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New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Addiction Research & Theory has found that gamers who purchase ‘loot boxes’ are up to two times more likely to gamble than those who do not. The study, which was based on over 1,600 adults in Canada, also found that those who buy these virtual treasure chests are more likely to have a gambling problem.

The study’s authors have cast doubt on the theory that psychological factors create the link between gambling and loot boxes. They say that their findings demonstrate that the association between these video game features and gambling exists even when other known risk factors for gambling are taken into account, such as childhood neglect and depression.

The authors are calling for more research into the benefit of harm minimization features, such as telling players the odds of winning when they buy a loot box. They say that their findings have potential implications for policymakers and for healthcare.

“Findings indicate that loot box purchasing represents an important marker of risk for gambling and problem gambling among people who play video games,” says Sophie Coelho, a PhD student at York University, Toronto. “Loot boxes may prime people to gamble and increase susceptibility to problem gambling.”

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Loot boxes are typically purchased using real-world money and contain a random assortment of virtual objects, such as weapons or new characters. They are designed to grab the player’s attention and are largely unregulated, unlike online gambling.

The study analyzed past year loot box purchases among 1,189 students at five Canadian universities and 499 adults recruited from an online crowdsourcing platform and an online polling/survey site. All participants completed an online questionnaire about their video gaming and addictive behaviors, their mental health, and other issues.

Results showed that a similar proportion (17%) of the students and community participants bought loot boxes, with an average spend of $90.63 and $240.94, respectively. Over a quarter (28%) of students who bought loot boxes reported past year gambling compared with 19% of non-purchasers. More than half (57%) of the community adults who purchased them had gambled and 38% of non-purchasers.

The authors say that adverse childhood experiences were most consistently associated with an increased likelihood of past-year gambling and greater problem gambling. They add: “This may be compounded by engaging with gambling-like features embedded in video games, such as loot boxes.”

Although the scientific team did adjust “for a large range of transdiagnostic psychological variables,” they state that one of the limitations of their study is that they did not account for every single psychological, sociodemographic, or gaming- or gambling-related confounder of associations between loot box purchasing and gambling — of which some “undoubtedly exist.”


Source material by: Taylor & Francis Group. Content has been edited for readability.