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LAST YEAR, THE INTERCEPTtalked to psychologists, gambling addiction experts, and state lawmakers about the proliferation of video game “loot boxes” — random assortments of prizes purchased by players, many of them children, who hope to score certain coveted powers, much the way slot machine users hope to hit the jackpot.
Many of these experts argued that loot boxes, typically purchased in small-dollar transactions, represent what is essentially a form of gambling aimed at minors, and called for government oversight.
In mid-February, Sen. Maggie Hassan, the New Hampshire Democrat, answered the call. First, she wrote a letter to Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which designs the warning labels for parents on video game products, asking Vance to consider listing the presence of loot boxes as a warning on product packaging and to study the wider use of the practice. (The full letter to Vance is posted at the bottom of this article. ESRB did not respond to a request for comment.) Hassan also pressed four nominees to the Federal Trade Commission on the issue during a hearing the same week at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “In the past, the FTC has looked at video games,” specifically the impact of violence in games, Hassan said at the hearing. “Do you agree that children being addicted to gaming and activities like loot boxes that might make them more susceptible to addiction is a problem that merits our attention? And depending on how the ESRB responds to my inquiry, would the FTC be willing to look at loot boxes as an issue independently?” All four FTC nominees agreed that they would be willing to examine federal oversight of loot boxes.
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