December 06, 2007
Giving the Gift of Gore? Video Game Buyers Beware
by Anne Moore Odell
ICCR works to educate video game buyers on video games ratings and works with retailers to keep
mature and violent video games out of children's hands.
Eighty percent of all video games are sold during the holiday season reports the Interfaith Center
on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). ICCR
recently sent out its annual holiday letter designed to help consumers make informed decisions when
choosing retailers who sell video games for children and teens.
ICCR is an
association of 275 faith-based institutional investors with over $100 billion in assets under
management. ICCR and its members work with companies to be socially and environmentally
The percentage of people who play video and computer games varies from poll
to poll, but represents millions of Americans and is growing larger each year. A 2006 AP-AOL poll
reports that 40% of American adults play games on a computer or a console. The Entertainment
Software Association (ESA) states that 69% of heads of households play computer and/or video games.
ESA further reports that the average video game player is 33 years old and that children and teens
playing video games only make up 28% of the game playing population. The most popular games are,
actually, sports and card games, especially poker.
Although the majority of video game
players are of age, ICCR is "concerned that video games with extreme violence are often the item
most likely given or purchased for children and adolescents." To help shoppers, ICCR publishes its
"Video Game Retailer Comparison Chart: Actions Taken by Retailers to Prevent Sales to Minors of
Mature (M) Rated Video Games."
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), whose independent raters
give video games both a letter rating and a descriptor phrase, rates video games. ESRB reports the
percentage of ratings assigned in 2006 as: E (Everyone) - 53%, E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) - 16%,
T (Teen) - 23%, M (Mature) - 8% and EC (Early Childhood) and AO (Adults Only) - combined, less than
ESRB reports Game unit sales by rating category in 2006: E (Everyone) - 45%, E10+
(Everyone 10 and older) - 11%, T (Teen) - 29% M (Mature) - 15%EC (Early Childhood) and AO (Adults
Only) - combined, less than 1%.
The ICCR's chart lists the video game selling policies
at Best Buy, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Game Stop, Sears and Kmart, Target, Toys "R" Us, and
Wal-Mart, and includes what ICCR considers the "elements of an effective, responsible, and
well-monitored video game sales policy."
Gary Brouse, Director for ICCR's Working Group on Violence &
Militarization of Society explained, "I think the education of consumers is important because
the games are constantly changing. Every year it is getting more and more difficult to keep up with
this issue. It is important for consumers to understand that besides the ratings, there the
descriptors that describe how gruesome the games are."
"One thing that is really great
about the chart, is that it provides information to parents and consumers about the retailers. We
aren't saying where you should shop," Brouse added.
Patricia E. Vance, President of ESRB
told SocialFunds.com: "Actually, retailers continue to make good progress in enforcing their
voluntary store policy not to sell M (Mature) rated games to children under 17 without permission
from their parent. "
"National research measuring parental awareness and use of the
ratings for computer and video games shows that 83% of American parents of children who play video
games are aware of the ESRB ratings, and 74% use them regularly when buying games for their
families according to a study commissioned annually by the ESRB, " Vance continued.
also reports that these figures are higher than those measured in the same study in 2005, when
awareness and use were at 78% and 70% respectively. The study was conducted by Peter D. Hart
Research Associates in March 2007, and surveyed over 500 parents of children age 3 to 17 that play
The retailers in ICCR's chart all display video game policies in their
stores and have other policies in place to train employees around not selling mature rated videos
to children. However, ICCR would also like retailers to disclose the results of programs that
verify that cashiers are requesting an ID prior to purchase.
"Parents have the authority
and primary responsibility to decide which games, music and movies are appropriate for their
children," said Bill Cimino, director of corporate communications for Circuit City (ticker:CC). "Circuit City adopted its
policy to support parents, not to take their place. We strongly encourage parents to take an
active role in evaluating the entertainment products their children use. To that end, Circuit City
has a carding system in place for R-rated DVD movies and explicit lyric CDs."
Brouse singled out Target (ticker: TGT) as a
leader for not carrying the violent video game Manhunt 2.
"Target strives to provide
merchandise that will appeal to a wide variety of guests. We also want guests to be comfortable
with the purchasing decisions they make at Target," said Brandy Doyle, Target spokesperson. "While
Manhunt 2 was given a Mature rating by the ERSB, we received additional information that players
can potentially view previously filtered content by altering the game code. As a result, we have
decided not to carry the game. "
ERSB's Vance wonders if the media and special issue
groups have made M rated games videos and children a bigger issue than they really are. "It seems
that a handful of M-rated titles may receive a disproportionate amount of media attention, but the
percentage of rating assignments and game sales paints a different picture," Vance said. "In 2006,
only one M-rated game was among the top 10 selling video games while other titles in the sports,
strategy and racing genres continue to be very popular year in and year out."
other issues with video game industry besides exposing children to the violence found in some of
the games. Brouse also said ICCR is concerned with the lack of diversity in the video game
industry. There are very few women and minorities on the boards and in the management of game
producers and designers. Brouse puts the figure at 95% non-minority on boards and in management.
This lack of diversity is especially troubling considering that many of the games feature
minorities and women.
ICCR is also working with federal trade and congressional leaders
who are looking at the game sector and marketing standards.
The industry-tracking NPD
Group reports that last year the video game industry made $12.6 billion dollars, with December 2006
alone bringing in $3.7 billion. If 2007 follows this trend, as it set to do, the importance of the
industry can't be over stated.
ICCR Holiday letter reads in part: "Behavioral science
research has warned that playing violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive
behavior in children and youth. In many cases, these types of video games encourage and reward
players for performing acts of violence and brutality that include beating women, shooting police
officers and committing racially motivated acts of violence.
"The holiday season is a
time of celebrating with loved ones the breaking in of light into a troubling and hurting world.
Let us be instruments of light." it adds.