Parents Often Ignore Game Ratings, Say Grand Theft Childhood Authors

April 22, 2008 -
Continuing to dig through Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner's excellent Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, we note the authors' finding that parents often ignore video game ratings:
While [parents] were aware of the ESRB rating system, they didn't always pay attention to it... [Some parents] looked at the artwork on the packaging or spoke with a store clerk... Several had M and T ratings confused... Some relied on their children's own judgment...

Most acknowledged that while they might have strict rules at home prohibiting certain types of games, their children might easily play those games at another child's house... [Parents expressed] frustration that they weren't able to get the information they wanted and valued from the ratings...

Almost all of the parents we spoke with agreed with the age categories of the ESRB ratings - but for other people's children, not for their own. They tended to let their younger teenagers play M-rated games and their preteen children playT-rated games...


I'm not surprised with any of it. A large problem, which we are always harping on is that parents don't parent their children, they befriend them. And the saddest thing is most kids, when they grow up end up hating their parents for it. They need and want parents not friends.

I grew up in Pensacola. On the beaches we used a red, yellow, and green flag for the safety of the beach. Green was safe, yellow was potentially dangerous conditions be cautious, and red was don't swim. People didn't get it, even though it's based off the stop light. Then they added the black flag to "clarify" everything.

That example I posted was to illustrate the fact that no matter how obvious and simplistic a system and no matter how prevalent the explanations of that system (every hotel room, every entrance to the beach, many beach front restaurants, ever emergency vehicle, etc.), people will still manage to screw it up, either through apathy or group stupidity.

What parents really don't get is that M *means* M. It's the same as PG-13 vs. R ratings for movies... studios do everything they can -- but only as much as they have to -- to get into that T/PG-13 bracket. The games/movies may still have plenty of questionable content, which is why they're T and not E.

I'd love to see the ESRB adopt the MPAA's rating scheme, just because it's familiar. Parents have respect for an R rating... they don't understand that an M rating is the same thing.

After seeing the PEGI system in action, I can't really think of any reason people would want to choose anything else (well, aside from using a system more in line with other entertainment ratings systems Joe Consumer is familiar with, like MPAA ratings). I do like the ESRB content descriptors, but obviously making things wordy (kinda like the MPAA ratings do now) is too much for people to handle when it comes to unfamiliar territory, so the PEGI pictograms would work quite nicely. Plus, age-based ratings!

I've never really understood what was so confusing about the ratings. What information is it exactly that parents "want and value" from ratings? A simple yes or no answer to "should I let my kid play this game?"?

"I’ve never really understood what was so confusing about the ratings. What information is it exactly that parents 'want and value' from ratings? A simple yes or no answer to 'should I let my kid play this game?'?"
Actually, ya, that is what most stupid people want. They refuse to listen to any sort of reason or logic until you answer their irrational and illogical yes or not question, and then proceed to ignore you anyway. Follow this link for one examples of that!
Just scroll down to the one with the emoticons for the speakers.


Legislation would make a lot of morons happy. It will give them a warm fuzzy to know that other people's children won't be playing those horrible murder simulators.

Ratings are for other people's kids, not "our little mature genius angel."

Any parent who uses a ratings system as a tool to help them to parent is by definition not doing his or her job. Ratings only tell what the rater's opinion is as to the game and that rater has probably never met the children his rating is supposed to protect. It's kind of like asking an alien with six arms and two heads to design a car seat belt for a human when he has no idea what a human looks like or what a car is.

In short, game ratings are like attaching hot air balloon guy lines to a bicycle - they're intended (by folks who have no idea what they're doing) to increase safety but in practice they're useless and extremely dangerous.

Honestly, this doesn't surprise me. I had one guy, grown man, ask me how to fill out a check and how to spell thirty a couple days ago.

Parents who don't play videogames perhaps don't understand Videogames in the first place,

therefore it is harder for them to know what the ratings are.

There are some parents who do play videogames with their kids and do know what the ratings are.

