D.C. TV Station Conducts Retail Sting …Specialty Stores Don’t Do Well

According to a video report aired last evening on Washington, D.C.’s ABC-7, specialty retailers did not fare well in their enforcement of ESRB ratings.

News reporter Kris Van Cleave (left) conducted a secret shopper sting at game retailers in D.C. and surrounding areas. Van Cleave said:

Our hidden camera rolls as kids much younger (than 17) shop chain stores from Maryland to Virginia and half the time those stores sold them age-restricted games. Even though virtually every major game retailer has policies prohibiting the sale of M-rated games to kids, clerk after clerk sold them without asking our kids their age.

Retailers Game Crazy, FYE and EB Games were all named in the ABC-7 report as selling M-rated games to minors. FYE told ABC-7 the sales appeared to violate corporate policy and they would be investigating.

However, according to Van Cleave, big box retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and Toys’R’Us were flawless in their enforcement of game ratings.

Van Cleave also conducted a brief interview with ESRB president Patricia Vance, but the context and timing of the interview was unclear as it did not specifically reference the sting.

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  1. 0
    Brokenscope ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    There is no “technically”.

    There is no law, in effect, that prevents someone from selling a kid an M rated game. That is as it should be. However, store policy is the law once you work for them. You follow those rules or they should can your sorry ass.

    You say they should sell them to everyone as long as “the coast is clear”.

  2. 0
    EOTD says:

    I do believe that this “sting” is accurate, even though it is “sweeps” week. The following is taken directly from my Writing class’ page on logical fallacies:

    “5. Fallacy of Circumstantial Ad Hominem

    “1) Person A makes claim X.
    “2)Person B makes an attack on A’s circumstances.
    “3)Therefore X is false.

    “A circumstantial ad hominem is a fallacy because a person’s interests and circumstances may have no bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made. While a person’s interests will provide them with motives to support certain claims, the claims stand or fall on their own.

    “Example: Richard Smith claims that tax breaks for corporations increases development. However, Smith is the CEO of a corporation, which makes him biased toward tax breaks. Therefore, we can’t trust his claim.

    “Analysis: While it may be that a CEO is biased in favor of tax breaks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that tax breaks don’t increase development. In this case, if you wanted to debunk Smith’s claim, you would need to give evidence for why tax breaks don’t in fact increase development.”

    This is a logical fallacy I see quite a lot on this site, and it applies here. Just because it’s sweeps week, doesn’t automatically make this claim false.

    Also, I think the results of this “sting” are accurate just based on my own experience with large retail stores and specialty stores. I rarely go to EB or GameStop anymore unless I have to; in my experience, the people they hire usually tend to be a bit on the inexperienced side, not to mention being more toward the antisocial end of the customer service spectrum, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were more likely to be selling violent games to minors than the relatively friendly and (seemingly) more experienced people Target (my store of choice) usually has staffing the electronics section.

  3. 0
    Daniel says:

    @ Brokenscope and Korrd

    As Yoshiko pointed out a few weeks ago, techinically, it’s not illegal to sell M rated games to people who are underage. I bought a few M rated games when I was well underage in the late 90’s and I am very proud of myself for it. It’s not even technically illegal.

  4. 0
    Korrd says:

    @ Brokenscope
    He also thinks violent video games are the most beautiful things in existence, surpassing everything from sunrises to the miracle of life. I’m not calling into question all of his psychosis-induced absurdity, just pointing out the flaw in his suggestion above.

    Clerks on the lookout for camera crews? That’s on par with warning law-abiding drivers to watch out for radar traps. If you’re obeying the speed limit, what does it matter if someone’s watching?

  5. 0
    Weatherlight ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Alright I am a person who has friends that have worked at Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy and Gamestop/EB Games just to list a few. You just have to know the shops market to buy the games “Under age”.

    Look at the two kids that they used, well dressed, nicely groomed. Buying a game from a mall. Hmm, lets think about it. An older looking “rich” kid whose mother is going to make a huge stink about having to come over there after her nail appointment get the game. Not to mention the next time the kid wants a game system he can go else where. Sell him the game or the manager will fire you because the parents complained. Go to a stand alone Gamestop, EB Games ect you WILL be carded if you look anywhere under 40.

    Now the same two kids walk into a Wal-Mart they will be told no, because the manager/cashier is worried about the local unions conducting another one of their “stings”. So anyone who doesn’t ask for ID on EVERYTHING will get fired on the spot.

    Best Buy, they walk in buy the game and leave, most often no questions asked, unless they just received that speech from the manager saying that a someone called and complained or we are having a person from region visiting. But if you come back tomorrow they will sell it to you.

