Lootboxes Reliance on Identification

In Griffith et al’s paper, Competitive Video Game Play: An Investigation of Identification and Competition, a study in conducted to uncover the positive and negative behavioural outcomes that arise from playing competitive video games. Analyzing sports games, the study emphasises that factors of identification with the avatar along with out-group salience in regards to the opponents raises both positive and negative psychological responses within the player. If the player identifies strongly with the team they are playing, and with the rivarlries simulated through the games progression, the player is more likely to have stronger positive or negative behavioural responses to winning or losing.

As pointed out by suchivrb, the paper does not uncover anything particularly new about video games in relation to psychological effects and affective outcomes. It seems fairly obvious that if a player has invested interest in the team they are playing as, their rivalries, or the particular event being simulated, they will have a stronger response of enjoyment if they win and more rage if they lose. Identification in gaming is an issue that has been steadily talked about as the gaming industry has progressed.

People have a more vested interest in what they are playing, whether a narrative game or pure competition based games, if their in-game avatar reflects their identity, beliefs, and appearance. This is important to many people, and is a progressive step forward away from classic white male protagonists of the past. However, identification can be particularly dangerous when it is prayed upon by companies trying to stretch the profits of their game to the nth degree.

Recently, there has been continual debate over in-game lootboxes and microtransactions. Microtransaction is a system originally developed for free-to-play content, in which players can buy virtual upgrades in-game for small payments. This system has been extended to, and over-utalized by, larger developers in the form of lootboxes. Lootboxes provide a random assortment of items in exchange for a small monitary value. These lootboxes have been included in the development and sale of many large titles, which cost an upfront payment, to increase the revenue a game can produce after initial market release.

Identification within gaming can thus prove very dangerous when companies use lootboxes to take advantage of peoples investments and addictions to particular video games. If a player is encouraged to identify with their character, team and narrative throughout the game, and then is told that virtual elements are available to increase identification with their character, of course they are going to be tempted and persuaded into purchasing an item for a small fee. This may seem mild at first, but in the same way that minor aggressive responses to sports games can lead to something much bigger, lootboxes can also wring players of large sums of money through continual updates and promotion of lootboxes.

Lootboxes have recently been dubbed as gambeling geared towards minors by many ethical authorities in the industry, and have been taken out of many games in response. I believe it is important for acadamia to take a closer look into the psychological effects and adverse outcomes that arise when companies pray on users identification with their product.

Image: https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/17/loot-boxes-face-scrutiny-from-an-international-coalition-of-gambling-authorities/

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