A VANCOUVER firm has produced the first computer game to teach children how to avoid being lured into meeting strangers they talk to on the Internet.
The interactive game is a response to the 2,000 per cent rise in child abduction cases arising from contact on the net. It will be distributed to every school and library in Canada.
According to lobby group Contra Internet Abduction Concerns the number of net kidnaps rose from 35 in 1995 to 800 in 1998.
"With such an alarming rise in abductions and attempted abductions, we believe public education is of the utmost importance," said Detective Constable Bruce Headridge of British Columbia's Organised Crime Agency who helped the computer company, Livewires, design the game.
"This kind of computer program was necessary to teach kids that they don't understand their vulnerability to predators they can meet in even the most innocent chat-rooms," said DC Headridge.
The game, Missing, which takes two hours to play, uses a real-life attempted abduction of a 14-year-old boy nicknamed Zack. Players take the role of a Canadian Mountie who is put on the case after Zack's father finds child pornography on his son's computer and realises that he has been chatting with a Californian named "Fantasma".
Players must discover how Fantasma gets Zack involved in producing child pornography, lures him to California and then abuses him and other children.
According to Drew Anne Wake, president of Livewires, the interactive game goes beyond other schemes to protect children.
"Before they play the game children are supremely self-confident about their skills on the Internet. They believe that they can note any adult who is on the Internet trying to lure them. The game teaches them how difficult it can be to spot a predator. She said it does this by simulating a real situtation that puts children in the role of the police and tracking down a real predator.
"We have found that after they play the game, kids generate their own rules for how to be safe on the Internet," she said.
The pound;280,000 needed to produce Missing plus video and teachers' guide was provided by the Canadian Mounties, the software firm Symantec and Telus, western Canada's largest telecommunications company.
An international version will be launched in December following the United Nations Conference on Child Pornography and Sexual Predators on the Internet, to be held in Montreal in November.
A demonstration version of the new game can be found at: