New research from the U.K. finds that images and references to alcohol and tobacco in popular video games may be influencing teens who play the games. Moreover, investigators believe the age restriction system that should limit access to games carrying unsuitable content is not working.
Experts from the U.K. Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham analyzed best-selling video games to find out the extent to which the games include this content and to assess the link between playing the games and drinking and smoking behavior.
They found that teenagers who play video games featuring alcohol and tobacco references were twice as likely to have tried smoking or drinking themselves.
The research examined the content of 32 UK best-selling video games of 2012/2013 and carried out a large online survey of adolescents playing games with alcohol and tobacco content.
An analysis of “cut scenes” uploaded by gamers to YouTube from the five most popular games was also carried out. All the games studied were from the genres of stealth, action adventure, open world, shooter, and survival/horror because they involve avatars that look and act like real people.
The study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, found alcohol and tobacco content in 44 percent of the most popular video games.
Researchers also found this content was not reported by the official regulator, the Pan-European Games Information (PEGI) system which contributes to the Video Standards Council age ratings that help parents decide whether game content is suitable for their children.
The researchers used YouGov survey tools to ask 1,094 UK adolescents aged 11-17 whether they had played any of the most popular video games identified as containing either tobacco or alcohol imagery.
Out of the top five most popular games, Grand Theft Auto V & VI contained the highest level of alcohol and smoking content using fictitious brands only. The other top games containing these references were “Call of Duty:Black Ops II,” “Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3,” and “Assassin’s Creed III.” There was no electronic cigarette content.
Dr. Joanne Cranwell, a psychologist from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, said that although a majority of UK adolescents play video games online, parental concern over exposure to inappropriate content while playing video games seems to be lower than for other media, like movies for example.
“While 80 percent of children aged 10-15 play packaged or online video games with an age rating higher than their age, more than half of British parents are unaware of the harmful content this exposes them to,” she said.
Investigators determined that video games are clearly attractive to adolescents regardless of age classification. However, the official PEGI content descriptors do not appear to restrict youth access to age inappropriate content.
Researchers believe the PEGI system needs to include both alcohol and tobacco in their content descriptors. Also, game developers could be offered incentives to reduce the amount of smoking and drinking in their games or to at least reference smoking and drinking on their packaging and websites.
Source: University of Nottingham