Gambling can be a slippery slope and in the gaming industry it is commonly linked to online poker, or slot machines. But gambling is so intrinsically linked to gaming that it appears even in games that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Yet what is more concerning is that it appears in a form that even young kids engage with and normalise.
Loot boxes in games are often a mystery, random boxes that can be unlocked, either through extensively playing the game, waiting for a timer, or with real-world money. These boxes are popular as they are advertised to potentially contain rare characters, skins, or items. Most games do offer a few free loot boxes as part of the game, and though this does contain gambling elements, the danger only really steps up when the game also offers paid loot boxes.
Once you’ve used the free ones and only got common items – or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to get a glimpse of what it feels like to unlock something rare – those paid boxes start getting a lot more appealing. You aren’t guaranteed to get better items from paying for it, and this is where I think the trap lies.
Once you begin playing with mystery boxes, and especially when you start paying for it, it can be extremely easy to become hooked. If these elements are even present within kids’ games, this is an unhealthy habit that can affect them from an early age, and can have potentially damaging consequences on their mindset when it comes to things like more serious gambling.
Now of course, it could be argued that it’s a stretch to suggest that mystery boxes can lead to more serious gambling, as just like with playing games that contain violence, this doesn’t necessarily mean the person playing the game will become violent. However, the difference with loot boxes is there is an active element of participation and anticipation from the gamer. There is a lot more emotional investment and excitement within loot boxes and it can trigger dopamine in your brain which creates the unhealthy drive to unlock, perhaps purchase, more boxes to increase the likelihood of receiving a coveted item. If you’ve grown up thinking with this mindset, I can see how easy it would be for this to translate into playing slot machines for this same reason.
Risk is part of our everyday life, since we take a gamble every time we cross the road for example, and this is unavoidable. But I do think we need to be careful around the potentially harming world of gambling when it comes to videogames, especially when young minds are exposed to these elements.