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From the Sunny Shores of Hawaii to the Marble Steps of the US Capital, Loot Boxes Stir Controversy

From humble beginnings in the State of Hawaii, the issue of "gambling" in games has crossed the nation all the way to the steps of the US Capitol Building. One US Senator from New Hampshire is already questioning the ESRB and the Federal Trade Commission about what needs to be done to curb gambling in gaming. Senator Maggie Hassan spoke with FTC members about the department's stance on loot boxes as a mechanic that could lead to deeper addiction in other areas.

Hassan also has also expressed her confidence in the ESRB to take the issue seriously, thereby eliminating the need for the FTC to become involved though it could be so at a later date should the ESRB not take the appropriate action. 

In a letter to the ESRB President, Patricia Vance, Hassan said that the issue had been brought to her attention by a constituent and reiterated the mission of the organization to "both provide parents with the necessary information to make decisions about the suitability of games, and their content, for children, as well as ensuring that the industry is following responsible marketing practices".

The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as 'loot boxes', raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance. The potential for harm is real. Recently the World Health Organization classified "gaming disorder" as a unique condition in its recent draft revision of the 11th International Classification of Diseases. While there is robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling, the fact that they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles suggest loot boxes should be treated with extra scrutiny. At minimum, the rating system should denote when loot boxes are utilized in physical copies of electronic games."

PCGamesN notes that the ESRB was originally founded through pressure during Congressional hearings in the 90s on the issue about marketing video game violence. 

We'll keep you posted as the story develops.

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Suzie Ford / Suzie is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom