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Are kids gaming or gambling? The low down on loot boxes

Parents and carers everywhere often find themselves in a battle with their children over computers. Whether you have strict limits on screen time, whether you approve of Minecraft but not Medal of Honour, or whether you’re desperate to get the console off your kids so you can spend a little time relaxing yourself, computers and gaming have become a sticking point with parents. 

Just like anything else, moderation seems to be key. However, are kids just gaming, or is something else going on? This month we’ve got the low down on loot boxes, a feature of some games that adds a whole new element to the debate.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are in-game rewards that can be earned or purchased by players (sometimes using real currency, sometimes using game currencies, or both). Think of them as random treasure chests - either do something in-game to earn one (complete a quest, or log in once a day), or purchase one from the game companies themselves, and crack it open to reveal a random assortment of anything from rare items to low value items.

That sounds harmless enough, what’s the problem?

The issue is that the ‘random’ nature of these loot boxes - where you don’t know what you’ve purchased until you open it up - has led many to label it as gambling. Belgium, the forerunner on the topic, examined a number of games and decided that these loot boxes did constitute gambling - game companies now have to apply for a gambling license if they want to include them.

The argument is that the ‘chance’ element of these loot boxes encourages further purchases, until the desired ‘loot’ has appeared (or, you run out of money). Similarly to slot machines, loot boxes encourage you to keep playing, keep purchasing, keep trying - a dangerous tactic when the majority of the players are children. According to the Gambling Commission, 31% of children aged 11-16 had opened a loot box.

What’s the word from inside the community?

As you might expect, there’s debate from within the gaming community as to whether loot boxes should be given the boot. Although some are of the opinion that loot boxes are harmless and should not be considered gambling, others object to the chance nature of the rewards as well as the ‘pay-to-win’ system promoted by loot boxes. 

What can parents and carers do about loot boxes?

Unfortunately, there’s very little that parents and carers can do to change the content of games - loot boxes, for now, are here to stay. However, it is worth opening up a conversation about loot boxes with your children and dependents. 

Although loot boxes are common, they don’t feature on every single game; parents and carers should talk to their children about the games they play and familiarise themselves with each game’s content. 

Discuss loot boxes with children, and what function they serve in the games that they’re playing. For young children in particular, ensure that in-app purchases are turned off, and that there is no debit or credit card linked to their consoles and devices - just in case.

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