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Warning: warning labels may enhance lure of raunchy video games

March 5, 2009
World Science staff

A study claims to have con­firmed what many sus­pected: la­bels stuck on vi­deogame boxes to warn of youth-inappropriate con­tent, are ac­tu­ally boost­ing their ap­peal to kids.

Dutch re­search­ers stud­ied the ef­fect of warn­ing la­bels used in Eu­rope, un­der a sys­tem launched in 2003 called The Pan-Eu­ropean Game In­forma­t­ion. The scheme is de­signed to en­sure that vio­lent or steamy en­ter­tain­ment, such as films, vid­e­os and DVDs, are la­belled to mark the age group for which they’re best suit­ed.

The sci­en­tists stud­ied 310 Dutch chil­dren aged 7 to 17, who were bro­ken in­to var­i­ous sub-groups by age and gen­der.

“Par­ti­ci­pants read fic­ti­tious vi­deogame de­scrip­tions and rat­ed how much they wanted to play each game,” the re­search­ers, Nije Bi­j­vank and col­leagues at the Uni­ver­s­ity of Am­ster­dam, wrote in the stu­dy. It is pub­lished in the March is­sue of the jour­nal Pe­di­at­rics.

The re­sults: “re­stric­tive age la­bels and violent-con­tent la­bels in­creased the at­trac­tive­ness of vi­deogames for all of the age groups,” in­clud­ing the youngest of both sexes, the in­ves­ti­ga­tors added.

Al­though the sys­tem “was de­vel­oped to pro­tect youth from ob­jec­tion­a­ble con­tent, this sys­tem ac­tu­ally makes such games for­bid­den fruits,” the team con­clud­ed. “Pe­di­a­tri­c should be aware of this for­bid­den-fruit ef­fect, be­cause vi­deogames with ob­jec­tion­a­ble con­tent can have harm­ful ef­fects on chil­dren and ado­les­cents.”


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A study appears to have confirmed what many suspected: labels stuck on video game boxes to warn of youth-inappropriate content, are actually boosting their appeal to kids. Dutch researchers studied the effect of warning labels used in Europe, under a system launched in 2003 called The Pan-European Game Information. The scheme is designed to ensure that entertainment content, such as films, videos and DVDs are labelled to mark the age group for which they’re best suited. The scientists studied 310 Dutch children aged 7 to 17, who were broken into various sub-groups by age and gender. “Participants read fictitious video game descriptions and rated how much they wanted to play each game,” the researchers, Nije Bijvank and colleagues at the University of Amsterdam wrote in the study, published in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics. The results: “restrictive age labels and violent-content labels increased the attractiveness of video games for all of the age groups,” including the youngest of both sexes, the investigators added. Although the system “was developed to protect youth from objectionable content, this system actually makes such games forbidden fruits,” the team concluded. “Pediatricians should be aware of this forbidden-fruit effect, because video games with objectionable content can have harmful effects on children and adolescents.”