The World Health Organisation officially added Gaming Disorder to its list of mental health conditions on June 18. At the same time, new research on video games and loot boxes appeared in Nature Human Behaviour, having been conducted by research teams in New Zealand and Australia. The researchers have claimed that video games are exposing young players to gambling through certain in-game reward systems like loot boxes, which can be bought for real money.
ESRB-Approved Video Games Flagged
The study also raised questions about the mental effects of gambling, and video game elements like loot crates that can be considered a form of gambling themselves. Essentially, the study aimed to raise questions about whether or not some video game features should be regarded as gambling, and whether they should be regulated in a similar way to other gambling activities.
The research demonstrated that 45% of the 22 games surveyed met all five criteria in order to be considered gambling. These five criteria are common to almost all gambling activities, and are used to determine whether or not an activity can be classified as such. It is also interesting to note that the aforementioned games have all been rated appropriate for players 17 years or younger by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
Issue Prominent in New Zealand
The five gambling characteristics were recognised in video games featuring loot boxes, which are unknown in-game items that can be purchased for real money and are awarded randomly. As chance determines which items players will end up with, and that players are required to pay for the mystery items before they are revealed, the gambling-related elements of loot crates are difficult to deny. ‘Winners’ also gain an in-game advantage over other players who do not purchase the boxes, again pointing to gambling similarities.
Massey University School of Psychology’s Dr Aaron Drummond has noted that the issues pertaining to loot boxes and video games are particularly prominent in new Zealand, a country which has more game developers per capita than anywhere else in the world. Drummond has stated that understanding the psychological effects of games and their mechanisms is paramount in ensuring players’ safety when enjoying them.
New Zealand currently has over 600 game developers engineering a wide range of products and software, making it one of the world’s top game development hubs. What is even more concerning is that up until just a few years ago, no resources were available to address these issues – until James Driver established the Net Addiction website for problem gambling sufferers.