Countries crack down on mobile video games amid concerns about addiction

World Today

Playing video games has become one of the world’s most popular forms of entertainment. The global gaming market topped $98 billion in 2017 with much of the revenue coming from mobile games, which are growing in popularity.

But the trend also has parents and lawmakers concerned about addiction. As games are becoming more accessible, so are cries for greater regulation. 

CGTN’s Karina Huber highlights the concerns.

Nine-year-old Zach Weisselberg plays Fortnite, a hugely popular online video game.

Playing hockey used to be his passion but now Fortnite is consuming most of his spare time.

“He used to love playing hockey. He couldn’t wait to get up in the morning, get down to the rink. You smell that fresh air cuz it’s outdoors and it just kind of took a little bit of a back seat,” his father Barry Weisselberg said.

The vast majority of online video games are free. But there’s a catch. Players are constantly bombarded with requests to make micro-payments to buy things like outfits or weapons for their avatars.  

“There was one time where I paid $50 and I figured that would last him for a while. Within two minutes it was down to zero. He just bought skins and different swords or whatever they use and it was just getting out of control,” said Weisselberg.

Mobile devices have made video games more accessible. Many parents are worried. But the current data is inconclusive on whether mobile video games are addictive.

Jeff Haynes, senior editor of Videogames at Common Sense Media, said many kids are able to play video games without it becoming a problem.

“But if it happens to cross over to the situation where they’re withdrawing from their friends and family, their school work is starting to take a serious decline in their performance and they’re really starting to retreat from a lot of the things they used to love to, that may be one of those times when to raise the alarm bells,” said Haynes. 

Globally, there is more of a recognition that gaming can be addictive for some.

This year, for the first time ever, the World Health Organization added gaming disorder to its list of International Classification of Diseases guide. Governments are beginning to crack down on the industry.

China, the world’s biggest video game market, is taking the lead. It recently stopped granting licenses to new video games. Japan and Korea have passed laws regulating the industry.

Western countries are particularly concerned about so-called “loot boxes” –  prizes that are only revealed to players once they’ve been purchased for a fee. Critics say the appeal is similar to gambling.

Germany is considering banning loot boxes. In the US, the Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation into them.  

“It’s becoming one of those situations where because of the impact of it on the entire global population maybe we should take a look and see whether there are possible harmful effects and if so, what we need to do to possibly combat them,” said Haynes.

An extensive study looking at the effects of screen time on kids’ brains is currently being undertaken by the U.S. government. But the full results will only come out about a decade from now.