The uproar over loot boxes and aggressive monetization in free-to-play games has taken an unexpected turn as US Republican senator Ted Cruz has expressed interest in discussing the matter with popular YouTube streamer Asmongold.
The question came up during a recent episode of Verdict with Ted Cruz, a YouTube series in which Cruz and his co-host “break down the most important news stories of the day and reveal what they mean for you.” Recent topics include: “The Left is weaponizing the legal system,” “The Left’s economic agenda, exposed,” “Will the Left succeed in packing the court?” and “Who would win in a fight: Putin or Elon Musk?” It’s deep and heady stuff, for sure.
In the latest video, Cruz takes on the question: “Is pay-to-win gambling for kids?” The subject floated to the top courtesy of someone named Jonathan: Asmongold apparently said recently that he’d reached out to Cruz’s office about regulating loot boxes in videogames, and Jonathan wanted to know Cruz’s position on the matter. The senator’s answer was predictably noncommittal, but it turns out that Cruz does know a thing or two about loot boxes, probably because he indulges in them once in a while.
“I’m happy to engage in a conversation with [Asmongold],” Cruz said. “I’m happy to see what he has to say on it. As I understand it, the concern he’s raising is a concern about gambling and kids. And I will say it is certainly true that social media, online environments, including videogames, are designed to be addictive.”
Cruz said he’s not a fan of in-game items that confer gameplay advantages, but also acknowledged that he does occasionally spend money on them, “because it is more fun if suddenly your character has a lot more great stuff that would take you six months or a year to build up.” The greater concern, he said, is for kids, who may not fully grasp the process or money involved, particularly when it comes to randomized loot boxes, which is where the gambling point of the debate comes in.
But while he’s open to talking to Asmongold about the matter, he also expressed reluctance to become actively involved in regulating loot boxes.
“I’m open to hearing arguments on this, but I approach the issue with a pretty strong libertarian bent,” Cruz said. “I’d like to not see kids exploited and harmed, and so I’d be interested in his views, but at the same time I’m not sure that the federal government really has a dog in the fight.
“If people want to, in a videogame, spend money on stuff in the game, I think my instincts are probably that that may not be a great choice if you’re spending massive amounts of money in games, but I’m not sure the federal government has a role preventing you from doing that.”
Cruz’s hands-off instinct isn’t surprising. He’s also a well-known opponent of gun regulation in the US, a matter of somewhat more direct import to kids: Even in the immediate aftermath of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas—the state Cruz represents—he pushed back against the possibility of new gun control laws.
Despite that intransigence on a literal life-and-death issue that desperately needs to be addressed, I think Cruz’s take on loot boxes is mostly reasonable: Regulation is probably best avoided if possible but if it’s not, a cautious approach is warranted in order to avoid issues with overstep and unintended consequences, a topic we touched on some years ago when Star Wars Battlefront 2 really blew up the loot box debate.
It’s also possible that just the threat of government intervention could move the industry to get its house in order on its own: We haven’t seen any real action on that front (and the recent Diablo Immortal situation suggests that it may be a distant hope), but that’s basically how the ESRB came into being.
Never in my life did I imagine a US senator would engage in a conversation with me regarding P2W and lootboxes in video games LOLVery excited! https://t.co/2g8H5i76p5June 21, 2022
As for Asmongold, he expressed surprise that Cruz was so relatively well-informed about loot boxes and suggested that he might try to broaden his quest for loot box regulation. “I’ll see if I can get a response from Bernie fucking Sanders,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe Bernie plays fucking Clash of Clans. Maybe he understands it. I don’t know. Maybe AOC. She plays League, I know that. Why not? This is a huge issue … This is not a partisan issue for me.”
I’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard to ask if it would be interested in taking part in this conversation should it actually happen, and will update if I receive a reply.