The 12th annual Video Game Report Card from the National Institute on Media and the Family has claimed an 'ominous backslide' on a number of fronts, finding a nearly 50% success rate of children buying M-rated games, and growing friction in regulating play time.
As part of a new '1st Annual MediaWise-Harris Interactive Poll', the study found that nearly four out of 10 parents have "repeated arguments with their children about the amount of time they spend playing video games," and when they should be played.
The Institute also says polls have found that one in five parents never play games with their children, a statistic it says contributes to the fact that half of 8-12 year olds and 78 percent of young teens admit to playing M-rated games.
The Institute's look at retail enforcement was one of the lowest-graded areas, as the success rate for under-16s purchasing M-rated games has risen over the past year from 32 percent to nearly 50.
NIMF found that some retailers, including Kmart, EB Games and Hollywood Video, turned away minors 100 percent of the time, but also found incidents of clerks looking directly at a 16 year old's ID and still allowing the purchase.
In summary, the Institute gave parental involvement a 'C' "as too many parents do not understand video game ratings and don't use them to keep inappropriate games out of their kid's hands." It gave the ESRB a 'B-' for its ratings education efforts.
It gave retailers a 'C-' "as fewer retailers are participating in efforts to educate their customers and employees on the ratings," and finally, gave the industry overall a 'C', saying that "while Microsoft should be commended for its new screen time timer, some game makers and console manufacturers have conducted questionable marketing tactics."
Finally, the Institute has released its list of games for parents to avoid this holiday season:
Assassin’s Creed M
Call to Duty 4 M
The Darkness M
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men M
Manhunt 2 M
Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles M
Time Shift M
And it has recommended the following games as an alternative:
FIFA Soccer 08 E
Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock T
Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour E
Madden NFL 08 E
Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games E
Need for Speed Pro Street E+10
The Sims 2: Castaway T
Super Mario Bros. 3 E
Super Mario Galaxy E
Viva Pinta E
Said NIMF president and founder David Walsh, "Over the past 10 years, parents, national retailers and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) had made substantial progress in keeping violent video games out of the hands of children. But, over time, complacency seems to have set in and we became too comfortable with the status quo while the industry keeps rapidly changing. That means everyone has to be more vigilant in understanding and enforcing the ratings."
In a statement issued to Gamasutra, ESRB president Patricia Vance the follow formal response to this year's NIMF report card:
"The ESRB and NIMF share the common goal of providing parents and caregivers with reliable information so they can make informed decisions when it comes to the games they choose for their families. We appreciate their praise of the effectiveness of ESRB ratings as a tool for parents as well as our ongoing efforts to educate consumers about the ratings.
However, in many significant ways, this year's NIMF Report Card contradicts recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) findings
related to parents' awareness, use and satisfaction with ESRB ratings, as well as retailer support of the ratings. In addition, NIMF exhibits a significant lack of understanding of and, as a result, grossly misrepresents the facts surrounding last month's hack into pirated versions of Manhunt 2
, a game rated for ages 17 and older that carried prominent and explicit warnings to consumers about its violent content.
At a time of year when parents are looking for helpful guidance about video games, this year's Report Card does little more than sow unwarranted doubt about effective tools like ESRB ratings.
The FTC's report to Congress earlier this year called the ESRB rating system "a useful and informative tool that parents increasingly use to help them make informed decisions about games for their children." Its nationwide survey of over 1,300 parents showed that nearly nine in ten parents with children that play video games are satisfied with the ESRB rating system, three in four use it regularly, 94% find the ratings easy to understand, and 59% never let their children play Mature-rated games.
The most recent FTC mystery shopper research concluded that "substantial" progress continues to be made by retailers to enforce their store policies regarding the sale or rental of M-rated games to those under 17, matching that of theatres' restrictions of admittance to R-rated films and far exceeding that for the sale of R-rated DVDs.
Bottom line, the ESRB rating system is an effective and reliable resource for parents. We will continue to provide ratings that, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, are considered by parents to be the most useful among media rating systems for movies, music, TV and games.”