Since the eighties video games have been a hot topic for debate. Are games a bad influence for children? Are they too violent? Is the portrayal of women in video games sexist? All these discussions require a look at the content of video games.
(Don't) judge a book by its cover
Let's start by looking at the physical game itself. Games advertise themselves with a spectacular graphic on the box (commonly referred to as "box art"). Let's look at the box art of the 75 best rated games at the moment.
As you can see, men play a key role in advertising the game via the box art. Almost half of all video games feature a male character on the box. It should be said that if it weren't for Japanese games, women would practically be absent from the box art of video games. One reason for this low number of women is the fact that there are very few female characters present in video games to begin with. Game metrics company EEDAR took a look at 669 games released in 2012 and concluded that only 24 of those games had a female protagonist, that's just over 3,5 percent. Since then several video game critics and developers have advocated for a better portrayal of women in video games. Hoping for an increase in female characters and a reduction of the sexualization of female characters.
A look at the content via its ratings
Every video game gets a rating. This rating indicates if a game is suitable for children, teenagers, or mature audiences. These rating also include content indicators. Content indicators are used to specify the type of content present in a game. By looking at these content indicators, we can get a good sense of the general content of video games.
Violence53% of games contain violence
Out of all the games rated, 53 percent contain a mention of violence. This includes games with "mild cartoon violence" up to "intense violence". 21 percent of games also include blood or gore.
Violence has always been one of the most debated topics on video games, with some claiming that ultra-violent video games are making children more violent. While it is hard to find a clear link between violent games and violent behaviour, rating boards still advise parents look at ratings to decide whether or not a game is suitable for their children.
Sex and Nudity14% of games contain sex
14 percent of all games contain "sex". This includes everything from "suggestive themes" to "strong sexual content". The latter will bump a game's rating up to "Mature" or "Adults Only" so only a handful of games actually contain "strong sexual content". Most games that contain sex will have suggestive themes. Only 2 percent of games contain nudity or partial nudity.
Bad Habits16% of games contain bad language
Only 16 percent of games contain bad language, 3 percent of games contain gambling and 12 percent of games contain substance abuse. The substance abuse rating is actually quite interesting as it is dealt out fairly quick. If your game even references alcohol or drugs it could receive this rating.
Adults OnlyAlmost 0% of games are rated "Adult only"
Looking at every game released for PC's, the current eighth generation consoles, and seventh generation consoles, just 23 games received an "adults only" rating. None of the main manufacturers of game consoles allow games with an "adults only" rating to be released on their system and many retailers refuse to stock games with an "adults only" rating. Therefore development studios will adjust a game to not receive an "adults only" rating. This, however, doesn't mean that there aren't any "adult" games. These games are just not subjected for rating, released independently, and are therefore not available in the normal game stores.
So there you have it. A lot of games contain violence, but only a small number contain graphic violence. A lot of video games focus on male characters, but with critics and developers seeing this focus there may be a change coming in the near future. Other than that, games don't contain a lot of swearing, sex, nudity, gambling or other vices.
All numbers in this article are based on all major gaming platforms; handheld devices (excluding mobile phone games), consoles, and PC's. The ratings used to retrieve numbers on content descriptors are based on the ESRB ratings. The 75 best rated games of the moment where determined by looking at Metacritic.