“An important marker of risk for gambling and problem gambling among people who play video games.”

Designed to attract the player’s attention, loot boxes are typically bought with real money, contain a random array of virtual items such as guns or new characters, and are completely unregulated compared to online gambling.

There is already proof of the connection between buying treasure boxes and compulsive gambling. If this happens as a result of recognized psychological risk factors for gambling is still a mystery.

In this research, 499 people were recruited through an online polling/survey site and an online crowdsourcing platform, while 1,189 students from five Canadian institutions participated in loot box purchases during the previous year.

All participants, who were 18 years of age or older, filled out an online questionnaire regarding their video gaming habits, addictive tendencies, mental health, and other topics.

In contrast to other studies, this one included more psychological risk factors for gambling. Among them were mental distress, the tendency to react hastily when agitated, and negative childhood events including abuse and neglect.

Results showed that 17% of both students and people from the community bought loot boxes, with an average cost of $90.63 for students and $240.94 for people from the community. Males dominated both groups.

Compared to 19% of non-purchasers, 28% of students who purchased loot boxes admitted to gambling in the previous year. Adults from the community who bought them had gambled more than half of the time (57%) compared to 38% of non-buyers.

Students who bought more loot boxes or did other risky things with their loot box purchases were more likely to be bad gamblers. For the community participants, this was not the case, which the researchers ascribe to a small sample size.

Out of all the psychological risk factors, bad experiences as a child were the most consistently linked to more gambling in the past year and more problem gambling.

According to the authors, this may indicate that those who had a difficult childhood are more likely to have gambling addictions.

“Findings indicate that loot box purchasing represents an important marker of risk for gambling and problem gambling among people who play video games,” adds Sophie Coelho, a PhD student at York University, Toronto.

“The persistent associations we observed between loot box purchasing and gambling may provide preliminary support for the role of loot boxes as a ‘gateway’ to gambling and eventually problem gambling.

“Loot boxes may prime people to gamble and increase susceptibility to problem gambling.”

“This may be compounded by engaging with gambling-like features embedded in video games, such as loot boxes,” they add.

Even though the authors adjusted for a wide “range of transdiagnostic psychological variables,” they say that one of the problems with their study is that they didn’t take into account every single psychological, sociodemographic, gaming, or gambling-related confounder of links between buying loot boxes and gambling, of which some “undoubtedly exist”.


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