A senior group of UK MPs have launched an inquiry into the growth of "immersive and addictive technologies".
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee will look at how the addictive nature of some technologies can affect users’ engagement with gaming and social media, particularly among young people.
Social media platforms' efforts to increase engagement have come under fire in recent months for the effects they have on people's mental health and well-being. Campaign Against Living Miserably chief executive Simon Gunning has recently described social media as "this generation's smoking", while surveys by GQ and Dove have warned of socia media's effect on self-esteem.
The Immersive and Addictive Technologies inquiry is now asking for evidence as it examines the government’s efforts to regulate the "gamification" of people’s lives.
While much of the inquiry’s focus is specifically on esports and online gaming, it also looks at the wider uses of virtual reality and augmented reality, which would include advertising and marketing. There is also a specific focus on the links between gaming and gambling and the effects of in-game spending, particularly on children.
Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS committee, said: "The way we interact with cutting-edge technologies is life-changing for our generation and generations to come. We have the opportunity now to shape that development, setting an agenda that benefits our economy and how we spend our leisure time, while ensuring the right safeguards are built in."
The inquiry is separate to the DCMS committee’s ongoing investigation into online misinformation and fake news that has repeatedly asked Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to give evidence in person, but to no avail.
Last week, the committee released a trove of internal Facebook emails that appeared to show the social media giant had favoured brands such as Airbnb with special access to its user data, while rivals such as Twitter were obstructed.
Immersive and Addictive Technologies inquiry’s terms of reference
• The immersive media industry: what factors have led to the UK’s success in the gaming sector? What skills are needed, and what action should the government take, to ensure the UK remains a key player in gaming and VR/AR? Is the funding to support digital technologies and skills being allocated appropriately? What has been the impact of the Video Games Tax Relief and what opportunities might there be to build on it?
• The future of esports in the UK: what is the future for the industry, in terms of future growth, ethics and regulation? How might the links between traditional sports and their electronic counterparts be strengthened?
• The wider uses of "gamification" and VR/AR: how is "gamification" being used to promote positive outcomes? How are other industries and art forms using gaming and VR/AR? What are the limitations or challenges of "gamification"? How successfully is the government’s "Culture is Digital" agenda advancing immersive technologies?
• Tackling digital and gaming addiction: what are digital addiction and gaming addiction, and how do they differ from other forms? What is the scale of the problem and what support do those with digital or gaming addiction need? What role does design play in gaming addiction, or the addictive use of social media, and how might that be managed? Are extra measures needed to protect children from these forms of addiction? How well co-ordinated are government efforts on these forms of addiction? What can be learned from other countries?
• The links between gaming and gambling: what are the links between gaming and gambling? What are the effects of in-game spending, especially on children, and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation? What challenges and opportunities do gaming and esports offer the gambling industry and how should that be managed?
• Data security and infrastructure: how do immersive technologies interact with individuals’ data and what are the potential impacts of that? Will the government’s telecoms plans deliver the infrastructure that is needed for immersive technologies? How will official bodies such as the Office for Artificial Intelligence and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation co-ordinate and share their work? How well is the government responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by immersive technologies?