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Loot Boxes and Minors: Is it a Problem?

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According to Kev Clelland, who works as the operations director at YGAM, there is growing evidence to support a possible ban on the sale of in-app gaming content that carries an element of chance to people younger than 18 years of age.

There has been recent news about the government being set to kickstart a call for evidence into loot boxes later in the year.

The Digital, Culture, sports and media select committee, as well as the children’s commissioner, agree that the sales of loot boxes that contain an element of chance to persons below 18 are worrisome.

Whether or not buying loot boxes should be classified as gambling is obviously subject to debate. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that they appeal to young people and problem gamblers. The outcome of independent studies carried out by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), The Children’s Commissioner, and Newcastle University all considered gambling-related activity carried out through gaming as a type of gambling.

Growing awareness

Many professionals who handle children and young people speak of loot boxes being a topic of concern. For example, via the National Citizenship Service program, young people have been quite honest about their in-game purchases and how such purchases make them feel. These folks talk openly about the “buzz” they experience when they click the button, how much pressure they are put under by their pals to acquire the latest items and the anger and frustration they feel when they end up getting “pointless” prizes.

Generational change

One of the most common reasons for the rise in concern about the risks of gaming is its fast-growing accessibility to young individuals. Available data shows that in the early parts of 2020, 90% of 11-year-old kids have their own smartphone. And with the increased number of fun games available on these smartphones that boast of gambling-style mechanisms, together with loot boxes having a place more frequently than ever before in normal games, young people in today’s world are clearly more exposed to gambling than those of previous generations.

In 2019, a study was carried out by YGAM called the Red Brick Research with a goal to undertake studies into gambling and gaming among undergraduate students, with over 2,000 post grads and undergrads surveyed. The survey showed that 79% of students had reported gaming, with 35% of the study subjects gaming most days and a total of 17% gaming daily. As many as half of those who reported gaming daily felt like gaming had gotten in the way of their performance academically.

Obviously, there are several other issues that surround gaming in addition to the challenges with loot boxes. Take, for instance, whether or not young individuals are spending too much time playing games while other important aspects of their lives suffer.

Young individuals are gaming more, and screen time has fast increased. However, there are numerous benefits offered by gaming as evidenced during the COVID-19 lockdown, a that includes an avenue for young people to stay in touch with their peers and to promote their learning.

Gambling crossover

This is mostly relevant when it comes to gaming features like loot boxes. The worry about allowing those who are below 18 to access loot boxes is mainly that it conditions them to gambling behaviour before they reach the appropriate age. Asides the fact that gambling is illegal in many countries, there are good reasons why gambling products have age restrictions.

The RSPH report titled ‘Skins in the Game’ discovered that 80% of the young individual they interviewed complained that loot boxes were quite addictive.

The possible knock-on effect may be more adults having gaming or gambling problems, and though there’s little hard proof yet to suggest that the above is the case, studies carried out by David Zendle from York University suggested that people with problem gambling spend less money when loot boxes are excluded from a game.

The previously mentioned Red Brick research showed some worrying discoveries about gambling prevalence among youths and young adults. The survey revealed that 47% of Kiwi students had been involved in gambling at some best-rated sites for New Zealanders in the last 12 months. Of these people, 16% were tagged either moderate risk or problem gamblers. What this could mean is that across the country, about 264,000 students in the United Kingdom are at some risk from gambling, with no less than 88,000 currently problem gamblers.

Because the issue of loot boxes and minors have received more attention in recent times, it has become evident that both parents and child right organizations are willing to take a stand to protect this vulnerable demographic from the possible dangers this feature may expose them to. While more studies are being carried out around the world, extensive work is also being carried out by the government to draw a link between video games, young people, and problem gambling.

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