    Target you go to the back counter and the clerk tells you no. So you say hang on a Ill be right back with my parents. You then take the game to the front of the store where the person sells it to you because the last person must have checked your ID when they gave it to you. Both employees are let off the hook.

    Bottom line is to know the markets of the shops you are buying from, because it is not illegal for them to sell it to you. It just breaks the “feel good” policies that they have in place, to keep people from whining at them. But if they are making a profit and the risk is minimal and they can blame it on an employee they will sell it to you every time hands down.

    A new system needs to be put into place governing the sales of video games that does NOT treat them like porn. I have no problem restricting the sales of games to minors, but that’s not what they are trying to do. They are trying to make all legitimate M rated game buyers/players submit themselves to the public status of perverts.

    I also like the “Set it, and Forget it” pitch they give to parents at the end of the clip. It makes for very responsible parenting. Reminds me of an infomercial.

  6. 0
    Korrd says:

    @ Daniel
    I think maybe you’re looking at it from the wrong angle (but hey, at least you’re actually in context now). Encouraging clerks to watch out for stings/cameras/etc. is completely unnecessary. As hayabusa75 already pointed out, if clerks were doing their jobs and requiring ID for M-rated game purchases, why would they need to worry about being caught on tape?

    Also, I’m not sure I see the relevance of your quote.

  7. 0
    Jay13x ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Sorry for the typos in the last post, but I also wanted to add that I know of liquor stores and of 24-hour convenience stores that sell liquor and alcohol to minors too, but ABC new hasn’t covered that in the Maryland area in years.

  8. 0
    Jay13x ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I saw this, and I have to say it was silly. The young kids are by themselves in this big game store? Where are their parents? If I didn’t know there was an attention seeking reporter somewhere around, I’d think it was abuse (or maybe it still is). How did these kids get to the mall? If they are so young, why aren’t there parents there watching them? If parents really care that much, actually raise your kids, rather than just buying them stuff and getting angry everytime you think something YOU bought them is inappropriate.

  9. 0
    Jotunheim says:

    It’s funny that they mention Target as having a perfect success record in the stings. Target is the only place where I was able to obtain an M rated game (Dreamfall) without being ID’d or asked for parental consent. The stores where I have had to get consent have always been the specialty stores.

  10. 0
    Daniel says:

    @ hayabusa75

    In a sting opperation, there has to be proof or it’s no good to anyone. You know that right? To quote Denzel Washington from “Training Day,” “It’s not what you know. It’s what you can proove.” That means that in these stings, there is probably someone involved in the opperation with a camera recording the purchase. The stores should sell to everybody because it’s legal, but they should also look for a camera man to make sure it’s not a sting. Without proof on tape, it’s worthless and they can look around for a camera to make sure the coast is clear.

  11. 0
    hayabusa75 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Brilliant, genius, except for a few minor things.

    First, that point has already been brought up numerous times in previous “sting operation” features.

    Second, Terminator44 and Bigman-K already talked about that earlier in THIS thread.

    Third, had you actually bothered to watch the video, you would have known that the sting used three kids aged 12, 14, and 15. None of them looked remotely close to 17. And how is a clerk supposed to spot a sting? By how young they look? He should be turning them away already, if that’s the case. Then he doesn’t have to worry about a sting.

    Better luck on your next attempt to appear intelligent.

  12. 0
    Daniel says:

    On topic, it’s possible that they picked people who were close to the legal age, or at least looked close to the legal age, and that’s why they weren’t asked for ID. A 14 or 15 year old could grow a beard and look old enough. That could be another trick of these anti-game people. Conduct a sting opperation with people that look close enough to the legal age that they aren’t asked for ID and then the people who set up the sting can say that the stores sell these games to people who are underage and then they can whine and get mad about it like the losers they are.

    @ hayabusa75

    You see? I can make a good point. Although I believe that these games should be played by everybody, I think that stores should try to spot stings and turn away people who could be involved in a sting opperation. How’s that buddy?

  13. 0
    Korrd says:

    @ Brokenscope

    Recurrent deja vu apparently results in nausea. I actually feel ill reading Daniel’s posts. It’s as if no matter what’s being discussed, we somehow manage to get a rehash of his response to an earlier topic.

    I wonder if Daniel’s posts will ever get filtered out as spam…

  14. 0
    EOTD says:

    I definitely agree that it depends partly on the maturity of the kids. I’ve never really had any interest in the types of games (shooters, etc.) that are usually M-rated, but if I had, and had wanted to buy one when I was, around 14, I’m almost certain my parents wouldn’t have protested (or at least not more than they always do when I buy any game whatsoever). They know the rating system, they know what “M” means, and they know me – I was fairly mature as a young teen.