But the real thing is, there are some parents who grew up in a world without Videogame ratings and movie ratings.

Change and acceptance takes a while to adjust no matter how good it is to understand,

I can relate to everyone's employee stories. Last summer, I worked at the GameStop in the mall. One day, a mom walks in with her son (couldn't be older than 12) and she brought to me Conker: Live and Reloaded. I told her its rated "M" and stuff and I swear on my life she asked me where it said that. I pointed it out to her...hell, I even showed her the extra warning (if anyone purchased that gme, you would know what I'm talking about). Alas, she didnt care because she thought her son -who looked 12 mind you- was mature enough to handle this...all the while he is jumping up and down trying to get her attention. reluctantly, I sold her the game.

today's parents=FAIL

In other words, parents are just lazy about the ratings most of the time. Who knew?

Oh, excuse me. I meant to say ignorant.

I just feel bad for the kids.

If the parents are either too lazy or too stupid (confusing T with M when there is the description under the letter, wow WTF) then what can we expect from the kids in terms of grades.

This is why I hate the idea this country has fostered that every kid is unique and special. We are not all snowflakes. We are all part of a society, cogs in a machine that must interact with one another.

I, for one, welcome the Zombie Invasion.

[...] wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptContinuing to dig through Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner’s excellent Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, we note the authors’ finding that parents often ignore video game ratings: While [parents] were aware of the ESRB rating system, they didn’t always pay attention to it… [Some parents] looked at the artwork on the packaging or spoke with a store clerk… Several had M and T ratings confused… Some relied on their children’s own judgment… [...]


But at the same time, we are not made equal, and competition is healthy. Not PC bullcrap that tells us that no one should be left behind. How do you respond to that?

Maybe they just know their child can handle it?
I was playing Mature games at 10... didn't effect me in the slightest.
*twitch* ;)

@WarOtter & JustChris -

One philosophy closes the divide and the other opens it wider...

Balance is the ideal, which means we need people with both philosophies ;)

This is the part that got me:
[Parents expressed] frustration that they weren’t able to get the information they wanted and valued from the ratings…

Wait, so when a movie is rated "R", that is enough information, but when a game is rated "M for Mature 17+, Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Alcohol, Use of Drugs" (the label of GTAIV)...
THAT isn't enough information?!?

I think the problem is that it is too much information and parents don't want to read all of that. So they filter it out. The parents complain that they don't get the information from the rating, not because they aren't lead to the water, but simply because they won't drink.

@ mogbert

My thoughts exactly

If you've ever worked in a toy store, you'll understand that every parent thinks their child is mature for their age, and a genius. They think their 10 year old is plenty mature to play GTA (and some may be, but not all of them). Then there is the "they play it at their friends house" excuse, which to me sounds like a talk should be had with the friends parents instead of just surrendering as if it were inevitable.

I think it's time for JT to start suing parents for giving M rated games to children...

Oh wait, he can't... he's going to be disbarred this summer.

"Almost all of the parents we spoke with agreed with the age categories of the ESRB ratings - but for other people’s children, not for their own."

This is the piece of news I find most interesting "...but for other people's children, not for their own". It's almost as saying, yeah the ESRB ratings are good, but not good enough for my standards. Leave that to people that are not as cool as me- I mean, my neighbors.

If you can't tell (by SIMPLE reading) the difference between "T" and "M" then you should have your children taken away. End of Story.

I think this mess would have been all sorted out if The ESRB used the MPAA's ratings. If they did, they'd be no differences, and they'd get away from loads of flack, lickety split.

Problem is, the MMPA are bunch of sue happy douches.

It's a classic case of "My kid's better'n yours!" Parents trust their own "lil angels," but not others. "My child would never do that!"

The major problem is how parents don't play games, so they don't know how to analyse them. When a parent isn't sure whether a movie is appropriate, they just see or rent it first, then judge if it's okay for their kid. But with games, parents don't play, so they don't understand.

