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The South Australian Government has fired another volley in the war against video games. Billboards have started popping up around Adelaide proclaiming that "Gambling starts with Games", with a picture of a young girl sitting at a poker table holding an iPad. But what's this really all about?
It's all a new public awareness campaign, Gambling is no game, which advises parents to "look out for online games that simulate gambling". Specifically - and despite what the advertising may have you believe - the SA Government does not believe that playing Super Mario Bros will lead you to becoming a blackjack junkie, or that spending every waking hour in Call of Duty will result in you spending your last dollar down at the race track.
Specifically, it is targeting parents of "very young children", and warning them of the risks involved with the many, many gambling simulator games that are on the market these days.
Many of these are available on tablets or smartphones, difficult to monitor, and seemingly designed with younger audiences in mind. They are packed with bright colours, flashing lights, catchy tunes and a whole stack of positive feedback and rewards - many using exactly the same approach as real-world, "grown-up" poker machines.
"Fast facts about online simulated gambling games", from the NoGame website:
Recent Australian studies show that "almost one third" of teenagers have tried simulated gambling online, with one in 10 checking them out on Facebook, one in 20 using a smartphone, and a further 10% playing simulated electronic slot machine games.
A 2011 report shows that a startling 2.7% of Australian 15-17 year olds is classified as a "problem gambler" - and the number gets worse as the children get younger: 3.6% of 10-14 year olds fall into the same category (source).
While current research has not demonstrated that engaging in simulated gambling causes someone to be a problem gambler, experts have identified there is evidence of a link between exposure of some children to simulated gambling and the development of problem gambling in adulthood.
The official plan from the South Australian Government has some good points: Introducing a classification scheme to apply to downloadable games and apps, a cyber safety inclusion in the school curriculum, and a grant focus on young people and gambling - but their "community awareness campaign" has some holes in it.
We're not denying that gambling simulators are something parents should be aware of. But. There are plenty of games that are not gambling simulators. While the government has studies that show a link between gaming and gambling, there are others that show links between gaming and good childhood development. Video games - even those on tablets and smartphones - are used in educational settings, by both teachers and parents.
South Australia has long been seen as an enemy of video games: Former Attorney-General Mick Atkinson famously stood in the way of Australia's R18+ rating for video games. In more recent years, his replacement John Rau has called for the abolition of the MA15+ rating, and submitted several games for re-classification, claiming they were inappropriately labelled under the revamped classification scheme.
...and now this, which still doesn't show gamers in the best light.
We have contacted both John Rau and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill to find out why they have chosen to promote their message in this way - we'll be sure to keep you posted.
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