What can be done to stop children seeing inappropriate content?

Following Petersen’s post, a Roblox Corporation spokesperson said: “We were outraged to learn that Roblox's community policies and Rules of Conduct were subverted.

“We have identified how this bad actor created the offending action and are putting additional safeguards in place to reduce the possibility of this happening again in the future. In addition, the offender was identified and has been permanently banned from the platform and we have suspended the game.

“We have zero tolerance for this behavior. Our work to ensure a safe platform is always evolving and remains a top priority for us.”

The UK Safer Internet Centre has a blog post containing guidance for parents whose children play Roblox.

Tips include activating the additional safety features for gamers aged under 13, as well as showing an interest in the sites that children use in general.

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