DALLAS — In the Emershaw household in Dallas, 12-year-old Benjamin can slay dragons and take down drug dealers.
And because his video game console hooks up to the Internet, he can play with or against his friends across town and chat about it.
“He gets a kick out of, ‘I have a friend in Canada, I have a friend in Florida, I have a friend in Texas.’”
In Shavertown, 12-year-old Jack Costello likes to take on all challengers.
“He’s been invited by people who say they’re 12-year-old kids, and for all I know, they are,” said his mother Bridget. “But then again, for all I know, they are crazy Internet predators.”
Bridget Costello and Becky Emershaw believe their sons know what to do if they are contacted by a stalker.
“Trust your gut and come to mom and dad,” added Bridget Costello.
But not all kids tell mom and dad, and not all parents know about this online problem.
It hit home last year, when a 33-year-old man from Wyoming County used an interactive video game to contact a nine-year-old girl in upstate New York.
Federal prosecutors said Alfred Kenvyn of Nicholson then convinced the girl to send him semi-clothed pictures of her.
Kenvyn contacted the girl again, but this time her father was home. So, when Kenvyn sent a photo of himself through the video game, the girl’s father took a picture.
The father sent the picture to local police, who sent it to the FBI, who contacted federal prosecutors in Scranton.
“He had done this twice before, before getting caught to this same girl,” said Assistant US Attorney Fran Sempa.
Kenvyn pleaded guilty last summer, and he’s now serving a 13-year sentence in a federal prison.
Sempa said that case should open the eyes of every parent whose kids play interactive games.
“If you’re a predator and you want to target young children, where’s the best place to go?” asked Sempa. “A gaming system.”
Becky Costello fights back by educating her son, Jack, especially when Jack senses someone who doesn’t seem quite right asks to join in the game.
“I just hang up on them because I don’t want to be talking to 30-year-old men,” said Jack.
Becky Emershaw says she keeps Benjamin’s gaming system in the living room for a reason.
“He plays here, where I can see him,” said Becky.
The chairwoman of a child advocacy group warns that, even more than Facebook or email, online video games provide a way for a stalker to develop a relationship with a child and gain their trust.
And she believes there are plenty of parents who don’t know about this video game danger.