If Your Kid's Playing M-Rated Games, You Can't Blame The Retailer

from the ESRB:-thinking-about-the-children-since-1994 dept

The nationwide discussion revolving around violent video games and what’s to be done with them continues without any signs of abating. The usual handwringers (both professional and amateur) continue to express their dismay that games with guns and shooters are being sold to the youth of America, leading us into a future of non-stop mass shootings and Grand Theft Auto-inspired bursts of nihilistic violence.

The concerned cries of “won’t someone think of the children” will likely never subside, at least not as long as video games are perceived to be kid-only distractions. (Note to Nintendo: you’re really not helping out with this misconception.) The moral panicists paint a bleak picture in which hypothetical 10-year-olds are walking out of Wal-Mart with newly purchased copies of Murder Simulator 5000 and disappearing into their darkened bedrooms, only to emerge moments later armed to the teeth and greatly overestimating their hit points.

It’s a terrible future, and one we should all be prepared for. If only it were true.

You see, the proverbial 10-year-old rolling out of a retail outlet with an M-rated game would now be 23 and perfectly capable of purchasing his or her own M-rated games. Every year, the FTC audits retailers and movie theaters with an army of underaged secret shoppers. And every year, these numbers improve.

Thirteen years ago (2000) was the low point: 85% of minors were able to purchase an M-rated game. As of last year, that number was in the low teens.

Only 13 percent of underage shoppers were able to purchase M-rated video games, while a historic low of 24 percent were able to purchase tickets to R-rated movies. In addition, for the first time since the FTC began its mystery shop program in 2000, music CD retailers turned away more than half of the undercover shoppers. Movie DVD retailers also demonstrated steady improvement, permitting less than one-third of child shoppers to purchase R-rated DVDs and unrated DVDs of movies that had been rated R for theaters.

Not only has this number improved dramatically over the last decade, but it’s done it voluntarily. The ESRB sets the ratings and retailers enforce it, all without the threat of fines or legal action. So, if these 10-year-olds are shooting each other in the face with fake guns made of pixels, they’re doing it without much assistance from retailers.

And, as stated above, retailers aren’t just keeping video games from falling into the wrong hands. Other “destructive” influences like violent movies and sweary rock/rap/bluegrass are also being kept away from impressionable teenage minds — at least by retailers.

So, while the debate will rage on and the fingers will be pointed (but, good lord, not in a gun-like fashion), those who wish to regulate the sale of “violent media” will have to look elsewhere to find a villain willingly supplying the Youth of America with evil playthings. And every year this number remains low is another victory for systems of voluntary compliance and a swift kick in the forebrain for those who believe nothing can be achieved without legislation.

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Comments on “If Your Kid's Playing M-Rated Games, You Can't Blame The Retailer”

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Zakida Paul says:

Parents need to man up and accept responsibility for raising their own children and stop blaming everyone else when things go wrong.

YOU bought the inappropriate video games.
YOU let them watch inappropriate films.
YOU plop them in front of the TV or computer instead of actually spending time with them.
YOU are to blame when they grow up to be emotionally stunted adults.

Stop expecting everyone else to raise YOUR kids and do it yourself.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Darn you!! You stole my thunder on that one!! 😉

I will say this, and this is coming from the perspective of my father. He is glad that he retired from teaching when he did here in the US. Teachers are now getting blamed for bad grades.

The Video Game issue you bring up is right on. I still blame Hollywood for at least jading parents about any ratings systems though (MPAA ratings consistently change to make money rather than to tell actual content). That is partly why parents rarely take the ESRB ratings seriously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Your “child” is probably a spoiled little brat and you are an idiot for saying all violence should be banned you’re only saying Ban Everything because you as a parent don’t want to take responsibility for your own actions and own up to your stupidity get over yourself..”you don’t know me! You’re not god…woo waboboblailie” that’s basically how all you disappointing parents act like when someone says you suck at parenting

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Mar 29th, 2013 @ 4:28am

^ You sir (or ma’am), are a physcopath. I am a strong believe in the saying “A kid becomes his parent.” Meaning, that your child will be a near replica of the way YOU act. So in this case they will be an overprotective old cat lady who doesn’t know how stable teenagers these days are. I grew up in the 60’s you don’t see many hippies walking the streets anymore let me tell you that. So get over it.

Glenn D. (profile) says:

When I sell an M rated video game, it’s quite often for a child who has brought their parent along to make the purchase. The ESRB rating label contains the reasons for the M rating and I turn the game over and read the parent those reasons before I hand them the game.

In the two and a half years I’ve done this I’ve never had a parent reject a game for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, or Use of Drugs. If they reject a game, and this is rare, it will be for Strong Language, Nudity, or any of the four sexual classifications.

The excuse I hear most often is “Well he plays it at his friend’s house.” I suppose that if his friend’s parents have approved it then it must be OK. On an interesting sidenote here, I’ve never had a parent buy an M rated game for a daughter, only sons.

