24 Sep 20
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Some 62% of Australia’s best-selling games – such as Angry Birds, Counter-Strike and Halo – include what is known as loot boxes. Loot boxes are virtual treasure chests, containing randomised items that help players advance more quickly in a game. All of these games require credit card payments to begin play, which more often than not means they are played with money which is borrowed.

The results of a study of 1,954 young people (aged 12 to 24) funded by the NSW Government and recently published by CQ University in Australia showed that 93.2 per cent of the young people in the study had played a video game with loot boxes in the past 12 months, and a third of these young people regularly purchased from loot boxes.

While the amount spent on loot boxes was generally small, an important finding was that “Gamers who buy in loot boxes are more likely to gamble in real life, as well as put larger bets down and more often than others who refused these add-ons.”

Study co-author Dr Alex Russell says that “Loot boxes in video games are similar to gambling, since players invest time and money obtaining them, and there’s a thrill around the possibility of gaining a rare and valuable reward.”

There are currently no age limits in Australia to playing these games which is a growing concern for the government and parents who seek advice on how to manage their children’s time on computers.  However, a significant proportion of the young people in the study agreed that loot boxes were addictive, were aware that the impact of purchases was psychologically rewarding, and 53.8 per cent agreed they were a type of gambling.

So how should you approach the playing of games, and if you are a carer how can you approach your children to talk about the dangers of online gaming?

Dr Russell has some advice for players and carers.

Firstly he says “Video games need monitoring, and that includes money being spent on in-game purchases.” This means following advice that is more regularly given to people trying to cut back or stop gambling.  i.e. keep a record of what you spend, spend only what you can afford, keep track of the time you are spending gaming, have other activities you can enjoy as well, limit your access to alcohol and other drugs while gaming, and step back from the game before making perhaps impulsive purchases from loot boxes.

For carers, Dr Russell advises that they learn more about the risks around loot boxes and approach the issue openly with their kids.

“Carers will have a better idea of what’s being spent, and the habits their children are forming, if they educate themselves about the game, and approach it with an open mind about the positive skills involved in the game, as well as the potential issues.”

If you would like to speak to a gambling counsellor about any issues raised by these findings, give us a call on 1800 858 858 — free, confidential, 24/7.

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