Game-Hating Group Says 19 Percent Of Kids Can Buy M-Rated Titles

Striking a blow against the validity of the self-regulatory practices of the video game industry, the Parents Television Council conducted a survey that found 19 percent of kids could buy Mature-rated games at retailers.

The PTC site says it sent kids between the ages of 12 and 16 to 109 stores in 14 states, and 21 of those stores sold M-rated games to kids. K-Mart and Sears were the easiest marks, failing to card 62 percent of the kids. GameStop and Toys R Us stopped every purchase attempt.

Take what the PTC has to say with a gigabyte of salt. It’s known to be an attention-hungry outfit that makes uninformed statements about games it hasn’t played.

The timing of the study is meant to sway public opinion on the verge of a Supreme Court hearing on a case involving a California law against peddling violent games to kids.



Edit Your Comment

  1. cmdr.sass says:

    “It’s known to be an attention-hungry outfit that makes uninformed statements”

    You could say that about a lot of the press releases that appear on the Consumerist. CSPI and PETA to name two.

  2. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    if i understand correctly, there is no law requiring retailers to restrict sales of M-rated games. I also recall something about the games rating board being somehow different than the MPAA ratings board, which is why the game ratings hold no real weight.

    • Liam Kinkaid says:

      Correct. The ESRB rating is advisory only toward retailers.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      The MPAA holds no real weight, either. People think it’s a law, but it isn’t. It’s a standard implemented by the MPAA that theaters follow because they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds.

      • 24NascarDude says:

        In response to pecan,
        That’s not entirely true. In my state (TN), it is a class A misdemeanor for a theater to let an unaccompanied minor view an R-rated film after purchasing a ticket for a G or PG rated film.

        TCA 39-17-907(b)

        • Tim says:

          I’d love to take that to court (if it hasn’t been shot down already). The MPAA ratings are extremely arbitrary, and governments that have tried to implement laws regarding them have failed multiple times. Remember that Redbox situation?

        • gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

          same thing here in NC –
          i work at a theater, and we have little placards at the box office saying something along the lines of “per NC state code number (something i can’t remember), it is unlawful for us to sell a ticket for a feature rated R or NC-17 to anyone under the age of 17 years, or more than 1 ticket to anyone under the age of 21 years. Guests attempting to violate this policy will be dismissed with no refunds given.”

        • drizzt380 says:

          So if it wasn’t rated at all, they’d be good to go?

          I’m not a fan of the MPAA anyway. They are way to secretive.

        • Pax says:

          However, it’snot against the law for that minor to be sold a ticket to the R-rated movie in the first place.

          The law you’re citing, is merely meant to stop kids from deceiving the theater. It’s about the fraud, not the content of the movie.

    • MrEvil says:

      You think the MPAA ratings hold more weight than the ESRB? The MPAA’s ratings are just as self-policed as the ESRB is. There is not a single law on the books requiring theater owners or video stores to enforce Movie ratings. The motion picture industry enforces their ratings voluntarily they have merely been in place far longer than the ESRB ratings. Which is why the California law is being fought all the way to the SCOTUS, R Rated movies are not subject to this law, only video games. So why does the motion picture industry get a pass and the video game industry doesn’t?

      • Saltpork says:

        It’s because video gaming is a bigger industry.

        This is one case where 99.999% of us know the difference between fantasy and reality, kids included.

        These busybodies just want to have something to blame when Johnny swears at the dinner table.

    • user452 says:

      “there is no law requiring retailers to restrict sales of M-rated games.”

      Fail, USA, fail.

  3. Minneapolis says:

    It’s all the hormones they pump into the meat supply. Kids look way older now.

    • Disappointed says:

      Actually, you do have a point. Kids are definitely hitting puberty at younger and younger ages–it’s no longer uncommon for a girl to have her first menstrual period at the age of 8. What exactly is causing this, I’m not sure, but it is happening.

  4. junkmail says:

    Wow, 19.. whole percent? Yup, self-regulation clearly doesn’t work.

    • Mom says:

      My first thought was, “that means that 81% couldn’t.” That sounds pretty good for something that’s voluntary. My personal opinion is that everyone in that group would probably be better off if they paid more attention to their own kids and less to everyone else’s, but I suppose everyone has to have a hobby.

  5. Shadowfire says:

    Meanwhile, back at the PTC ranch…

    Also, 19% isn’t that bad when you consider that CD, DVD, and theater sales are something like double that…

    I really can’t wait for the PTC to go away.

  6. Bsamm09 says:

    There is absolutely a correlation between what kids do in the video games they play and real life!!! Don’t let them make ANYMORE video games.

