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Press Release

July 23, 2008

PTC Finds Video Game Retailers Fail to Check Minors’ IDs

Secret Shopper Campaign Reveals Need for Video Game Legislation Introduced Today in Congress


LOS ANGELES (July 23, 2008) – The Parents Television Council™ released the results of its Secret Shopper Campaign, which revealed that video game retailers sold Mature-rated video games to minors 36% of the time, a higher percentage than was reported in May 2008 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)*.  The campaign results show the need for video game legislation that will hold retailers accountable like the bill introduced today by Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).


Our research shows that a disturbing percentage of video game retailers are failing to prevent America’s children from purchasing violent and sexually graphic video games.  Any failure rate is problematic, but the failure rate we’re seeing is downright pathetic.  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,” said PTC President Tim Winter.


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.  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 voluntary guidelines that tell retailers not to sell these products to children have been an abysmal failure due to the fact that they are stated as little more than suggestions with no repercussions.  We applaud Senator Wicker for his leadership in helping to protect our children by introducing this legislation designed to provide civil penalties for selling M-rated games to minors.”


From November 2007 – July 2008, 16 Parents Television Council grassroots chapters in 16 states conducted Secret Shopper visits to over 100 local video game retailers.  A majority (80%) of the store visits occurred since May 2008.  PTC chapters sent children between 11 to 16 years of age to attempt to purchase M-rated video games, which are classified by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as inappropriate for anyone under the age of 17.  Children who participated were both boys and girls of diverse ethnic backgrounds.


The retailers visited have company policies that require that video games not be sold to people outside of the ESRB assigned age classification.  The children were told to enter the chosen store, find an M-rated game and attempt to purchase it with cash. They were instructed to never lie or misrepresent themselves during the process.  When games were purchased, the adult who had waited outside the store would return with the game and ask for a refund.


Major Findings:

  • The PTC focused most of its visits on the big chains that are part of the ESRB’s Retail Council including, Best Buy, Circuit City, Game Stop, Hollywood Video, Kmart, Target, Toys “R” Us, Blockbuster, and Wal-Mart.  Together, these stores violated their age restriction policies by selling M-rated video games to minors 34% of the time.  However, Best Buy and Game Stop fared the best; each sold video games to minors only 8% of the time.  Excluding these two retail chains, the other seven major retail chains sold M-rated video games to minors 44% of the time.

  • Local stores and regional chains sold a minor an adult game 47% of the time.

  • The ESRB Retail Council and local/regional chains together allowed minors to purchase M-rated video games 36% of the time.

  • The majority of the children who were successful in their purchases reported that when the game was scanned for sale at the register a note came up to ask for ID but it was quickly by-passed by the cashier.


Noteworthy Examples:

  • At a Target store in Massachusetts, the cashier informed a 15-year-old boy that the computer was instructing him to ID anyone who looked under 35.  The boy started to walk away, but the cashier said, “That’s ok.  I’ll sell it to you anyway.”

  • The manager at a Newbury Comics store in Rhode Island, when told that the store had sold the game to a 14-year-old said, “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?”

  • At a Blockbuster in Houston, a manager showed a 13-year-old where the M-rated game, “Scarface,” was located and a different employee rang up the sale without any questions.

  • At a Toys “R” Us in New Jersey a manager handled the sale of M-rated game “Rainbow 6” to a 15-year-old.

  • At a Target store in Florida, when a 16-year-old girl was asked if she had ID to purchase “Grand Theft Auto IV,” she replied no and completed the sale.


Parents Television Council Secret Shopper Campaign Results:



PTC Results (July 2008)


# of Stores

% Able to Purchase

Game Stop






Best Buy



Toys “R” Us



Blockbuster 11 36%







Circuit City



Hollywood Video



Various Local & Regional Stores




The video game industry would have us believe that the 1/5 failure rate as reported by the FTC is acceptable and that parents need not worry.  Our analysis shows a 1/3 failure rate.  Perhaps the retailers felt the pressure was off after the FTC’s report was published; but frankly, either rate of failure is wholly unacceptable.  While we applaud Game Stop and Best Buy for their commitment to abide by their corporate age restriction policies, the other retailers should be ashamed and must act immediately to improve,” Winter continued.


The industry must do more to prevent minors from purchasing M-rated video games – there is no excuse.  But without a monetary consequence for retailers who fail to abide by their age restriction policies, it appears the industry will remain content with current failure rates.  We encourage concerned citizens to contact their Congressional representatives to ensure that the video game industry will become more responsible.  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.”


*The Federal Trade Commission’s May 2008 study found that ESRB Retail Council members sold M-rated video games to minors 20% of the time.


Click here to read the full results.


To speak with a representative from the Parents Television Council, please contact Kelly Oliver (ext. 140) or Megan Franko (ext. 148) at (703) 683-5004.



The Parents Television Council™ (www.parentstv.org®) is a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. It was founded in 1995 to ensure that children are not constantly assaulted by sex, violence and profanity on television and in other media. This national grassroots organization has more than 1.3 million members across the United States, and works with television producers, broadcasters, networks and sponsors in an effort to stem the flow of harmful and negative messages targeted to children. The PTC also works with elected and appointed government officials to enforce broadcast decency standards. Most importantly, the PTC produces critical research and publications documenting the dramatic increase in sex, violence and profanity in entertainment. This information is provided free of charge so parents can make informed viewing choices for their own families.




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