There is growing concern that some online games can make gambling more familiar and 'normal' for young people.
Gambling involves the risk of losing something of value (in most cases money) for the chance of winning a prize (of monetary or some other value). While there are many types of online games, when gambling elements exist within a game the distinction between gaming and gambling is not always clear.
Some games are principally, or can include elements of, social casino games that heavily simulate a gambling activity, such as poker, slots, blackjack or roulette. They don’t offer the opportunity for your child to bet, win or lose real money, but they include similar actions found in real life gambling and often look and sound the same.
Some online games include ‘loot’ boxes, ‘bundles’, ‘crates’ and ‘cases’ that a player opens to find what is inside. The player receives an item or items based on random chance, like a lucky dip, where some virtual items could be more valuable than others. Loot boxes can be obtained in two ways: either earned through gameplay (e.g when a player levels up) or they can be bought using in-game currency or real money.
Loot boxes are found in ‘freemium’ games as well as paid games. Under a ‘freemium’ model, your child can access the basic game for free, but might need to purchase credits, keys or in-game items for additional content or to access special features, including the chance to win items in a loot box or crate.
In-game items can include an in-game currency, equipment, tools, weapons or ‘skins’. Many virtual items in loot boxes are cosmetic only (such as costumes) and are not needed to progress in the game. However, loot boxes in some games can contain items that speed up progress and provide the player with an advantage in the game.
There is some community debate and concern that the loot box feature can normalise spending behaviour in a gaming context and potentially act as a precursor to problem gambling behaviour.
Skins are used in some of the most popular games to cosmetically alter a player’s weapon, equipment or avatar and can vary in their value depending on how rare and popular they are. While skins can’t be exchanged for real money within the game, there are third party websites—which are generally not approved by the video game industry—that advertise and offer users the opportunity to gamble these items and convert them to cash. This could potentially be an incentive for young people to spend more on in-game items in the hope of cashing in the rare and popular items at a profit.
Games that simulate a gambling activity are easily accessible through mobile apps and social media sites and can expose your child to a realistic gambling experience at a very young age.
Research into the impacts on young people of gambling-like elements in games and simulated gambling is in its early stages. However, a recent study suggests that for some children, playing social casino games leads to an increase in gambling activity, possibly because these games normalise gambling for them or inflate their confidence of winning in a real gambling scenario. While for other children, it can act as a substitute, reducing their interest in real gambling.
The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation lists the following possible signs of problem gambling (associated with online games or otherwise):
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