I suspect that parents are just tired from everything they must do today and thus grant tacit approval for the video game violence portrayed on their electronic babysitter. As long as Johnny doesn’t see sexual situations or hear bad language then it’s OK. After all, he can just turn on the television for those.

Rick Smith (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well Glenn you can count me among the parents that accompany the kids to get them a game. The difference is that you will not hear me give some half-assed excuse.

I’ve 2 children one boy about to enter his teenage years and one girl a couple of years younger. I have purchased numerous games for them which are labeled as mature. Most of the time this is just a joke. You see worse things on the 6 o’clock news, and definitely worse on prime time TV.

I have no problem allowing my kids to play most video games. There has only been a handful of games I have not allowed my children to play and even then its only been a maturity issue that has delayed them. Maybe because I pay attention and we talked a lot about fantasy vs real world when they were younger. We don’t talk about it that much any longer, but then they both seem to have a pretty good grasp on things.

I know a lot of people disagree with me, but I think that insulating children from reality as most do (American’s at least), is just asking for some of the issues that we see. The world is not fair, it is generally not kind, you will hear ‘obscene’ language (I quoted this because I have an issue describing any language as such, but that’s another topic), and yes you will encounter violence. Shielding them from these things, to me, represents a bigger problem than kids playing fictitious video games.

Teaching children how to handle different situations is what being a parent ultimately is all about. Things like what is and is not socially acceptable (plus they need to understand that this changes over time), what is polite and what is not so polite and when it is OK to use the not so polite, and most importantly when you do something that is not socially acceptable, both little things as a child but more importantly things that impact others as an adult, they need to know that there are consequences and that in life you don’t get to reload a save or start over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

yet you’re sitting on your bed drinking a beer and eating chips while your son and daughter are being entertained by an inanimate object that takes care of the babysitting your kids will get no compassion and they end up thrashing at their boss or land lord for being kicked out of their house or loosing their job and they’re crying and kicking and screaming or they’ll just be living with you for another ohh 40 years? Yeah you’re such a great parent swallow your pride and admit you suck and don’t want to take responsibility for your stupid mistake and take care of your damn children.

AWarnock says:

Re: Re:

You say that like it’s a bad think 😉

Back on topic: If you look at the mass shootings over the years, it wasn’t violent media, but mental illness, that was likely the cause of the crimes. People who’ve been bullied, or have imagined slights committed against them, or any number of reasons decide that buying or stealing a gun and killing a bunch of people is justice and everything will be better.

That is a very, very sick way of defining justice. It demonstrates a lack of empathy and rational thought that you see in people who strap a bomb to themselves and go into the middle of a crowd of people and blow it up.

If people want to reduce violent crime, or crime in general, we need to identify those who have mental issues and treat them. We need to find work for those living in poverty and make sure that they have plenty to survive on, even thrive on. We need to rip out the laws that have been passed by a congress in the pockets of corporate interest and put laws in place that protect the rights of citizens, creators, engineers, any one who actually innovates and creates.

But unfortunately, I think that only the first one will happen if any of them do.

Mike C. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sometimes, this makes me wonder if it’s not the governments fault. Much like a child in an abusive family can grow up to be an abuser themselves, our government running roughshod over our civil liberties for a decade plus have left people feeling somewhat powerless – or bullied. How have the powerless respond? By attempting to increase the power they have. Whether that’s engaging in a road rage game of chicken a fellow motorist who cut you off, shooting up a populated area, or terrorizing fast food workers because they didn’t make your sandwich the “right” way, it’s all an attempt to exert more control. A lot of people are able to deal with it, but as the “bullying” continues by the government and even major corporations, the problem could just get worse and worse.

I know, it’s wayyyyy out there as a theory and it’s not even really that good, but I still think it’s an interesting thought experiment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And how do legos connect to guns? Especially for kids. If they’re parents don’t have any deadly weapons, then they probably won’t have any weapons. And even if they do influence violence, it is the parent’s fault for either buying the game or not teaching their kids a lesson about violence.

anonymous dutch coward says:


which teen idiot goes to a store just to be rejected by a patronizing salesperson? just download the game from the pirate bay. see, that’s what your esrb does to an innocent teen; turn it into a mindless pirate destroying millions of jobs.

PS: don’t you have parents to check what their children are buying and playing with or are they just to lazy, incompetent and morally bankrupt? shouldn’t there be a law against them?

PS2: or are your parents and children wise enough to know what is good for them, without some big mouth politicians telling them?

Anonymous Coward says:

if the game is purchased by an adult, regardless of whether ‘over the counter’ or ‘on-line’, how can the retailer be held responsible for selling it? the adult should be aware or check to see the game’s rating before buying it. if the buyer lies so as to buy the game on line, it still cant be the sellers fault or responsibility for selling it. it’s still down to the parents to make sure their credit card details cant be used by the child.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:


Violent video games DEFINITELY desensitize the player/viewer to scenes of violence. I played GTA one time and I found it disturbing so I never played it again (love Halo and Call of Duty). I’m guessing my reaction to GTA was due to the setting.

