About a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, mother-of-six Carolyn finally capitulated to her children’s begging. Her children wanted to join Roblox, a platform that allows users to create and host online multiplayer games. Roblox has become a vital medium for children to connect virtually during the pandemic, and despite her concerns about her children, aged 12 and under, interacting with other people online, Carolyn and her husband decided to let them play. Two years later, a slew of content moderation changes at Roblox have made it harder for him to control what his young children see. She made the difficult decision to stop allowing her children to play.
“Okay, I’m done. DONE. I deleted my kids’ Roblox accounts and I recommend you do that too. I just spent six hours playing the games aimed at 5-year-olds and that’s it. was awful. Something is seriously wrong with Roblox Corp,” she said in a tweet thread.
In the following tweets, Carolyn described additional disturbing content she encountered while playing on the platform, including a game called Public bathroom simulator which mimicked a public restroom environment. Carolyn told Polygon she expected a little humor, but what she found was much worse. In the game, his character slipped on a puddle and got stuck on the ground. Subsequently, other players in the game seemed to take turns playing a role-playing game that faked an attack of his character, an incident what happened to others on Roblox.
Anyone can create a game on Roblox. The platform works almost like YouTube – except instead of uploading videos, any user can design and publish a game, or as Roblox calls it, an “experiment” that others can play. This gives young users vast opportunities to grow and play in all the virtual worlds and games they imagine. According to a Roblox spokesperson, the platform had 58.8 million daily active users as of Q3 2022, 46% of whom identify as under the age of 13.
This poses a content moderation problem. Users can choose from around 9 million experiences, according to the Roblox website. This immense volume of experiences makes it harder to moderate, despite the company’s active role in monitoring the platform.
Roblox filters out potentially inappropriate user-created skins and chat, as well as personal information. The company says it employs a team of ‘thousands’ to monitor the platform for inappropriate content and that its trust and safety team typically takes ‘minutes’ to address any behavior that violates their terms of service. use and community standards. However, games simulating slavery and fascism or those who simulate mass shootings appeared on the platform.
For most of 2022, individual Roblox games did not have an “age-appropriate” designation or rating, as the platform’s intended audience was simply young children. Parents could restrict their children’s account so that children could only play on one list of organized games by Roblox, as well as other security features, like disabling chat.
However, in September, Roblox launched “Experience Guidelines,” which include age ratings for games, apparently to meet his increasing number of users over the age of 13 On the platform. Games now have three possible age group labels – all ages, 9+, and 13+ – and the age recommendations are “based on child development researchand “industry standards,” according to a blog post from the Roblox Developers Conference. Parents now have the option of limit access to certain games based on age recommendations.
It’s up to everyday people who make games on Roblox to make sure their content is age-appropriate. To do this, developers fill out a Experience quiz – specifying whether violence is depicted in the game and its frequency, level of intensity and presence of blood – which will generate the recommended age group for their game. As of January, games whose developers have not completed experience questionnaire will not be recommended for young users. (The dev forum doesn’t say if younger users can still find these games independently.)
Polygon spoke with a Roblox developer who specializes in creating family-friendly games and who wanted to remain anonymous due to his relationship with Roblox. They believe that Roblox takes strong steps to inform parents, but that it is ultimately up to parents to monitor their children’s activity.
“Roblox is making big changes and working hard to let parents know what content is found in particular games with age restrictions, but it’s still up to parents to watch their young children and teach them about online safety. and the rules to follow,” they said.
Carolyn and her husband have taken an active role in their children’s digital lives and have regularly played Roblox games with their children. She and her husband grew up playing games like Runescape and Ragnarok onlineso both were aware of the potential dangers of playing with others online.
“We had a pretty good idea of things that can continue and things that can be released with just text and voice chat. And then, more recently, user-manipulated games – like games where you can place things and change things on your character – I think that kind of thing has opened up a new thing that parents need to be aware of. worry.
These experience guidelines only add to the existing moderation challenges on the platform. Although the content of some games may be deemed age-appropriate by the developers, children can still interact with others on the platform through role-playing games. Role-playing games with imaginary elements and character interactions are among the most popular on the platform. This opens up possibilities for inappropriate interactions, either via chat or with role-playing elements. So, although a game does not contain blood or any age-restricted content marked as appropriate by the survey, a user can still enter the game and fake an assault.
Polygon contacted Roblox and received the following comment:
“To determine content relevance for each age category, we reviewed global industry standards and consulted with child development experts to guide our policies. The experiences highlighted in [Carolyn’s] Twitter feeds are marked as ‘All Ages’ because the content is generally appropriate for all ages and may contain infrequent mild violence and/or light unrealistic gore,” a Roblox spokesperson told Polygon per E-mail.
The spokesperson also said that while the new system has expanded the pool of experiences, the company has improved parental controls so parents can customize access to experiences based on age recommendations.
While the share of older Roblox players is growing, there remains a large number of users under the age of 13. It’s true that Roblox takes a tougher stance on content moderation compared to other content platforms, but even then, changes like these can expose its younger users to content that’s more suitable for them. age on the platform. After tweeting, other relatives and family members said they deleted the game, and others shared their own horror stories.
So for now, caught between massive changes at a company and the whims of her own children, Carolyn has stuck to the decision to delete their accounts. Luckily for her, it seemed that everything had gone well.
“I expected a huge collapse. But they were actually really cool with it. They are like, Alright, you know, if it’s safe again, we’ll play again. And I was like, Yeah. Wow. Very well. Costs.”