According to a study led by Associate Professor Kimberly Thompson of the Kids Risk Project at Harvard School of Public Health, 81 percent of a random sample of “mature”-rated video games included content that was not noted on the game box. This is the first independent, quantitative study to characterize content in M-rated games related to violence, blood, sexual themes, substances, profanity, and gambling observed in game play. The study appears in the April 3, 2006 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine Special Issue on the effects of media on children and adolescents published by the American Medical Association.
The study authors, Thompson, Karen Tepichin, and Kevin Haninger, researchers at HSPH, used a random sample of 25 percent of the 147 video games for current consoles rated M by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), indicating the intended audience is for ages 17 and older. After quantifying game content related to violence, blood, sexual themes, substances, profanity, and gambling, they compared the content observed in an hour of game play to the ESRB content descriptors provided to consumers on the game box. These results confirm that the presence of an ESRB content descriptor means that game players likely will find the indicated content in the game but that parents should not interpret the absence of a content descriptor to mean the absence of content.
“It’s time for the industry to provide complete, consistent, and clear information about what is really in games so that parents can make more informed decisions when selecting games for and with their children,” said Thompson. She warns that “even though the M-rating might imply restricted access to these games, the existing, limited evidence suggests that many children and adolescents are playing M-rated games.”