The NHS’ Mental Health Boss has criticised loot boxes and has warned that video games push young people into “under the radar” gambling.
Claire Murdoch, the NHS Mental Health Director, has urged video game firms to crackdown on gambling problems by banning loot boxes from their video games. Murdoch claims that video games have been “setting kids up for addiction” with the loot box mechanic.
Loot boxes are game mechanics which players can purchase to receive goods such as cosmetics. However, the goods cannot be seen until after being purchased, and many MPs have described the mechanic as a form of gambling. However, the UK Gambling Commission has stated that under current laws, loot boxes is not formally recognised as a form of gambling and cannot be regulated by the firm.
Video game loot boxes have long been criticised as they allow children and young people to spend significant amounts of money trying to acquire certain goods, sometimes without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
According to the NHS, previous investigations into loot boxes have found numerous cases of children spending money without their parents’ consent, with one case involving a 16-year-old spending over £2,000 on a basketball game and a second case in which a 15-year-old spent over £1,000 on another game.
In response, Claire Murdoch has urged video game firms to ban sales of games with loot boxes to children, introduce spending limits, increase parental awareness on the risks of in-game spending, and inform players the percentage chance they have of obtaining items via loot boxes.
In a statement criticising video game firms, Murdoch said: “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.
“Young people’s health is at stake, and although the NHS is stepping up with these new, innovative services available to families through our Long Term Play, we cannot do this alone, so other parts of society must do what they can to limit risks and safeguard children’s wellbeing.”
The calls from amid the growing concern regarding gambling addiction in the UK and as the NHS continues to expand its gambling treatment services across the nation. Last September, the NHS opened its Northern Gambling Service clinic in Leeds, the first gambling clinic to open outside of London.
This was followed by a second clinic located in Sunderland which opened earlier this month. Both clinics provide support to problem gamblers and offers other treatment services including psychological therapies, family therapy, and mental health treatment.