May 22, 2006 - Posted at 10:19 p.m. CST
SPECIAL REPORT -- It's no longer just child's play. Video games now transcend the ages and are a multi billion dollar business. Not limited to just Nintendo or Atari game systems, more and more people participate in online gaming.
In the past, if you wanted to play video games with someone they had to be sitting right next to you. But now, thanks to the Internet, your opponent can be a world away.
"PC's, XBOX, Play Station 2, Nintendo is going to have a new one coming out soon called the Revolution. You are going to be able to play online with it," said Chip Carroll, an associate at Game Exchange and the father of a 12-year-old daughter.
Although online gaming is fairly new with video game systems, gamers have been playing online with their personal computers for more than a decade.
"If you have the web, it is another way to be in contact with friends. You are not running up bills on your phone with high speed and you are always on and someone else is always on," said online gamer and Millenium 3 sales associate Chase Gist.
One of the more popular online games is City of Heroes, where at anytime an online gamer can access to people in their backyard or around the world.
"You have a friend that moved away, you get their email address and you sit down and talk to them and you may have not seen them in two or three years but it's actually pretty cool because you can keep in touch with them," said 12-year-old girl Paige Carroll.
The target age for most online gamers is between 16 and 25. However it's not strange to see a number of younger players.
"Every now and then you will catch that 12 or 13-year-old kid. Most of the time, they are just having fun like everyone else," said Gist.
But that fun could be an open invitation for a predator to chat with your child, a warning that most companies downplay.
"They don't really give anything. You just plug in, mom or dad gives a credit card and they go into a back room and play," said Gist.
While online games do not pose as many dangers as blogs or chat rooms, they do offer an avenue to interact and talk with strangers.
"It is pretty dangerous for them to talk to strangers because they could be predators," said Sara Dickey, who teaches Internet safety at the Paragould School District.
"You don't see who is on the other end of it and they can start getting personal and asking questions and to an 11, 12-year-old it can be really confusing unless there is an adult there to supervise what is going on," said Chip Carroll.
12-year-old Paige Carroll plays City of Heroes because she enjoys the game play. She is a responsible gamer whose parents make sure she is supervised.... but on several occasions, she has come across strangers who have gone out of their way to talk with her.
"This person kept following me around, I got off the computer for an hour and they wrote my name down and I had to make three characters to make that person leave me alone," said Paige Carroll.
Having conversations in an online gaming community isn't bad, however, kids should use caution.
"If you are a 12 or 13-year-old kid or younger or older, don't give out any information about your personal life," said Gist.
With just a little personal information, potential predators can show up at your doorstep.
"Just do a reverse phone look up or a reverse address lookup and then go to Mapquest which you can look up right from there and then you have a map to the child's home," said Dickey.
That's why it is important for parents to know what their kids are playing and who they are playing with.
"I am always her monitor, I can tell you what she plays, how long she plays and how she plays," said Chip Carroll Paige Carroll said, "If they keep on bugging me, I tell my parents and they say stop bothering her, she is just a kid."
In order to properly keep track of kids online gaming the location of the family computer is important.
"Parents should have a computer in a common area instead of a bedroom so they can see where their students are on the Internet because the predators are always there," said Dickey.
In addition parents should avoid having a webcam.
"Webcams are not a good idea because someone innocent may say 'I would like to see what you look like,' and then they have a picture of them," said Dickey.
Most of those we talked to believe online gaming is actually a good thing for kids. They claim it provides a fun escape for gamers but the key is making sure you know who your kids are gaming with.
"Watch your kids, watch what they are playing, ask what they are playing, get involved with what they do, don't use the game system or the computer as a babysitter," said Chip Carroll.