Runescape News: Pedophiles on the Prowl?

by JoHarrington

A child crisis helpline has reported that 8% of its calls are from young Runescape players. What can the gamers do to help?

The MMORPG Runescape is generally a place for fun, relaxation and pleasant conversation with friends. In and around leveling skills, defeating boss monsters and completing quests, that is!

But there is a disturbing statistic emerging from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), a UK policing agency set up to combat the sexual abuse of children.

It seems that the game has been targeted by pedophiles and cyber-bullies, amounting to 8% of the calls made to their hotline. There have been real life situations, which constituted every parent's worse nightmare.

For the vast majority of Runescape players, this scenario will come as a shock. Perhaps it's time for us all to combine forces to keep our game safe.

A 10 Year Old Targeted by a Pedophile on Runescape

Unknown to her parents, 'Anna' was being groomed in-game to provide some explicitly sexual photographs.

'Anna' was just ten years old, when she was persuaded to pose for inappropriate pictures by a fellow Runescape player.

She thought it was alright, because she had known him for ages. They met in-game and, though he was an adult man, they were soon swopping details to talk on MSN messenger. For months, the conversation was innocuous. Then things took a darker turn.

The Mirror newspaper reported her description of what happened next, "Chuck asked me to do naughty things on my webcam and take naked pictures of myself, which I did. This went on for months between Chuck and me, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into."

Worse still, a second man contacted her to say that he now had the photographs. He would ruin her reputation, unless she took more and sent them to him.

Anna was terrified, but she did the right thing. She didn't comply with his request.

Instead, she called the Samaritans and the whole story came spilling out. They referred her to The Children’s Society, who could offer better support under their Street Safe program.

Now aged 12, Anna has been receiving counseling from them for the past two years.

Cyber-Safety Support

Jagex: Serious Crime/Legal Contact
Jagex are the makers of Runescape. If a child is being targeted, as Anna was, then they will always step in, as well as escalating the report to the appropriate police agencies.

Child Exploitation & Online Protection
This agency is operated by the British police. It seeks to protect children from sexual abuse on the internet.

The Children's Society
This is the society which helped Anna. Their support includes intervention and counseling.

The Internet Watch Foundation
This is a UK based 'hotline' for reporting any child sexual abuse content anywhere in the world.

Do you have first-hand experience of pedophiles using Runescape?

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Jagex Takes Online Child Safety Seriously

However, the CEOP claims that nearly a tenth of calls to them are from young Runescape players in crisis.

Writing as an adult Runescape player, it is difficult to determine how Jagex could have done more to prevent players like Anna getting into such trouble.

For years, under 13 year olds weren't officially allowed in the game. Many did play, but they could have their accounts banned, if they were outed as underage. These days, children are welcomed, but with restrictions.

Primarily their text interactions are limited to a wealth of pre-written comments. Everything required to play Runescape is in there, but nothing that eases free flowing conversation. They cannot type their own words.

Unfortunately, this mechanism only works if a player hasn't lied about their age, when (s)he set up their account. The onus is surely on the parents or guardians to oversee that part.

All players, underage or not, receive some protection from roaming player moderators. Identifiable by the silver crown in front of their names, these individuals have the authority to step in, if bullying is spotted.

Of course, sheer luck plays a part there. If no player moderator happens to be in the vicinity, then there is a 24/7 Community Support Team to contact. Their mission statement makes it clear that on-line child safety is within their remit:

The Community Safety Team works in conjunction with worldwide law enforcement organisations and child protection agencies on issues related to child safety, threats, cyberbullying and abuse. This includes conducting investigations into players who we feel may potentially pose a threat to the safety of others, and reporting any incidents which raise sufficient cause for concern.

On the rare occasions when the team is contacted by Law Enforcement or Child Protection agencies, the Community Safety Team assists with enquiries and provides relevant information where necessary. The Community Safety Team also works closely with other Player Support and Content Development teams to make our games safe for all. The team also helps to educate players on topics related to online safety.

Jagex Games Studio: Parent's Guide - Community Safety

 Again, as a player, I can confirm that this education occurs. We've all ventured into the Stronghold of Security, where we answer questions about online safety in return for in-game rewards.

