XXX-Mas: Sex and Blood Video Games Just in Time for Jr.'s New Xbox

Parents and retailers are failing miserably to keep violent and sexually explicit video games out of the hands of children, according to a report that estimates seven in 10 youngsters are playing M-rated games meant for people over the age of 17.

The 10th annual MediaWise Video Game Report, released today by the National Institute on Media and the Family, targets 12 video games parents should keep out of the hands of children and teenagers.

The 12 Worst

  1. Far Cry
  2. F.E.A.R.
  3. The Warriors
  4. Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse
  5. True Crime: New York City
  6. Blitz: The League
  7. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
  8. God of War
  9. Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil
  10. Urban Reign
  11. Conker: Live and Reloaded
  12. Resident Evil 4

Eleven of the 12 games are rated “M” for mature. One other, Urban Reign, is rated “T” for teen. A mature rating means games “have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language,” according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D.-Conn.), a critic of the entertainment industry’s marketing of sex and violence to children, said it was astounding that 70% of the youngsters surveyed for the report had played many of the M-rated games found on the list.

“These games are becoming an assault on the value structure and discipline of our society,” Lieberman said. “So much that we try to do here—as lawmakers, as parents, as family members—to create a good society, particularly for our children, is undercut by the worst of these games.”

Although a stricter rating exists for video games—AO for Adult Only—it is rarely used. Only 18 of more than 10,000 games rated have been given that classification.

David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, said the video game industry, which established the ratings, is to blame. Walsh and Lieberman want the ratings system scrapped and a new one created.

Best Buy Is Best

Two other problem areas Walsh cited: retail stores and parents.

He said stores are failing to police children when they try to buy violent video games. Children are often able to purchase M-rated games, Walsh said, based on the results of a “secret shopper” survey his group conducted. It found boys as young as 9 could buy M-rated games 42% of the time and girls succeed 46% of the time.

One exception: the retailer Best Buy had a perfect record for keeping violent games away from children, based on Walsh’s survey.

Parents, meanwhile, are simply not paying enough attention, Walsh said. A mere 26% of those polled have had a parent stop them buying a game because of its rating, according to the survey. And more than half of children surveyed purchased an M-rated game with a parent present.

Without action, Walsh and Lieberman said, society will encounter a young population addicted to video games—neglecting exercise, family time and religion.

Rating Board Responds

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) immediately criticized the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), calling it an interest group with an agenda to advance—one that is hostile to the ratings system.

“The ESRB rejects this year’s MediaWise Report Card just as we did last year, and for the same reasons,” the ESRB said in a statement. “Ignoring the tremendous and verifiable success of the ESRB rating system, NIMF instead relies on flawed research and ignores any and all conflicting evidence. Its statement that it will exclude ESRB from its rating summit proves that NIMF has crossed over from being a fair-minded critic to just another interest group with an agenda to advance, whatever the cost. The shame is that the group most harmed by today’s announcement is not ESRB, but the very parents NIMF claims to serve.”

Among the major problems cited by the ESRB: the video game report is based on a limited sampling of video games; it distorts parental awareness of the ratings system; and it exaggerates the problems with retailer enforcement.

“The simple fact remains that the ESRB ratings are the most effective, recognized and trustworthy ratings for video games, and parents can and should rely on them in making game choices for their families,” the ESRB said in the statement.