Does it matter who buys video games?

Should age matter in video game buying? Don Reisinger discusses it.

Much has been made about violent video games and how they impact children over the past decade and legislatures and activist groups alike have tried to find ways to stop them from getting in the hands of minors. And with the help of retailers, most laws have tried to make it impossible for those under the age of 17 to buy an M-rated game. But according to a recent Nielsen survey, 17 percent of Grand Theft Auto IV buyers were underage.

Nielsen found that of the 6,000 respondents, 17 percent of all buyers were younger than 17 -- the children were aged between 6 and 17 -- and of those younger buyers, 61 percent bought the game themselves, while 39 percent had a relative or friend buy it for them. In those cases where someone else bought the game for the kids, 80 percent were the child's parent or guardian and 10 percent said their older siblings bought the game for them.

Of course, anti-video game hacks will use this survey and say that it demonstrates to us all that retailers need to be more prudent in who they're selling games to and parents should be ashamed of themselves for giving a violent video game to a minor.

But I have a different take. I don't see anything wrong with underage kids buying any video game from any store at any time. And why should I? It's abundantly clear that they'll just have their parents get the games for them anyway.

The original intent of not allowing underage kids to buy video games was to stop them from picking up a violent title that their parents didn't want them to play and bring it to a friend's house where they wouldn't know. And while that is an admirable idea, it simply doesn't hold up.

First, most video game stores or even big-box retailers are staffed by kids that are barely old enough to buy mature-rated games anyway. And considering many of them are probably attending the same high school as the 15-year old who wants to pick up the latest M-rated game, I seriously doubt most kids will say no.

On top of that, why do most sales clerks even care? They're getting paid to run the store and if a 14-year old kid comes in and wants to play GTA IV and asks for a copy, it's easier to make a sale and look good for the boss than it is to push the kid away because he can't provide any identification.

Beyond that, it's extremely easy for these kids to get the games anyway. As the survey shows, a parent and an older sibling would be more than happy to walk into the local Gamestop and pick up a copy of an M-rated game for a child who is underage. And why not? It's a video game that keeps the kid quiet and happy.

Do you see what I'm getting at here? Nobody really cares about age requirements in video games and it's clear that parents and family members are perfectly capable of "beating the system" and putting mature-rated games in the hands of minors.

To think that ID'ing kids for a video game will somehow stop violence and the proliferation of violent video games is extremely foolhardy. If they're turned down, they'll simply go to the next place and see if they can win someone over there. And if all else fails, they can enlist the help of an older person.

It sounds like alcohol purchasing as a kid, doesn't it? Eventually someone will let you in.

Stopping underage children from buying video games may be a great PR stunt, but that's all it is. Children are getting their hands on M-rated games and there's no changing it. So we have one of two options: ignore it or just forget about age limits altogether. I vote for the latter.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter feed, and FriendFeed.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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