That's not nearly all. Sometimes the awareness campaigns are so blatant and intrusive, as to appear patronizing to adult players. But we suffer them. We know how important such messages are; and we are not necessarily the target audience.

This is merely the official support for children being bullied or worse. It doesn't account for the rest of the player base. That can be really ferocious, if something is being said that simply isn't right.

Just two days ago, I was in the Grand Exchange, a central hub which is busy at any time of the day and night. A player typed a racist comment into the chat, which was immediately addressed by several people present. For ten to fifteen minutes, the debate flashed back and forth. Reasoned, coherent rebuttals, interspersed with trollish responses.

Snippet from a racism debate in Runescape. Players came to the defence of a player, who had been racially bullied.
Snippet from a racism debate in Runescape. Players came to the defence of a player, who had been racially bullied.
Jo Harrington

In many ways, I was saddened when a player moderator did turn up. The racist was suddenly less willing to speak up!

But that was a perfect example of how the majority of Runescape players are, and have always been, in my long experience. Decent, ordinary people, who wouldn't hesitate to step in, if they witnessed a child in difficulty. The problem would be getting them to shut up again!

Of course, none of this can be activated, if all communication is taking place privately, with no-one reporting it. The aid is there, but the victim needs to speak up. Better still, very young players should always be supervised in real life by someone aware of the dangers.

Runescape is meant to be fun. That can only be true if parents and guardians are pulling their weight in checking on their children too.

Guides on Cyber-Safety and Keeping Kids Safe On-line

Buy these books to gain an insight into how modern culture works, and how you can protect children on the internet.

Why Runescape Players Talk Outside the Game

There are many reasons why. Some are purely to be sociable, but others involve convenience and the pressure of their peers.

The situation is awkward. We are assembling a Dungeoneering team to venture into the depths of a Runescape skill game.

For the next hour or so, five of us will be scattered across a series of in-game rooms. Some might be fighting boss monsters, while others rush to locate keys and unlock doors. Communication is vital.

A player whose avatar is getting killed can scream for assistance. A keyer encountering a high level door can yell for a skiller. Co-ordination is key.

Therefore it is much easier to complete this dungeon while talking on Skype. Only there's a problem. Four of us are ready and waiting; then one player types in words tinged with embarrassment. "I can't speak. My Mum is watching the telly."

I'm poised to tell him to simply take his laptop out of the television room. Let common sense rule here please!  But then, it actually does. 

The sentence is deleted without ever being sent. It had occurred to me that, while we were gearing up to protect his pixels, his mother had an even bigger responsibility. She had to keep him safe on-line.

She didn't know us. Any or all of us could have been the predators that she reads about in the press. The instinct must surely have been to lock him in a room, padded with cotton wool, being fed only wholesome food and provided only with a few carefully screened books for entertainment. That is not only impractical, but a bit creepy too.

The answer is to compromise. Let your off-spring live their lives, but under close supervision. If you know with whom your child is conversing, then there can be swift, decisive (and possibly bloody) intervention, should anyone attempt to harm a hair on their head.

None of which helps much, when you're trying to organize a Runescape Dungeoneering instance, with a fifth of your team reduced to text. But I understood Mum's mindset here. Moreover, I agreed wholeheartedly with it.

As an adult gamer in contact with young players, I could do my bit to help out. As a touch typer, I could also quickly convert Skyped conversations into Runescape text. We were able to successfully complete our Dungeon without our friend ever feeling left out.

This is just one example. There are hundreds more where chatting outside of the game makes in-game activities easier.

Should the Runescape community join forces to protect our players in AND out of Gielinor?

We are the eyes and ears in-game. That gives us a great opportunity to intervene, if something seems dodgy.
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Yes, and here's a tip or two on how to do it...
JoHarrington on 03/21/2012

I've banned personal information from being shared within my clan. I also ensure that everyone knows why. Our ethos is that Canting is safe on-line and off-line too.

What Can Ordinary Runescape Players Do to Help?

This is OUR game which is under attack. Bullies are in OUR bases pwning OUR noobs.