    That’s the other big reason why it should be mostly on parents – not just because it’s not the responsibility of retailers to keep M-rated games away from young kids, but also because, ultimately, it’s the parents who know their kids well enough (or should, at any rate) to know which rating is at their level.

  15. 0
    Spicyragnatz says:


    I wouldn’t say it’s the fault of the parents as it is the responsibility of the parents to do….. parenting *GASP!*

    As Scott Kurtz once said, “Parenting is not a sometimes job.”

    Look at my first post in this thread. I’m not defending the parents at all.

  16. 0
    Carl says:

    Just yesterday I got carded buying an M game at an EBGames. That never happened before. I’m 24 and I do not look like a teenager. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re stepping up their efforts.

  17. 0
    Brokenscope ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Are you going to ever add something meaningful to a thread, or are you just going to continue to copy and paste old posts of yours?

    The report starts good. Then goes down hill.

    I’ve got the odd feeling that the “Get games without leaving the home” part is XBOX live.

    Guess what, you need a credit card for that AND you can disallow downloads on your child’s account. In fact the walk you through that when you create the account.

    Sorry but the ending of it mad me angry. It invalidated the whole story for me. That was dishonest.

    Also, they picked OLD ass games. Games that are in the bargin bin. With the exception of soul reaver.

  18. 0
    CyberSkull ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The age restriction tag at Blockbuster never stopped me from renting anything. My sister and I were able to palm it off to our parents to rent. Course, a couple years later I turned 18 so it became a moot point.

  19. 0
    Daniel says:

    I’m tired of hearing about these people trying to say that certain games are bad. These games are fake images on a screen and they’re not something that people need to be protected from. Images on a screen can’t kill or hurt anyone. Why don’t those people in D. C. attack something that is actually dangerous, like drugs? Try to get drug dealers in trouble not people who sell video games and give people entertainment on a screen. Blaming images on a screen for anything that happens in the real world is irrational and stupid.

  20. 0
    Bigman-K ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    Still the fault of the parents, IMHO. They shouldn’t let their kids have computers, televisions and video game consoles in their rooms then. Personally, those type of parents who allow their kids to have that stuff in their rooms yet are worried about their kids playing violent video games, watching violent movies/T.V shows don’t deserve any help whatsoever.

  21. 0
    Bigman-K ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It really depends on the age and maturity of the kids in question. If a 15 or 16 year old was able to buy the games then i don’t really see a problem. If it was 10/11 year olds then i can understand the worry.
    Yet as i have always said, beyond proof of absolute harm being shown, it’s the sole responsibility of parents to keep materials they find offensive or inappropriate away from their kids. If a parent doesn’t want their kid playing GTA or Half-Life 2 then it up to them to make sure their kid is not playing it. Just in the same way it is up to parents to keep Harry Potter books (for ultra religious parents) or the Holy Bible (for jewish, muslim or atheist parents) away from their kids if they don’t want them to have it.

  22. 0
    Me says:

    I work at WJLA. This report was instigated by the National Institute on Media and the Family’s 2006 report (http://www.mediafamily.org/research/report_vgrc_2006.shtml) that gave specialty stores an ‘F’ for ratings enforcement. The same report has been widely discussed, and the broadcast basically confirmed what the report said… specialty stores kinda suck when it comes to enforcing their policies. That said, yes… it’s sweeps, and we have to rope in eyeballs, so it’s a bit breathless, but it’s not as bad as most video game stories I’ve seen, and Jack Thompson is nowhere to be seen. For that, I am thankful.

  23. 0
    Spicyragnatz says:

    “I mean come on, its not like the kid can HIDE the damn game. If he plays it, theres no way he can get away with the parent not hearing the game, or not seeing it.”

    Though I see where you’re going with this, I don’t entirely agree. Many kids today have TVs in their rooms and play with the door closed. If the sound is sufficiently low, it is entirely possible for parents to not know what their kids are playing without barging in or (GASP) talking to their kids about what they are playing.

    But, nah, that would NEVER work…

  24. 0
    AnonAmbientLight says:

    Ok, so some stores messed up. I also claim BS because i doubt this was a fair sided story. But i do believe the major business chains like Target are not selling video games to underage kids. Good for them :D!

