Addictions Lead warns of dangers of loot boxes
Addictions and Substance Misuse Lead is calling for better regulations of in-app features in video games following serious concerns that they normalise gambling for children.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners Joint Addictions and Substance Misuse Lead said that certain in app gaming features known as ‘loot boxes’ could instill unhealthy behaviours and pre-expose children and young people to developing addictive gambling-like tendencies later in life.
Loot boxes are defined as features in video games which may be accessed through game-play or purchased with in-game items, virtual currencies or directly with real-world money. They can appear as chests, crates or card packs, concerns have been raised about the structural and psychological similarities between loot boxes and gambling with fears that they can encourage children to gamble.
Joy Allen, Joint APCC Lead for Addictions and Substance Misuse and Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham, said: “Parents, grandparents and even the children themselves won’t be aware of the harm these loot boxes can cause. These features can lead to addiction as it is not about the money or the winnings, it’s the impact it has on the brain and the receptors.”
The charity Gamble Aware has also expressed their concerns over the use of loot boxes – which are used by 40 per cent of children who play video games - stating that they ‘normalise gambling-like activity’. The Gambling Commission also identified loot boxes as a potential risk to children.
In September 2019, the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee published a report into immersive and addictive technologies. This recommended that loot boxes should not be sold to children where there was an element of chance involved in the purchase. It also recommended that Government legislate to specify that loot boxes are a game of chance.
Government’s consultation on loot boxes looked at evidence which showed a link between loot boxes and gambling harms. It concluded that purchases of loot boxes should be unavailable to all children and young people until they are enabled by a parent or guardian and that better evidence and research should be developed to inform future policy making on loot boxes and more broadley on video games.
The Government considered three types of response but favoured improved industry-led protections for users. It did not favour legislative changes at risk of significant implementation challenges and unintended consequences.
Joy Allen continued: “We know there are at least 55,000 young people already who have got a gambling addiction and what we know from research is that the gambling industry targets the highly addictive. Young people are being preyed on and are sleepwalking into potential danger.
“If these features cannot be abolished, they should come with health warnings much like cigarette packets. We all have a responsibility to safeguard future generations."