There are billions of active video game players across the world today. It is a pastime that has grown out of the arcades of the 1970s, and simple but classic devices such as the Nintendo Game & Watch. Computers, consoles, and handheld gaming devices have all evolved and become more powerful as processor development advances.
Generally speaking, playing video games is seen as a relatively harmless activity. Occasionally some attention is brought to gaming because of violent content or some other controversy.
One area that causes debate sometimes, is the connection between video games and gambling. Could it be that youngsters who play video games are more likely to gamble in later life? And, could some titles even encourage underage gambling?
Responsible gaming online
The presence and use of online casinos and sportsbooks exploded during the pandemic. Online casinos in particular became more mainstream as they attracted new players, and also those who traditionally preferred in-person betting.
There are rigid rules and regulations in place to ensure that only adults are allowed to play and gamble. Offshore sites such as Energy Casino are licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority, who have a reputation for strict licensing rules. Individuals can safely play blackjack, poker, or other casino games on these sites.
The question here isn’t about the safety of online casinos, but about whether video game developers could be leading players towards potential problem gambling, knowingly or unwittingly.
Using video game themes for slot machines
Some casino games seem designed to look colorful and appeal to a younger audience, but as mentioned above there are strict age limits put into place. A Las Vegas casino wouldn’t dream of letting an underage player in.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that many slot machines are deliberately themed with video game designs. The obvious villain here would seem to be the slot machine manufacturers themselves, but it is the video game developers who are licensing these gaming machines.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is used for a licensed, themed slot machine. When this article was written there were nearly 2 million players on Call of Duty, according to Player Counter. Activision estimates there are still 100 million active players using the game. That is potentially an awful lot of people who could be attracted to a COD-themed slot machine.
Zuma is a highly popular puzzle game online and is available for mobile devices too. It is also another game that has been licensed for slot machines. The bright colors and effects of the game lend themselves perfectly to a slot machine.
Loot boxes are at best a raffle
This is probably the most controversial area of video gaming today and one that has been heavily linked to gambling. Many countries have decided that loot boxes have breached gaming legislations, and in Holland, EA was hit with a €10 million fine.
Spain is the latest country to discuss banning loot boxes, and other countries that already have rules or bans in place for these controversial items are China, Belgium, Holland, and Japan.
Loot boxes are described as manipulative by many, and one report involving 18 European countries recommends they are banned for being exploitative. This report was backed by 20 consumer groups who are demanding action.
EA Sports have historically been seen as one of the worst offenders and they have tried to wave away the controversy by saying that loot boxes are like a raffle – everybody wins a prize. But, you might not win the prize you are after.
The problem there is that players can be tempted to keep buying loot boxes until they either run out of money or win the desired prize. Sounds a lot like gambling, no?
Making games impossible unless purchases are made
Japan previously had concerns about their gaming industry which introduced a type of loot box known as kompu gacha.
This highly controversial type of loot box not only required real-life currency to purchase it, but the games themselves were impossible to complete otherwise. A set of objects needed to be found to unlock a vital item required to complete the game. Players were forced to buy kompu gacha until they had the correct items.
While the games themselves were based on skill, the loot boxes were a game of chance. Is gambling just about luck, or can you be good at it? Kompu gacha games seemed designed to include luck and skill until they were banned in 2012.
Casinos featured in video games
Games from casinos are occasionally found within the structure of video games. Sometimes these are simply side games included to add value, but sometimes they can be an integral part of gaining more in-game currency.
SimCasino may be the clearest example of casino games being included in titles aimed at younger players, but Nintendo is no slouch at inserting adult games into children’s titles either.
In fact, Fallout: New Vegas, Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, and Sims 3, all include gambling in the form of poker, blackjack, or other casino games. While there is no real money involved, they could reinforce the idea that gambling leads to winning.
The card game blackjack is very popular online and can be downloaded easily as a play-for-free app. It is a fairly small step from playing this for fun to then depositing funds with a debit card. If a parent opens a teen checking account for their child, they could have a debit card at the age of 13, though of course there should be other ID checks in place.
While it is highly unlikely that video game developers wish to push children toward problem gambling, there is plenty of evidence to link betting and video games. Skin gambling is freely available online to individuals under 18, and this for many is a major introduction to gambling.
Loot boxes are the most obvious link between gambling and video games, and the worry is that they encourage spending and have been linked to the same behavioral patterns as problem gambling. As loot boxes generated $15 billion in 2020, it appears unlikely that they will disappear from games until they are banned.