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Experts warn of gambling risk in app games

'Gacha' power cards may get youth hooked on online gambling later in life
The Straits Times - February 25, 2013
By: Janice Tai & Derrick Ho
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Experts warn of gambling risk in app games "Gacha" is a gambling mechanism built into many free-to-play games. Counsellors fear the toxic mix of real money and chance in such games may lead players to online gambling eventually. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

THE increasing popularity of online casino games and some social games may be setting up young people for problem gambling later in life, counsellors and social media experts have warned.

Online casino games found on Facebook and mobile apps - no different from the real-life versions - allow players to gamble using virtual currency, purchased with real money.

Likewise, mobile social games, with a "gacha" element in them - a term from the Japanese word for toy vending machines - work in a similar way. These games allow players to buy a shot at getting random payouts or mystery gifts to advance in the game.

Experts said that such free-to-play games that are easily available to users of all age groups are a toxic mix of real money and chance. Getting hooked on these games may eventually lead players to online gambling, such as soccer betting.

Gacha games, such as Rage Of Bahamut and Blood Brothers, are fast catching on among the young. Both games, which are rated suitable for children above 12 and nine years of age respectively, are among the top 25 highest- grossing games on the Singapore iTunes app store - trailing behind casino game Slotomania. These games allow players to "collect" character and power cards to battle enemies.

Touch Cyber Wellness, a centre which educates students and parents on cyber safety, said that almost all who sought help from its counsellors on online gaming issues had been exposed to these gacha games. The non-profit agency has received 1,200 calls and handled 400 face-to-face counselling cases on youth online gaming issues since 2006.

Said assistant manager Chong Ee Jay: "More and more teenagers are spending money to buy credits, and game developers are coming up with more such games to market to them."

There are no official numbers, or research carried out here, to track whether youth who engage in these games eventually become gambling addicts.

But overseas studies have shown that the prevalence of problem gambling is about three to four times higher among Internet gamblers compared to non-Internet gamblers, said counsellor Ow Chien Yi, who is with the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health.

As it is, the number of young people seeking treatment for problem gambling is slowly increasing. Nams has seen new problem gambling cases among those aged between 18 and 35 years rise from around 110 to 130 in the last two years or so. Half of them have participated in various online gambling games.

Last year, the Japanese government banned a particularly intense version of gacha in games, saying that it could promote a "passion for gambling" among children.

Associate Professor Angeline Khoo, of the National Institute of Education, who studies the Internet and video-gaming issues, said the thrills and suspense that young people get from these online games are similar to those derived by a gambling addict.

Dr Lim Sun Sun, an associate professor of communications and new media at the National University of Singapore, agreed. "These games use a lot of arousing sounds and lights to stimulate you, and when the rewards come intermittently, you keep wanting to play to derive the thrill."

Mr Chong of Touch pointed out that once "exposed to thrill and luck and chance, the transition to actual gambling may become easier".

The social nature of the games draws others in, said Assistant Professor Natalie Pang of Nanyang Technological University, who researches social media and online behaviour.

She said: "The concern I have with certain Facebook games that have a gambling component is that they promote certain behaviour that becomes acceptable within the community over time."


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  • Problem Gambling Helpline: 1800-6668-668
  • One Hope Centre (9am to 6pm): 6547-1011
  • THK Problem Gambling Recovery Centre: 1800-942-6253


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