Call for greater protections for children playing online games

Sunshine Coast MP Andrew Wallace has called on the federal government to restrict children’s access to video game “loot boxes” which have been scientifically linked to gambling. 

In a study, published by the Royal Society Open Science Journal, the results showed “extremely strong evidence to suggest that loot box spending is correlated with both problem gambling symptoms and excessive gaming symptoms.” 

The study, titled “Loot box spending is associated with problem gambling but not mental wellbeing,” surveyed more than 2700 participants in 51 countries. It read, “the way video games are marketed and monetized has changed considerably in the last decade.” 

Mr Wallace said urgent action should be taken to protect children from gambling-like incentives used by tech giants and video game creators to generate micro-transactions for chance-based mystery virtual items. 

“These exploitive and deceptive in-game purchases have created a global billion-dollar industry at the expense of our youth,” Mr Wallace said. 

“Loot boxes are common in popular children’s games including Roblox, Mario Kart Tour, FIFA, and NBA 2K, which carry either a General or Parental Guidance classification. 

“More has to be done to inform families of the risks associated with the in-game purchases akin to gambling.” 

Mr Wallace, who chaired a 2020 Standing Committee inquiry into age verification for online wagering and online pornography, said one of the Committee’s recommendations was to restrict access to loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in video games to adults age 18 years or over, including through the use of mandatory age verification.

“The new research can’t say it any clearer,” Mr Wallace said. “They wrote ‘the present study supports the current body of evidence which suggests that there is a positive correlation between problem gambling symptomology and the amount of money spent on loot boxes.’ 

“New mandatory age classifications and warnings are just a start. We also need to work with the industry to have effective mandatory age verification and spending limits implemented.” 

Former communications minister Paul Fletcher said prior to the May federal election a Coalition Government would give video games with loot boxes mandatory age classifications and warnings. 

According to eSafety Research, 34% of children aged 8 to 17 have made an in-game purchase and this rose to 45% when they played a network game with others. 

Mr Wallace encouraged parents to read more about the risks children face online on the eSafety Commissioner website, including a section on online gaming.