Kids Gam(bl)ing: today’s video games are children’s casino.

When I was in elementary school, every summer, we used to play with seeds of apricot. We used to stock them in the thousands. How did we play with the seeds? It was like currency. We used to use various games where the winner would take the others seeds. During the “long” recess the kids who were into the “seed” game would rush to a certain place in the schoolyard. The fastest ones managed to catch a place on the bench and dug a hole. The rest of the players – the “clients,” would try to throw a seed into the hole. If the “client” manages to toss the seed in successfully, he or she will win a pre-determined number of seeds. Like a 4-hole would get you your seed + 3 more. If the kid misses, he or she loses the seed they threw. Those who create the holes, make obstacles with the sand, to make it harder. They also determine the distance the “clients” need to throw their seeds from. Of course, a too tricky hole will scare everyone off, and a too easy would make you lose a lot of seeds. I wish someone could capitalize on that game and teach the kids about the economy because it was an excellent lesson.

I don’t know how this game came to be, but it was a tradition. Every summer, when the Prunus Armeniaca became edible, all the kids would convince their parents to buy these at the local supermarket to gather the seeds. All my family knew that they should not throw the seed and leave it somewhere for me to take it later. Of course, kids had kept their seeds from last year somewhere safe. The goal in accumulate was very simple one. Most of the “players” who played with the seeds, just wanted to accumulate as much as they could, so that by the time they finish their six grade, they could throw all of them for free, causing an uproar among the younger kids. In middle school nobody play with seeds, so they have no further use fo them. They (and everyone else) thought that it’s exciting and funny to see all the younger kids go crazy over seeds. As opposed to another kind of games, the seeds are almost free. You couldn’t buy seeds from the local toy shop or convenience store. The only way to get seeds was to eat – or force other to eat the fruit or to win various games. If you had a “bad day” and lost many seeds, its just seeds, and while many kids treasured their, and even painted on the seeds signs and marks, we all knew in the end that it’s just a game. Some kids did play with marbles. I didn’t like the idea because I loved my marbles and though them to be beautiful, and I didn’t want to lose them.

But kids had other games, like football cards, or other forms of games that are being capitalized on, and employ various techniques of gambling. Kids (including myself) collected football cards. The goal was to complete the magazine of the game, meaning to get all the cards available. Of course, a deck costs money, and it has a limited number of cards. You can never know what cards are in the deck, so you could never know if you will get a card you own already or not. The more the player is famous, the harder it is to get his card. So they employ randomness. It forces the kids to buy many decks in hoping they will get a rare card, either to put It into their “magazine” or to trade it for other rare cards. Every time, even today, that they start a football season, they begin to sell these cards. And they are as popular as ever.

For the kids, and I remember myself, these cards meant a lot. They were very valuable to us. We could play games with them, which the winner took the losers cards, but by a certain period, people get most of the common (less valuable) cards and usually play on those. They rarely risk their valuable cards in a game. The game is simple you stack all the cards in a stack and put it on the floor facing down. Then the players decide who go first with rock, paper scissors (we used to do it with odds or even). Then each in his turn, clap their hands in hoping to flip the cards through the wind they create. Those you flip, are yours.

Today, online games use this method of “randomness” to encourage in-game purchases. It is called a “loot box”. You pay a sum of money, usually few dollars, and you get a random prize. There is a chance to get something rare, that otherwise would cost more than a few dollars, of course it is very very rare. This is gambling. The difference between this and the “seed” game is obvious. The difference between this game and the “football cards” game is less apparent.

First, to buy these decks, the kids have to go to a physical store, with real money. The kid cannot buy too much because he or she will have to ask the parents for more money, so it is easier to control. Most of the time, the seller is part of the neighberhood, and parents can ask the clerk not to sell to the kids more packs. The “loot boxes” are available 24\7 in the game. The kids need their parent’s credit card to buy the game in the first place. They can save it for later purchases, and use it to buy as much loot boxes as they want. The parents detect this only in the next month where their credit information get to them by mail (if they don’t go over it frequently).

While the seeds were an excellent way to learn about currency, economy and supply and demand, and even about human relations when making deals about the seeds with other kids, the loot boxes teach the kids nothing but the excitement of gambling. The internet of full of kids who post the “good things” they got from these “player packs” (loot boxes), giving false hope for other to win something also. When I was a kid, we would buy a video game, and that is it. Later on, they started with a monthly payment (never played those). Today, the business model is entirely different. Some games are for free but force you to spend money in various ways inside the game. That way, they actually make more money than just selling the game. The encouragement of in-game purchases exploits a very basic human weakness of gambling. They exploit the passion kids have for their games with randomness, to force the players to buy more loot boxes. For the sake of profit, some business makes the kids into little gamblers – clients.

Many people will say that it has to do with “free will,” that a person should control himself. Blaming the victim is easy, kids lack the mental apparatus to avoid and resist these urges. That is why we have people who are addicted to all sort of things. While gaming addiction is a problem, and the game designers know how to make people addicted to their game, a bigger problem arises when gaming becomes involved with gambling. This is another example of the way moral values are cast aside in favor of more profit. The gaming industry just borrowed techniques from other shady places, and enjoy their profits, while corrupting many kids in the process.

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