Stores selling Mature-rated video games to children, study finds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Video game retailers sold Mature-rated video games to minors 36 percent of the time, according to a study by the Parents Television Council to determine whether age restriction policies were being enforced.

At a Target store in Massachusetts, for example, a cashier informed a 13-year-old boy that the computer was instructing him to ID anyone who looked under 35, PTC said in a news release July 23. The boy started to walk away, but the cashier said, "That's OK. I'll sell it to you anyway."

When a woman confronted a comics store manager with the news that his store had sold an M-rated game to a 12-year-old, the manager replied, "Lady, do you have any idea how many kids we have in here every day buying games? Do you think we have the time to look at each and every purchase?"

Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said the study shows retailers are failing to prevent children from purchasing violent and sexually graphic video games at least one-third of the time.

"Any failure rate is problematic, but the failure rate we're seeing is downright pathetic," Winter said. "Similar to age restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, pornography and other products that are potentially harmful to children, parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.

"It is outrageous that retailers are not exercising greater responsibility, and even more absurd that there are no meaningful consequences for those retailers who ignore their industry's own age restriction policies," Winter added. "Countless independent studies confirm that repeated exposure to graphic sexual, violent and profanity-laced video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children.

"It is high time for retailers to follow the video game industry guidelines and check IDs so that children will not be able to purchase M-rated video games."

The study, which was conducted mainly since May, followed a study released that month by the Federal Trade Commission. That study found that retailers sold M-rated video games to minors 20 percent of the time.

"Perhaps the retailers felt the pressure was off after the FTC's report was published. But frankly, either rate of failure is wholly unacceptable," Winter said.

Children who participated in the study were instructed to enter the store, find an M-rated game and attempt to purchase it with cash, PTC said. They were instructed to not lie or misrepresent themselves during the process. When games were purchased, the adult who had waited outside the store would return the game and ask for a refund.

Most children who were able to purchase a game said that when the item was scanned for sale at the register a note came up requesting ID, but the cashier ignored it.

"We encourage concerned citizens to contact their congressional representatives to ensure that the video game industry will become more responsible," Winter said. "America's children need to be protected from harmful exposure to these products, and parents should be able to rely on the industry's promises."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R.-Miss., introduced a bill July 23 that would enforce the age restrictions on video game sales and rentals.