Images and references to alcohol and tobacco in popular video games may be influencing UK teens who play the games and the age restriction system is not working, according to a new study.
Teenagers are twice as likely to try smoking and alcohol after playing popular video games, experts have warned.
Images and references to booze and tobacco that feature in best-selling games are directly influencing the young minds of players, scientists at the University of Nottingham found.
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.
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.
An analysis of ‘cut scenes’ uploaded by gamers to YouTube from the five most popular games was also carried out.
The study further found alcohol and tobacco content in 44 percent of the most popular video games.
They also found this content was not reported by the official regulator, the Pan-European Games Information (PEGI) system which informs the Video Standards Council age ratings that help parents decide whether game content is suitable for their children.
They were also asked whether and to what extent they smoked or drank alcohol.
Psychologist Joanne Cranwell, said “Although around 54 percent 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.”
“Video games are clearly attractive to adolescents regardless of age classification. It appears that official PEGI content descriptors are failing to restrict youth access to age inappropriate content. We think that 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.
“As a child protection method it is naïve for both the games industry and the Interactive Software Federation of Europe, who regulate the PEGI system, to rely on age ratings alone. Future research should focus on identifying the levels of exposure in terms of dose that youth gamers are exposed to during actual gameplay and the effects of this on long- term alcohol and smoking behaviour.”