Using a random sample of 81 video games rated T (for Teen) by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), study authors Kevin Haninger, a doctoral student at Harvard University, and Dr. Kimberly Thompson, co-founder and director of research for the Center for Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston, characterized game content related to violence, sexual themes, profanity, substance use, and gambling. They compared the content that they observed in an hour of game play to the ESRB content descriptors provided to consumers. They found that presence of a content descriptor on the game box provided a good indication of that type of content in the game, but the absence of a content descriptor did not mean the absence of content that might concern parents. In 48 percent of games, the researchers observed content involving violence, sexual themes, profanity, substance use, or gambling that was not noted on the game box. This research suggests that T-rated video games expose players to a wide range of unexpected content, and prompts researchers to recommend that parents and physicians play an active role in discussing game content with kids.
"These findings suggest the need for greater clarity and transparency in the use of ESRB content descriptors and in the overall rating process," said the study's lead author Haninger, who also is affiliated with the Center and the Kids Risk Project. "More uniform and complete information about game content will enable parents to make more informed decision
Contact: Mary-Ellen Shay or Susan Craig
Children's Hospital Boston