    HOWEVER, it is STILL up to the parents. This is a still a two sided war, if you will. The retailers dont have to abide by the rating system because they are trying to make money. I dont blame them. The parents are STILL responsible, when the kid brings it home. I mean come on, its not like the kid can HIDE the damn game. If he plays it, theres no way he can get away with the parent not hearing the game, or not seeing it.

  25. 0
    Garrett says:


    Let me re-phrase for the uninformed:

    — In 2003, 56 preschoolers were killed by firearms, compared to 52 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

    — More 10- to 19-year-olds die from gunshot wounds than from any other cause except motor vehicle accidents.


    I didn’t mean Young Buck and his poppa to go out and shoot some Deer. Nor did I mean some anti gay/atheists group associated with the boy scouts. Stupid parents allow children to wander into the closet and pull out a gun they so cleverly hide. I can also pull statistics of parents arrested using drugs while their children are in view of the usage.

    I still think these are things the media should focus on rather then little Billy playing Halo.

  26. 0
    Garrett ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The report concludes the same thing that others did as well: It’s up to the parents. We can’t depend on 100% push from retailers to not sell a product to a minor. They are, after all, in the business to make money, not babysit your children. Drugs, pornography, and handguns are all different items in the real world. Though they shouldn’t be coupled with video games, tagging them on to bills together is starting to get a little old.

    And, no, dad. Games do not teach your kids how to sell drugs, much like watching a football game on your PS2 does not make you a professional football player.

    What ABC should do instead is a report on parents that allow their 10 yr old to play with guns and use drugs, real things that can really kill.

  27. 0
    Boffo97 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    IMO, all these kinds of “stings” prove is that certain individual employees failed to do their jobs.

    In other words, it’s exposing a problem at the bottom rung of the ladder, instead of the top, a potentially very isolated one.

  28. 0
    Terminator44 says:

    Unless they can tell me the specifics of the study (which stores were included, the age of the minors who got the games, which games they got,etc.), I call BS. Contrary to popular belief, it’s very easy to lie with statistics.

    For example, I read a story about when women started being admitted to a certain university (can’t remember which one). Well, someone who didn’t like that said that 33.3% of the female students had married staff members. While it was technically true, it didn’t tell the whole story: Only three women were enrolled at the time, and one of them married a faculty member.

  29. 0
    Brokenscope ( User Karma: 0 ) says:


    A child can use a gun with adult supervision and be fine. In fact, there are 10 year olds I trust with guns more than I would ever trust their parents.

    Its all a matter of training.

    Should we report parents who let their kids have knives while their in cub scouts? I mean Its not that hard to stab someone.

  30. 0
    monte' ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This reminds me of an article over at Destructoid yesturday

    Apparently, store policy over at gamestop recently changed to terminate an employee immediatly if they broke the no M rated games to minors policy. in my opinion, a good idea, that is until it gets to the part where the manager apparently suffers the same punishment for the employee’s mistake, even if he isn’t at the store at the time and has little to no control of the situation.

    Media and politicans really do love to ignore the fact that while it’s easy to make a store policy, the actual enforcement of the policy fails upon their human employees. It’s pretty much impossible for the stores to micromangae their employees, which forces them to bascially just trust their people to follow the policy. Unfortunatly, some employees could care less about following strict policy (they may still follow but be rather loose on self-enforcement), especially when they are being paid barely above minimum wage and know it can be easy to find a new job that’s just about the same; Since retail is rather low on the food chain, getting fired from it for not following store policy (as opposed to stuff like theft) won’t really hurt your chances when you go out for other jobs, particulaly higher paying jobs; atleast that’s probably the attitude some employees have. It kind of puts managers in a difficult position of trust…. overall though, their shouldn’t be this much worry since as studies have shown, self enforcement overall IS improving gradually… it will never be 100% though, and we shouldn’t really ever expect it to be because of the human factor.

  31. 0
    Diceman says:

    I don’t see how this is news also i would like to note this little phrase “Our hidden camera rolls as kids much younger (than 17) shop chain stores from Maryland to Virginia and half the time those stores sold them age-restricted games.” not the words age restricted games…..folks they are not a restriction they are a suggestion and it surprises me that over half the local gamestop folks nearby think they are breaking a law if they sell a M game to a minor (or someone giving it to a minor).

    It is total lunacy to think that something thats protected speech is not allowed in the hands of minors even tho the supreme court ruled minors have all the rights stated in the constitution except for pr0n(which im guessing they did to keep the churches mouth shut)anyways if they have those freedoms then why demonize them for exercising those rights?

    nit picking aside it must of been a slow day at abc to throw out this communist type garbage.