    I wasted 5 years of my life after I played Oregon Trail!!!

    • BBP says:

      Yes, but did you make it all the way to Oregon? Or did you get dysentery along the way?!?

      • kalaratri says:

        I always drowned at the very end. Clearly I will now take my family white water rafting on a crappy, handmade raft and kill them all.

    • dr_drift says:

      Oregon Trail was terrifying… it lured you into creating family members based on the real people around you while never so much as hinting at the horrors that would befall them later in the game. “Let’s see, name the dad… well, my dad’s Robert, so we’ll use ‘Robert’.” (15 minutes later) “Robert, your father, has died a savage and painful death. Would you like to see a realistic depiction of his grave so that it may truly hit home? (Y/N)”

  7. pop top says:

    If only someone had been there to stop me from getting a copy of Super Mario Bros 2/Duck Hunt. Maybe now I wouldn’t shoot all the dogs that laugh at me. :(

  8. Sajanas says:

    I’m sure 19% of kids can buy cigarettes too. Or more than that. All you have to do is be tall and grow facial hair and people treat you as several years older.
    And even if they don’t sell to people under 18, anyone with an older brother or a high school senior friend can get them. Far better for parents to occasionally look at what is on the TV or computer screen from time to time. Its not like God of War hides its violence, or Gears of War hides its swears.

    • madanthony says:

      It must be the tall part, because I’m short and have facial hair and still get carded.

      And I’m 30.

      • crescentcityblues says:

        My friend Lou looked a lot older when we were growing up. He was looking at hunting rifles in a KMart once, and the clerk was about to sell him one (he didn’t actually want to buy). Sayeth the clerk: ‘Just a formality, but I need to see your ID.’ Sayeth Lou: Oh, I don’t want to buy, just look. And I’m 16. He looked 23…and now, that he’s 31, he still looks 23.

    • kityglitr says:

      Honestly, it’s not really about kids looking older. It’s about teenaged cashiers. What kid isn’t going to sell a copy to another kid?

  9. dolemite says:

    19 percent seems pretty small to me.

    And…who cares? Games in the US only have violence, and limited violence at that. The same violence you will see on cable tv or an episode of 24.

  10. Griking says:

    Gee, your not showing any bias with the “Game hating group” comment are you?

    I’m also kind of confused, if we’re not supposed to take this report seriously then why bother posting about it in the first place?

  11. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Two Federal courts have already ruled that preventing children from purchasing violent video games is a violation of their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, which is likely going to be asked to rule on this since a law in California was deny by federal courts, is expected to agree with the lower courts.

    In this case, the courts have view video games as a communication and art medium, and therefore you cannot deny access.

    You might disagree, but that’s the legal standing at the moment.

  12. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    …and how about having the same kids go and try to buy R rated movies, and let’s see how that works.

  13. BBP says:

    Peddling violent games to kids?

    I dunno, that makes it sound like there’s some guy near a school yard pushing copies of the latest Mortal Kombat or Call of Duty to the youngsters…

  14. Dre' says:

    Every single member of the PTC needs to die in a fire. Hate those *&%$ S.O.Bs.

  15. teke367 says:

    Wow, I wish the PTC was around when I was younger. We had to pay winos to buy us things we were too young for, but this PTC route of buying kids M rated games seem much easier.

  16. Etoiles says:

    Only 19 percent? Wow!

    When I worked for GameStop, we *always* asked for ID from anyone who looked not to be old enough. But in every single case of a 9-year-old walking out with GTA:San Andreas, it was a parent or adult relative purchasing it for them. So you really can’t blame the retailers for that.

  17. xjeyne says:

    +1 for GameStop!

  18. bratwurst says:

    I am sure more than 19% of kids can buy booze, drugs, cigs, etc. I am almost 30yo and was carded buying a game the other day.

  19. Mamudoon says:

    Geez, I got carded buying a game the other week and I’m 29. But I guess once you get to be my age, it’s kinda flattering.

  20. Pax says:

    The PTC site says it sent kids between the ages of 12 and 16 to 109 stores in 14 states, and 21 of those stores sold M-rated games to kids. K-Mart and Sears were the easiest marks, failing to card 62 percent of the kids. GameStop and Toys R Us stopped every purchase attempt.

    In other words … Department stores, where undertrained cashiers are the norm rather than the exception, have failed to train their cashiers properly where the sale of M-rated games is concerned. (Do note that neither store, to my knowledge, sells anything else that a 12-to-16-year-old cannot buy. Wait, except for firearms, in some Wal-marts. And that requires a whole different level of identification.)

