Report: 42 percent of major video games have depictions of smoking

Elizabeth in Bioshock: Burial at Sea

Wow, here is something I’ve honestly never even given the slightest thought to — the prevalence of smoking in video games.

Here’s a good story, one that actually made me think because honestly this is something I’ve never even considered before, about smoking in video games. According to the study from UC San Francisco (No surprise there, that is the home of Stanton Glantz and the Center for Tobacco Control), smoking shows up in 42 percent of video games participants reported playing.

No surprise there is smoking in Grand Theft Auto games. These are about the most adult games you can find out there (I’m not a fan, too much sexism).  I remember smoking first showed up in Duke Nukem 3D about 20 years ago. In particular, I remember one cut scene in which Duke cuts off a monster’s head, then takes a poop down his neck while lighting a cigar (I am NOT making this up … it’s Duke Nukem, man).

Duke Nukem

Smoking also shows up in Bioshock: Burial at Sea (Elizabeth smokes cigarettes in a very sultry way in this 1930s-themed game) and in Halo games with Sargent Johnson always chomping on a cigar.

I have mixed emotions about this initially. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a gamer, but I will admit I play video games and find them fun, especially really violent first-person shooters. I know full well these games depict almost non-stop mayhem and gunplay (and in the case of Duke Nukem … extreme sexism) and I find myself saying, “am I supposed to be concerned about characters smoking? Jesus, Duke takes a crap down an alien’s neck.”), but to be fair, as someone who worked long and hard to try and get smoking out of PG-13 movies, I know darn well these “M” rated games are being played by 12- and 13-year-old kids. Heck, I let my 10-year-old grandnephew play Bioshock Infinite at Thanksgiving and that’s an M -rated game.

sargeant johnson
Sgt. Johnson from Halo

Here’s some sobering statistics from this Truth Initiative story.

Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Bioshock are all wildly popular games. Counting all the games that have been sold or downloaded, that’s more than 100 million copies of games out there depicting smoking by its characters, with characters either appearing gritty (Sgt. Johnson and Duke Nukem) or suave (Elizabeth from Bioshock) due to their smoking.

So, the message here is, yeah, I get it, these games are M-rated, supposedly intended for adults, but we all know pre-teens are playing these games, and that maybe game developers might try to give this some thought to not encourage 12- and 13-year-old kids into thinking that smoking makes characters cool …. just like movies did for over half a century.

Here is Truth’s video about this important topic:

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