Speaking With Vernon Jones From MovieStarPlanet About The Importance Of Stop Cyberbullying Day

Your official title is Head of Safety at MovieStarPlanet, can you tell us a bit more about your responsibilities and activities?

As the Head of Safety at MovieStarPlanet ApS, my role is to make sure that all the games that we produce are compliant with child safeguarding standards and legislation in the 16 countries where the company is operational. This complex task involves making the games we produce fun and safe for children to engage with their peers.

I am responsible for liaising and making partnerships with external stakeholders in relation to child safeguarding issues. This includes Governmental Agencies and NGOs, Law Enforcement Agencies, Parents and other groups that are involved in keeping children safe online.

It is important that all staff working at MovieStarPlanet are aware of child safeguarding issues throughout the game development process. My role, therefore, is also to help keep the multidisciplinary staff group, computer engineers, moderators, graphic artists etc., aware of this perspective when designing, maintaining and moderating games for children.

I also develop and undertake training for Moderators and other staff on child safeguarding issues. This includes workshop based training in relation to identifying and preventing Cyberbullying. Other workshops look at providing Moderators with skills to identify and escalate online grooming activity and endangerment cases where user may talk about suicide ideation and non suicidal self injury.

These are important issues that need to be addressed professionally. Being a registered social worker with over 20 years’ practice based child protection experience, it has helped me on these issues.

MovieStarPlanet has been around since 2009, can you tell us a bit more about the game?

MovieStarPlanet was started by the current CEO, as an educational tool for Danish children to learn English by producing animated movies with English manuscripts. The game became very popular and was launched as a private enterprise in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 2010. The game was launched in other European countries in 2011 and then in Australia, New Zealand and the US. MovieStarPlanet now has over 400 million registered users in 16 supported countries around the world.

Two other games, BlockStarPlanet and BooniePlanet, were launched in 2013 by the MovieStarPlanet ApS studio. BlockStarPlanet offers a unique way to share creativity between friends, even between countries by enabling users to build their own creations. BooniePlanet is aimed at younger children and their families where charming characters can be cared for by the users.

All the games that we develop can be used by having one sign in process to develop a unique social network of games.

Do you think that games are a good way to educate young people about important social issues?

I believe that games can provide a platform for informing children about social issues. We believe in pedagogical approach to game production and online safety, where we want to inform users, and their parents, about the positive aspects of being online and the world around them. This involves close cooperation between game developers, artistic content providers and the in-game support services we provide to users.

The production teams are making weekly themes that are fun, but also have a social educational approach to building awareness about social issues. We celebrate different events throughout the year, such as Safer Internet Day and Stop Cyberbullying Day. Informing children about the positive aspects of diversity and cultural differences is also part of the production themes.

But there is also a need to create boundaries for children where they can remain safe. This involves using Automated Content Management Systems to alert trained Moderators about possible inappropriate content, language and behavior.

You have announced in-game activities to raise awareness and support Stop Cyberbullying Day, could you tell us a bit more about the activities?

As part of the awareness raising for Stop Cyberbullying Day, the content team have produced clothing and other items that users can purchase with their in-game currency. There will also be a competition entitled: ‘Create an ArtBook that shows a internet community standing together against cyberbullying!’. This competition is being highlighted with a forum post on all 16 MSP domains and has been very popular, with users producing many artbooks across all country domains.

Why did you feel it was important for your games to participate in the day’s events?

We have a very strong commitment to child safeguarding issues and preventing cyberbullying is a major part of this commitment. There have been campaigns in the past to raise awareness about the consequences of bullying in all its forms and we feel that we can reach many children with positive messages about their role in not being passive when they see any form of bullying activity.

Do you think video games with large user bases have a responsibility to consider social problems directly affecting their players, especially young gamers?

There is a significant role for the gaming industry to play in raising awareness about social issues and being able to involve their users in making informed decisions on these issues. My experience is that the vast majority of gaming studios do take their response to want to raise awareness about social issues that can affect children.

It is also important that robust child safeguarding practices and procedures are in place to identify, assess and deal effectively with cyberbullying that can occur on gaming platforms.

What does 2019 have in store for MovieStarPlanet? Is there anything exciting that you want to share?

The big news for MovieStarPlanet in 2019 is that we are moving away from being a Flash based game to being on the Unity platform. There will also be downloadable versions of the games very soon. This will result in a better gaming experience for all our users.

Finally, in one sentence, why is MovieStarPlanet a great game?

We believe in strong relations, finding friends and learning through social experiences to allow children to be be who that want to be.