WARNING: This contains images and details some people may find disturbing. This should not be shared with young children.
Our online safety experts have been alerted to a video game, being described by some users as an “introduction to horror.” Videos, versions of the game, and associated material are becoming increasingly popular on YouTube, Roblox, and other platforms used by young children.
Poppy Playtime features frightening images and themes that are paired with child-friendly items. This may be especially upsetting to children who have not yet developed the resilience to deal with disturbing content.
To help parents, carers, and safeguarding professionals better understand these issues, we’ve taken a deeper look at Poppy Playtime and the wider genre it belongs to.
What is a “horror game”?
A horror game is a type of video game that puts the player in the middle of scenarios designed to frighten them. These games typically revolve around the player trying to solve mysteries while being chased or hunted by monstrous characters. Popular examples are Slender Man, The Last of Us, and Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Why are these games appealing?
Games in this genre are vast in quantity. Their appeal is directly tied to the feeling of being chased and the constant uncertainty that comes with gameplay. The puzzles and mysteries discovered in the narrative give the player a purpose to try and reach their end goal. Players may also feel:
Thrill of danger – Similar to watching horror films, children and young people can say they were brave enough to play (or watch someone else play) the game and survive to the end. This can inspire a game of “chicken” in which others can feel a compulsive need to show they are not a coward.
A sense of community – Groups of friends may play collectively to see who can survive the longest or solve the mystery first. There is also a high-level of community involvement around games, which can make someone feel like they are a part of something if they are isolated or lonely.
Sense of urgency – The heightened anxiety that comes with playing horror games, like the feeling of being chased, makes players want to solve the mystery of the game that much faster. The scarier the character or threat, the more satisfying it is to complete.
Breaking the Rules – If young children or teenagers feel they shouldn’t play or watch something, chances are they will want to do it even more. They may also feel peer pressured to take part in something they would never seek out on their own time if all their friends are doing it.
What is Poppy Playtime?
Poppy Playtime is a horror game made by a small independent team (MOB Games). The game involves an unnamed protagonist investigating a mystery in an abandoned toy factory. As the player, you roam around the factory and collect VHS tapes to solve the mystery of what happened. You must solve puzzles while trying to survive the “vengeful toys” left behind. The factory’s most popular toy “Huggy Wuggy” – a giant, horrifying blue creature with bulging eyes, wide red lips, and long limbs – actively follows you around as you try to complete the game. He appears in the dark unexpectedly to try and catch you. If you get caught, Huggy Wuggy bears his wide and sinister grin and eats you. Players complete Chapter 1 by finding Poppy the doll.
Where can children access it?
Poppy Playtime is available on PC through Steam for £3.99. Only ‘Chapter 1’ is available currently, but Chapter 2 has been announced for 2022. There is an added buzz around the game since it’s released in an episodic manner. This gives it more time to gain popularity and increase excitement for the next instalment.
Despite this game only being available on PC, there are multiple copycat versions of it for children to download and play on Roblox, Minecraft, and all app stores. It’s important to note that none of these games are age-restricted. Poppy Playtime is also a part of the streaming phenomenon on YouTube, with popular YouTubers recording themselves playing the game and reacting to it. While the playthrough videos are not available on YouTube Kids, there are lots of videos with associated content specifically for children that would encourage them to seek out the source. It’s important to note that while children may not have played Poppy Playtime themselves, they may have watched a video of someone else playing it.
When our online safety experts searched for “Poppy Playtime” with Google SafeSearch and YouTube Restricted Mode turned on, and the exact same top results came up when turned off. Posts relating to Poppy Playtime can be found across Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
What are the risks?
There are multiple risks that can arise from children and young people being exposed to frightening content before they are prepared.
Added anxiety and stress – Children and young people are still growing and learning. They may not be at a level of emotional maturity that would be able to process frightening content, even if it is intentional. Horror games could hamper that growth by creating unnecessary anxiety and stress.
Intrusive thoughts – Everyone has the ‘thing that goes bump in the night.’ If children play this game or watch it, the Boogeyman could easily be replaced with characters like Huggy Wuggy. This could cause children to lose focus or sleep and could interrupt family rest cycles.
New fears – The manipulation of child-friendly items into threatening characters exploits the sense of security a child would feel around these things. They may suddenly be terrified of something that had never been a worry before.
Red flags to look out for
Every child is different. Some may genuinely enjoy the horror genre and not struggle with any lasting feelings of fear or panic because of playing a game. However, if it causes a child to be stressed or anxious, they may:
Find it hard to focus or concentrate
Have a change in appetite
Experience sleep disturbances or nightmares
Appear suddenly angry, irritable, or teary
Be worried or anxious, which can physically manifest in fidgeting
Have new fears
If the child in your care comes across something scary or disturbing online, they should:
Stop what they are doing and turn off their screen/switch off device Pause to take a breath and try to stay calm Think about something else that makes them happy Talk to a trusted adult about what they saw and how it made them feel
Our Top Tips for helping the child or young person in your care
Reassure your child that they are safe. It’s important your child knows they can come and speak to you without fear of judgement. If necessary, ask them to show you the video or game, and follow appropriate reporting procedures if you are concerned.
Ask them about the content they are watching online, and if anything they’ve seen has ever made them or their friends upset or scared.
Use our Trusted Adult Resources to teach young people about the importance of seeking help if something worries or upset them.
If your child is having nightmares or is anxious about something they’ve watched, it’s important to have a conversation about expressing their feelings. You can use our emotions journal to help your child express complex emotions.