Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
15 May 2007
Tobacco and game ratings, take two
I did contact the ESRB about tobacco and game ratings, and I got a very helpful response. I'm still trying to get more details, but it's worth giving this different interpretation of the data I showed the other day. The games in the ESRB game ratings search engine which show a descriptor referring to tobacco can be grouped this way:
  • 29 rated E
  • 18 rated E10+
  • 91 rated T
  • 3 rated M
Now, consider this point in the ESRB FAQ:
Do content descriptors list all of the different content found in a game?
Content descriptors are not intended to be a listing of every type of content one might encounter in the course of playing a game. They are applied within the context of the rating category assigned to that game, and are there to provide consumers with additional information about elements in a game that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern relative to the age appropriateness of the rating category assigned.

Since content descriptors are applied in the context of their respective rating category, the absence of a content descriptor may not necessarily mean the total absence of such content, and a given content descriptor may not always refer to precisely the same type or intensity of material depending on the rating category that accompanies it. For instance, Suggestive Themes in an E10+ game may refer to a flirtatious remark whereas in a Teen game it may refer to provocative clothing on a female character.
Two conclusions I think we can safely draw from this:
  1. There are several games with M ratings that include references to tobacco or that show tobacco use but do not carry a tobacco use/reference descriptor. So the two M rated games in the ESRB searchable database are simply the two which happen to be M rated and carry a tobacco descriptor.

  2. The tobacco descriptor is more appropriate for games which are rated below M, namely E through T, and accordingly that's where we find almost all games using a tobacco descriptor. That seems to indicate that the rating system is doing the right thing, namely pointing out tobacco use in precisely the situations where a parent would want to know about it. If a parent is letting a child play an M-rated game, then it is quite possible that tobacco use is of far less concern than the violence that probably earned the M rating.
Without more data from the ESRB, however, we cannot answer this question:
Question 1: How many games that include any tobacco reference/use are rated M for other reasons?
With more data we could certainly answer that question and it would give us a basis to compare ESRB rating of games with this statement about rating of movies:
From July 2004-July 2006, the percentage of films that included "even a fleeting glimpse of smoking" dropped from 60 percent to 52 percent, and 75 percent of those fetched an R rating for other factors, [MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman] said.
Because I'm curious, I'd like to see if I can get an answer to this question:
Question 2: What contact has the ESRB had with the advocacy groups which have put pressure on the MPAA regarding tobacco use?
I've asked the ESRB for an answer to Question 1 and I'll also try to pursue Question 2 as well. I'll let you know if I get any answers.

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--Matt Matthews at 16:08
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