    Meanwhile, at specialty stores, where one should most expect the cashiers to know that M-rated games shouldnot be sold to anyone under 17, the success rate was 100%. That is to say, at retail outlets that can be considered part of the industy itself, the self-regulatory scheme is working perfectly.

    Is it just me, or does explaining it that way sound like the PTC just shot themselves in the foot?

  21. Disappointed says:

    My question is, why the hell is Toys ‘R’ Us selling M-rated games in the first place?

    • Pax says:

      Why not?

      It’s not just kids 16 and under who play with toys.

      We (three adults) have gotten back into LEGOs in the past few months. I’ve been building the “Green Grocer” set, which is specifically for “ages 16+”. There’s three other entries in that series I intend to build eventually, too.

      I also am an avid player of video games, of most ratings (generally M-rated, but also plenty of T-rated and even a few E games) and for multiple platforms.

      I’m thirty-nine years of age. Should Toys-R-Us not want my money …?

  22. Larraque eats babies says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong here.

    Gamestop – only sells games, so it’s easy to train people to card for it.
    Toys R Us – has a dedicated video game section with scanners, forcing people to buy games in the video game section only. Therefore, easy to train people.
    K-Mart & Sears – have games in bargain bins. Can easily be taken to the front cash along with a mess of other items. Have to train every single cashier. Even at a place like Walmart, if you stash a video game in a collection of groceries, the cashier is busy and might not think to card if the computer system doesn’t say to card.

    What the article doesn’t say — are the M rated games that kids successfully purchased behind the glass or were they clearance/bargain bin?

    And if you look at the numbers in the chart, retailers are clearly improving. Target went from 41% down to 5%! That’s a quality improvement in numbers. Aside from Best Buy (which went from 1 of 12 to 2 of 8 — ridiculously small sample sizes), and KMart/Sears (which stayed level – from 2 of 4 to 5 of 9 – also really small sample sizes)

    • Outrun1986 says:

      The Toys R Us stores recently revamped here to remove the R-Zone section, its now merged with the rest of the store. However the registers are right near where the R-Zone used to be, so its really not any different. The times I have been there I have only seen 2-3 people working register for the whole store, so it can’t be that hard to train them to check ID for games.

  23. dr_drift says:

    19% of kids can go into Wal-Mart and buy Modern Warfare 2, some larger percentage of them can get into Saw 3D… while 100% of them can buy Mein Kampf or The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Seems reasonable.

  24. CJ SIege says:

    Thankfully, the ESRB’s ratings are not law.

    I hate this whole nanny state frustration. Parents, parent your kids — don’t force the government to parent everyone.

  25. dr_ting says:

    I recently got carded at Gamespot (I’m 20), when trying to buy Halo:Reach. After I asked why, they tried to convince me that Nebraska state law forced them to.

  26. MSUHitman says:

    FYI for those curious at Gamestop, if you don’t card someone for an M-rated game, or don’t ask the PARENTS/GRANDPARENTS permission to sell an M-rated game to the kid, it’s auto termination. Not only that, but if it happens at a store twice, the store manager is fired.

  27. David Ciani says:

    Theres always amazon….

  28. kalaratri says:

    Why should the stores have to regulate what the kids are playing? Isn’t that the parent’s job? My parent’s would have taken the game away from me if I came home with it and they didn’t like the content. (Heck, my mom marched my friend and I out of an R-rated movie she thought was inappropriate when I was a teen.)

    • DeepHurting says:

      I remember my folks confiscating my copy of Defender for the Crown for my Amiga when they caught a glimpse of the racy (for its time) cut-scene played after your rescued a princess. I think I was 10 or 11 at the time.

      Wow, that scene was so tame compared to the strip clubs in GTA4.

  29. jackbishop says:

    I think there may be more recent figures out there, but in 2008 the FTC found that 20% of the time, kids can get M-rated games — compared to 35% for R-rated movie tickets, 47% for R-rated DVDs, and 56% for Parental-Advisory music CDs.

    Takeaway message from this? Game retailers have improved (if only slightly, and probably within the error-bars of statistical significance anyways) in the past 2 years, and they were and are doing a better job of enforcing the rating systems than retailers of other media do.

  30. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    You’re not taking into account the 100% of kids who can purchase an M rated game if their parents buy it for them to make them shut the hell up.

    As a former employee of gamestop, I was required to remind the customers purchasing an M game with their child that it was rated M which is 18+. Only once did the parent scold the child for attempting to get them to purchase it. All the other times, they shrugged and did not care one bit.

