Should we be worried about simulated gambling in video games?
Posted Dec 08, 2013
Recent empirical research studies suggest that children and adolescents access online gambling activities using digital devices such as personal computers, laptops, smartphones, and other portable devices. Three national adolescent gambling surveys carried out for the National Lottery Commission in Great Britain have all shown a small minority of children and adolescents can and do gamble online. A 2011 study by Ipsos MORI reported that 2% of 11-16 year olds had played online lottery games and 2% had gambled on other online games (i.e., online casinos, online poker, online bingo and/or online sports betting). These data suggest that the first gambling experiences by some children and adolescents might occur via the Internet, mobile phones, and/or interactive television rather than in a traditional offline gaming venue such as a casino, amusement arcade or bookmakers.
• Standard gambling simulation: A digitally simulated interactive gambling activity that is structurally identical to the standard format of an established gambling activity, such as blackjack or roulette. For instance, Texas Hold ’em (TikGames) is a standard gambling simulation of the poker variant of the same name. Poker is played using virtual credits against a computer opponent or in competition with other online players. Playing poker represents the entirety of the gaming experience in this video game. In contrast, the video game Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar) features a casino situated within the virtual game world that allows players to gamble using in-game credit with or against other players in social competitions. However, the gambling content within this type of video game represents only a small part of the overall gaming experience.
• Non-standard gambling simulation: An interactive gambling activity that involves the intentional wagering of in-game credits or other items on an uncertain outcome, in an activity that may be partially modelled on a standard gambling activity but which contains distinct player rules or other structural components that differ from established gambling games. For instance, the video game Fable II Pub Games contains three unique casino-style games, partly modelled on craps (dice), roulette, and slot machines. Players can wager ‘gold coins’ on chance-determined outcomes (i.e., patterns in cards, dice throws, spinning wheels, etc.) in order to win greater amounts of gold, as well as other items and prizes.
• Gambling references: The appearance of non-interactive gambling material or gambling-related paraphernalia/materials within the context of the video game.
Modern video games provide realistic and sophisticated simulated gambling opportunities to youth. According to a paper we published in a 2010 issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies, the potential risks of young people engaging in simulated gambling include:
• Greater familiarity with gambling and acceptance of gambling as a ‘normal’ entertainment activity;
• The development of gambling strategies and the ability to practice these strategies without need of money;
• The development of positive gambling beliefs and thoughts of ‘winning big’ associated with gambling;
• Exposure to the excitement of gambling wins, including bonuses and jackpots;
• False expectations about how gambling operates and an inflated sense of its long-term profitability.
Simulated gambling has the potential to offer positive experiences associated with gambling without the typical barriers to entry associated with gambling (e.g., money, age restriction). Although no actual money is involved in simulated gambling, it is recognised that people (including youth) are not only motivated to gamble for financial reasons. Gambling can provides excitement, relief from boredom, a way of coping with problems, and a means of social interaction (i.e., playing with friends). Very simply, gambling is engaged in not only for financial rewards, but for physiological, psychological, and/or social rewards. Simulated gambling activities may also enable youth to feel more comfortable with gambling per se, which may assist the transition from simulated gambling to gambling with real money.
A risk associated with video games that feature simulated gambling is that activities may often combine the skill and fast-paced action of a video game with the chance-based nature of gambling. This combination of skill and chance may set up false expectations about the governing rules and player control involved in gambling activities. For example, younger players may believe that, with sufficient practice, they can overcome and master the challenges of the game.
Simulated gambling in video games is often associated with incentives and rewards, such as virtual currency, rare in-game items, and other content of large contextual value in the game. While some video games with simulated gambling may be intended for use by adults only, many video games (e.g., Pokémon) feature content that appeals mainly to a younger audience. This material could therefore be considered a form of gambling advertising targeted at youth. Furthermore, simulated gambling in video games may enhance young players’ familiarity of casino and card games. Given the brief overview presented here, we would recommend that policymakers should critically consider the growing presence of gambling in online gaming and social media technologies, and associated issues of social responsibility as these activities become more monetised and/or promote or otherwise endorse involvement in monetary gambling activities.
Addictional input to this article was provided by Dr. Daniel King and Dr. Paul Delfabbro
References and further reading
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.
Griffiths, M. D., King, D. L., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2009). Adolescent gambling-like experiences: Are they a cause for concern? Education and Health, 27, 27-30.
Griffiths, M. D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.
Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2007). Adolescent Internet gambling: Preliminary results of a national survey. Education and Health, 25, 23-27.
Ipsos MORI. (2009). British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling 2008–09: Report of a quantitative survey. London: National Lottery Commission.
Ipsos MORI. (2011). Underage Gambling in England and Wales: A research study among 11-16 year olds on behalf of the National Lottery Commission. London: National Lottery Commission.
King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.
Volberg, R., Gupta, R., Griffiths, M.D., Olason, D. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2010). An international perspective on youth gambling prevalence studies. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 3-38.