Child Classifications Must Include Gambling in Computer Games

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has called for an extension in the way computer games are classified, to capture design architecture that exposes children to addictive, gambling-based content in many common games.

In a submission to the Department of Communications review into the classification system, the Centre for Responsible Technology argues that the spread of ‘addiction by design’ in many games means children risk being groomed to become the problem gamblers of the future.

Currently, the classification of games follows the ratings of film and TV in confining itself to the content in the game, for example, the presence of violence, sex, language drug use and nudity.

But a growing body of evidence, included in the discussion paper ‘Gambling on Games’ (attached) supporting the CRT submission, shows that video game architecture - including in-game purchases and ways to accumulate virtual currency - should also be considered in judging a game’s age-appropriateness.

Director of the Centre for Responsible Technology Peter Lewis said the classification review was an opportunity to rethink the standard of care that should be provided to children.

“We protect children from gambling in the real world, but online they have access to a global casino, where they are being played,” said Peter Lewis, Director of the Centre for Responsible Technology.

“The risk for children is not just normalising gambling, it is exposing them to a virtual world where the business model is to trap them in a cycle of dependence.

“The addictive gambling design is prevalent in popular online games like Overwatch and Call of Duty which encourage in-game purchase with real and earned currency.”

The Centre’s submission calls for the current system of classifications to be updated to include:

  • Guidelines on how in-game gambling architecture (especially those with “incentives and rewards”) should affect a game’s classification.
  • An R18+ rating for games that replicate the psychological elements of gambling, for example through the use of randomised loot boxes bought with real money.
  • An R18+ rating for games that feature real-world gambling branding or cross-promotions.

Additionally, the Centre for Responsible Technology recommends:

  • Strong penalties for game developers who do not report, or falsely report, the use of gambling architecture in their games.
  • A broader remit for state-based gambling regulators to monitor the gaming sector.
  • Better education for parents, teachers and children about the way games are designed to be addictive.

“The current classifications system is locked in a world where children went to movies, watched television and played computer games in the lounge room,” Mr. Lewis said.

“As their digital life becomes more individualised and the design of online games more sophisticated, we need to take our duty of care seriously and develop enforceable standards that keep our children safe.”

The discussion paper Gambling on Games: How Video Games Expose Children to Gambling, by Bill Browne can be downloaded here.