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Introducing youth problem gambling through gaming

Problem gambling is not only an issue to adults who visit the casino or bet on sports teams, but is also very prominent in the youth demographic. Video game companies are increasingly implementing gambling-like systems within their games, which can pull their younger audiences into addicting habits, practically grooming them to fall into problem gambling in the future.

“He (her son) would occasionally ask to buy games on the iPad, which I didn’t have a problem with. But after some time, he started asking to buy games more and more, which seemed suspicious considering it got to be several times a day sometimes. Eventually I started noticing charges on our card that I didn’t approve of, and when I talked to him about it I found out he wasn’t buying games, but spending money on the ones he already had in order to play them longer,” said one mother of an 8-year-old boy.

Many games nowadays, both paid and free feature in-game purchases that allow the player to get in-game content, advances in the game, or even simply let the player continue to play in the case of many app-based games. Apps, such as Candy Crush, will be free to purchase, but only allow a certain amount of play time per sitting. But for an additional $1.99, you can increase your play time instead of waiting an hour or so. This can add up quickly, encouraging the habit of continuously buying into a game just to keep playing and earning points (or in a gambling environment, a chance to win your money back).

“I didn’t realize how much kids games encourage gambling-like mini games,” mentioned a father of an 11-year-old girl. “At first glance you don’t notice it, but then you see that they are spinning wheels and rolling dice for prizes and it shocks you as a parent that games have such activities available for kids,”

So many games across all maturity ratings often have a variety of gambling-like activities that players can partake in to earn prizes and rewards, or to risk their in-game currency for an opportunity to win more. Older childhood games such as Neopets or Webkinz had many different kinds of games based on chance available to play, which may not outright encourage gambling, but it plants the seed for those types of games into kid’s minds. Then you move into more mature games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, which begin to really start promoting gambling within their games with loot boxes and actual casino games.

“My friend group plays Rainbow Six: Siege a lot, so we always want to get the rarest skins to show off our skill level to other players,” said one 16-year-old boy. “Most of the alpha packs (similar to loot boxes) you can get with in-game currency that you don’t have to spend money on, but during limited time game modes, you have to buy those packs with real money.”

Games like Rainbow Six: Siege and Call of Duty are just two examples of games that feature loot boxes, where you purchase a pack that gives you random in-game items in hopes for something rare or valuable. Although most games don’t allow you to flip these items for profit, the concept of gambling is still there when you are spending money on a chance to “win big” from these packs.

When asked how much money one man spent on a game, he replied, “Throughout my time playing Game of Thrones Conquest, I dropped easily 100k, but I never added it up. It’s not really gaming though, in my opinion, where you have to keep spending money like that to play. It’s, I don’t know, gambling, I guess. You have to continuously spend absurd amounts of money in order to play or not lose the investment that you have.”

Game of Thrones Conquest is another mobile game that is available for anyone to play and encourages spending money on your in-game kingdom in order to stay powerful. Once a player attacks your kingdom and wins, you have a chance of losing everything you had purchased, forcing yourself to start over and spend even more money to build back up. This kind of high-risk gameplay that encourages such spending once again outlines how so many games feed into the gambling style of gaming, which only creates more opportunities for people to adapt addictive behaviors.

Many games today have fed into promoting gambling-like activities for their players to partake in, and this is an overlooked issue that isn’t even mentioned in the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)ratings. Only games with the rating of AO (adult only) have gambling warnings on the rating descriptors, and AO rated games are far and few. No actual big game titles fall under this category, so many games with gambling in them don’t need to list it in the rating descriptors. The guidelines for these ratings need to change and include when gambling is factored into a game, otherwise it will continued to be ignored and pushed aside. 2.1%of youth are already considered to be problem gamblers and 6.5% of youth are at risk of problem gambling, so when game companies make gambling activities so readily available for kids to access, it only solidifies that risk factor.

With the holidays here, kids will be getting all sorts of new games for them to play over their winter break. So with this in mind, it is important for parents to take a careful look at what games they are considering gifting to their children. Researching exactly what kinds of content the player will be exposed to,will help guide parents down a more comprehensible path of what their kids are actually seeing within these games. Parents should also note that they have more control over their children’s video games consoles as well, and that parental controls are built into just about every game system within the console settings. This can help limit playtime, restrict certain games from being played, and they can manage what games are able to be purchased through the console’s digital store. Although video games might be a foreign idea to some parents, it is important for them to try and familiarize themselves with what their kids are getting involved with.The more parents know, the more they can help prevent their child from being exposed to content which promotes gambling as well as other content that is not appropriate for their age.

If you or a loved one are struggling with problem gambling please reach out to staff at Community and Family Resources. Community and Family Resources offers substance use, mental health, and problem gambling treatment and preventions services. Counties served by CFR include Boone, Calhoun, Hamilton, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Story, Webster, and Wright. For additional information, please visit CFR’s website at www.cfrhelps.orgor call 515-576-7261.

Connor Simanski is a Prevention Specialist at Community and Family Resources.

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