The answer comes from academic research, which found that images and references to alcohol and tobacco, when contained within in popular video games, influence teenagers. This related to a study conducted in the U.K. The report also found that video game rating and age restrictions are not working effectively. The research was conducted at The University of Nottingham and it represents the first ever analysis of best-selling video games in relation to drinking and smoking behavior.
Other studies of video games and the consequential impact on behavior have tended to focus on the impact of violence or sexual content. The shift in emphasis to drinking and smoking represents a new area of concern. The essential question is whether teens who watch images of people drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco products begin to see this as socially acceptable and whether or not they seek out to copy and indulge in these activities.
For the study, the British researchers looked at the 32 U.K. best-selling video games of 2013. They then undertook a large online survey of 1,094 adolescents (aged between 11 and 17 years) who play games, identified in advance buy the researchers, with an alcohol and tobacco content. The video games considered included those with the themes of stealth, action adventure, open world, shooter and survival/horror. Each of these had a similarity – they used avatars that look and act like real people.
The outcome was that alcohol and tobacco content occurs heavily in 44 percent of the most popular video games. The study also found that often this bypassed the regulatory of video games so that the rating given did not always reflect the content (meaning parents were potentially misinformed about the content of the games).
The second outcome was that those who regularly played the games with the alcohol and tobacco content were twice as likely to have tried smoking or consumed alcohol themselves. The types of games with a high alcohol and tobacco content were Grand Theft Auto V & VI, Call of Duty:Black Ops II, Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin’s Creed III.
Commenting on the findings, lead psychologist Dr Joanne Cranwell said “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.”
The research is published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, in a paper titled “Alcohol and Tobacco Content in UK Video Games and Their Association with Alcohol and Tobacco Use Among Young People.”