Online gaming is one of the most popular pastimes, keeping millions of people entertained every day. But what starts out as a bit of fun can lead on to problem gambling – an issue now causing concern because of the way that game designers appear to be targeting children.
How does gaming lead children into gambling?
Many online games give players the opportunity to buy “loot boxes”, virtual treasure chests, paid for with real money. These may or may not contain something useful for the game; the player only finds out after they have made the purchase.
Some see loot boxes as harmless fun; however, it’s believed that a staggering £750m is spent on them every year in the UK. At the moment, loot boxes are not classed as gambling, but some argue that the game designers have simply found a way to circumvent gambling laws.
The Gambling Health Alliance (GHA), led by the Royal Society for Public Health, has recently (November 2020) released a study indicating that buying loot boxes leaves three-quarters of young gamers (aged 13-24) with addiction, anger and regret. Almost half of those surveyed said they try to hide how much time and money they spend on gaming.
As a result, the GHA has launched a project with the hashtag #LidOnLoots, which calls for this to change. The organisation says that buying a loot box does count as gambling, as the purchaser doesn’t know what the contents will be – they are taking pot luck when they make the purchase.
Why is gaming gambling a problem?
The concern is that the purchase of loot boxes is allowing gambling among children who are not old enough to gamble legally, and also normalising gambling among young people.
The GHA quotes a 2019 survey by the UK Gambling Commission stating that 23% of children aged 11 to 16 say they have paid real money to open loot boxes. A 2019 survey by Parent Zone in a report entitled The Rip-Off Games found that 40% of young people have done so.
What are the downsides of gambling?
While gambling is a legal activity for adults, problem gambling can cause serious financial and wellbeing issues, for example:
- Unpaid bills, maxed-out credit cards, being forced to take out payday loans
- Borrowing or stealing from loved ones, employers or businesses
- Damaged relationships with partners, friends and family members
- Stress, anxiety and other negative effects on health and wellbeing
More information about the risks of gambling and where to get help can be found on the Gamblers Anonymous website.
What can be done about gaming gambling?
Help, advice and resources can be found on the website of the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust. YGAM is a charitable organisation that aims to inform, educate and safeguard young and vulnerable people, as well as helping them to build digital resilience and make informed decisions about gambling.
Accredited education programmes, workshops and resources are available for those who work with or care for young people, from teachers and health care professionals to parents themselves. There’s a “Parent Hub” website, and YGAM also links with colleges and universities to raise awareness among students.
YGAM also works with GamCare, which provides free information, advice and support for those who are affected by gambling, and with members of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), which champions industry standards and whose members have to adhere to a code of conduct.
What about cyber security?
As well as gambling issues, gamers can also be targeted by cyber attacks – one of the most common being when other gamers attack their internet router using a booster, causing their internet connection to go down.
As the recent Parent Zone report says in its introduction:
“There is no question that gaming can be an important and rewarding part of many young people’s lives. The industry is a British success story. The enjoyment, skills and friendships that can develop through gaming should not be underestimated. It is for these reasons that the industry needs to be scrutinised.”