Children's exposure to violence, alcohol, tobacco and other substances,
and sexual messages in the media are a source of public health concern; however,
content in video games commonly played by children has not been quantified.
To quantify and characterize the depiction of violence, alcohol, tobacco
and other substances, and sex in video games rated E (for "Everyone"), analogous
to the G rating of films, which suggests suitability for all audiences.
We created a database of all existing E-rated video games available
for rent or sale in the United States by April 1, 2001, to identify the distribution
of games by genre and to characterize the distribution of content descriptors
associated with these games. We played and assessed the content of a convenience
sample of 55 E-rated video games released for major home video game consoles
between 1985 and 2000.
Main Outcome Measures
Game genre; duration of violence; number of fatalities; types of weapons
used; whether injuring characters or destroying objects is rewarded or is
required to advance in the game; depiction of alcohol, tobacco and other substances;
and sexual content.
Based on analysis of the 672 current E-rated video games played on home
consoles, 77% were in sports, racing, or action genres and 57% did not receive
any content descriptors. We found that 35 of the 55 games we played (64%)
involved intentional violence for an average of 30.7% of game play (range,
1.5%-91.2%), and we noted significant differences in the amount of violence
among game genres. Injuring characters was rewarded or required for advancement
in 33 games (60%). The presence of any content descriptor for violence (n
= 23 games) was significantly correlated with the presence of intentional
violence in the game (at a 5% significance level based on a 2-sided Wilcoxon
rank-sum test, t53 = 2.59). Notably, 14
of 32 games (44%) that did not receive a content descriptor for violence contained
acts of violence. Action and shooting games led to the largest numbers of
deaths from violent acts, and we found a significant correlation between the
proportion of violent game play and the number of deaths per minute of play.
We noted potentially objectionable sexual content in 2 games and the presence
of alcohol in 1 game.
Content analysis suggests a significant amount of violence in some E-rated
video games. The content descriptors provide some information to parents and
should be used along with the rating, but the game's genre also appears to
play a role in the amount of violent play. Physicians and parents should understand
that popular E-rated video games may be a source of exposure to violence and
other unexpected content for children and that games may reward the players
for violent actions.