This article first appeared on www.psychdocks.com (February 11, 2021)
Recently, indoor activities have taken over most of people’s time, especially considering many people are unable to engage in more outdoor activities. Sure, some outdoor activities are very much alive, but with the limitations and responsibilities we each have, indoor activities are much more accessible. These indoor activities most of the time include watching TV shows, movies, playing board games, and playing video games.
Video games are particularly popular due to how interactive they are and how you can play them with your friends. Whether it be a competitive game like Valorant or Fall Guys, a cooperative game like Phogs or Journey, or even just a game where you can flaunt your skills, achievements, and/or items. One such particular case is the case of Gacha games. The term Gacha originates from the Japanese word Gashapon, which is a type of vending machine that dispenses many different potential toys (usually in a capsule) at random in a game of chance. It has been adapted into the digital world fairly long ago, but recently has been gaining more and more traction as time passes. Generally speaking, this seems quite harmless. The practice has been done as early as the 1880’s, and has not sparked any major issues with children until recently.
However, many people claim that this practice is predatory in nature, feeding on one’s need to feel like they have gained something, and very much comparable to gambling, another activity that is heavily outlawed and monitored. One such particular case is the Star Wars Battlefront 2 Controversy, which was so heavily campaigned against that the publisher EA even had to legally defend their practice on court, where they so infamously claimed that their game did not involve gambling, but instead “surprise mechanics.” (Bailey, 2019)
What brought this so much attention whereas it has been years since video games have been employing gacha mechanics and what basically amounts to as gambling, is the fact that Star Wars Battlefront 2 was a fully paid game worth around 60 dollars at the time that not only included these mechanics, but had gameplay changing items hidden behind a paywall, virtually making these characters or items unavailable for those not willing to try their hand (and wallet) at it. (YongYea, 2017) These mechanics were mostly prevalent in free mobile games, but to see it in a fully paid triple A release put the issue in the limelight. Furthermore, the game capitalizes on the Star Wars franchise, which just multiplied the hate ten times over.
Now a new game has taken over the internet under the name Genshin Impact, sharing many of the issues stated above, but not nearly sharing the same amount of scrutiny. The game features high quality visuals and gameplay, a vast open-world map, and many zany characters which have taken people’s hearts, like the cheerful and childish Paimon, and all of it is accessible on mobile devices. Unlike many RPGs however, you are unable to create your own character, and instead are made to play pre-made characters. Many of these characters are hidden behind a gacha system, with the highly coveted characters having the chance of being pulled at a miniscule 0.06% chance. Genshin Impact suffers from a lot of the problems people have with gacha games, but against all odds is still very much universally liked, having gained 21.3 million users even before launch.
By no means is this article meant to prevent you from enjoying the gacha games, but it is important to know what you are getting into, especially if you have plans on spending money on such games. These gacha games take on many of the practices linked to gambling and should be referred to as such.
The first phenomenon I’d like to discuss is the Gambler’s Fallacy. Gambler’s fallacy is this false belief that if something happens enough times repeatedly, the outcomes are bound to change. What many of these games do is try and cement this idea by applying something called a pity system. The pity system generally works by promising players guaranteed outcomes given they have not gained anything particularly good. What happens is that people who initially only wanted to try their hand with a few free chances end up spending more time to try their hand again, some people are willing enough to spend money on these chances. As luck proves to not be in their favor, their belief that they are bound to get what they want gets stronger, further pushed by the idea that if they are all out of luck, at one point the pity system will save them. All the while, their insistence on believing that inevitably they’ll get what they need, they do not realize just how much money and time they’ve spent.
There are stories of people losing thousands of dollars due to games with any gacha mechanic, with one such situation wherein a father had his 17-year-old son spend around 7000 USD to try and get his favorite character in the video game FIFA. This particular case highlights the negative effects of this practice. Children in general are impressionable and easily manipulated. Furthermore, children have a less concrete idea of the value of money, made even less concrete by the additional transaction of adding in game premium currency instead of direct purchases. Continuous unmonitored engagement with gacha games, and in general, gambling in video games, can cause adverse effects on one’s valuation of money and one’s impulse control.
Another thing to note is the bandwagon effect. As stated above, gacha games are getting very popular and as such have many people discussing them, as well as their own luck in the gacha. People who are exposed to these conversations are likely to not want to miss out on the current trend and therefore will try it out for themselves. The more people they see pull something amazing, the more likely they are to feel confident that they will experience a similarly amazing situation, spending more and more time and money to try and achieve that. I for one can attest to this, as I have been in a similar boat, and I regret to report that I am yet again in that boat.
Even with all of this in mind, even understanding the adversities of gambling and gacha, Why do we still enjoy it knowing we are being milked for money? The simple fact of the matter is that we enjoy getting rewards, and we enjoy it even more when it goes against all odds. Rewards activate the release of a certain chemical in our brain called dopamine. Dopamine induces this appetitive and consummatory behavior, and in this case that behavior is directed towards potential winnings. Dopamine revolves around the feeling of pleasure and desire, and is what drives most people to do the things they want to do. Things such as enjoying good food or finishing a task and getting a reward releases dopamine as we feel we’ve achieved what the body yearns for. The brain however is not able to tell the difference between wants and needs, which is why even against all our rationality, we may do things we know can hurt us, whether that be physically, mentally, or financially.
As we continue to get dopamine from a specific activity, that release gets lower and lower with repetition, not giving the same amount of pleasure as it used to. The body however has become used to the stimulus of that repeated activity so much that it considers it an important activity for survival. This is how addiction starts and how withdrawal works. When one is addicted and is unable to get his fix of the source of the addiction, their body starts to think that they are in danger. This is why addiction needs to be taken more seriously and why it’s not as easy to stop as people think.
Does this mean you shouldn’t be playing Genshin Impact or FIFA? No, we as people are free to enjoy anything we want to enjoy. If spending time (and money) on gacha games make you happy, then by all means continue. Life is too short to not enjoy the little things. However, if it feels less like enjoyment and more of a chore or financial burden, it may be time to put your wallet away. Understand that moderation is key, and that too much of anything is a bad thing.
Now excuse me, I gotta go use my original resin.
Berrdige, K. (2007). The debate over dopamine’s role in reward: the case for incentive salience., 191(3), 391–431. doi:10.1007/s00213-006-0578-x
EA: They’re not loot boxes, they’re “surprise mechanics,” and they’re “quite ethical” PCGamesN. Retrieved February 10, 2021 from https://www.pcgamesn.com/ea-loot-boxes
Father issues household gaming ban after teenage son spent over £5,000 on FIFA. Digital Spy. Retrieved February 9, 2021 from https://www.digitalspy.com/videogames/fifa/a779630/father-issues-gaming-ban-after-teenage-son-spends-5000-on-fifa/
How Genshin Impact made a despised video game genre irresistible. Inverse. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
Star wars battlefront 2 loot boxes raise major concerns. YongYea. Retrieved February 10, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ndi8D2eRu4
The psychology of gambling. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 9, 2021 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201603/the-psychology-gambling
(Ralph Gustilo is a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology graduate from Ateneo de Davao University. Ever since he was a teen, psychology was something he was passionate about, applying it to everyday things people seldom think about and using it to understand others. He hopes that one day, psychology and mental health will become more accepted and prioritized in the Philippines and that mental health resources become more accessible to the public.)