UK Government to Launch Research into Addictive Technologies

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The British government’s parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has announced it will launch an inquiry into the growth of “immersive and addictive technologies” and the role they can play in sports, entertainment and even news.

A key focus of the investigation will be gaming and how its addictive nature can impact users’ engagement, particularly younger people. Among other things, the committee is keen to examine technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, and how apps and platforms encourage people to “gamify” their lives.

The committee will also look at the growing problem of gambling addiction.

Background to the inquiry

The committee recognizes that technology is moving faster than the law can keep pace, and notes that there is a “clear interaction” between immersive technologies and individuals’ data. Personal data and its use and abuse has been a hot topic in recent years, with multiple scandals involving businesses having to admit to data leaks or misuse.

As people live their lives online, with them reportedly checking their smartphones every 12 minutes on average according to a report by communications regulator Ofcom, the UK government is under pressure to improve legislation and policies to protect them.

Ofcom’s report says that the UK gaming market was worth more than £5bn ($6.4bn) in 2017, an increase of more than 12% over 2016. The eSports industry of competitive video gaming is also booming, with global audiences of some 600m viewers watching streamed events.

Revenues for eSports are expected to hit at least £1bn ($1.28bn) globally in the next 12 months, according to the most recent survey by Newzoo, which collates data on behalf of the British eSports Association.

Gaming production is one of the major growth industries in the UK. It contributed nearly £3bn ($3.8bn) to the economy in 2017 and around 32m British players game regularly, making the UK the fifth largest video games market globally.

Government concerns

The DCMS committee’s chair, Damian Collins, said that while virtual reality and augmented reality were important assets to the country’s film, gaming, and training industries, there was also concern about their potential negative impact.

He said: “The development of ‘deep fake’ augmented reality films is already a cause for concern because of their potentially disruptive impact in spreading disinformation. The committee has heard repeated concerns about the impact to society of the increasing amounts of time that people spend immersed in online worlds, and the potentially addictive nature of social media and gaming.”

The inquiry would explore those concerns and use the findings to set suitable policies, while retaining the UK’s world-leading position in gaming.

A wide-ranging remit

Within the scope of the inquiry and the main areas outlined above, the committee will assess the impact of tax relief on video games, the future of eSports in the UK and how it is regulated, gamification across industry, the arts, and the digital space, addictions to social media, gaming, and gambling, and how to better protect children.

It will also tackle links between gaming and gambling because the government is keen to examine how children use in-game spending and whether that makes them more susceptible to gambling as they grow up. The committee is expected to look at how other countries are dealing with these issues.

The inquiry is already taking submissions from interested parties before it closes later this week. A report will be published in due course, although no date has been given.

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