Study: Mature-rated games hard for kids to buy

While video game ratings were most likely to be enforced, music CDs with explicit content were easily attainable by underage shoppers.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor 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.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
It's hard for teenagers to buy mature-rated games, the FTC has found.
It's hard for teenagers to buy mature-rated games, the FTC has found. GameSpot

When it comes to buying different types of mature entertainment content, it's most difficult for children to get their hands on mature-rated video games, the Federal Trade Commission has found.

In an "undercover shopper survey," the FTC found that 13 percent of underage teenagers were able to buy mature-rated games between November 2010 and January 2011, down from the 20 percent of kids who could do the same in 2009. It was easiest for kids to get their hands on music CDs featuring explicit content, the FTC discovered, with 64 percent of attempts being successful. That figure was down from 72 percent in 2009. When attempting to buy R-rated DVDs, 38 percent of teenagers were successful, representing a significant decline from the 54-percent success rate in the prior year.

A third of teenagers were able to get into R-rated movies.

The Entertainment Software Association, which represents the industry, has flatly denied that kids can easily get their hands on mature titles. In 1994, it set up the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as a self-regulating agency that rates games by content and age appropriateness. The new FTC study is the latest evidence that the system is working, the ESA says.

"The ESRB is the gold standard," ESA CEO Michael D. Gallagher said in a statement. "Our self-regulatory system works, and this FTC report validates it as being the best in the entertainment industry. We have an unparalleled commitment to working with parents, retailers, and stakeholders, and will continue to help ensure that this remarkable level of enforcement remains high."

Last year, The Harrison Group, a market-research firm, found that 82 percent of parents and 75 percent of children are familiar with ESRB ratings. Moreover, the organization said that 70 percent of parents "pay close attention to the ratings when purchasing a game for themselves or their families" and 62 percent of parents research a game their child wants before they purchase it.

Critics say that's not enough. In September, James Steyer, the CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, an outspoken proponent of legislating the gaming industry, cited a poll that found 72 percent of parents approve of a law that blocks the sale of "ultraviolent or sexually violent" video games, and indicated that kids need to be protected much more than they are today.

"The results of this poll clearly show that not only do the effects of ultraviolent or sexually violent games weigh heavily on the minds of parents but also that parents feel that the video game industry isn't doing nearly enough to protect kids from accessing the most ultraviolent games," Steyer said.

However, if the FTC's findings can be believed, fewer kids are actually getting their hands on violent titles than some think. And perhaps more of the concern should be directed toward other industries, where mature content is seemingly easier to access.