June 14, 2006

Too Many Kids Can Still Buy Violent Video Games: FTC

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday told lawmakers it supports the video game industry's self-regulation of violent content but said too many U.S. children are still able to buy Mature-rated games in stores.

The U.S. video game industry, with revenue rivaling Hollywood box office sales, is at the center of a cultural war over racy and violent content in some titles.

Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee the industry's system of rating video games is working.

Currently, it is up to retailers whether or not to sell M-rated games to minors. M-rated games contain content deemed appropriate for people aged 17 and up by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

"Although retailers selling video games have steadily improved their record of denying underage children access to M-rated games, a significant percent of children sent in as undercover shoppers are still able to buy these games," Parnes said in prepared testimony.


An FTC study found 42 percent of its undercover shoppers, children between the ages of 13 and 16, were able to buy an M-rated game last year. That is down from 69 percent in 2003.

"While these results are headed in the right direction, there is still substantial room for improvement," she said.

The FTC will survey consumers about the game rating system as part of a broad entertainment industry report, Parnes said.

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, chairman of the panel, compared violent video games to hate speech. He urged the FTC to "get tough" with companies like Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., publisher of the popular game Grand Theft Auto. "They flout the law and continue to exploit our kids with violence and hate," Stearns said.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which sells one-fourth of all video games sold in the United States, said it does not allow employees to sell M-rated games to children under age 17 unless they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

"We abide by the (industry) ratings and do everything possible to prevent children from obtaining inappropriate video games and to inform parents about video game content," Gary Severson, Wal-Mart senior vice president, told the panel.