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PTC Secret Shopper Campaign Reveals

 Children Still Able to Purchase M-Rated Video Games

 

Background:

Since its founding, the PTC has been concerned with limiting children’s access to adult entertainment products because of the well documented, long-term harmful effects that can result from exposure to the excessive sex and violence so often found in these products.  Children’s access to violent video games is of particular concern given the growing body of research documenting the lasting harmful effects of exposure to video game violence and the lack of controls (either external or internal) governing retailers’ ability to sell such games to children. 

 

One recent study found that teens who play violent video games showed increased activity in the areas of the brain linked to emotional arousal and decreased activity in regions of the brain that govern self-control.  Another recent study found that young men were more likely to perceive others’ attitudes toward them as hostile if they had just played a violent game, and were more likely to think it’s acceptable to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol.   

 

Since the tragic school shootings at Columbine, the Federal Trade Commission has conducted biannual analyses of the marketing of adult entertainment products to children.  Much work remains to be done at the retail level in restricting sales of M-rated games to children but the FTC has documented some improvements.  The PTC set out to verify the results of the FTC’s most recent secret shopper efforts by sending minors to purchase M-rated video games from various national and local retailers.

 

Methodology:

Over a nine month period 16 PTC Grassroots Chapters in 16 states visited 101 national and local video game retailers.  Eighty percent of the stores were visited in the last sixty days.  These retailers have company policies that require that video games not be sold to people outside of the ESRB assigned age classification.  PTC chapters sent youths between the ages of 11 and 16 to various retailers and asked them to attempt to purchase games given an M rating by the ESRB (M-rated games are classified as inappropriate for anyone under the age of 17).  Both boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds were enlisted for this effort.  The youths would enter the chosen store, find an M-rated game and attempt to purchase it with cash.  The youths were instructed to never lie or misrepresent themselves during the process.  When games were purchased the adult, who waited outside the store, would return with the game and ask for a refund.

 

Results:

The PTC focused most of its visits on the big chains that are part of the ESRB’s Retail Council.  These stores failed 33% of the time.  Best Buy and Game Stop did the best job at keeping the children from purchasing M-rated games with a failure rate of only 8%.  When these two chains are taken out of the equation, the other six stores had an abysmal 44% failure rate.  Best Buy and Game Stop should be commended for their high success rate at keeping M-rated games out of the hands of children and for training their staff to check for identification before selling such games, but the rest of the industry obviously has a lot of work to do.   

 

As bad as the results for the retail council are, the results for local and regional chains are even worse, failing 47% of the time.

  • The manager at a Newbury Comics store in Massachusetts, when told that they had sold the game to a 12-year-old (pictured below) 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?

Most of the children who were successful in their purchases reported that they noticed that when the game was scanned for sale at the register a note came up to ask for ID that was quickly bypassed by the cashier.

  • At a Blockbuster in Houston a manager showed our 13-year-old where M-rated 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 Rainbow 6 to a 15-year-old.

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

  • At a Target in Massachusetts the cashier informed the 13-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.”

 

M-RATED VIDEO GAMES

FTC Results (5/8/8)

PTC Results (7/8/8)

CHAIN

# of Stores

% Able to Purchase

# of Stores

% Able to Purchase

Game Stop

66

6%

12

8%

Walmart

62

18%

13

38%

Blockbuster 0 --

11

36%

Best Buy

35

20%

12

8%

Toys “R” Us

15

27%

5

40%

Target

28

29%

17

41%

Kmart

16

31%

4

50%

Circuit City

16

38%

10

60%

Hollywood Video

15

40%

2

50%

Various Local & Regional Stores

0

--

15

47%

 

FTC results: ESRB retail council 20% failure

PTC results: ESRB retail council 34% failure

 

 

 

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