The ESRB rating on some of your favorite video games might read “Teen” or “Mature” for “Tobacco Use.” And while I don’t necessarily agree with rating games with tobacco for a more mature audience, it’s interesting to see how cigarettes and tobacco are implemented into video games. It’s rare to find a game that flat out promotes smoking, and in most of the cases I’ve found they actually show the harmful effects of tobacco.
Take Solid Snake for instance. Throughout the Metal Gear series he seems to always be smoking cigarettes. And while it unarguably adds to the Solid’s persona, the dialogue in the game repeats the same message: that cigarettes are bad for your health. Snake’s incredibly raspy voice alone shows a reason for people not to smoke. When cigarettes become an equitable item they do provide the player with bonuses, but always at a cost to one’s health.
Bioshock follows a similar formula. Using cigarettes in Bioshock gives the player an EVE boost. EVE is what powers the player’s special abilities, called plasmids. Once again this effect is countered by costing the player a portion of his health bar. These simple game mechanics might not seem like that big of a deal, but for children and teenagers playing these games it’s sending a message. And that message is if you smoke, it will damage your health.
Video game developers have another common way of making children believe tobacco is bad. With some exceptions (like Sold Snake) the hero, or player, isn’t usually the one that’s smoking. Who is? The bad guy. The Penguin from Batman: Arkham City and Big Smoke from Grand Theft Auto: San Andres are two perfect examples. They are both major antagonists to their game’s story, and both can be seen smoking tobacco in numerous scenes. It seems that the villain of the game is the one that’s always smoking.
A Ukrainian graphic designer named German Ljutaev released a product idea last week that’s since gone viral. The idea for the product is a cigarette that uses video game style health hearts to represent the cigarette killing you. The more cigarette you smoke, the more health hearts you lose until the butt of the cigarette where you reach the “Game Over” screen.
Video Games have found all sorts of ways to incorporate tobacco into video games. And while sometimes games do try to glamorize tobacco use, I think that the majority of developers are releasing content that promotes teenagers and children to think about their health before smoking a cigarette. After all, it’s going to cost some health points.