The results of our study suggest that parents and physicians should pay careful attention to the actual content of any M-rated video game that their children might play, particularly since the M-rating indicates that the intended audience is for ages 17 years and older. Compared with our studies of T-rated video games, we found significantly more blood, severe injuries, and human deaths in M-rated games, although we also found a significantly smaller percentage of violent game play in M-rated video games. We believe that current discussions about restricting children's access to violent games may miss the reality that both T-rated and M-rated games contain significant amounts of violence.
Such strong words appeared in a study published by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a subsidiary of the highly reputable Journal of the American Medical Association. We investigate the claims further.
Even as the video game industry celebrated yet another win in court against an unconstitutional state law that would have banned sales of games with violent content to minors, a new study from the Kids Risk Project at the Harvard School of Public Health was critical of the industry's rating system. The study stated that in a random sampling of M-rated titles, 81 percent of them had content that was not disclosed on the game's box along with the game rating. FiringSquad chatted briefly with the study's main author, Harvard Associate Professor Kimberly Thompson, to find out more about the study.
Dr. Thompson told FiringSquad that the 81 percent figure "...was a little higher than I expected." Surprisingly, the Kids Risk Project did a previous study on content descriptions in E and T rated games and Thompson told us that in terms of violence the T-rated games actually have more events that they would consider to be violent than M-rated game. She added, however, that the violent content in M-rated games was much stronger and more graphic than what is portrayed in T-rated games.
Associate Professor Thompson told us that their study was based on simply picking up M-rated games in the stores and having one person play through all of them. That unnamed person (who is a separate individual and not an actual author of the study) played through an hour of the game, while another person recorded what was seen in the game. "We look through every scene in the gameplay" Dr. Thompson told us, and then go through and check through what kind of content is featured in the game. In terms of violence, they rated the level of violence: mild, moderate or strong.
According to the results of the study nearly all M-rated games have violence or blood and have content descriptions with the ESRB rating on the box. However, 15 games that had profanity did not list profane language in the ESRB content description box. Sexual themes were present in 13 M-rated games but only 5 had content descriptions on the ESRB game box. Dr. Thompson made the point that even in the context of an M-rated title, content tends to vary widely. "There are some games that are a borderline M-rated title and there are some games that are close to the other direction (becoming an AO rated title)", she told FiringSquad.