The point is, that being desensitized to violent scenes does not create violent behavior. It means, you don’t find it disturbing or repulsive. There are many things that I don’t find repulsive but will not do, because they are against the law.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Confusion

Just a slight alteration to your point:

Violent video games DEFINITELY desensitize the player/viewer to scenes of video game violence.

Just because I can play a gory game (Fallout’s “gibbed” behavior, anyone?) does NOT mean I can stomach even blood in real life.

Hell, I’ve played racing/flight sim games since I was four, going hundreds, if not a few thousand miles an hour, with not even a forehead crinkle of concern.
Recently, I had a fellow try to merge into me at forty miles per hour, and I could not get my hands to stop shaking for twenty minutes.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re: Confusion

“Recently, I had a fellow try to merge into me at forty miles per hour, and I could not get my hands to stop shaking for twenty minutes.”

I have had people merging onto the highway in front of me….traveling at 40 miles per hour and waiting until they are beyond the exit ramp to speed up…..Every single person who lives in rural central Ohio feels your pain…

btr1701 (profile) says:

R-rated Movies

> …while a historic low of 24% were able to
> purchase tickets to R-rated movies

Perhaps they’re just not being caught anymore?

The theater where I see most of my movies allows you to buy tickets online and choose your specific seat in the auditorium and at no point does it ask for any kind of age verification for an R-rated purchase.

Anonymous Coward says:

None of these guys should be playing these games at all! I’m a 14 year-old myself and my parents don’t allow me playing those games as above 90% of guys in my school play these rated M games. I think it’s how the parents had such great lives which is just full of crap! WHAT THE FREAKING HECK IS WRONG WITH THESE PARENTS!?!? DO THEY WANT THEIR KIDS TO GO TO WAR AND KILL THEMSELVES!?!? SERIOUSLY!!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Im 23 years old and have never played an M rated game. I also stopped watching R rated movies. Partly because of my religious beliefs and also just personal choice. Parents should constantly watch what their kids are watching, playing,and talking about. It doesnt matter if they play a violent game and never pick up a gun. Obscene amounts of violence and gore are just as bad as heavy amounts of language and sexual content. Its all relative. If an m rated game is rated so because of violence then that violence is just as bad as an m rated game that has only sex or profanity. They are all just as wrong.

Christian says:

Facts are stronger than opinions.

The video game industry has helped produce many jobs during this economic crises. Like the article above said, the ESRB rates games and tries to do what they can to help prevent minors from buying rated M games. They do a very good job and even activison has hired a law firm to help research if violent video games are a problem to society. Activision/Blizzard has spent $4.2 million from their pocket to show how serious they are. Also almost every shooting that I have looked at is always linked back to a mental illness or medication. The Newtown shooting by Adam Lanza was not a successful industries fault and it’s sad that anybody would put the weight of that on somebody. Placing blame dosen’t solve problems it just produces more problems. The world already has enough hate and well over enough problems. Also Adam Lanza’s medical records were never released and the explanation was because if the public knew the medication he was taken then consumers may stop using the medications. So based on my “opinion” and facts that hundreds of people and murders have been in result of Anti-Depressants. So I think the medicine played a major role in the tragedy.

Mark (user link) says:

Couldn't Agree More

I am in agreement with the majority of commenters here. I don’t think the problem has anythig to do with the games industry, it has to do with parenting. If parents don’t feel that something is suitable for their child to be playing then they should use their power to stop them from doing so. We’ve entered an era of passive parenting and it’s an incredibly sad state of affairs.

Mike says:

Here's where the logic fails

All of the first person shooters with multi player support are rated M. Plant Vs. Zombies is the only exception. So the game selection jumps from “Animated Blood, Crude Humor, and Fantasy Violence” with cartoony plants and zombies, to “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Drug reference, Strong Language” with virtually EVERY first person shooter.

Can’t we please have a game like Call of Duty or Titanfall without the swear words and sexual themes? It really is unneccessary for the game play. Why does it have to be so hard-core? Oh sure, you might say,”if it wasn’t so hard-core, you wouldn’t want to play it.” WRONG. There is a huge difference in the game play between these games even without the hard-core. To prove my point: Hawken. A freakin awesome game for PC. Nothing like it for XBOX One or PS3. They take a great game concept, and ruin it with hard-core, and then slap an M on it and call it good. I have NO good options for my 10 year old, and he hates me for it. Plants vs. Zombies is too dumbed down and Titanfall is off the charts. You know I am right. All they would have to do is include an option to turn off blood and language on many of these games and it would instantly drop to a T rating. Why wouldn’t they want to increase sales like this?

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