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"Government must stop the exploitation of a child’s right to play"

In a blog for Parent Zone, founder and CEO Vicki Shotbolt calls for changes to gambling legislation to protect children in online games 

Imagine designing a game for a child. Something you hope they’ll play with and enjoy – sparking their imagination and nurturing their creativity at a vital stage in their life. 

Now imagine the decisions you might make about how to monetise your new game. 

The initial sale price is probably the first thing that will come to mind. You’ll want to aim for a fair price that covers the cost of manufacturing, distribution, marketing and all the other myriad costs associated with bringing a product to market. 

To be successful you’ll want to add some profit and you’ll probably hope that with scale you will start to reap the rewards of your creativity, hard work and willingness to take a risk in the difficult world of business. 

What seems less intuitive is the idea that you might turn to the gambling industry to find ways to turn your play concept into a successful business. 

After all, gambling is not something any responsible new entrant to the children’s play sector would want to be associated with. They’re hardly happy bedfellows. 

And yet that’s precisely what has happened with virtual play. 

Play is the right of every child – but it must be safe

The video games industry – beloved by millions of children – has adopted numerous gambling-like mechanisms to encourage their young audiences to spend and to keep spending. 

Loot boxes are the most obvious example but there are many other techniques borrowed from gambling. Reward removal, time-limited offers and on-screen countdowns all add to the pressure to spend whilst you play – just as on gambling sites.

It’s easy to dismiss playtime as simply time that children have that isn’t consumed with more important matters – like education. 

But play isn’t an idle pastime. 

It’s critical for a child’s development and does far more than simply pass a few hours. It’s so important for children that it is recognised in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the rights of the child

Play helps children with self-regulation – it helps them to moderate their primary emotions (anger, fear, disgust, sadness and joy) into more subtle and nuanced forms (grief, pleasure, displeasure, affection, contentment). 

Play literally supports brain development and helps children establish effective systems for learning. It helps them to become individuals and grow their independence by providing a sense of self-sufficiency. It’s through play that children discover their place in the world. 

All of which is why it’s so vital that the government acts now to make sure that digital play severs its toxic links with gambling. 

We need responsible products for future generations

In Parent Zone's response to the call for evidence on the review of the Gambling Act 2005, we ask the government to act now to stop gambling-like features being woven into video games. 

Not because we want to kill the games industry – quite the opposite. We want a flourishing games industry that promotes high-quality play. 

One that doesn’t exploit vulnerable participants and acts responsibly to create products that children can love, supports them to play safely and encourages them to learn through play, this generation and the next. 

Read more about Parent Zone’s response to the Review of the Gambling Act 2005 Terms of Reference and Call for Evidence

Listen to the Tech Shock podcast by Parent Zone: Episode 4: “Are children being ripped off by online games?”