Gaming in Adelaide: ‘No Game’ and its discontents
Posted on May 19, 2014
There is community concern about increased media use among children and any negative impacts it may have. The ‘Gambling is No Game‘ campaign run by the South Australian government has some very unwelcome attention from the Adelaide gaming community. This is largely the result of misunderstanding and a historical sense of marginalisation amongst gamers.
In late 2013 the launch of the South Australian Government’s campaign generated some heated discussion among the gaming community and a strong reaction from the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. The prominent tagline that headed up the campaign, ‘Gambling Starts with Games’, ‘essentially tarred all video games with the same clumsy brush and, bizarrely, ignores the research it cites on its own website’. After a stiffly-worded letter from the IGEA citing breaches of the South Australian Advertising Guidelines, the government adjusted the tagline to ‘Gambling is no game’.
The response had its roots in the historical marginalization of the gaming community from mainstream society. Repeated moral panics about the dangers of video games (for children especially) significantly delayed the introduction of an R18+ classification for games, and the resentment from this is particularly acute in South Australia, whose Attorney-General was key in blocking progress. Although there is some scepticism from South Australian gamers, this new campaign is not the oppressive beast that it might seem to some.
At a forum held at the University of Adelaide’s Elder Hall in February, 2014, prominent speakers including Premier Jay Weatherall and Associate Professor Paul Defabbro outlined the government’s position and the concerns that are begin addressed by the campaign. What became clear very quickly was that the ‘No Game’ campaign has nothing to do with video games in general. Instead, it has an explicit focus on simulated gambling games, and the extent to which they are appropriate for children (i.e. not at all). There is no attempt to go up against any gaming or gambling for adults: there is just concern for the wellbeing of children and families when exposure to games that may promote gambling habits is unregulated.
It’s best to look at an example such as Candy Crush Saga, which was discussed at the forum. Despite the developer’s abominable record of anti-competitive behaviour, Candy Crush Saga is one of the most popular apps on mobile, and one of the most lucrative as well. From the perspective of the ‘No Game’ campaign, it replicates the ‘sights and sounds’ of poker machines, which children cannot legally be exposed to in a licensed venue. The charming artwork and bright colours are almost designed to appeal particularly to younger players, and it arguably exploits players of all ages.
Much worse is the fact that Candy Crush Saga has game mechanics developed around a reward system which shifts from rewarding based on skill to rewarding based on luck. This is combined with a monetisation system which asks for more money, more often, and as a substitute for luck rather than skill or time investment. This is perhaps the thing that gamers would most object to in simulated gambling systems: they do not reward skills, improvement or learning, and the more a system relies exclusively on luck (especially combined with monetization), the more an affront to gaming sensibilities it is.
There is also an issue with naming: unfortunately ‘gaming’ has the double connotation of video games and automated gambling, and many gamers would want a clearer distinction between these two activities. Ultimately, the ‘Gambling is No Game’ campaign actually has some very good tips for parents concerned about these matters, and none of them involve blanket rejections of video games.