What scientists say about gambling in games

With the debate of the affects of gambling on Gamers, Elizabeth Meade looks at the science behind it.

Elizabeth Meade
24th May 2021
Featured Image: Twitter [@GlowingEyeGames]

For years, gamers have suggested that gambling in games is no different from the real thing, or is similar enough to have similar psychological effects. But what do the studies say?

A 2020 University of York study on links between gambling and video games suggests that certain game elements are "significantly linked to problem gambling". Specifically, the study looked at what researchers described as "token wagering, real-money gaming, and social casino spending". Researchers recruited just fewer than 1,100 participants, who were quota-sampled to represent the population of the UK with regards to age, gender and ethnicity. They were then asked about their gaming and gambling habits. This survey revealed that 18.5% of participants had participated in an activity which contained some overlap between gaming and gambling. Researchers considered playing social casino games and spending money on loot boxes to be examples of this overlap.

Dr. David Zendle, member of York's Computer Science Department, wrote the study and commented on the findings:

These findings suggest that the relationship between gaming and problem gambling is more complex than many people think...When we go beyond loot boxes, we can see that there are multiple novel practices in gaming that incorporate elements of gambling. All of them are linked to problem gambling, and all seem prevalent. This may pose an important public health risk. Further research is urgently needed.

This isn't Zendle's first lootbox study - he has previously studied the connections between loot boxes and gaming. He and other York academics called for loot boxes to be regulated in the UK, providing evidence to Parliament based on previous findings. Zendle argues that:"...loot boxes [either] cause problem gambling, or they exploit problem gambling amongst gamers to generate massive profits", and is particularly concerned with their impact on "young or otherwise vulnerable" gamers. (He cites a 2018 report that estimated "31% [of 11-16 year olds] have ever opened loot boxes in a computer game or app, to try to acquire in-game items, while 3% claim to have ever bet with in-game items".) The UK Government has yet to make a final decision as of 9 May 2021.

But why are experts concerned about gambling in games? Studies (such as a 2018 longitudinal study in Journal of Gambling Studies) suggest that gambling negatively impacts the academic performance of youth. Furthermore, studies suggest that gambling causes problems in adults: a 2016 survey of UK men suggested a link between gambling and violence. Beyond these two studies and Zendle's research, countless more studies have been done on gambling addiction, its causes and its effects. Many gamers set healthy boundaries on their gaming behaviour and spending, viewing it as little more than fun. However, it is still important to consider the possible long-term consequences of video game gambling on players and how they interact with games.

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AUTHOR: Elizabeth Meade
(she/her) 4th year Chem student. Former Head of Current Affairs and Former Science Sub-Editor. Avid reader. Chaos theorist. Amateur batrachologist and historian. Rock fan. Likes cybersecurity and cooking. Wrote the first article for Puzzles. Probably the first Courier writer to have work featured in one of Justin Whang's videos.

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