In recent years, there has been a growing concern that video games may cause young people to be more at risk for unhealthy gambling habits. The video gaming industry is bigger than ever with games like Fortnite and Overwatch ascending from casual play to full out tournaments. The most skilled players have even reached stardom.
Video gaming is a huge part of pop culture today among young people, even as young as 6 or 7 years old. Many parents are unfamiliar with the games that their children are playing and the minutiae of the gameplay. These games have an overarching storyline or mission that is often clearly marketed, but they may also include things like poker games or loot boxes.
But, how much do these features really influence young people? Do they put players at risk for gambling addictions from a young age? Are casinos using these trends to draw in a younger audience as well?
To fully understand the controversy and potential risks, we’ll discuss some of the mechanics and features of today’s video games that many equate to gambling. We’ll also discuss the ways in which casinos have already attempted to use video gaming trends to their advantage and whether it’s working.
The Loot Box Controversy
When we talk about video games and their relation to gambling, one of the first topics to come up is that of loot boxes. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, loot boxes are bought with real money and are filled with special items to be used in the game. These boxes may contain special weapons, skins, or even exclusive characters.
The reason that people associate these loot boxes with gambling is that the buyer doesn’t know what the box will contain. They spend real cash on the chance that they will get the special items that they hope for.
The connection is easy to make. Many countries have gone so far as to attempt to ban the use of loot boxes in games, believing that it encourages underage gambling. However, video game developers refuse to acknowledge any immorality in selling loot boxes to players. EA games claim that there is no more harm in loot boxes than there is in products like Kinder Eggs.
To be honest, I kind of agree with that sentiment. I don’t think these loot boxes or similar features are any more sinister than a box of Cracker Jack or a pack of Pokemon cards. For decades, businesses have been selling products with a “surprise inside the box.” What makes loot boxes different?
Pandering to Millennial Audiences
According to the New York Times, millennials visiting Las Vegas are gambling less than previous generations. Only 68% of millennials actually gamble during their time at the casino. Compare that to the 78% of baby boomers who gamble and it’s understandable why casinos would be looking for new games that draw in a younger audience.
These skill-based casino games are based on beloved video games that younger audiences are familiar with. These include classics like Pac-Man and more modern characters from apps like Cut the Rope or Angry Birds. Because younger audiences are familiar with these characters and already skilled with these games, they may be more tempted to play, even if it’s just for a round or two.
Casinos recognize the popularity of video games among the upcoming generation and are using that to inform the development of new games. Allowing for more skill-based games can also encourage a more skeptical audience to gamble because they have more control over the outcome of the game.
It can be argued that people who play video games are more at risk since they are being targeted with these games. However, is it really different than TV-show themed slot machines? Does this line of logic mean that people who watch TV are more likely to gamble as well? I think it’s simply that the gambling industry, like any entertainment industry, needs to evolve to cater to the interests of their audience.
The Rise of Online Casinos
The internet is always changing, growing, and evolving. These changes directly influence both the gambling and gaming industries. For the gaming industry, it means playing games online with people all over the world. For the gambling industry, it means more convenient access to casino games for those who may not be located near a physical casino.
In the twenty years or so, online casinos have become increasingly popular because they make it so easy to play your favorite games from home. They allow people from all over the world to play their favorite games and win real cash. The ease of access has drawn in a wider audience as well.
According to Lucian Marinescu of Online Casino Gems, “When people had to make the trek to a physical location, they’d come because they already loved to play or because it was a special occasion. But now that it’s so convenient, even people who are only casually interested are playing more regularly.”
The convenience of playing casino games online is great for some, but can, of course, be dangerous for others. Those who have gambling addictions can be more secretive or obsessive about their habits. So, it’s no surprise that people are more concerned than ever about people, especially their children, developing an unhealthy gambling habit.
Is There a Connection?
If you haven’t guessed my stance by now, I do not believe that video games lead to increased gambling. Not only are younger audiences gambling less, statistically, than previous generations but the mechanics in these games are not new ideas. Loot boxes filled with mystery prizes are no different than, say, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys (or McDonald’s long-standing Monopoly game, for that matter. Maybe eating McDonald’s causes increased gambling habits).
Video gaming is a huge part of pop culture today and it has often been blamed for everything from depression to increased violence and now to unhealthy gambling habits. But really, it’s just like any other entertainment. Personally, I think it’s time that we leave gamers alone.
Visual journalist/Graduating student, University of Missouri-Columbia. Lover of everything in the gaming industry and an avid fan of all films!