The Sims Social, a Facebook game and a franchise that has been around for years, has recently been in the spotlight for rewarding and encouraging players (including your child) to build a romantic relationships with their Facebook friends. The Sims Social refers to your Facebook friends as “Neighbors”, and gives players virtual currency and recognition for advancing their romantic relationship, including engaging in cybersex with that neighbor. To be fair, the game actually rewards players for anything, like taking out the trash or taking a shower…not just for having sex, but this kind of online interaction should give parents cause for concern; it did for me.
This game and its incentivized “relationship builder” actually raises a couple of concerns. First, taking into account the fact that more than 8 million of Facebook’s users are under the age of 13, and the fact that 40% of young Facebook users admit that they have Facebook friends that they don’t know in real life, it’s easy to see how The Sims Social can be used as a grooming tool for online predators.
Second, what exactly is EA, or Facebook for that matter, trying to accomplish by rewarding players for engaging in sex? Isn’t that what prostitution is? Think about what this teaches our children; how it skews their idea of what “sex” is; how it diminishes the importance of a real relationship.
On one hand, it’s hard to point the finger at the game publisher and blame them for creating an “adult intended” game. On the other EA isn’t exactly a new player to gaming industry, nor are they new to Facebook. I want to believe that someone in their organization asked their team: ”What about the kids on Facebook? What if they play this game?” I’m sure in their minds, they created the game for adults and could therefore rationalize that only adults should really be allowed to play it. They likely figured it wasn’t their problem if kids played it. It’s Facebook’s problem. But am I wrong for expecting Facebook to take a shred of responsibility and think about the 8+ million children that can possibly be exposed to this kind of content? Maybe I am. Maybe my expectations are too high and the idea of mixing a youth culture and an adult culture together is OK in Mark Zuckerberg’s book.
On the other hand, I’m not completely blown away by this game’s presence on Facebook in the first place, considering that they allow pages like Smash or Pass to exist as they do, or “smoking crack and having unprotected sex”, or the quizzes about “what sexual position are you?”
Parents, as I’ve said a number of times, Facebook is not a place for young children. In some cases it’s not even a place for young teens, and The Sims Social reinforces that opinion. You might allow your kids on Facebook simply because all your friends’ kids are on Facebook, but you should know that these games, these pages, they DO exist on Facebook. Is this what you intended your child to be able to participate in? Facebook was created by adults, and intended for adults, and as a result it’s why we continue to see content that’s adult intended,, age inappropriate and I’ll argue sometimes down-right crass.
We had an interesting dialogue here in the Yoursphere Media offices. The younger college-aged crowd in the office held the opinion that a child playing the game in this manner wasn’t as bad as a child watching a movie with sex in it. I disagreed. Setting aside, for a moment, the urge to ask the question, “Why would a 10 year old be watching a movie with sexual activity in it?”, consider the difference being that television media is a “consumption media”: you sit, you watch, you consume. Yes, kids watching shows with such content walk away with the general impression that it’s “okay” to engage in that kind of activity. Social media, however, is a “participatory media”. I often say the emphasis in social media is on the “ME” in media. You are the media. You are the content creator. You are the one participating. You, or in this case your child, is the one having “sex”.
Plain and simple, this isn’t the environment I aspire to have my younger children be a part of. Older teens and the college crowd, it’s not a problem for them, of course. Just like with their real life relationships, they are old enough to make their own decisions online and offline. If you know me, then you know that I was discouraged enough more than five years ago regarding the crass and adult-intended social networking sites that kids were joining. Enough to set out and create a unique, engaging and age appropriate experience for our kids. That’s what we do at Yoursphere.com. We, too, have a virtual world like The Sims Social, and I can tell you that kids can easily enjoy themselves in a virtual world without the need to be incentivized to engage in cybersex.
What about you? Is that what you want for your child?