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Loot box questions brought up in UK parliament

Spooky loot

“Loot” used to be such a nice word. It brought to mind coffers piled with doubloons. Today it is often followed by the word “crate” and an expression of disgust. After recent controversies over the inclusion of loot boxes in games like Middle-earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars: Battlefront 2, the issue of this psychologically iffy practice has been brought up in the UK parliament in the form of two written questions submitted by a Cambridge MP. In short, they ask the government: what do you plan to do about “in-game gambling”?

The questions were submitted by Labour MP Daniel Zeichner and are both directed at the minister for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. They’re written in Parliamentese but essentially the first asks “wot you gon’ do about it m8”? and the second asks “why don’t we do what the Isle of Man does, innit?”

“To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.”

“To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man’s enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK.”

They were submitted on Friday and probably won’t see a response for a while. Reddit user Artfunkel says they helped the MP compose the questions and says that, while they expect a typical “non-committal” response, it is important to “start the conversation”. The Redditor also explains that: “The Isle of Man is a British territory which explicitly defines in-game items as money’s worth in its gambling law. It’s currently the only place in the world that does so.”

I’m not sure exactly what those laws entail and am deffo not qualified to say whether the Isle of Man’s laws are sensible or practical in this case. You’ll have to ask your mate, Derek The Solicitor, or wait to see what the government says.

The Loot Box Question is likely to be brought up again in the political sphere, as a recent petition to get the topic raised in parliament has also just passed the necessary 100,000 10,000 signatures, which means it’ll get a “response”, whatever that means.

As far as I can see, the increasingly noisy furor about loot crates could go in many directions. Here are some possibilities:

  • The UK government immediately panics and outlaws Overwatch, but no other game
  • The Scottish parliament sneakily adapts their own laws to force devs to publish the odds of crates, a la China
  • Absolutely nothing changes for 6+ years, then, in the year 2024, the human race is slowly hunted to extinction by an all-consuming loot box powered by a neural net. When the last person is dead, it decides to open its own head, recoiling in horror as the whole of humanity leaps out, some gold, some purple, whereupon they begin to spread across the planet once again, like a terrible, unstoppable virus

If you want an actual overview of the law, with facts and everything, our pals at Eurogamer have a big article covering the question: Are loot boxes gambling?

As for “loot”, perhaps we can use a new word. “Booty”? “Treasure”? How about: “plunderage”?

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Who am I?

Brendan Caldwell

Features Editor

Brendan likes all types of games. To him there is wisdom in Crusader Kings 2, valour in Dark Souls, and tragicomedy in Nidhogg.

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