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2004 MediaWise Video Game Report Card Released

The non-profit National Institute on Media and the Family organization has released its Ninth Annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card. Presented by David Walsh, Ph.D., pr...
The non-profit National Institute on Media and the Family organization has released its Ninth Annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card. Presented by David Walsh, Ph.D., president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, with Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Herb Kohl, and Congresswoman Betty McCollum, this year’s report card highlights what the organization sees as 'a series of mixed messages' sent out by the industry to parents. Dr. Walsh commented, "The double messages sent to parents about video games are double trouble. For instance, the video game industry says parents should use the ratings, but denies violent video games affect children. The result is parents are lead to believe the ratings don't really matter. That is a big problem for parents when you consider this year's crop of games, such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Leisure Suit Larry, are games that children have access to, and that drastically push the envelope on sex and violence." This report is the first since the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) announced that it would enforce policies restricting youth access to M-rated titles, ensuring an identification check process at the point of sale for games rated Mature by the ESRB. The Institute attempted to conduct surveys on retailer practices. This was done in three ways, including phone surveys of clerks at forty-six stores in 12 states, opinion surveys to thirty-four CEOs of game companies that are part of the IEMA, and the 'secret shopper' survey, which involves children attempting to buy M-rated games. The group found that 76% of retailers questioned in the survey actually understood the ratings they’re to enforce, down from 85% last year. It's also alleged that only 50% of employees were specifically trained in how to use the ratings. However, 89% of stores surveyed said they now have policies restricting the sale of M-rated games to those under seventeen, up from 70% last year. As reported a few days ago, the Institute's CEO survey was less than successful. According to the report card, out of thirty-four CEOs of game-related companies, only two executives responded, with one sending the group a letter explaining that time didn’t permit survey participation. In relation to this, the Institute has also presented the results of its 'secret shopper' survey, in which it seems that boys as young as seven were able to purchase M-rated titles 50 percent of the time, with girls able to do so 8 percent of the time. The secret shopper survey was conducted over the fall, with 12 children between the ages of seven and fourteen attempting to purchase M-rated games in thirty-five stores across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maryland, and Florida. A total of 35 attempts were made, with only 34 percent being successful, down from 55 percent last year. In relation to these results, the National Institute on Media and the Family is launching a public service announcement with the title: 'Watch What their Kids Watch.' Shown below, the 'grades' cover the industry and its ratings overall, commenting on retailers and policy enforcement, as well as the ESRB ratings. The ESRB ratings grade of B- is of particular interest, since the ESRB has just announced findings from a Peter D. Hart Research Associates study of 401 parents that seemingly found them broadly happy with the ESRB's methods. MediaWise Video Game Report Card ESRB Ratings Accuracy: B- Ratings Education: C- Retailers’ Policy and Employee Training: B Retailers’ Enforcement: D MediaWise Games To Avoid 1. DOOM 3 (ESRB Rating: M) 2. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (ESRB Rating: M) 3. Half-Life 2 (ESRB Rating: M) 4. Halo 2 (ESRB Rating: M) 5. Resident Evil: Outbreak (ESRB Rating: M) 6. Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (ESRB Rating: M) 7. The Guy Game (ESRB Rating: M) 8. Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude (ESRB Rating: M) 9. Mortal Kombat: Deception (ESRB Rating: M) 10. Rumble Roses (ESRB Rating: M) MediaWise Recommended Games 1. ESPN NFL 2K5 (ESRB Rating: E) 2. Pikmin 2 (ESRB Rating: E) 3. Sly 2: Band Of Thieves (ESRB Rating: E) 4. Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 (ESRB Rating: E) 5. Madden NFL 2005 (ESRB Rating: E) 6. Jak 3 (ESRB Rating: T) 7. Prince Of Persia (ESRB Rating: T) 8. Myst IV: Revelation (ESRB Rating: T) 9. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 (ESRB Rating: E) 10. SimCity 4 (ESRB Rating: E) The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) has already issued a response to the Institute's report. IEMA president Hal Halpin commented: “It is our belief that it is premature to judge the effectiveness of new and not yet fully-implemented industry self-regulation due to the timing of the research in question. The industry's leading retailers of computer and video games made a substantial and tangible commitment last December (2003) to begin or otherwise re-double their individual and collective efforts in inhibiting the sale of Mature-rated games to minors by this coming December (2004). Performing "sting operations" earlier than that date is divisive, intentionally contrarian, and ultimately renders the data statistically-irrelevant." Halpin added: "It is our belief that it is quite simply too early to assign a grade to the retailer's enforcement policies, but that if a grade need be assigned out of habitual ritual nothing less than an "A" is worthy of their collective efforts over the past eleven months." The full Institute report card is available on the organization's site, and the IEMA’s full response is also available online.

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