‘Groomed for future gambling’: Call for ‘loot box’ video games to be adult-only

Anti-gambling MPs are pushing for video games involving gambling-like features to be banned for under-18s after the federal government announced proposed new classifications.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Wednesday said she would work with state governments to introduce an R18+ classification for video games containing simulated gambling.

Players can win loot boxes by completing in-game tasks, but can also purchase them.Credit:iStock

Games that include so-called “loot boxes”, which have become a target of gambling harm experts, would be given M ratings under proposed reforms, meaning people under 15 would not be able to play them.

But independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Rebekha Sharkie and Liberal National Party MP Andrew Wallace are pushing for these games to be adult-only.

“By rating games containing loot boxes as M, children aged between 15 and 18 will continue to be exposed to harmful gambling simulators, with it being likely that people younger than 15 will be able to access them given how easy it is for anyone to purchase an M-rated product,” Wilkie said in a written statement, calling Rowland’s decision absurd.

“Research shows that the largest cohort of people gambling online are 18- to 24-year-old males. And with the way loot boxes entice players to keep coming back for desirable items, it’s obvious that young people who are spending a lot of money on these games are being groomed for future gambling.”

Loot boxes are virtual items players can redeem for other online mystery items including weapons, armour and customisation options for their avatar, such as costumes. The products have increased in popularity as game developers look to generate more money through in-game purchases. Players can win loot boxes by completing in-game tasks, but can also purchase them.

Some gambling harm experts have claimed companies are targeting children and young people by embedding gambling-type features such as virtual casinos and loot boxes. A Senate inquiry found adolescents who played “gamblified” games were at greater risk of developing gambling problems, though some researchers dispute the link.

Rowland cited research from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts revealing an association between both loot boxes and simulated gambling and problem gambling.

The government announced the proposed classifications on the same day it released a review of classifications delivered to the Morrison government three years ago.

Rowland said it would use the review to inform broader reforms to Australia’s classification scheme, which has not kept up with emerging technologies and the multitude of digital platforms on which Australians consume content. Decisions on future changes will be made after consultation with state governments, the community and industries.

“The Stevens review, which the government has today released, reveals a scheme in need of significant change,” Rowland said.

The review also recommended absolute prohibitions in film should be removed on fetishes when they are not illegal, and on violence where it is unrelated to sex.

Australian authorities have refused to classify movies that combine sex and violence.

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