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August 2005 | Vol. IV - No. 8


Retailer’s Choice: Selling Violent Games to Minors

"Some violent games … are amazingly open-ended and involve lots of opportunity for decision making ..." -James Gee, of the University of Wisconsin Madison.
As video games continue to grow increasingly violent — and popular — retailers must choose between easy sales and parents’ trust when determining whether to sell games to minors. Many electronic outlets have been playing it safe.

“This is our community, and we care about our community and our reputation. We don’t want to be irresponsible,” says Heather Wheat, store manager of Toy Mandala, a privately owned toy store in Sherman Oaks, Calif. Her store does not sell M-rated (Mature — 17 and older) games to minors.

The rating system for video games is determined by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). Games are rated according to content and age appropriateness. The ESRB logo lists the rating on the cover of the video game. However, there are currently no laws that prevent retailers from selling video games to whomever they like. In Australia, officials effectively banned the computer game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and demanded it be removed from stores because it contains hidden sex scenes that can be viewed with a special Internet download. In the U.S., the game can still be purchased.

According to marketing firm NPD Funworld, M-rated video games are about one-third of video games now purchased. Wheat admitted to even discouraging parents to buy the violent video games for their children.

“We try to explain what’s going on in a game and let the parents know what the game is like,” Wheat says.

Yet, not all retailers feel the same. “We don’t sell to a 10 year old, but me personally, I used to let my now 20-year-old son buy anything. I could care less — he’s not going to go out and kill some one,” says George Kander, general manager of A&J Games.

Kander figures that the ratings probably do hurt the sales of video games because parents are more conscious about them now and some won’t let their children buy or play the M-rated games.

Research has shown, however, that the ratings are helpful in containing a child’s behavior. The National Institute for Media and the Family lists aggressive behavior as a possible outcome for children playing violent video games.

“A lot of studies show a correlation between violent video games and aggressive behavior. What parents have to do is know what their kids are playing,” says National Institute on Media and the Family’s spokesperson Blois Olson. “If parents thought about it — they believe ‘Sesame Street’ has an impact on their children — so why wouldn’t a violent video game?”

Although many agree that video games are violent, there are those who see the positive side. “Some violent games — such as the Grand Theft Auto series — are amazingly open-ended and involve lots of opportunity for decision making, strategizing and reflection both on morality and game design,” says James Gee, an education professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Gee agrees that young children shouldn’t play video games, but disagrees with the argument that violent video games are sheer evil. “Societies were far more violent in the 18th and 19th centuries than they are in the 20th, including the United States, yet there was no television or video games,” Gee says.

Some parents agree with Gee’s philosophy. “It’s about the environment, the parents and the family,” says John Thorn, a private investor in Los Angeles and a parent of a teenage boy who owns an M-rated video game. “But I am in favor of parents being informed about what’s going on — the policies are an extra step.”

Many retailers understand that it depends on the family and the environment of a child. “If they’ve come in here with their parents and bought an M-rated game before, then we allow them to buy one again the next time. The people who come in here are regulars and we know who their parents are,” Griselda Sandoval, a manager at new and used video game seller Game Play, admits.


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