  32. 0
    Salen says:

    Hate to say this, but its ‘Sweeps’ right now. I know this because the local CBS news was talking about “There are spy signals all over Jacksonville” and stuff about how we should be afraid or something. Sadly, this ‘sting’ stuff is nothing more than an attention grab by the news folks to try and get some ratings during Sweeps.

    Not that I support stores selling M-games to kids though. In fact I’d rather they’d train their sales force better so they wouldn’t, so I wouldn’t run into the kids on Xbox Live. Oh well, this is just another day of news meant to make you feel you aren’t a bad parent and its someone else’s fault by sensationalizing a small problem.

  33. 0
    DeusPayne ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Seriously, do I only shop at ‘good’ stores? At 23, I still get carded when I go into any of 5-6 EBs around my house to buy an M rated game. Hell, I even know a few employees personally, and they still card me every time.

  34. 0

    The FYE in that picture is at the mall right by my apartment. I go in there every so often to see what type of deals they have and have seen them refuse to sell M rated games to kids. It’s not the failure of the store, its the failure of the employee in this case.

  35. 0
    steve says:

    As a DC resident I knew this would happen.

    In all honesty I’d sell the kid the game as well, and still put up signs saying we have a policy not to.

    It’s not illegal and sales = profit, which is the goal of the business. As long as it’s legal you should ALWAYS make the sale. And then put up those signs to act responsible and get people off your back.

    This is good business.

  36. 0
    Jabrwock ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    @Warren Lewis


    Basically Feb is one of 4 “periods” during the year that Nielson ratings (they rate viewership) rates all the stations across America. (Feb, May, July, November)

    So during “sweeps week” the stations try to hype it up, do crazy stories, pilot episodes, run big name season finales, discuss controvertial subjects, have big-name guest stars, etc, all in the hopes of getting their viewership ratings up. Because advertisers use the ratings to determine which station/channel will get their ads the most eyeballs for their buck.

    It’s the time of year when you’ll hear goofy ads for the news like: “Is your baby’s room a deathtrap? Our special investigative report at 11!” And then you go “oooo, scary, better watch it” and they talk about how some yahoo bought a 50 year old crib and their baby was injured when it rusted and broke…

  37. 0
    pen says:

    The reason wal mar and toys r us were flawless.

    You lose your job if you sale games to minors…

    I used to work at Toys R Us… They take it very seriously and this was abot 2 years ago.

    i remember distictly because they made for sure… You don’t sell games to minors… no questions asked you would lose your job.

  38. 0
    Cecil475 says:

    @ Jabrwock

    Ah, ok. I remember hearing about “sweeps week” on television as a kid. You know ‘It’s sweeps week on Wheel of Fortune’ And thought that:

    …unless they are reffering to a completely diffrent thing.

    posting from school.

    – Warren Lewis

  39. 0
    barfo ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Its bogus that because of the influence of bullpucky-brained anti-video game ‘activists’, that a parent cant send their their teenage kid in to pick up whatever game they want to and then regulate their playing of it in the privacy of their own home based on whatever the rules of their own household are. The fact that the industry agrees to this draconian self-regulation (and i read somewhere today that Gamespot was putting in a “zero-tolerance” firing policy for managers of stores that are caught selling to a minor) puts a stigma does on the playing of these games that we will probably not ever escape. They should just tell the concerned anti-video game pucktards that ratigns enforcement is as good as movies and they should go shove off and hassle somebody else, because by bending a little, we slide inexorably into lising the battle overall.

  40. 0
    mrspunky says:

    >And, no, dad. Games do not teach your kids how to sell drugs, much like
    > watching a football game on your PS2 does not make you a professional
    > football player.

    Drug Wars taught me and my middle school chums about the laws of supply and demand. I suggest it be part of every school curriculum.

  41. 0
    Spicyragnatz says:

    I’m actually quite curious what would have happened if instead of looking like a schmuck and threatening to call security on the ABC guy the person at FYE said:

    “Sir, the ESRB is a content guideline, not a law. It is not my job to parent the customers that come into this store. I leave that to the people who are actually the customers’ parents. I like to trust that in this day and age, parents are doing their jobs and monitoring what their kids are up to. If the kids are buying games that the parents don’t approve of, they should be the ones stopping the kids.”

    A) I wonder if it would have been edited out.
    B) I wonder if it wasn’t, how would ABC have reacted to such a reasonable response.

  42. 0
    blah says:

    I felt really bad for the kid (he looked like he was 16-18) at one of the stores when the frosted haired reported came in for the “gotcha” and was speaking to his manager. I just had a feeling that kid was getting fired.

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