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The Fallout from Loot boxes: Governments Looking at Games

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It has been a long time in the making, but the government might force their way into regulating video games. With a string of controversies stemming from loot boxes in games and whether they are actually a form of gambling, and many people blaming violent video games and media for increased domestic violence, world governments are now taking a closer look at the gaming industry.

Overall, the video game industry has had very little government regulation in the United States, and in only specific countries is it closely monitored. A big reason for this is because the industry has tried to be mostly self-regulatory with organizations like the ESRB. These groups are made up of industry professionals who try their best to keep the gaming industry in line and make the government feel like it doesn’t need to step in.

These organizations, like the ESRB, didn’t step in quickly enough though with the loot box controversy. Because of its lucrative business model, many major publishers and developers included loot boxes into their games. Very quickly though, the general public voiced their displeasure with paid loot boxes, comparing it to gambling aimed at children. This all went to a head with loot boxes in “Star Wars: Battlefront II,” getting the attention of nearly everybody.

This, in turn, got the attention of politicians and raised the concern that maybe the game industry was not properly self-regulating. Now, video games are being scrutinized by governments across the world and could lead to some drastic results.

Regulations on Gaming Features

As a direct result to the whole “loot boxes are a form of gambling” controversy, many government officials are investigating paid loot boxes in gaming. The premise of this being that players pay money for a random chance to get an item they want equals a form of gambling.

For example, currently the state of Hawaii has introduced a bill that wants to ban the sale of loot box games to those under the age of 21, the legal gambling age in the state. Other bills introduced include labeling all games that have loot boxes in them and disclosing the chances of getting any specific item.

Elements like loot boxes and any that take real money and give out a product with random chance definitely need some regulation, but this does lead to a slippery slope. What other features in games might gain the attention of politicians? Maybe the government will play a larger role in the ESRB rating system and make it harder for people to purchase more adult games?

Extra Taxes on Violent Games

The outdated and illogical idea that “violent video games make kids more violent” is rearing its ugly head again. As a result to the recent school shootings and trend of identifying what causes them, violent video games gets the blame.

One Rhode Island lawmaker has proposed a state bill that would tax violent video games extra and use the funds to support mental health efforts. If passed, the state would tax games with the M for Mature and higher ESRB rating an extra 10 percent.

State tax laws can wildly differ, but this extra taxation could lead to higher prices for specific kinds of games. That, in turn, could lower game sales and have a drastic impact on the kinds of games that get made. For example, if M rated games sell worse because of the extra taxes, studies will shy away from telling mature stories and try to toe the line with Teen rated games. In a sense, this extra tax could act as a form of censorship in gaming by making it less lucrative to make games geared for adults.

Monitoring What Games Get Played

While not currently happening in the United States, some countries actively monitor what games their citizens are playing, and if lawmakers buy into the “violent games make people violent” narrative, it could happen in the US too.

In South Korea, citizens must register and use their citizen identification cards whenever they play a game online. The main reason behind this is to try and crack down on video game addictions, especially in younger players. They’ve even imposed a “cinderella law” that prevents children ages 16 and younger from playing games between 10pm-6am.

China has a similar system where they register and log anytime a person plays an online game, both at home and at gaming cafes. In order to play any game online, you must first input a personal identification card.

A similar system could be put in place in the U.S. to both crack down on gaming addiction, but also as a means to monitor and limit violent video game playtime. While a worst case scenario, the fact that it already exists in other countries means it could happen in the US too. While there are restrictions on who can buy specific games, there are no barriers on who plays them. A system like this would ensure kids don’t play too much violent games or play games outside of their age ratings.

Video Games Needs Industry PR Work

Back in the 90s, video games were a convenient scapegoat for a rise in violence. That lead to video games as an entertainment medium to get a bad reputation. With the rise of public scrutiny on the industry, especially with things like loot boxes in games children can play, video games as a whole are getting their name smeared in dirt.

Gamers everywhere need to acknowledge the flaws in the industry, but they also need to do their best to highlight the good that come from video games. Games can be an extremely useful education tool, to the point that some universities are replacing science labs with educational video games. Millions of dollars are raised every year for charity by gamers through participating in video game charity events. Through gaming, people find friends, spouses, and support groups. The news media, politicians, and the general public need to promote the good in gaming along with decrying the bad.

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Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Champion of Hyrule, defender of space, bane of demons, savior of light, and occasional pizza eater.