Expert warns parents: 'When they say they're gaming - they could be gambling'

A researcher says there are now three generations of Kiwis who have blurred the lines between gambling and gaming - and he's urging parents to be aware.

Dr Wiremu Manaia of Manukau Institute of Technology, speaking this morning with TVNZ1's Breakfast programme, said people playing video games have, since the early 2000s, become accustomed to the mixing of gaming and gambling.

The influence of gambling has slowly crept in to many games in the form of "loot boxes", "reward crates" and other similar terms - these describe digital reward given out to players for achieving certain milestones, and they can these days often be bought using real money.

Loot boxes are now a major part of many gaming company's business models, and in the past few years the practice has come under increasing scrutiny due to children spending large amounts in what are described as "pay to win" games.

Dr Manaia said gaming is enticing kids to make gambling-type decisions at a younger and younger age, and that parents should be aware of it.

"It's a major issue - the problem is that we've got all the precursors for it to become quite a crisis," he said.

"We've now got three generations of millennials - generations X, Y and Z - that are really quite addicted to technology."

After gaming went online in the early 2000s, Dr Manaia said increasingly younger children were exposed to casinos and gambling online, and aspects of those were merged into other genres of game.

"It's very difficult to tell the difference between what's gaming and what's gambling," he said.

"It's come down to ploys that they've used called loot boxes ... it's a virtual award that you get online, every time you play a game, every time get to a different level you win a loot box or a lock box or a lock crate or a loot crate ... so then you win awards.

"This is where the problem comes - you can actually trade them, they're worth something ... and this is where it gets blurred.

"In gambling you're winning out of chance, in gaming you're winning out of skill, and what they've done is bring them together now.

Dr Manaia said many games are designed to be addictive, and this was giving rise to "a whole new field of addiction".

He said technology, and the social isolation which can come from it, is eroding peoples' ability to form meaningful connections with others, and could possibly be affecting mental health resilience.

"The problem isn't technology - it's our behaviour towards technology ... it's not like other addictions, like you can legislate gambling, alcohol and drugs, you can do all that through the government - but you can't ban technology.

Dr Manaia says parents need to be aware of the ways their children are gaming.

"When they say they're gaming - they could be gambling, and you don't know," Dr Manaia said.

"You should at least be aware - try to show an interest in it."

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Manukau Institute of Technology Dr Wiremu Manaia says the line between the two is increasingly blurred. Source: Breakfast

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