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NHS Mental Health Head Wants to Ban Loot Boxes

Loot boxes may have run into their end of game boss in the form of UK Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch. Murdoch has called for the removal of loot box based systems from games bought by children. The case against loot boxes is not a new one and gaming as a whole has only recently been classified as an potentially addictive activity however with top ten developers utilising the services of addiction consultants to intentionally make their games habit forming it seems the NHS is waking up to the issue and calling for a change.

‘Frankly no company should be setting kids up for addiction by teaching them to gamble on the content of these loot boxes. No firm should sell to children loot box games with this element of chance, so yes those sales should end’

NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch in a statement published by The NHS

This is first time a leading figure in the NHS has called for a stop to loot boxes. Which Belgium already qualify as ‘gambling’. For those that don’t know loot boxes are systems within a video game or app where you can earn or purchase crates or packages which give you various chances for tiered rewards. The higher the tier, the lower the chance that it will be a prize from your loot box. They work like a slot machine and encourage the player to self soothe by giving themselves a serotonin boost when they pop another crate, often following a loss in a game. The items available in the loot crates are often unavailable through regular play or require hundreds or even thousands of hours of grinding to acquire them all.

Some of the biggest games played by children utilise the loot crate system to massive profit. Games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Fifa and Rocket League all make huge sums selling loot crates. (Although Rocket League has recently adapted its system to make most items outright purchasable to presumably sidestep to oncoming legislation which seem increasingly likely to be brought into law in the UK following the recent NHS position.)

In 2017 the UK Gambling Commission said loot boxes do not qualify as gambling under current British law, however opinion on the matter is starting to shift and the systems are intentionally exploitative and designed exactly like gambling machines. The only reason they are perceptibly not considered gambling is the inability to officially convert your earnings into real money however this is entirely possible through a growing digital item black market available through eBay, Facebook groups and dedicated websites which will pay you real cash for your digital items.

So what can a parent do?

> Understand the games your children are playing and identify if those games contain loot box systems.

> Turn off in app purchases from devices such as phones or tablets and remove the stored credit card details on your children’s consoles to avoid any unexpected bills.

> Speak to your child and explain to them that loot boxes are designed to entice players to spend hours playing the game and spend money. Most games can still be played and completed without using loot boxes.

Importantly it’s time to start observing the PEGI in game ratings which are generally ignored by parents but exist to ensure the content we allow them to binge is age appropriate. Take a look at the following ratings guide to get to grips with it.

So not only should you be looking to ensure your children aren’t overdosing on screen time it’s time to start considering the content they play and how that may be designed with gambling systems and addiction habit creating mechanisms.

Around 39 per cent of British teenagers spent money on gambling in 2018, according to a report by the Gambling Commission entitled Young People and Gambling 2018.

A report on Parent Zone shows that nearly half a million kids have gambled on an in game item at least once. Put some time aside to discuss in game loot boxes with your child and set some boundaries.

Standing to Game
Video games are not inherently bad. Many video games are well designed entertaining or educational experiences which do not contain loot boxes. If you or your child play video games then a standing desk can be an excellent way to ensure that screen time isn’t necessarily couch time and reap some calorie burning benefits whilst you indulge the hobby.

Our standing desks are used by gamers for streaming sessions or casual play and ensure that players can give their best with the added benefit of freedom of movement, greater blood oxygenation and eye level monitors.

Players experience heightened attentiveness and better results whilst standing to play. Streamers benefit from navigating traditionally long sitting sessions and have improved health and engagement with their audience. You can check out our range of standing desks here.

Companies are predatory, they will continue to create systems to extract money from their customers and if their users are children this means they are just going to do it more divisively and sneakily to side step changing laws. The NHS making a stand now and calling for a ban may lead to more regulation however it’s heavily under regulated for the time being so parents need to buckle in for a battle for your children’s minds and your wallets against the brightest characters, peer pressure and predatory games companies. Fight the good fight and be sure not to quash the fun in the meantime or you’ll simply become the enemy.

Teach yourself to understand the games and what they contain. Open dialogue and honest explanations go a long way with children. Their adult response may just surprise you.

Further reading: What are loot boxes?

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