How’s this for a sensationalist, videogame-bashing headline: ‘Xbox paedophile predators 'move in on prey within two minutes of contact’'? If there was ever a reason to cry fowl of the mainstream presses misunderstanding and vindication of gaming, it’s right here. London’s daily free-sheet Metro today brings alarmist reporting and misplaced fear-mongering to an all-new high, reporting ‘alarming findings’ that makes the paedophile population of Xbox Live sound like a feral pack of ferocious lions stalking their evening meal across the dusty plains of online lobbies, leaderboards and friends lists. An image used of the first-generation Xbox is the icing on the cake.
“Sexual predators are taking advantage of young people’s willingness to add strangers as online contacts out of a sense of ‘competition’ over their popularity,” states the newspaper. “They are increasingly likely to use gaming platforms such as Xbox Live to target children, researchers say.”
“Many are spending up to six hours a day on online ‘fishing expeditions’ where they work through up to 200 contacts until they find a vulnerable child willing to interact with them.” According to researcher Prof Julia Davidson, who seems all too keen to throw further fuel on the Metro’s fire, “conversation between an online offender and a child can now become sexualised within two minutes”, adding “during interviews, offenders said they didn’t need to bother with a grooming process when they could immediately ask children for sex or to meet so they could abuse them.”
MSN Messenger, Yahoo Chat, MySpace, Facebook, Omegle, Chat Roulette… Our presence online and availability to meet with new people (you could call them ‘strangers’) through chat rooms, social networks or video chats has drawn unwarranted attention for years now. So to say Xbox Live or other online platforms (Sony’s Entertainment Network, Steam etc. are not at all mentioned) have risks associated with them by default is hardly anything new – of course there are those who will use online features to their inexcusable advantage.
But no, we have to point the finger at something in particular, something that hasn’t yet taken the brunt of all society’s ills. Say hello, Xbox Live. Parents, unplug the console, tidy away the controllers and burn the games.