Earlier this week, I found myself at the food court in line behind a group of teenage boys.  One of them was going on about a new game he was playing called God of War III.  Although I hadn’t heard of the game before, my eavesdropping told me this was a game that would not be allowed in my home.  The main character, Kratos, keeps himself busy by creatively and graphically destroying enemy creatures and humans alike.  Like so many games, this one combined graphic violence with sexual content including topless women, nearly nude female creatures, sexual language, and an off-screen mini-game that allows the player to pleasure women, pressing specific buttons to bring the women to orgasm.

In my work, I often ask kids what games they play, and, sadly, I’ve gotten over being surprised by the lack of parental supervision.  Although 97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, mobile or console games, only 30% of teens report having rules about what type of games they play and purchase.

Another popular game among teens, The Sims, includes a variety of suggestive content.  Users can throw bachelor and bachelorette parties and make “woohoo” (the Sims version of sex) in tree houses, showers or under bed sheets.   The recently released and highly-praised game Shadows of the Damned, features billboards for strip clubs, slogans for nude girl shops, silhouettes of naked women and a lingerie-clad girlfriend being tortured in hell.  Countless jokes in the game reference male genitals.  For example, the name of the primary gun players wield is “boner”, and it can be upgraded to fire “sticky wads.”  The character’s healthy level bar is also phallic, and it grows with upgrades.

Many parents are shocked when I show them just how sexual their kids’ video games are.  It’s not uncommon for main gaming characters to receive lap dances, encounter strippers, collect sex toys and receive other sexual favors from naked or nearly naked women.  Last year, 2K games announced their partnership with Playboy; gamers playing Mafia II could find hidden playboy magazines and Playboy pinups with real photos of bare breasts and buttocks, which the user collects in a special porn gallery.

One of the most successful video game series of all-time, Grand Theft Auto, also happens to be one of the most popular among teens. A recent study by Pew Internet & American Life Project highlighted that Grand Theft Auto was the eight most popular game played by teens; another study highlighted that over half (56%) of 8- to 18-year-olds played Grand Theft Auto despite the “Mature” game rating.  Grand Theft Auto allows you to pick up a prostitute in your car and then have sex with her.  You can see the car rhythmically shaking and hear corresponding moaning.  Women also appear in pasties, g-strings and the like.  You can get a lap dance at a gentlemen’s club, have sex with your girlfriend at home, and watch strippers pole dance spread-eagle.

We are seeing that more and more games have pornography or hyper-sexualized content embedded in them.  The images of males and females are often overtly sexual, even in those games rated for teens and users 10+.  Additionally, some games exist for the sole purposes of simulating sex—virtual sex games are often free and easy to access for kids; these games allow kids to create an online identity to explore sexuality in any place and in any way, including group sex, bestiality, and other fetishes.

The interactive quality of these video games differs substantially from passively viewing television or movies.  Through gaming, young kids become active participants in the game’s script, receiving points for acting as perpetrators of violence or sexual exploitation. A recent review of 130 studies strongly suggests playing violent video games increases aggressive thoughts and behavior and decreases empathy.  If we extrapolate a bit, it’s not difficult to imagine the impact simulated sexual exchanges in these games can have on a young, developing brain.

As a parent, it’s important to recognize that video games are not just “fun and games”.  While there are numerous fun, creative, entertaining, safe, wholesome and educational games available, it’s our responsibility as parents to monitor and control the content that enters our homes.  The pornography industry is incredible savvy at marketing its product, and family counselors have repeatedly told me that the majority of teens they work with that struggle with sexual addictions also have access to mature and sexually-themed games.  For some of the kids I have talked with, gaming was their entry-point to pornography use.

We highly recommend that if your kids are playing games, that you set time-limits, monitor their gaming use, set clear house rules regarding what games are appropriate and use parental controls (such as SafeEyes) on all gaming and Internet-enabled devices your kids use.  Also, be aware that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) considers the amount of violence, sex, controversial language and substance abuse is found in a game.

Based on these considerations, the ESRB has developed the following rating guidelines to help parents:

EC = Early Childhood: Content suitable for children 3 years and older that contains no objectionable material.

E = Everyone: Content suitable for persons ages 6 and older.  The game may contain minimal violence and some “comic mischief”

T = Teen: Content suitable for persons ages 13 and older.  Content contains more violence, mild and even strong language and/or suggestive and even sexual themes. (I would recommend that any parent play or seriously research “T” rated games before allowing their teens to play)

M= Mature: Content suitable for persons ages 17 and older with mature sexual themes, intense violence and strong language.

AO = Adults Only: Content suitable only for adults, which may contain graphic sex and/or violence.

RP = Rating Pending


Other Resources:

Gamer Dad: www.gamerdad.com

What They Play: www.whattheyplay.com

Common Sense Media: www.commonsensemedia.org

ESRB: www.esrb.org