Entertainment Software Rating Board
(ESRB) joined Capitol Hill lawmakers including Rick Santorum (R-PA), George Allen (R-VA) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) on Wednesday to affirm its “commitment to parents.” The commitment includes initiatives that will be undertaken by national retailers to make sure mature-rated games aren’t sold to minors.
The ESRB and the entire video game industry is almost continually under fire from lawmakers and others regarding violent video games. While video game makers state that games that carry an M (Mature) or AO (Adults Only) rating are only aimed at adults, frequent examples of kids buying those games are reported by newspapers and television news shows and cited by lawmakers who insist on tighter controls for the distribution of such games.
Games sold at national retailers in the United States are given age and content ratings by the ESRB, which are displayed prominently on the box. But the ESRB, like its movie counterpart, is a purely voluntary system — it’s not mandated by government regulation, it’s something that game publishers and retailers agree to use.
Last year the ESRB’s credibility was put in doubt when it was discovered that a popular M-rated game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, could be modified to depict more graphic sexual content — content that wasn’t revealed to the ESRB at the time the initial rating was given. The ESRB amended its rating to AO; the game was recalled; and the publisher ultimate republished the game without the graphic content.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has investigated the sales of video games to minors, and its most recent research indicates that retailers are indeed doing a better job of enforcing the existing ratings system than before.
“In its most recent mystery shopper study, the FTC found that national retailers refused to sell M-rated games to minors 65 percent of the time, which closely matches the level of restriction for movie theatres, which has been considered the “gold standard,’” said the ESRB in a statement.
State lawmakers have repeatedly passed legislation restricting the sale of mature-rated games to minors; those laws have consistently been overturned on constitutional grounds when the ESA, the trade group representing the video game industry, has filed suit in federal court. The latest example is a
that has been put in abeyance by a federal judge while its constitutionality is tested. A ruling on that law may come next week.
ESRB President Patricia Vance called the commitment “a tremendous and concrete step forward by retailers to vigorously enforce their store policies.” More than just lip service, the commitment requires participating retailers to agree to refunds or exchanges in cases where someone under the age of 17 or 18 manages to buy M or AO-rated software; participate in “mystery shopper” audits where their enforcement of M and AO-rated game sales is tested; and displaying signage describing the ESRB ratings system and the store’s policy.
Other commitments from participating retailers include collective public reporting priority initiatives; sharing best practices with other members; employee training and more.
Participating nationwide retailers joining the ESRB Retail Council (ERC) include Best Buy, Blockbuster, Circuit City, GameStop/EB Games, Movie Gallery/Hollywood Video/GameCrazy, Target and Wal-Mart.