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Loot Boxes Push Kids Into Gambling, Says NHS Mental Health Director

Loot Boxes Push Kids Into Gambling, Says NHS Mental Health Director

Claire Murdoch, Mental Health Director for the NHS, is the latest prominent figure to take aim at the potentially detrimental effects that loot boxes in video games could have on young people. In a substantial new report, Murdoch has suggested that loot boxes can push younger gamers into "under the radar" gambling.

"Frankly, no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes", she wrote. "No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end."

Despite increasingly frequent calls to regulate loot boxes in games aimed at a younger audience, the practice isn't currently regulated by the UK's Gambling Commission. The reason for this, it's been explained, is that the contents of a loot box don't hold any real-world monetary value.

Loot boxes have been a controversial item in the game industry for years
Loot boxes have been a controversial item in the game industry for years
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Murdoch's report blasts this reason as a "loophole", since "third-party websites selling gaming accounts and rare items are commonplace and easy to find, on places such as eBay across the internet." Hell, you only need to look at a game like Counter Strike: Global Offensive to see that it's far from impossible to sell rare cosmetic items for actual cash. It can and does happen.

The report offers a few potential solutions to the problem. Perhaps the most hardcore of them sees Murdoch encouraging publishers to ban games with loot boxes that encourage kids to gamble. It was also suggested that spending limits be implemented, or perhaps a system in which the player is informed of the odds of receiving an item before they purchase a box.

Finally, she strongly advocated greater support for parents "by increasing their awareness on the risks of in-game spending". As the report found, there have been so many cases of kids spending their parents' money without then knowing, "including a 16-year-old paying £2,000 on a basketball game and a 15-year-old losing £1,000 in a shooting game."

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Murdoch's findings echo another, similar report from late last year. Children's Commissioner for England Anne Longfield published a 37-page document, calling for greater regulation when it comes to microtransactions and loot boxes. She reasoned that authorities must include loot boxes in gambling legislation. She also suggested, similar to Murdoch, that developers should introduce daily spending limits to mitigate massive sums of money being dropped.

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Longfield's own report came just weeks after the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published its own massive 84-page report detailing the findings of a nine-month inquiry. The report was based on evidence from various developers, academics, and trade bodies, and came to many of the same conclusions as Murdoch and Longfield.

Credit: EA
Credit: EA

The committee included a number of examples that showed the damage microtransactions in games can do if left unregulated. Perhaps the most shocking of all was a case study based on RuneScape.

This notable segment of the report detailed "a member of the public whose adult son built up considerable debts, reported to be in excess of £50,000" in the online game. This, the report continued, caused "significant financial harm for both the player and his parents". As you'd expect.

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In response to Longfield's report, a spokesperson for the government responded. "We will carefully consider the concerns raised in this report in relation to excessive or gambling-like behaviour," they said. I have to wonder how many more thorough reports written by experts it'll take before action's taken.

Featured Image Credit: EA

Topics: Loot boxes, Gambling, NHS

Ewan Moore

Journalist at GAMINGbible who still quite hasn’t gotten out of my mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), I went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis.