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US Politicians: Video Game Publishers Must Protect Children From Loot Boxes

Democrats are putting pressure on video game companies to better protect children from the potential dangers associated with online gaming. These include loot boxes and other microtransactions.

As spotted by The Verge, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) have sent letters to some of the industry’s biggest players, including Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, Nintendo and Epic Games, to extend a new U.K. initiative overseas.

The Congressional lawmakers fear online video games present unique risks to children, including “the collection and monetization of children’s data, exposure to violent content, online predators, and manipulative design.”

“The prevalence of microtransactions—often encouraged through nudging— have led to high credit card bills for parents,” the Congressional letter notes. “Loot boxes go one step further, encouraging purchase before a child knows what the ‘bundle’ contains— akin to gambling. Children are uniquely vulnerable to manipulation and peer pressure associated with in-game purchases and loot boxes.”

The Age Appropriate Design Code (AADC) is a new U.K. legislation coming into effect next month which will force games companies, social media, and other prominent online businesses to prevent children from being exposed to exploitative content.

This encompasses, among other things, banning access to microtransactions, violent content and manipulative practices to which minors are particularly vulnerable.

The AADC specifically applies to Minecraft and Roblox, two massively popular games known to attract young gamers, which will have to offer more robust privacy settings as well as pull back on techniques designed to keep people playing and paying for as long as possible.

As of writing, none of these measures extend to the U.S., though Congress is calling on all the executives contacted to voluntarily adhere to the regulations. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is explicitly named in the letter as being inefficient with regard to child safety, necessitating the use of ADCC or something similar.

A tentative step in the right direction by lawmakers, then, though it remains to be seen if this drive will result in any meaningful change. None of the letter’s recipients are currently required to comply with the request, though this could eventually change, depending on how doggedly government bodies decide to pursue the issue.

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