To screen, or not to screen: An experimental comparison of two methods for correlating video game loot box expenditure and problem gambling severity

Leon Y. Xiao, Philip Newall, Richard J.E. James

Research output: Journal Article or Conference Article in JournalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Loot boxes are gambling-like products found in video games that players can buy with real-world money to
obtain random rewards. A positive correlation between loot box spending and problem gambling severity has
been well-replicated. Some researchers recently argued that this observed positive correlation may be due to
participants incorrectly interpreting problem gambling questions as applying to their loot box expenditure
because they see loot box purchasing as a form of ‘gambling.’ We experimentally tested this alternative explanation for the observed positive correlation (N = 2027) by manipulating whether all participants were given the
problem gambling scale, as the previous literature generally had done (the ‘non-screening’ approach; n = 1005),
or by ‘screening’ participants (n = 1022) by only giving the problem gambling scale to those reporting recent
gambling expenditure. Through the latter screening process, we clarified and calibrated what ‘gambling’ means
by providing an exhaustive list of activities that should be accounted for and specifically instructed participants
that loot box purchasing is not to be considered a form of ‘gambling.’ Results showed positive correlations between loot box spending and problem gambling across both experimental conditions. In addition, a predicted
positive correlation emerged between binary past-year gambling participation and loot box expenditure in the
screening group. These experimental results confirm that the association between loot box spending and problem
gambling severity is likely not due to participants misinterpreting problem gambling questions as being relevant
to their loot box spending. However, problem gambling severity was inflated in the non-screening group,
meaning that future research on gambling-like products should include gambling participation screening questions; better define what ‘gambling’ means; potentially exclude non-gamblers from analysis; and, importantly,
provide explicit instructions on whether certain activities should not be considered a form of ‘gambling.’
Original languageEnglish
Article number108019
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Volume151
ISSN0747-5632
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023

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