Video game warnings fall far short in rating tobacco content

September 14, 2015

Video games are not adequately rated for tobacco content, according to a new UC San Francisco study that found video gamers are being widely exposed to tobacco imagery.

The researchers concluded that a national ratings board set up more than 20 years ago is not a reliable source for learning whether video games contain tobacco imagery.

The study will be published online September 14 in Tobacco Control.

"Parents should stop relying on the ratings to screen for tobacco use in buying video games for their kids," said first author Susan Forsyth, a PhD candidate at the UCSF School of Nursing.

Video games are a ubiquitous part of adolescent life in many countries. In the U.S., 88 percent of youth 8 to 18 years old play video games at least occasionally, according to a national study. Despite the widespread practice, there has been little research on whether smoking content is present in the games and whether games are being adequately rated for tobacco content.

Previous research has found that smoking imagery in movies can lead youths to begin smoking. In the video game study, the researchers sought to assess whether tobacco content was appropriately labelled. "The presence of tobacco imagery in (video) games exposes players to products and behaviors within an immersive...environment, with unknown effects on real-world smoking behavior," the authors wrote.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) was established in 1994 by the video game industry as a voluntary, self-regulating body to assist buyers in determining age-appropriate content. Much like movie ratings, video game ratings assess the level of violence and tobacco content in games.

For the study, the researchers interviewed 65 gamers between 13 and 50 years old on their favorite games and whether the games contained smoking imagery. Tobacco content included visible smoking equipment, characters mentioning smoking or characters smoking a cigarette, pipe, cigar, or e-cigarette.

The authors found that game ratings do not accurately reflect tobacco content. While 8 percent of the games received tobacco warnings, 42 percent actually had tobacco content. Among games rated "M" for "mature," 75 percent contained verified tobacco content - but the ESRB provided warnings on only 4 percent of the games.

In one popular series, Metal Gear, the ratings board gave the game no tobacco content descriptor, yet it had extensive smoking throughout.

As a result, adolescents are being exposed to significantly more tobacco imagery than previously thought, the researchers said.

"The ratings board needs to stop pretending that it's providing accurate ratings," said senior author Ruth E. Malone, RN, PhD, a professor at the UCSF School of Nursing and chair of the UCSF Department of Social and Behavior Sciences. "And it should more thoroughly and consistently screen material for content and accurately report it."
-end-
Forsyth is funded by a dissertation award from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program grant #22DT-0003.

For related information please see http://scienceofcaring.ucsf.edu/health-public/commentary-new-generation-gets-hooked-tobacco

About UCSF: UCSF is a leading university dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. Founded in 1864 as a medical college, UCSF now includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals. Please visit http://www.ucsf.edu/news.

University of California - San Francisco

Related Video Games Articles from Brightsurf:

Video games improve the visual attention of expert players
Long-term experiences of action real-time strategy games leads to improvements in temporal visual selective attention.

Study questions video games' effects on violent behavior
A new Contemporary Economic Policy study finds that there is not enough information to support the claim that violent video games lead to acts of violence.

Do video games drive obesity?
Are children, teenagers and adults who spend a lot of time playing video games really more obese?

DeepMind's new gamer AI goes 'for the win' in multiplayer first-person video games
DeepMind researchers have taught artificially intelligent gamers to play a popular 3D multiplayer first-person video game with human-like skills -- a previously insurmountable task.

How does dark play impact the effectiveness of serious video games?
A new study has shown that allowing ''dark play'' in a serious video game intended to practice skills transferable to a real-life setting does not impact the game's effectiveness.

Study: Collaborative video games could increase office productivity
Move over trust falls and ropes courses, turns out playing video games with coworkers is the real path to better performance at the office.

Pitt researcher uses video games to unlock new levels of A.I.
Dr. Jiang designs algorithms that learn decision strategies in complex and uncertain environments like video games.

For blind gamers, equal access to racing video games
Computer Scientist Brian A. Smith has developed the RAD -- a racing auditory display -- to enable visually impaired gamers play the same types of racing games that sighted players play with the same speed, control, and excitement as sighted players.

Video games to improve mobility after a stroke
A joint research by the Basque research center BCBL and the London Imperial College reveals that, after a cerebral infarction, injuries in areas that control attention also cause motility problems.

No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Read More: Video Games News and Video Games Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.