Content and Ratings of Teen-Rated Video Games|
by Kevin Haninger and Kimberly M. Thompson, JAMA 291(7):856-865 Abstract PDF
Release - February 17, 2004
Correction to printed article: The first entry in Table 4 lists an abbreviation for Sega Dreamcast in the Console column as "Dc" instead of "DC."
Unfortunately, some of the press coverage included the following sentence:
"Among the sample the researchers viewed, 20 percent of games with sexual
content including partial nudity listed that content on the label; 17
percent of games with profanity listed it on the label, and just 1 percent
of games with depictions of tobacco or alcohol listed that on the label."
This statement should have read: "Among the sample the researchers viewed,
27 percent of games depicted sexual content including partial nudity;
27 percent of the games included the use of profanity; and 15 percent
of the games included the depiction of alcohol or tobacco. In contrast,
only 20 percent of the games in the sample listed a content descriptor
for sexual content, 17 percent listed profanity, and just 1 percent
of games listed depictions of tobacco or alcohol on the label." We did
not make the conditional statement in the form of what was reported,
in part because of the complication that 3 of the games that received
content descriptors for sexual themes (The King of Fighters '99,
The Simpsons Wrestling, and Final Fantasy VIII) and 3
of the games that received content descriptors for profanity (C:
The Contra Adventure, Tiny Tank: Up Your Arsenal, and Lunar
2: Eternal Blue) were ones in which we did not observe such content.
For this reason, making a comparison is complicated. However, the numbers
imply that 13 of the 22 games (59 percent) in which we observed sexual
themes and 11 of the 22 games (50 percent) in which we observed profanity
did receive an ESRB content descriptors for this content. Similarly,
1 of the 12 games (8 percent) containing substances received an ESRB
content descriptor for this content. The Associated Press issued a correction.
We developed a database of all 396 T-rated video game titles released on the
major video game consoles in the United States by April 1, 2001. The database
contained each game title's genre, console, release year, and ESRB-assigned
content descriptors. The game titles can be viewed alphabetically
or by genre. After verifying
the database contents, we stratified the 396 video game titles by genre and
randomly selected 20% to play. One selected game title contained two separate
games, so overall we played 81 T-rated video games in the random sample. For
consistency, an undergraduate student (Seamus Ryan) with considerable video
gaming experience played all of the video games. The player first familiarized
himself with each video game, then restarted the video game and recorded at
least one hour of game play on videocassette for coding.
One author (Kevin Haninger) reviewed and coded all of the recorded
game play. We collected information about the following types of content
in each game: violence, blood, sexual themes, profanity, substances,
and gambling. The JAMA article contains tables that list each video
game we played, as well as the genre, console, release year, ESRB-assigned
content descriptors, and our observations of game content.
We established consistent definitions and measures to apply through the study.
Back to questions
We emphasized in the paper that our method may miss some game content since
we do not have access to the information submitted to the ESRB from game manufacturers
and since we only played each game for one hour. We recognize that the choice
of how long to play the game clearly affects the amount of content observed,
and we model this relationship in this Figure. To construct the Figure, we first noted the time (i.e., the seconds
from the beginning of the game) when we initially observed each type of content.
Next, for each game we identified the latest time where we first observed a
new type of content, since the latest time corresponds to the length of time
required to observe all new types of content in the game. We know from experience
that content in some games occurs after 1 hour of game play, and our method
misses that content. For example, as we noted in the paper, the first episode
of violence in Overblood occurs well into the game. Consequently, for
those 7 games where the ESRB assigned content descriptors and we did not observe
such content within our hour of game play, we assigned times of greater than
70 minutes. Finally, we characterized the cumulative percentage of games for
which we observed all content indicated by the content descriptors as a function
of game duration. As described in the paper, this analysis suggests that by
playing the games for approximately 1 hour we probably observed approximately
90% of the content indicated by the content descriptors and that playing the
games for only 10 minutes would lead to missing 1 or more types of game content
over 40% of the time.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory body created
in 1994 by the computer and video game industry. The ESRB is responsible for
applying and enforcing the rating and advertising standards adopted by the industry.
The ESRB video game ratings
include age-based rating symbols and content descriptors. Age-based rating symbols
include EC (for "Early Childhood"), E (for "Everyone"),
E10 (for "Everyone 10+"),T (for "Teen"), M (for "Mature
17+"), and AO (for "Adults Only 18+") that game manufacturers
display on the front of the game box. Content descriptors are short phrases
that indicate game content (e.g., "Violence" or "Mild Language")
that game manufacturers display on the back of the game box. To receive
a rating, game manufacturers provide the ESRB with videotaped game footage and
other information about game content. Three trained ESRB raters independently
review the materials submitted by manufacturers and assign the rating and content
descriptors they believe are appropriate, but they do not play the final games
that consumers ultimately purchase as part of the process of assigning the rating.