In my mind I have a vision of the assembled Runescape clans waiting at the Wildy. Their armor flashing in the pixel sunlight.

For once this isn't Clan Wars. It's one almighty clan, led by those illustrious leaders, all committed to one great cause - Keeping Runescape Safe.

Members of the RS Clan Canting Away say: Keep Runescape Safe!
Members of the RS Clan Canting Away say: Keep Runescape Safe!

This then is my call. From the Wilderness to Sophanem, from Tirannwn to Morytania, from Oo'glog to the Ice Plateau, let's make it happen. Clan leaders, do I have your sword on this one?

  • All clan leaders to read up on cyber-safety
  • All clan leaders to formulate a plan for dealing with such issues*
  • All clan administrators and generals to help their leaders monitor their members
  • Every clan to step in immediately, if they know or suspect that one of their members is in IRL distress
  • Every clan member to immediately report inappropriate sexual behaviour to their clan leader, Jagex or a player mod.

* My recommendation here is to take any claims or reports seriously, but don't try to deal with it alone. Clan leaders can often be trusted better than parents, teachers or the police. It is a huge responsibility, which I know that many of you will be anxious to meet.

The unfortunate fact is that you are probably not qualified to do so. Take screenshots and any other evidence, then get it reported. Be prepared to support your clan member, but let Jagex or the police take the brunt of the actual IRL fall-out.

If any clan wishes to provide a screenshot of their own commitment to this cause (perhaps everyone shouting 'Keep Runescape Safe' or any variation on a theme), then please do so in the comments.  I will include them all at the foot of this article.

How about awareness campaigns too?  Runescape bloggers! Lend me your words!  Could you promote cyber-safety for our young players in your blogs?  How about the video makers?  Is there a place in your RS Vlogs and channels to get this information out? 

If any of you do this, then let me know and I will add a link back, or embed the YouTube video, here.

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Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/13/2012

Yes there are. But I do know that Jagex really work hard to ferret out these people and report them to the authorities.

Eliot on 12/12/2012

I understand cyber-bullies a lot of players can be pretty elitist but pedophiles really? Yikes I guess there are a lot of kids playing the game.

JoHarrington on 11/23/2012

I can't knock any keyers. Its a hard job that I've been useless at performing on the rare occasions that I've given it a go.

Frankly, I've lost faith in Jagex's ability not to turn anything into a microtransaction fest. It would be a very pleasant surprise if the ports turned out to be actual gaming content and not coming with a price tag attached.

Josh on 11/22/2012

Haha too true! I've been through a couple of teams and this one has been my favourite so far, Chilled tends to have a pretty relaxed atmosphere, though sometimes the keyers can get a bit tetchy after a long day and if people aren't listening/communicating in the right manner.

I'm interested to see how player owned ports turns out later/next month- hopefully not a micro-transaction-fest like WoL and 8realms turned out to be (if you wanted to do well at least!)

~Pony Plop

JoHarrington on 11/22/2012

Hi Pony Plop,

Thank you very much. :) And good dungeoneering teams are always a great find, especially with the word 'chilled' in there. Too often dg teams are really fast paced and stressful!

Josh on 11/21/2012

Hi, you've got some great articles on here (particuarly the one on Mr. Horing)

If you're looking for any dungeoneering teams (not just random people, because random teams are stressful) it's definitely worth checking out the rs forums for "chilled dg"(or it's new name "dg addicts")

Keep up the good work! I'll keep a lookout for future posts.

~Pony Plop

JoHarrington on 05/15/2012

I agree with you on absolutely all counts there. Sounds like you and I are players with the same ethos here. :D

Eliot on 05/15/2012

Well if it's happened once then that's too many times, being a maturer runescape player I'd rather look out for the younger, naive players of runescape with the best intentions at heart. They probably are slightly exaggerated as the figures do seem a little drastic!

JoHarrington on 05/15/2012

You're wonderful! Thank you!

I'm still highly dubious about that statistic. CEOP hasn't returned my calls. But inflated or not, the Runescape clans can still band together to look after our noobs. :)

Eliot on 05/15/2012

I've sent this link to 27 big Youtube names, hopefully some good can come of this and it will spark awarness on this subject.

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