An outlaw puffs on a cigar while waging a battle to restore world peace. A soldier contains an alien invasion with a lit cigarette in tow. A performer smokes in a music video for a popular song.

These are just a few of the many instances of smoking in sought-after video games rated “Teen,” meaning they are supposed to be suitable for anyone under the age of 18.

Research shows a link between exposure to smoking imagery and the likelihood to smoke among young people, yet smoking is prevalent and often glamorized in video games played by  youth, according to the Truth Initiative® report “Played: Smoking and Video Games.” Interviews with 44 teen and young adult “gamers” found that they view smoking as making characters “cooler,” “tougher” or “grittier,” and all reported seeing smoking in games on a regular basis.

Between 1994 and 2011, 60 out of 78 large video game publishers included tobacco imagery in at least one, and often more, of their games rated appropriate for youth. Of all new games introduced in 2011 that were rated “Everyone 10+” (appropriate for ages 10 and up), almost 13 percent featured tobacco. A partial review of 2016 releases from top publishers show more than a dozen video games that include tobacco imagery, with at least five that are rated “Teen.”

To better understand how these smoking scenes play out, we compiled six examples of “Teen”-rated video games containing images of tobacco use.

Overwatch

One of the most popular games released in 2016, “Overwatch” drew more than 15 million people to play the game in the first three months of its release, according to the Los Angeles Times. The game centers its action on an international band of heroes fighting to “restore peace to a war-torn world,” and features a main character who is regularly shown smoking a cigar. The character, one of the game’s heroes, is described as a 37-year-old bounty hunter and outlaw who “came to believe that he could make amends for his past sins by righting the injustices of the world” and who “fights only for causes he believes are just,” according to the game’s publisher Blizzard Entertainment.

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

In “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty,” a popular military game where humans battle aliens, three of the 13 featured soldiers smoke. In addition, the only characters in the game who are capable of doing certain tasks, such as operating space construction equipment to raise buildings, are shown holding a lit cigarette in their mouths or behind their ears.

We Sing

In this new karaoke music game, players perform solo or group renditions of popular songs from the last 50 years. “We Sing” players also perform alongside music videos that feature singers and entertainers smoking.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Players follow treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he battles his way to claim a hidden treasure. The 2016 game, which sold more than 2.5 million copies in its first week, features multiple types of tobacco products throughout the action. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) notes that “during the course of the game, characters can be seen smoking cigarettes or cigars.”

XCOM 2

Elite military soldiers fight against an alien invasion in this 2016 release. The ESRB notes in its rating summary for the game that “players can customize soldiers with accessories, including lit cigarettes and cigars.”
 

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman and other characters from DC Comics go head-to-head in this video game, in which one of the heroes is shown lighting and puffing on a cigar each time he enters and exits.

The depiction of tobacco use in games serves, in effect, as both free advertising for tobacco companies and a way to recruit the “replacement smokers” they need to make up for the 1,300 people who die each day from a tobacco-related disease.

To learn more about the influence of smoking imagery in video games, read Truth Initiative’s report “Played: Smoking and Video Games.”

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