Loot box concern posed by experts

by William Brown Last Updated
Loot box concern posed by experts

Australian authorities are being urged to crack down on loot box games that promote gambling, fearing children will become addicted.

SBS News reports that a growing number of countries are cracking down on video games, or loot boxes.

Japan, China, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium have all taken some form of action against the games, while Brazil recently launched an inquiry that proposes completely banning them.

Loot boxes are virtual prizes that can be purchased in some games as a reward. Like gambling, there is no guarantee the player will win.

Mental health director of the UK’s National Health Service Claire Murdoch warned in 2020 that loot boxes could lead children towards gambling addiction.

“Frankly, no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes,” she said.

University of Tasmania researcher Jim Sauer, himself a confessed gamer, said Australia’s response to the issue had been, so far, to shrug its shoulders.

“Around the world, the response has varied,” he said.

“Some countries have tried to ban loot boxes, others have provided more consumer information, while Australia has pretty much said, it doesn’t really seem to be an issue.”

Dr Sauer said one of the main concerns with loot boxes was their accessibility to young gamers.

“We looked at the major games that were released with loot box and we looked at how many of those met the psychological criteria to be considered gambling,” he said.

“We looked at 22 games in a two-year period and nearly half of them met all five criteria to be considered gambling.

“All were in games that were available to kids.”

Lack of evidence on loot box long term effects

Dr Sauer stressed there was a lack of evidence around the possible long-term harm of children being exposed to video game loot boxes.

A disproportionate amount of the revenue poured into loot boxes seemed to come from people with a predisposition to problem gambling, Dr Sauer said.

“It’s still too early to say what the long-term consequences of engaging with these are, but there is speculation it’s linked to future gambling,” he said.

“We don’t know that and can’t say that, but it’s been bandied around.”

Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie is planning to introduce new laws that would require games with loot boxes to carry an R18 rating.

Child psychiatrist Dr Huu Kim Le, who specialises in gaming disorders, said loot boxes functioned like “mini casinos”.

“Our government argues that loot boxes don’t equate to gambling, because you can’t cash out the items for money,” he said.

“But I’ve had some children explain to me how they can get around this to sell these items online. It’s like a mini-casino.”

While evidence is limited, some studies have also suggested a relationship between gaming disorders, sometimes called video game addiction, and gamers’ engagement with loot boxes.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation recognised Gaming Disorder within the International Classification of Diseases.

It is typified by impaired control over gaming, increasingly prioritising gaming over other hobbies and daily activities and continued gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

Founder of Australia’s Game Aware organisation Andrew Kinch said the most important thing when thinking about bad gaming habits was a person’s motivation.

“If someone finds it too difficult to meet their needs in the real world, they turn to the virtual world,” he said.

“Pathological gaming is because they can’t meet these needs.

“In the holiday program that I recently did, a lot of the kids were lacking in confidence were trying to fulfil themselves in-game.”

These factors could be made worse by compulsive game design, Mr Kinch said.

“The final piece of the puzzle is game design.

“All these games sit in a continuum between engaging and compulsive mechanics. Some game mechanics, where people get hooked into these loops, are just rubbish.”

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