The link between loot boxes, gaming, and childhood gambling

One problem gambler takes their own life every day, and there are 55,000 problem gamblers aged 11-16 in the UK. Sean Russell on the video games that encourage addictions and a gaming industry that remains defensive

Monday 03 August 2020 17:58
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Fifa introduced its ‘Ultimate Team’ concept where players could buy ‘packs’ of players
Fifa introduced its ‘Ultimate Team’ concept where players could buy ‘packs’ of players

At the age of 13, Jonathan Peniket begged his father to allow him to spend his pocket money on Fifa. He wanted to buy “packs” for his team, a random selection of players which he could trade, or use to play online. His dad said no, that it was gambling. But eventually Jonathan got his way. He didn’t regard it as gambling. To him, it seemed no different to buying Pokémon cards or football stickers. It was only when he’d spent more than £3,000 at the age of 18 that he realised the insidious nature of loot boxes.

Jonathan was first introduced to video games when he was a child. His older brother had a GameBoy and Jonathan would watch over his shoulder and occasionally have a go. Then one Christmas, when Jonathan was about eight, the pair were bought a PlayStation 2 as a shared present. It wasn’t much longer before Jonathan bought a second-hand edition of Fifa 2005.

Gaming became part of his life and, while he didn’t consider it a problem, several times his parents were worried he had become addicted. But what Jonathan was becoming addicted to was perhaps more harmful. When Fifa first introduced its Ultimate Team mode in 2009, it swiftly became a topic of conversation with all his school friends. The conversation turned away from who beat who 4-0 online last night, and instead became about who had which players in their teams, and who had the better virtual cards.

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