The first study of its kind, carried out by Notts experts, has found teenagers are influenced by smoking and drinking in video games.
In the research on best-selling video games, experts at the University of Nottingham discovered teenagers who play video games featuring smoking and alcohol references were found to be twice as likely to have tried smoking or drinking themselves.
Out of the top five most popular games, Grand Theft Auto IV and V contained the highest level of alcohol and smoking content using fictitious brands.
The other top games containing these references were Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Assassin’s Creed III.
All five are rated as only being suitable for over-18s by the PEGI video games age rating system.
But the research also suggested the current PEGI system is ‘not working’.
Psychologist Dr Joanne Cranwell, who took part in the research, said: “Video games are clearly attractive to adolescents regardless of age classification.
“Although around 54 per cent of UK adolescents play video games online, parental concern over exposure to inappropriate content while playing video games seems to be lower than for other media, like movies for example.
“While 80 per cent 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.”
We think alcohol and tobacco should be in content descriptors
Dr Cranwell would like to see more ‘content descriptors’ when it comes to video games.
She said: “We think that the PEGI system needs to include both alcohol and tobacco in their content descriptors.
“Also, game developers could be offered incentives to reduce the amount of smoking and drinking in their games or to at least reference smoking and drinking on their packaging and websites.
“Future research should focus on identifying the levels of exposure in terms of dose that youth gamers are exposed to during actual gameplay and the effects of this on long-term alcohol and smoking behaviour.”
The research looked at the content of 32 UK best-selling video games of 2012/13 and carried out a large online survey of adolescents playing games with alcohol and tobacco content.
An analysis of ‘cutscenes’ uploaded by gamers to YouTube from the five most popular games was also carried out.
The study found alcohol and tobacco content in 44 per cent of the most popular video games.
Researchers used YouGov survey tools to ask 1,094 UK adolescents aged 11-17 whether they had played any of the most popular video games identified as containing either tobacco or alcohol imagery.
They were also asked whether and to what extent they smoked or drank alcohol.
The study found that adolescents who had played at least one game with tobacco or alcohol content were twice as likely to have tried smoking or consumed alcohol themselves.