My father was a smoker for over 20 years, I still remember him driving me to school and rolling down the window so I wasn’t exposed to it as much. When I was approaching my teenage years he decided enough was enough and decided to quit cold turkey. As of now he has not smoked a cigarette in over ten years and I am incredibly proud of him for that. Seeing how hard it was for him to quit really made me understand the struggles of addiction and made me very hesitant to try anything like that. To this day I still have never tried anything too addictive, I only drink alcohol in light moderation.
While I have the experience in my life seeing how hard it is growing up with a smoker and how hard it can be for them to quit. There are a lot of people out there who haven’t and won’t get that experience in their lives. What doesn’t help is video games and other forms of media often characterize smoking. What was an inspiration to write this article was the recent news that Gears of War would do everything it could to not promote smoking. A lot of people seemed to not really care saying stuff like, ok but why does this really matter, or, its not like they were known for smoking anyway. This is true, but it highlights a worrying trend, which is the downplay of the harms of smoking coming back around.
The above screen is a shot from the anime FLCL, (which I recently wrote a piece about my experiences with here) you will see me reference this anime a lot, because not only does it have a lot of great messages, it is my favorite anime of all time. It also did a great job of not glorifying smoking in an era where that was far from an emphasis. The big problem with smoking in media is the way it is portrayed as something cool, or something that cool people do. In FLCL the main way smoking is shown is through the depressed character Mamimi. Mamimi is broken, she is arguably a loser, she is seen smoking all alone on a bridge in the middle of the night. To me this doesn’t promote smoking, it shows reality. Most smokers aren’t these cool guns blazing macho men, smoking doesn’t make someone inherently cooler, but a lot of media portrays it this way.
One of the larger offenders I can find is Metal Gear, which not only glorifies smoking and uses it to make the protagonist seem cooler, but actually ties a near essential game mechanic to smoking. Snake is the ultimate cool guy, stoic, attractive, does everything well and is a total badass. Taking a character like this and making smoking one of his main traits is very bad for impressionable youths. I still remember in high school a friend of mine got basically addicted to Dip and would pay one of the Seniors to buy it for him from the gas station. Kids and teenagers are easy to impress and this almost hipster comeback of smoking is very dangerous. Some of Snake’s smoking can be attributed that the games were originally based in an error when smoking was very prevalent and not frowned on at all.
Which brings me to my next point, which is the gray area that is historical smoking. Trying to portray history without having smoking be something very common would make it come across all wrong. Smoking was as much a part of normal culture then as video games are now. So the question is, how is it possible to portray smoking in these types of media without glorifying it. Honestly it is not a question with an easy answer if there is any answer at all. What video games need to do, what Gears of War is already doing, is do everything it can to not make smoking cool again. One of the biggest reasons smoking truly died off was we could finally see the full effect it had destroying peoples lives. Let’s not show kids all of the cool side effects of smoking without showing them how it can not only destroy them, but others as well.