The crackdown on tobacco promotion has pervaded most media and has even been outright banned in some areas.
Gaming seems to have slipped through the cracks in this regard up until now, but researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) are poised to reveal a study on the subject.
The crux of the issue is the way games are rated, and how this affects who can buy (and, as an extension, be influenced by) them. The study focused on the rating system used in the US; the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). The ESRB is used to give games age ratings which have to be enforced by whomever chooses to sell them.
While the ESRB does have a ratings system which directly considers Tobacco Reference, the study finds that the overall ratings given to games does not reflect the use of tobacco actually in the game. The researchers interviewed gamers about the games they play and whether or not they contained tobacco content.
Here’s a run down of the findings presented at the moment:
- Participants interviewed: 65.
- Age range of participants: 13 – 50 years old.
- “Tobacco content” includes: “visible smoking equipment, characters mentioning smoking or characters smoking a cigarette, pipe, cigar, or e-cigarette.”
- (Of an unspecified number of games): 8% received tobacco warnings while 42% contained tobacco content.
- (Of an unspecified number of games rated “M for Mature, a rating for ages 17 and up): 4% received tobacco warnings while 75% contained tobacco content.
- Susan Forsyth, a PhD candidate at the UCSF School of Nursing suggests that: “Parents should stop relying on the ratings to screen for tobacco use in buying video games for their kids.”
- Special mention is made of the Metal Gear franchise, which frequently contains tobacco use, but is void of a tobacco content warning.
In relation to that last point about Metal Gear; the franchise actually uses tobacco and smoking as a game mechanic, so much so that in Metal Gear Solid 4, an installation screen warns about tobacco use (viewable in the header image above).
While it is an interesting study, the real implication would be a link between games which feature tobacco content and the percentage of players who use tobacco, but we are not aware of any such conclusion as of yet. In addition; a review sample of only 65 Americans is extraordinarily small.
A final point to note is that physical games sold in the country are not rated by the ESRB, but are controlled by a combination of the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) and the Film and Publication Board (FPB). At the time of this writing, we don’t know how much the presence of cigarettes or smokers in a movie, game or TV show would affect the rating.
[Source – Eurakalert]