The demographic of a virtual world that offers real-time chat between users will determine the user-generated content (UGC) that is allowed. For communities targeted at kids, one way to prevent inappropriate UGC from reaching the younger members of the community is to implement a gated chat system. With gated chat there are typically 3 options:
- Open chat – Users can freely type any messages they want.
- Restricted chat – Users can only type messages with words found in a whitelist or dictionary. This can prevent many slang words or foul language from being used.
- Menu chat – Users can only choose from words or phrases that have been programmed into the chat system by the site owner (e.g. “Hello” or “Great job!”)
Gated chat provides barriers to the different levels:
- Menu chat users can only see messages from other menu chat users
- Restricted chat users can see restricted chat and menu chat users
- Open chat users can see all three levels
The main reason to set up a gated chat system is to prevent the youngest users from being exposed to the more mature content that can be used by older kids in restricted or open chat. We highly recommend that a gated chat system be implemented for sites that have users of various age groups.
One potential pitfall of setting up these gates is that it may result in an inability to more thoroughly communicate with different levels (e.g., a father who is an open chat user in a game wanting to communicate with his son or daughter playing the same game who is only a menu chat user). There are a few options available to address this type of concern.
First, give parental control over their child’s chat settings. If the parents would like to be able to chat openly with their kids while playing a game together they can simply change the child’s setting to open or restricted chat.
Next, friends can be allowed to enter open or restricted chat with each other. To ensure the kids are actual friends it is recommended that the change in chat setting only be allowed after parental approval. Methods to gain parental consent are beyond the scope of this article, but if you are targeting an under-13 demographic, you should already have a verifiable parental consent system in place.
Finally, a single open chat session can be enabled. The next time the child logs in, their chat level will be reverted back to the original setting. If a parent wants to be on the cautious side they can turn off all chat.
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