The War on Roblox Porn

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There’s a war going on. And some of the battlefronts can appear to be the most unlikely places.

You’ve heard of Roblox, right? If you have kids you probably have. It’s an online game creation system—a digital playground, if you will. In this space, and with its free software, creative minds can craft pretty much whatever they desire: intricate gaming challenges; large buildings and structures; landscapes; clothes; artwork; happy little characters and activities; you name it.

Lots of kids jump online and settle for creating their own little blocky-headed avatar and then exploring all the many wonders that others have learned to construct. And there’s oh-so-much to explore and oh-so-many people exploring and creating. The whole shebang, which started in 2006, has now grown to over 150 million active monthly users. I mean, think about that. That’s the equivalent of the population of Russia! And they’re all piling in and playing and creating on a regular basis.

Oh, and they’re mostly kids.

Though Roblox doesn’t disclose the ages of its users, the site’s creators have said that the majority of users are under 18. In fact, it’s estimated that at least half of all U.S. kids ages 16 and under use the platform. In December of 2017, Comscore collected data from Roblox and found that kids between the ages of 5 and 9 spend more time playing Roblox than doing anything else online.

But here’s a dirty little secret: People playing in Roblox’s sandbox aren’t all there for carefree fun and games. Thanks to the fallen nature of mankind—and the fact that today’s teens tend to have more free time than any other group in history—the shadowed corners of the site hold areas and games that involve sexual activities that no 5 to 9-year-old should ever be subject to. It may be hard to imagine if you’ve ever seen the blocky characters on the site. But it’s happening. And trust me, you don’t want pictures.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the creators of Roblox aren’t fighting back. The fact is, Roblox has been waging a technological war with some of its own users for years now. And the site has been praised by child safety advocates for being dedicated to safeguarding its young users. They maintain strict rules and use AI search systems to root out people who abuse their policies when it comes to things such as engaging in sexual behavior, cyberbullying and discrimination. But problems still happen.

The above mentioned sexually focused meeting places may be taken down just as fast as they show up, but they still keep showing up. And though users can’t communicate within Roblox about any of their sleazy creations, they can use gaming chat tools such as Discord to get the word out. The players/hackers behind it all are regularly exploiting the system and figuring out how to manipulate games, upload explicit content and introduce foul language. And there are other forms of abuse in the mix, too. 

In 2018 a young girl’s avatar was grabbed and sexually abused by some online idiot who thought it would be great fun to create blocky havoc on a predominantly kids’ site. Fortunately, the girl’s mother was nearby when the online attack took place.

She described the incident in a public Facebook post that read, in part:

“Words cannot describe the shock, disgust, and guilt that I am feeling right now, but I’m trying to put those feelings aside so I can get this warning out to others as soon as possible. Thankfully, I was able to take screenshots of what I was witnessing so people will realize just how horrific this experience was. Although I was immediately able to shield my daughter from seeing the entire interaction, I am shuddering to think of what kind of damage this image could have on her psyche, as well as any other child that could potentially be exposed to this.”

The creators of Roblox publicly apologized for the online abuse and immediately took steps to ban the offender and redouble the site’s security efforts.

The point to take away from all this, however, is simple: no matter how vigilant a company may be in trying to safeguard users, it’s ultimately up to you, Mom and Dad. We live in a wonderful time that offers all kinds of creative opportunities and lots of potential fun. And while sites like Roblox may be doing what they can to protect your children, they can’t do everything. They can’t stop it all.

On the other hand, slamming the door on every online bit of fun isn’t necessarily going to get the job done either. Being safe takes work on all sides: It requires online safety features; wise parental discernment; good, open communication with your kids; and it demands keeping game play and other online activities out in the open where everybody can see them.

You may consider that a hefty list. And quite frankly, it’s not always easy. But few wars ever are.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.

4 Responses

  1. -Thank you very, very much for your honest and nuanced perspective on this issue that did not “throw the baby out with the bath-water” or minimize the severity of how significant this is. Interactions are much more often online, especially given this pandemic, than they were when I was young and most such settings were limited to chat rooms and instant-messaging services, forums, and subscribe-to-play online RPGs. I tell you that some of the strongest opportunities I ever had to share God’s love and Gospel came in the form of deeply diverse friends I met through chat rooms, including other kids who practiced witchcraft or other various forms of paganism, who were physically involved with other people, or who were experimenting with their own orientations. None of this is in itself an endorsement, but my point is that I pray discerning parents will know the differences between protecting their children from unsafe (and, here, clearly inappropriate) interactions and environments and also preparing them to show God’s love, mercy, grace, and justice even to people that some adults in the church are all too often ashamed to go near.

  2. – My kids (8 & 11) are asking to play Roblox because their friends from school (a Christian school) want to play together with them. Are there any recommendations you have for setting up parameters so that my kids can not go into side rooms or such? Are there any parental controls on this? Please advise. I do t want them to miss out with their friends but I am so uncertain of video games. Thank you.

    1. – Hi! I am a parent of two kids who have been enjoying Roblox for a handful of years now. You can set up an account for your child and set the privacy settings with a safe chat mode so things like numbers and most names cannot be shared. Or the option to not chat at all I believe. I even joined the platform myself years ago to keep an eye on them and what was happening. I was really concerned. I made sure to tell my children what kind of talk and behaviors was okay, and it’s always played out on the family computer. Check it out, and see if it’s a good fit for your family. Happy gaming 🙂

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