Increasingly, video games use the power of the internet to offer more features. Games on consoles, computers, mobile phones and those played through websites can all be internet connected games. However, not all games today are connected to the internet.

In the simplest cases, a game is connected to the internet so the company that made the game can update it remotely. These updates might add new levels, fix errors in a game found by users, or make other small tweaks.

Equally, today many games use an internet connection to sell digital items to be used in games. You can find more about this – as well as game age ratings, parental control over gaming hardware and much more – over on our consumer advice page .

The most significant way games use an internet connection, however, is to let communities of users play a game together. This often takes the form of ‘online multiplayer’, when anything from a handful of players to hundreds of users tackle a game simultaneously. The players may be working together to beat a game, competing against each other, or even enjoying individual experiences in an online world where most of the game characters they meet are actually real people also playing the game. Equally, increasing numbers of players use this kind of connectivity to simply watch others play, effectively making them spectators.

Many online multiplayer games let players chat to either other while playing, either with a microphone, or using written text. Sometimes other players will be selected friends, but in many cases everyone you play with in an online game will be a stranger.

Connected games can bring all kinds of opportunity, from simply offering better gameplay experiences, to building communities that can learn, create and share the many benefits playing games can bring.

However, connecting with strangers on the internet can bring real dangers, from cyberbullying to grooming. Equally, online games can offer extremely compelling escapism; that can mean a game provides a beneficial refuge from a difficult real-world situation, or a place in which a player can ‘hide’, so as to avoid problems in life. And where online chat in games is concerned, other players can say what they want, uncensored; that might mean exposure to content that is adult in theme, abusive or offensive.

WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?://

Fortunately, many game companies across the world recognise their responsibility to protect their online users. Users identified as harassing, bullying or grooming other players can be reported to the game company, possibly to be banned or blocked. Meanwhile, large online game companies typically have teams dedicated to policing their digital worlds. In the coming years we are also likely to see artificial intelligence play a greater role in protecting online users.

However, there is much a parent can do at home. The most important thing is to keep talking to your children about the games they play. And don’t just talk about dangers and restrictions. Talk about the fun they are having, the games they are enjoying, and what they have been up in online worlds. Having those friendly, casual and enthusiastic conversations will make it easier for your child to talk to you when there are problems – and easier for you to get your child to listen when you need a serious word about games. Equaly, you can:

• Reassure your child that if there is anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, confused or upset, they can talk to you without you getting angry.

• Research the games your child is playing. Visit the websites of those games – or the game companies that make them – and learn how to report problems. That means that when you need to, you know what to do.

• If possible, join in. Play online games with your youngsters, and you will always be there to see what is going on. It’s also a great way to bond as a family.

• Use parental controls to set how much your child can play a game or on certain hardware. Learn how to here.

• Never give your children your passwords used to spend money online in games. Make sure you handle and approve all in-game spending.