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How technology can train brains to gamble
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Posted 03 February 2014 - 10:19 AM
(Posted on Amity's behalf)
My seven-year-old is absolutely obsessed with Minecraft. For those who don’t have a five-10-year-old and are not be familiar with this obsession, it’s kind of like online Lego. You use building blocks to create houses and cities, yet unlike Lego you never run out of blocks, it doesn’t cost $150 for a packet, and your creations are only limited by your imagination. You also never step on a random piece in the middle of the night, which is certainly a plus for me.
In principal, I am in total support of his love of Minecraft. It’s creative and stimulating and doesn’t involve killing anyone, so that’s three ticks for me. However, his ability to sit there playing it for hours on end, while effectively shutting out everything and everyone else in the world, does concern me somewhat. Particularly when school is starting in 10 minutes and I have asked him for the 400th time to put his shoes on.
I know I’m not alone in this. All over the world parents are yelling at their kids to put down the iPad and get dressed, go outside, or have a conversation with them. I remember years ago going out to dinner with friends who had six and eight-year-old boys, when mine was only three. As they sat down their boys both pulled out their gaming devices and started playing, continuing to do so for the entire dinner while barely uttering a word. It certainly made for a relaxing dinner for us, but at the time I thought it was very antisocial and kind of sad.
Fast forward four years and my kids both have iPads, which have got us through many flights, drives and dinners. Yes, it’s anti-social. Yes, it would be nice if they would sit calmly and have a polite conversation with us, but they’re kids. And I still want to do those things, so I’ll take what I can get to make the experience as pleasant as possible for all of us. I figure as long as they’re balancing their screen time with sport, music, outside play and interaction with us, then it’s fine. After all, when I’m equally addicted to my iPhone and its social media applications I can hardly talk, can I?
However, I do worry about the effect of all of this screen time. Particularly when I read articles about apps aimed at kids simulating gambling scenarios, which can potentially trigger the part of their brain that forms addictions.
Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, says, “Games like Candy Crush have a moreishness quality, a bit like chocolate. You say you you'll just have one chunk, and you end up having the whole lot. So you say I'll just play for 15 minutes, and you end up still there four or five hours later."
I’m pretty sure anyone who’s ever played Candy Crush can attest to that!
According to Griffiths, online games with virtual money can lead children to gambling. "Children who play these free games are more likely to gamble and more likely to develop problem gambling behaviours. These are gateway activities that can lead people down the gambling road.
“When you start winning, you start thinking ‘if I was playing with real money I could be doing quite well’."
Without getting too alarmist, I’m sure plenty of parents can also can attest to how strong the allure of these games are for kids (and adults) when it’s free at the start – but then you have to buy coins, chips or gems to build the game.
A friend of mine recently had a very nasty shock when he discovered his six-year-old had racked up a $600 bill buying Clash of Clans gems. Ouch. He got a very tough lesson on why you should never to tell your kids your iTunes password and change it regularly.
And there’s a reason why Supercell, the company who make Clash of Clans, is the current king of mobile gaming, with 8.5 million daily players generating $2.4 million every day. That’s a lot of gems.
I discovered Clash of the Clans when I found my son was suddenly asking me repeatedly to enter my password so he could buy more gems. Despite my explanation that the money we were spending wasn’t actually buying anything real, his need to keep up with his friends and build his clan was all-consuming – which is why the reports on these games increasing the likelihood of problem gambling don’t surprise me. And why the game is now banned in our house.
I love technology. I love apps and I love their potential for encouraging learning and creativity with kids. But from now on I'll be more aware of those that may be potentially harmful to my kids - and unless it’s a real gem and sitting on my finger, I ain’t buying it!
The SA Government has launched a new initiative to protect our children online, and is holding a free information evening on Children, Technology and Gambling on Feb 10. Amity will be on the discussion panel, along with World Vision’s Tim Costello and the University of Adelaide's Paul Delfabbro. Register for your free ticket here.
Posted 18 August 2015 - 09:04 PM
Online games with virtual money can lead children to gambling. "Children who play these free games are more likely to gamble and more likely to develop problem gambling behaviours. These are gateway activities that can lead people down the gambling road.
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