UK's NHS mental health boss slams video game loot boxes

Henrietta Strickland
January 22, 2020

A 16-year-old who put over £2,000 into a sports game and a 15-year-old who lost £1,000 in a shooter.

Gaming companies should introduce "fair and realistic" spending limits and make it clear to users what chance they have of obtaining the items they want, Ms Murdoch said.

The general thrust of the NHS's stance is that kids often end up spending their parents money through buying in-game loot boxes or other virtual items like V-Bucks.

Murdoch's official request also references the UK Gambling Commission's latest figures on problem gambling among children, which became a lightning rod for loot box discussion back when it was published in 2018. At the same time, the NHS believes there are approximately 400,000 people in England alone conflicted with a serious gambling addiction. The health body is also supporting the United Kingdom parliamentary report on immersive and addictive technologies which proposes that loot boxes should fall under the purview of gambling legislation, closing the current loophole whereby such mechanics fall outside of this legal remit as virtual items can not be converted back into currency by official means. In her statement today, Murdoch made four demands of video game companies. That's why on January 10 we launched our Get Smart About PLAY campaign, which is created to help parents and caregivers manage the game online and at home.

"The games industry has already committed to measures to inform players about purchasing choices, including in regards to loot boxes. We look forward to working constructively with them on it".

The statement says that the Gambling Commission estimates that around 55,000 children have a gambling problem.

This comes about three months after NHS opened a clinic for gaming addiction and less than a year after the World Health Organization announced that Gaming Disorder will be classified as a disease in 2022.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist and founder of the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust National Problem Gambling Clinic, said: "Loot boxes are only one of several features that will need to be investigated and indeed researched".

Mrs Murdoch says that the gambling industry should take more responsibility for helping to tackle gambling addiction, and "prevent the occasional flutter from turning into a unsafe habit". Thus making it impossible to classify them as a form of gambling.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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