I say good.

there has never been convincing evidence that violent media has an effect on children or anyone else (except the mentally deranged). so let the kids play GTA and Call of Duty and No More Heroes. better that than they play shit with a lower age rating.

America: Because why blame yourself when there's other people


It's lazy, but the parents that know "R" in movies probably do because they grew up into movie ratings (just like we grew up into ESRB ratings). The quote that lays it out is "Several had M and T ratings confused…" I'm personally not sure how you can confuse them, and wish they said more... but, I do wonder what excuses for lazy would be if the ratings were more like other countries and had numbers next to them like "M17+" (with numbers being as big as letters, cause they are there right above the letters).

I'm not saying it needs to happen... but what would change, would they come up with more excuses to be lazy or would they applaud the industry for being proactive (doubtful, they'd probably just be more lazy)

"Almost all of the parents we spoke with agreed with the age categories of the ESRB ratings - but for other people’s children, not for their own."

Doesn't surprise me in the slightest...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

You know, on this "parents don't play games" thing: I'm not sure if all of them can.

I just finished the book a couple nights ago, it really is probably one of the best written books on this topic I've read thus far.

Also if you look at all the articles and sites it cites, GP was cited once. Ch. 8 17. They also cited Kotaku and Destrutoid. I thought it was kinda cool that not only did they actually speak with children and parents in their study, but they looked at websites and material from a lot of the gaming community as well.

GameStop Employee here. I could've told you the same thing from being on the front lines.

It's a daily occurrence for a parent and their young child to walk up to my register and hand me a copy of any GTA and I have to resist the urge to scream at them about it. When I'm lucky, or convincing enough, or whatever, the parents will actually react to what I have told them about it being rated M and that it has drugs, sex, and violence in it and tell their kids no, who will then whine and complain that they play it all the time or that they play it at a friend's house.
The worst transactions, though, are the ones where, after reading the ESRB descriptors, the parents laugh and shrug it off, saying that it's no big deal and he already plays games like that. Those transactions make me want to scream.
Additionally, I've had transactions where the parent balks at the idea of their child playing one GTA game, puts the box back, and comes back with another GTA. Parental ignorance doesn't describe it in some of these situations. It's flat out parental idiocy.

Some relied on their children’s own judgment…

Funny story about that. One of the last times I was in Gamestop, I saw two kids, call them A and B. Kid A was there with his mom, and was asking Kid B which game he should get between two games. One was a T rated game, the other was from the GTA series. I got to watch as Kid B recommended the T rated game on the basis that the GTA game was for 17 year olds and up. The kids looked to be about 12.

In other news water is still wet.

@Dan J

It's a matter of copyright that they didn't in the first place. Plus I'd say that the ESRB has the better rating scheme to start with.


I've been in that spot. I made it a habit to read off all of the descriptors on the back of the box to parents. This rarely made any difference.

Once myself and another manager (who didn't think we should even be selling the game) actively had to not sell a copy of GTA3 to a woman whose son (maybe 12) was telling her it was perfectly okay, and that he had played it at a friend's house. Her kid swore he was mature enough to play it... as he started crying. She actually did not buy the game. It was not something our district manager would have approved of, but we felt it to be a moral victory. If you're not mature enough to not cry about it, you're probably not mature enough to be playing it, that was our thought anyway.

All that said, I do kind of expect my mother would have allowed me to play it, as I played Doom and Leisure Suit Larry when i was young.

My 2 years at Wal-Mart Home Entertainment concurs with this. Parents just DON'T CARE. This is why CCFC, NPTA, NIMF and other watchdog groups are so worrisome - they don't want to protect kids - they want to raise other people's kids with their own morals. Let's be honest, members of these organizations know full well how to use the ratings and keep games out of the hands of their own kids - they just want to do the same for other parents' kids.

~~All Knowledge is Worth Having~~

"Never under estimate the stupidity of people." Something I live by and something proven here whenever He-who-must-not-be-named posts.

