Tobacco imagery in video games: ratings and gamer recall

From Tobacco Control

This study demonstrates that tobacco imagery is present in games, recalled consciously by players, and that most ESRB game ratings do not reflect this tobacco content. Games rated M were played by all participants, including those 17 and younger, indicating likely exposure to unrated tobacco content. Research suggests that age restrictions may actually make games more attractive to youth. For example, M-rated Grand Theft Auto has been played by 56% of US 8–18-year-olds. Because many adolescents do play M-rated games, the ESRB should apply more rigorous procedures to ensure accurate content descriptors. This study shows that adolescent video game players may be exposed to more tobacco imagery than ratings would suggest.

our take

With the fall releases of blockbuster video games just around the corner, this research is an important reminder that the video game rating system has not been up to the challenge when it comes to warning gamers about tobacco imagery. While 42 percent of the games studied contained tobacco imagery, only 8 percent received tobacco warnings.
Donna Vallone
Chief Research Officer