UK needs to do more to understand gaming addiction, experts warn

UK research into gaming addiction and the effects of loot boxes is poor, experts in gambling and gaming have warned.

A parliamentary committee is looking into the potential harms immersive and addictive technologies can cause, with a particular focus on how video games are contributing to the issue.

The UK’s research is behind the likes of South Korea and China, Dr Daria Kuss, a psychologist specialising in gaming-related behaviours, told MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee on Wednesday.

“Within the UK the research basis is relatively poor, there is very little that has been done in the context of research in this country,” she said.

“Specifically in south-east Asian countries, like South Korea, as well as China, there is a lot of research that is coming out.

“Internet addiction has officially been recognised as a mental disorder in 2009 there already, and we’re sitting here in 2019, in the UK, and we do not know much.”

Dr Kuss appeared in Parliament alongside Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a psychiatrist running the national Problem Gambling Clinic, who had received letters from concerned parents hoping she might be able to help with their children’s addictive gaming behaviours.

When asked by parents where they could go for help, she said she did not know anywhere: “Right now there isn’t an NHS-funded clinic for gaming disorder.”

The panel, which also included Dr David Zendle, an expert on the effects of video games and loot boxes from York St John University, said that they believe that only a very small minority of people suffer with gaming disorder, but needed more government-backed research to understand the breadth of the issue.

Gaming
(Joe Giddens/PA)

Free-to-play, games with no ending, team games, and games that can be played across multiple time zones with players online were named as likely offenders for encouraging gaming addiction, but prevention was cited as one of the best possible remedies.

“Prevention is quite crucial, it is integral for us to implement, in my opinion, within the school context, campaigns and also sessions for both the students, teachers and parents to raise awareness of the potential problems and to stop the problems from occurring in the first place,” Dr Kuss added.

Loot boxes were also discussed with the committee. These are virtual lucky dips that can be purchased within games and reward players with useful items and modifications to help their progress – but are based on chance and have therefore been linked to gambling.

According to Dr Zendle, 12 of the highest grossing mobile games in the top 20 feature loot boxes.

In January, Fortnite decided to change how its loot boxes worked, opting to show users the contents before they buy.

The Government has previously said that the Gambling Commission has powers to regulate gambling and was monitoring convergence between gambling and video games closely.

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