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 responsible.
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.
The 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."
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 1%.
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.
ESRB 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 video games.
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
"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."
ICCR's 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."
ICCR has 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.
is also working with federal trade and congressional leaders who are looking at the game sector and
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.
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