Comment & Opinion

Video game legislation isn’t child’s play

Legislation around loot boxes and video game addiction all broadly target younger people, but consideration needs to be given to the much larger, older audience too

Video game legislation isn’t child’s play

With recent calls from the EU for recognition of both the cultural and economic value of video games we’ve also seen a rash of legislative efforts. Specifically focusing on online harms, video game addiction, loot boxes and the usual. Chief amongst these concerns have been the effect on children. But it misses out an important fact…video games aren’t just for kids anymore, in-fact they haven’t been for a while.

Recent legislation, including that which we covered from Finland have usually included language specifically regarding young people. This to me, sounds a lot like the ‘think of the children’ line trotted out by many politicians. It doesn’t help that this specific piece of legislation was proposed by controversial politician Sebastian Tykkynen. Regardless of politics, this legislation tacitly continues the stereotype of video games and the harm that manipulative design can do, mainly affecting young people.

“Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!”

But the fact is that the majority of players are older than 18, and whilst we may not have as many horror stories as we do of young people spending hundreds of dollars from their parent’s credit cards without realising, it can still affect this older demographic. In-fact it may be worse, as whilst ten dollars is a lot for a young person, it’s not for an older one and these figures can add up.

We need to think, ethically are we objecting to these online harm because they affect young people? Or because they are inherently bad in and of themselves? For however many people objected to loot boxes in a premium-priced game, few took notice in positions of power until young people were affected. This is not to say legislation like this is not a good thing, older audiences should be free to make their own decisions but younger people can easily fork over cash without realising the significance of it.

Doing it right

Legislation should instead be aimed at a broader understanding of online harms ranging from toxicity to predatory business practices. The latter, ill-intentioned or not, needs controls or businesses may end up unknowingly taking advantage of their audience. An audience that will become rapidly numb to practices that aren’t allowed in other business or media.

Otherwise, we risk ending up lagging behind. Loot boxes are now old news, and back when they were the bane of every gamer’s existence, people rejoiced when any indication of action was taken, it’s now 2022. Well past the heyday of this tech, and where new methods of monetisation are being discussed, legislation can lag behind life, but with the ever-changing world of video-games this simply isn’t sustainable.

The actual solution could be something more subtle, making the option for player-owned servers a requirement that allows smaller more easily policed player populations, rather than the massive studio owned servers where bad behaviour disappears amongst the crowd.

And rather than removing loot boxes entirely, instead they should solely be earned through gameplay, and not by paying money. All of these however, are suggestions that have been said before, that should be discussed… but that takes time, and whenever a compromise is reached it risks the legislation falling behind once more.

Ultimately, with the EU’s suggestion of there being a union-wide initiative and approach to video game regulation, we may see more consideration of an older audience in their proposals. As it stands it may be a case of too little, too late.

Staff Writer

Iwan is a Cardiff-based freelance writer, who joined the Pocket Gamer Biz site fresh-faced from University before moving to the editorial team in November of 2023.