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M-Rated Games In the Wrong Hands


Jonathan Hall

7News Boston

May 14, 2008

It seems video games rated M for mature are getting more and more violent. Grand Theft Auto 4 is the latest craze. Local retailers are supposed to make sure young teens don't buy them. But is that really the case? As 7's Jonathan Hall investigates, these games can fall "In the Wrong Hands."

Sex with a prostitute and then a murder spree to get the money back - Cop killings with automatic weapons and when that's not enough firepower. How about a rocket launcher? Very violent. Very disturbing. And it's all part of the hottest video game in the country right now.

Kevin Dang, 13
"Shooting, killing, robbing cars. That's fun? Yes."

Grand Theft Auto 4 is rated M for mature. That means kids under 17 aren't supposed to be able to buy it. But our investigation found they have no problem.

Bryant Simpson, 15
"I got the games. What can I say? I'm a massa."

We sent three boys and our hidden camera into five video stores in and around Boston. Time after time, the two 13-year-olds, and 15-year-old, were able to buy M rated games. Bryant was successful 4 times in a row. Surprised?

Bryant Simpson, 15
"Yeah a little bit, little bit - I gotta admit. Cause it was mad easy."

In all, the boys bought 7 games in 15 tries. That's a 47 percent success rate. And remember - 2 of them are just 13 years old. We told the kids: Don't lie.

Kevin Dang, 13
"She asked me how old I was. I told her I'm 13 and she just put the game in the bag."

The stores are not doing anything illegal. The retailers have voluntarily agreed to follow a ratings system set up by the industry. Many stores post signs, warning they will ask kids for I.D. Some have pop-up screens at the checkout, reminding clerks to card kids looking to buy these games. But we found those screens are often ignored.

Bryant Simpson, age 15
"She says how old are you? I was like - 15. She was like - oh, you're 18? She was like, all right."

Susan Linn, Harvard Psychologist
This is the scene - one of them - that I would really prefer not to watch."

Some child psychologists are appalled by this interactive violence, and worry kids may become more aggressive - even violent themselves.

Dr. Susan Linn
"The media industry's self regulation - around ratings - it clearly isn't working."

Just last week, the Federal Trade Commission released results of its own investigation. It found 80 percent of the time retailers stopped underage sales of m rated games. A spokesman for the retailers admits the system isn't perfect.

Sean Bersell of the Entertainment Merchants Association says, "Is that where we want to be as an industry? No. Our goal is 100 percent for these m rated games sales to minors." Bersell says industry self-regulation is adequate.

But Mayor Thomas Menino doesn't think so. He's proposed a law - banning people under 17 from purchasing "M" rated games in Massachusetts. "The ratings don't mean a thing. It's about makin' money," said Menino. But the mayor's bill may be dead on arrival, even if it passes. Federal judges have ruled that similar laws in other states are unconstitutional.

Congress is getting into the act now. A new bill seeks to fine retailers 5000 thousand dollars if they fail to check I.D.'s. Jonathan Hall, 7News.

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