Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
12 May 2007
Tobacco and game ratings
Update: After reading this over, I suggest going to this later post for follow-up comments, including information from the ESRB.

In response to public pressure, the MPAA will now consider tobacco use, particularly smoking, when assigning movie ratings. While they've stopped short of automatic R ratings for movies that show a person smoking, it does appear that they will bump a movie up in some cases if the use of smoking appears gratuitous.

I wondered what our dear old ESRB has been doing about tobacco use in games. Does smoking of tobacco get a game rated at least a T? Or maybe even M?

Apparently not.
  • 15 games with the descriptor "Use of Tobacco" (1 E, 4 E10+, 8 T, 2 M)
  • 13 games with the descriptor "Tobacco Reference" (5 E, 3 E10+, 5 T)
  • 27 games with the descriptor "Alcohol and Tobacco Reference" (6 E, 8 E10+, 13 T)
  • 86 games with the descriptor "Use of Alcohol and Tobacco" (17 E, 3 E10+, 65 T, 1 M)
Put another way, the 141 games which refer to tobacco or show use of tobacco break down as:
  • 29 rated E
  • 18 rated E10+
  • 91 rated T
  • 3 rated M
While it's not a pure oranges-to-oranges comparison, the following about movies provides an interesting contrast:
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.
So 75% of movies with even a fleeting glimpse of smoking were given R ratings -- and thereby limited in theory to people who were 17 years of age or older. By comparison, only 3 out of 141, or 2.1%, of games with any mention or use of tobacco were given an M rating, the rating that most closely approximates the MPAA's R rating. It should be noted that those 141 games include some that are several years old, and rating standards have changed over time. (I've discussed such changes at least once before.) Still, the PlayStation 3 game Calling all Cars, released just this week, has the "Alcohol and Tobacco Reference" descriptor and is rated E.

To the ESRB's credit there are no EC (early childhood) games with any substance (alcohol, tobacco, or drugs) references. In fact, EC is so clean it doesn't include any violence (cartoon or otherwise), salty language, or gambling. Good to know.

Back to the point, this seems to highlight a difference between movie and game ratings. Glickman said that those movies with any smoking at all had generally received an R rating for other reasons. That doesn't seem to be the case for games. If I have time later, I may try to dig deeper into that disparity, but knowing there is a difference one can point to easily is interesting by itself.

Finally, I do wonder if the ESRB is getting pressure from the same interest groups, like the American Cancer Society, that have been lobbying the MPAA. Maybe I'll try to give them a call on Monday and ask for a statement.

For the record, I do not use tobacco in any form, nor does anyone in my immediate family or circle of friends.

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--Matt Matthews at 03:46
Comment [ 6 ]

Comments on this post:

I think the idea that what is rate-able in movies should be so similar in games is goofy. Why should your example of calling all cars get rated any higher due to it? Is your 4-10 year old really going to start smoking after playing it, or in the next few years after?

This kind of censorship of video games by vilification of themes is exactly why there are few good serious adult games. You and I both know that if an M game is bumped to AO nobody will carry it, and then games like it won't be produced. If tobacco bumped up Indigo Prophecy to AO, nobody would have stocked it, and it would have been impossible to find.

By Blogger Zachary, at 12 May, 2007 15:13  

I've been playing video games for 20 years and the only games I know that contain smoking is the Metal Gear games and Super Joe in Commando.

By Anonymous mattio, at 12 May, 2007 20:36  

Mattio: None of the Metal Gear games in the ESRB database list any substance use or references. Remember that in Metal Gear Solid the cigarettes were called "foggers" or some such.

By Blogger jvm, at 12 May, 2007 20:53  

They only called them foggers in the 2d Metal Gears. Otherwise they're "Cigs" or something along those lines, and they then make it very clear that Snake is smoking cigarettes in the dialog.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 13 May, 2007 16:34  

Ok, I was wrong. The item guide at GameFAQs for MGS: Twin Snakes for the GameCube refers to the cigarettes and here is a link to the entry for that game as the ESRB:
Twin Snakes
Note: No descriptor for tobacco use.

So, not only does the ESRB consider tobacco use differently from how the MPAA does, but it gets it wrong too. And on big-name games.

By Blogger jvm, at 13 May, 2007 18:45  

It's all for entertainment, so why ban smoking scenes in movies? I hope they do something about the issue.

cheap cigarettes

By Blogger William, at 22 November, 2011 03:47  

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