WASHINGTON Days before the U.S. Supreme Court will examine a law related to violent video games, a new study shows that nearly one in five unaccompanied teens is able to purchase mature-rated video games, even though self-imposed store rules require parental consent.
The "secret shopper" study by the Parents Television Council involved 109 visits by minors (ages 12-16) to stores in 11 states in all parts of the country. Twenty-one of the stores sold M-rated games to the minors, resulting in a 19 percent failure rate.
The data actually closely mirrors the Entertainment Software Rating Board's own 2010 data, which showed a 17 percent failure rate. Stores such as Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart that partner with the board conduct their own secret shopper programs each year.
"It is hardly the level of compliance parents should expect from an industry that touts its ratings system as a solution," the Parents Television Council said in a statement. "... With such an abysmal performance rate by the video game retailers, it is no wonder that statehouses around the country have passed legislation on this issue. Most measures would simply impose a financial consequence on retailers who fail to abide by the industry's own guidelines."
The Entertainment Software Rating Board rates the video game industry's products and uses six categories. The "mature" rating includes content that "may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language." Only the "adults only" rating is more extreme in its content.
Although M-rated games accounted for only 6 percent of all video games in 2009, they contain some of the most popular titles.
In the Parents Television Council's study, Game Stop, Toys R Us and Shopko had a perfect score and did not allow the teens to buy mature-rated games. Kmart/Sears had the worst score with a failure rate of 56 percent, followed by Blockbuster (33 percent), Wal-Mart (31 percent), Best Buy (25 percent) and Target (5 percent).
On Nov. 2 the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a 2005 California law that 1) prevents children under 18 from purchasing or renting violent video games, 2) requires such games to carry an "18" label and 3) calls for fines of as much as $1,000 per violation by retailers. The law never went into effect because it was struck down by a federal judge, a decision affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment Software Association are behind the suit.
The California law does not rely on the current ratings system but defines a violent video game as one in which "the range of options available to a player includes killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being." It further defines a violent video game as one that "enables the player to virtually inflict serious injury upon images of human beings or characters with substantially human characteristics in a manner which is especially heinous, cruel, or depraved in that it involves torture or serious physical abuse to the victim."
California has defended the law by arguing that people who play violent video games are more prone to acts of violence in the real world.