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The increasing risk of addictive gambling mechanics in video games

Those who enjoy playing video games know how easy it is to get fully absorbed into a game. A quick 10-minute play session can quickly turn into hours of gameplay.

It wasn’t all that long ago that enjoying a video game meant going to purchase it from the store and having full access to the game. However, in modern gaming, features such as paying to have to recharge or paying for special items are common.

To some people, having to pay to continue playing a game might seem like a minor inconvenience. However, for other players, the need to pay to continue playing a game becomes a compulsive impulse. This impulse is actually a form of addictive behavior. Many game developers are aware of this addictive behavior and are using it to increase their revenue.

Play-to-Win and Loot Boxes

Most games have the same basic mechanics, no matter the genre: to complete a series of tasks and unlock harder objectives. However, now that many games can connect to the internet, developers have realized that players will pay real money to complete an objective more quickly.

Most of the time, this payment happens in one of two ways. One is known as the “Play-to-Win” method, where players will pay to skip the objective or pay to unlock a new area. The other method is known as “Loot Boxes”, where players pay to receive a mystery “box” of virtual items that will enhance their gameplay.

Spending money to engage in games

Play-to-Win features and Loot Boxes require in-app purchases or microtransactions. Spending this money can become an impulse. People enjoy being able to advance in a game and feel satisfied when they’re able to unlock new content. Eventually, the brain becomes addicted to feeling this satisfaction.

This is a form of behavioral addiction, which is different than a chemical addiction. However, the need to spend, unlock new content, advance in the game, and feel that satisfaction is still a need for some people. To feel that satisfaction, many people willingly spend money on Play-to-Win features and Loot Boxes without realizing they’re addicted. It is a dangerous cycle.

Similarities between video games and casinos

Some people might find the gambling mechanics in video games hard to believe, but it is important to remember that casinos have used this technique for decades. When people purchase a Loot Box, there is no guarantee that they will get the items they need. This forces them to purchase more Loot Boxes.

People play the slots in casinos because they want a large money prize. Sometimes, they receive nothing. Other times, they only receive a little. But because the possibility of winning large is still there, they continue to play. Just like how people become addicted to casino gambling, they can become addicted to video game gambling.

Addicting games with microtransactions

Any game that offers microtransactions to continue to play can become addictive. One example of a popular game that is currently using these gambling mechanisms is Fortnight. While it is possible to play Fortnight without spending money, those who want to advance more quickly will need to purchase packs that grant them access to new items.

Other video games that have used microtransactions include FIFA and Overwatch. Even Nintendo is using microtransactions in Mario Kart Tour. It is usually easy to tell what games have microtransactions before you purchase or download them. For example, in the iTunes app store, apps will clearly state if they offer in-app purchases.

Beating the addition

So how exactly can you beat the addiction? Well, one way is to read reviews before purchasing a game to see if other players have concerns about in-app purchases. If they do, you know you’ll have to be more cautious when playing that game to not get absorbed into the gambling mechanisms.

Another way is to set clear limits for yourself. If you know a game offers microtransactions, give yourself a limit of how many Play-to-Win features or Loot Boxes you can buy in a month. If you like a game and want to support it, there is nothing wrong with buying a Loot Box on occasion, as long as you’re in control over your spending.

Final thoughts

Having an awareness of the addictive gambling mechanics in video games can help keep you from becoming too addicted to these mechanics. If you suspect you are already addicted to these mechanics, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional — behavioral addiction can be just as devastating as a chemical addiction.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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