The biggest problem is that most adults know video games as what they had when they were kids. They see it as Super Mario, Duck Hunt, Sonic the Hedgehog, even Pacman. The market has evolved, just like cartoons did, just like films did, so things have changed dramatically since the early 80's. What it comes down to is that parents don't bother learning what something is before handing it to their over-privillaged 9 year old. Just like they don't say no to going to McDonald's daily, or no that the kid shouldn't spend 4 hours a day glued to the TV, they don't say no to the kid when they ask from Condemned 2.

and i have to point out This webcoic again...

seriously... I know parenting is hard but... this is just plain ignorance and scapegoating.

I have a friend who monitors his kid's choices of video game. His eldest kid is almost 10 and He let's them play T rated games (i.e. naruto, that marvel fighting game) and i don't see any problem. A bit roudy maybe but not "murderously violent". then again, he himself is a gamer of sorts and with just one command his kids go to bed without any complains. no.. seriously.. i've seen it happen when i was at his place. just ONE command, no questions asked!

Now.. THAT's parenting!

Did the parents also confuse "age 17+" with "age 13+" and think that "17" was some sort of video game speak for "13," seriously there is no excuse for being confused with those things, they throw on enough info that an illiterate should be able to figure it out.

The rating system has big stickers on it, and they are thinking about increasing the size of the sticker in some countries.

There's no excuse for a Parent to not know what they are buying for their kids.

America: Because why blame yourself when there’s other people

more like..

America: Why admit I made a mistake when I can say "no one warned me about it even if it's plain obvious" and shove the blame on someone else?

Seriously... Hot coffee is HOT (why ese would they call it HOT coffee?), you don't need to be a rocket scientist or a member of ANON to know it. You just need a WORKING BRAIN and COMMON SENSE!

"Most acknowledged that while they might have strict rules at home prohibiting certain types of games, their children might easily play those games at another child’s house…"

My child should not play inappropriate games
I will not buy my child games that are rated as unsuitable for him
My child may play said games at friends' houses
Buy video game anyway, because he would play them regardless ^_^
Whine about how we must protect the children

Logic center overloading... patience with humanity, overheating... administer candy to deal with annoyance buildup...

@ Void Munashii

Yeah, I wouldn't write off every district (or whatever level) manager as thinking like that, but every company (I work for Gamestop part time as a manager as well as my "real" job) has those that will put the dollar over ethics. But I'm 100% with you about stopping the sale. Sadly, if the mother had pushed it instead of changing her mind, I would have done it though because it's not my right to tell her what her kids can and can not play just like it's not the government or anyone elses to tell me about mine. I have 3 children of my own and will, upon MY decision and inspection of a game as a parent, fudge the age requirements for some games for my 7 year old son. Usually just to allow play on some T rated games, or even to join in a LAN party for Halo 2 or 3 because while there is shooting, I teach him that this is a game and that everyone is just playing around. As a 7 year old, he will get excited from time to time, and I just curb him back a bit and explain whatever he is viewing incorrectly. It's not that hard to do..I really don't understand why some parents just fudge it all up in the first place.

Speaking personally, My nephew, he's around 14 I believe, maybe 13. Somehow, his Mom has drilled it into his head that he is not to TOUCH games rated above T. No matter what. Which is interesting, when he's over playing games with me, as I always enjoy a good Halo match, and I know that Halo's not that bad. That, I believe is the opposite end of the spectrum, having the rateings as a iron-clad rule set, no matter what.

ratings...giant as labels on the box so easy to read a retarded donkey with one eye can see it printed on the box..

some/most parents/Hillary are plain dumb and retarded enough to not see the damn labels.

Just like Tipper Gore before her, Hillary and all those pansies were the ones responsible for the label on the videogames...regarding it to smoking...

damn thats the woman i want see lead my country /sarcasm

You know what? This gets even funnier when I think about the fact that my local gamestop now has a sign breaking down what the ratings mean on its counter.

So... they ignore the ratings but, "[expressed] frustration that they weren’t able to get the information they wanted and valued from the ratings…"

The heck 0_o ???
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