  31. bishophicks says:

    Let me get this straight. Self-regulation doesn’t work when it comes to morality. We need censorship, filters, laws and other controls to shield children from sex and violence. We also need church because someone without religion (i.e. self-regulating) can’t be a moral person.

    But self-regulation DOES work for businesses and is all we need to ensure our oil companies take all the appropriate safety steps to ensure they won’t foul the environment, and it’s all banks need to ensure the loans they write and products they sell are safe for the bank, consumers, shareholders and the economy as a whole.

    Got it.

  32. Outrun1986 says:

    The real problem is the grandparents and parents purchasing the games for the kids, which is perfectly legal. Its just as Oranges with Cheese says, they just shrug it off, as long as little Johnny gets his game its all good. I have been shopping for video games long enough, and I have seen this many times. Now the employees at Walmart are less likely to warn the parents than the employees at Gamestop or Toys R Us, but as said already, those warnings don’t help.

    The only place I have seen it directly bypassed is at A.J. Wright or Marshalls, now they don’t stock very many video games, but they do occasionally get them in. The register doesn’t have a popup there, as all video games just have a generic barcode with a price. The cashiers at these places are very unlikely to be checking for M rated games, and they probably don’t even know they have to.

    Even so, it doesn’t take much for a 8-17 year old kid to find an older friend to go into the store and buy it for them.

    I don’t think anyone underage gets away with buying a M Rated game here directly, there is a register pop up every time one is scanned at pretty much any store here. The clerk could probably enter a fake date, but that might get them in trouble.

  33. thegreathal says:

    M-rated game laws aren’t something to celebrate. Do you agree with PTC that we should ban kids (and eventually, all people) from reading graphic books, and watching TV-MA and R-rated movies?

  34. TheGreySpectre says:

    Yeah and kids can buy R-Rated movies too. You can’t restrict one without restricting the other.
    Also you can’t ban stuff based on a private rating. For the government to ban sales of M-rated games to minors they have to band the sale of ALL games to minors, the same as if they want to ban selling R-Rated movies to minors they would have to ban all sales of movies to minors.

    Stores are welcome to have their own policies regarding sales of M-Rated games and R-Rated movies, but the government can’t mandate it. Even if the law does it passed in CA it won’t be too long before it is ruled unconstitutional.

  35. JollyJumjuck says:


    I’d say more like “fun-hating.”

  36. user452 says:

    I don’t see why this is a big deal in any way.
    There is no argument here.
    Games rated M/R are not for kids. They are for adults.
    Kids should not be able to buy them, it should be against the law in the USA, just like it is in Australia.

    Catch up, america.

  37. bluline says:

    There’s no law against selling these games to kids…yet.

  38. Daniellethm says:

    We need less of these nanny organizations around. Leave the parenting to the parents.

    For instance, my mother bought me plenty of gory/violent games when I was young; like Diablo 2, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, you name it, I played it long before I’d be able to buy it myself. I was also allowed to watch Horror movies and things like Full Metal Jacket at around 12. My parents made the decision that I was able to handle fantasy violence and gore without bringing it into real life.

    Nobody knows a child more than their own parents, especially not some organization that claims these types of media would turn me into a blood crazed psychopath, they certainly didn’t. Not all children can differentiate, but not all of them need to be coddled like a toddler either.

  39. Garbanzo says:

    Headline fail. 19% of such attempts succeeding does not mean that 19% of kids can buy an M-rated game. From the link, 56% of attempts at Kmart succeeded. Thus we can estimate that at least 56% of children who can reach a Kmart can buy such games, since the kids will tell each other, “Don’t bother with GameStop. Go to Kmart.”

    If the success or failure at Kmart depends on the individual cashier (rather than varying based on training determined at a district-wide level) then close to 100% of children who can shop (perhaps unsupervised) at Kmart can buy such games, if they’re willing to try multiple times on different days with different cashiers until they succeed.

  40. Abradax says:

    So 19%… and it is a voluntary system?

    I’m willing to bet there are mandatory programs that don’t get that kind of result.

    I say good job ESRB.

  41. stummies1121 says:

    One time I was at a Gamestop in Boston, and the lady in front of me was buying Halo or GTA or some game like that.

    The cashier asked her if she was buying the game for her kid, and if so, was her kid over 17? Because he wouldn’t be able to sell it to her if she was buying it for a kid 17 or younger. She didn’t speak English well (if at all) though, and didn’t understand what he was asking her over and over, so he eventually just gave up and sold it to her.

    Based on the comments I’ve been reading, though, that sounds a little over the top enforcement of the ESRB ratings…