Doctoral dissertation

Joseph Macey: Context determines when video game-related gambling becomes harmful

Earlier, empirical research on convergence of video games and gambling has predominantly focused on legal and regulatory issues. In his doctoral dissertation MSc Joseph Macey investigated the emerging phenomenon of video game-related gambling, such as loot boxes, esports betting and virtual item lotteries, and its connection to harmful video gaming habits.

Recent decades have seen the parallel trends of the growing liberalisation of gambling practices and the increasing significance of games as both entertainment media and cultural reference points. Unsurprisingly there has been a rapid convergence between video game play and gambling. Much attention has been focused on the in-game items known as loot boxes, however, there are many more examples of gambling, and gambling-like mechanics, being used to drive player engagement and, consequently, monetisation.

“Concerns have been raised about such developments, with commentators arguing that they are inherently exploitative, that they normalise gambling and gambling-like interactions, and that they encourage problematic consumption,” Joseph Macey explains.

Macey’s research is one of the first empirical investigations of video game-related gambling highlights the importance of contextual factors when considering the relationships between video game play and gambling behaviour. At the time his research was conducted, there existed a significant and notable dearth of empirical work addressing video games and gambling, with what published works there were predominantly focusing on legal and regulatory issues.

“My aim is to study for example esports betting, virtual item lotteries, and loot boxes and their connection to video gaming habits, maladaptive cognitions and motivations for consumption of online services,” Joseph Macey says.

The work is divided into a series of complementary perspectives that, in unison, provide both depth and breadth to the investigation.

First to highlight the underaged in video game-gambling

Macey’s dissertation constitutes the first empirical work dedicated to the study of video game-related gambling as a distinct topic; previously, work in this area had addressed individual activities, for example social casino games or esports betting.

“In particular, the articles included as part of this work were among the first to address the role of loot boxes and other virtual items in facilitating gambling related to video games, an issue which has since gathered significant attention from within academia and beyond,” Macey states.

Furthermore, his work provides a record of video game-related gambling at a key period of its development, a time of significant change and increased attention from those both inside and outside of the video game ecosystem.

Whereas prior works had examined populations of video game players, esports fans, or gamblers, this work is the first to identify those who reside at the intersection of these groups: those who participate in video game-related gambling specifically.

“A particular contribution of this work has been to highlight the presence of underage individuals in the video game-gambling ecosystem. This is a group who are often absent from such studies, despite the increased risks known to be associated with early exposure to gambling.” Macey says.

Building upon these areas, his dissertation includes one of the first studies of gambling-related cognitions among video gamers who gamble; as a result of this work it developed the first measure for identifying such cognitions in this population. At the same time providing knowledge which can improve established measures used to identify gambling-related cognitions in traditional gambling populations, for example in reference to the ways in which luck and skill are conceptualised.

Playing video games does not lead to harmful gambling as such

The knowledge generated by this body of work, both practical and theoretical, has contributed greatly to understanding the relationships between video game play and gambling behaviour. It has added to the growing body of evidence which questions the perspective that playing video games contributes directly to the development of problematic gambling.

“Instead, I highlight the influence of contextual factors, such as the surrounding consumption cultures associated with particular games or media formats, which are of greater significance to the development of gambling behaviours, rather than simply playing games,” Joseph Macey notes.

All four articles included in his work employ quantitative methodologies in order to gain high-level insights into the phenomenon; they are among the first empirical investigations of video game-related gambling and its varied manifestations and, as such, provide a foundation upon which further research into specific phenomena can be built, while also serving as a record of activities and behaviours during a period of notable change in the field.

Joseph Macey is a naturalised Finn, based in Tampere; he is currently employed as a Project Researcher for the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at the University of Turku.

The doctoral dissertation of MSc (Internet and Game Studies) Joseph Macey in the field of Humans and Technology, titled A Whole New Ball Game: The growing prevalence of video game-related gambling will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences at Tampere University at 13.00 on Wednesday 01.12.2021, auditorium A1 of the Main Building, Kalevantie 4, Tampere.  The Opponent will be Professor Zsolt Demetrovics, University of Gibraltar. The Custos will be Professor Juho Hamari, Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences, Tampere University.

The dissertation is available online at: 

The event can be followed via remote connection (Zoom).


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