Children fear link between online gaming culture and gambling
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
In-game purchases such as ‘loot boxes’ and ‘skins’ are encouraging children to part with hundreds of pounds during gaming sessions.
The Children’s Commissioner for England is calling on the Government to change gambling laws to better protect children who play games online.
The call to action follows publication of its report – Gaming the System – which looked at children’s experiences of online gaming.
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In the UK, 93 per cent of children play video games. The report revealed this group can spend hundreds of pounds on ‘loot boxes’ (a virtual item that can be redeemed for more virtual items) without understanding what the rewards will be.
The Children’s Commissioner is asking to amend the Gambling Act to classify ‘loot boxes’ in games such as FIFA and Fortnite as gambling. The report also calls for maximum daily spend limits, which will be set as default for young players.
The Commissioner has said that online games should be subject to the same age-rating system as physical games purchased in shops.
NHS specialist clinics
This month, it was also announced that the NHS will be opening the country’s first specialist clinic to treat children and young adults who are addicted to playing computer games. Staff will help those aged between 13 and 25, but the Children’s Commissioner’s report shows that younger children are also affected by gaming.
While gaming can help children to develop strategic, teamwork and creative skills, it can also promote addictive gambling behaviour and negatively impact the socialisation of young people.
When discussing alternative activities to gaming, one young gamer said: ‘If you did go outside, there’d be no one to play with.’
Another said: ‘If you’re a default skin [an in-game purchase on Fortnite], people think you’re trash.’
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: ‘With 93 per cent of children in the UK playing video games, it is vital that the enjoyment they get comes with tighter rules that protect them from straying into gambling.
‘Playing games online can be rewarding and exciting and help children to develop strategic skills and friendships, but they are also open to exploitation by games companies who play on their need to keep up with friends and to advance to further stages of a game by encouraging children to spend on loot boxes.
‘Children have told us they worry they are gambling when they buy loot boxes, and it’s clear some children are spending hundreds of pounds chasing their losses. I want the Government to classify loot boxes in games like FIFA as a form of gambling. A maximum daily spend limit for children would also be reassuring for parents and children themselves.’
Simone Vibert, author of the Gaming the System report, added: ‘For too long policymakers have focused their attention on the social media giants. This research shows that for many children, online gaming is just as important in their lives and poses a distinct set of benefits and risks.’
Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: 'Councils take their responsibility to safeguard children very seriously and public health teams are already raising awareness of online harms such as gaming addiction and gambling. We support these calls for laws to be tightened to protect vulnerable children from gambling and gaming addictions.'