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Nerdist: Play – Should Retailers Be More Strict About Selling M-Rated Games?

I watched a kid buy a copy of The Evil Within over the weekend. He couldn’t have been more than 12, was unsupervised (left with a group of other kids), and was allowed to purchase one of the year’s goriest titles on the market. But why should I even care about that? This isn’t my child, and it’s not like I didn’t do the same thing when I was too young to buy M-rated games. Was this situation really as wrong as I was making it out to be in my head?

On today’s episode of Nerdist: Play, I touch briefly on how I feel about this, and what the best way to deal with these types of occurrences is. But before we get into the serious stuff, we’ll take a look at The Evil Within‘s nasty alternative to Big Head Mode.

I asked you guys on Twitter what age you were when you bought your first M-rated game on your own, and these were some of the responses that didn’t make it into today’s episode:


Want to have your voice heard on the next episode of PLAY? Be sure join the conversation with yours truly over on Twitter!

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  1. Adan says:

    I was 5 when i played gta 3

  2. Kellie says:

    Really, the ESRB is what needs to be revamped.  The ratings now are so arbitrary, just as they are with movies.

  3. Kellie says:

    15 or so.  It was Tenchu for the PS1.  Such great memories!

  4. Purewitz says:

    I was 16 in 1994 when the ESRB was formed, but I grew up in the video game arcades of the 80’s and 90’s. So who knows every time my parents gave me some money to go to our local Mall’s arcade. I could have been playing what we consider as M rated games to day. Such as Mortal Kombat, Primal Rage, Aerosmith’s Revolution X, and Terminator 2: The Arcade game. Among others.

  5. John Henrich says:

    I was 17, my parents were strict about the M rating. When I was about 8 my aunt bought me Vice City for a birthday but I wasn’t allowed to lay my hands on it.

  6. ernster says:

    i was over the age of 18 when the ratings system was created, so never.  so old… so old…

  7. Brett Smith says:

    The answer is simple, if the parents are letting their kids play games they shouldn’t be then its their fault. Of course retailers shouldn’t sell M-rated games to kids, but ultimately the responsibility still falls on the parents.

  8. Zagrunty says:

    I dont remember how old I was when I bought my first M game, but I know I was in highschool and under 17. I want to say it was a Resident Evil game but I dont remember. I told my parents exactly what I was buying and why the games were rated the way they were, but it was more because I wanted them involved in what I was into more than I thought they needed to know the ratings.

    Having parents that understand game ratings is really important, and the problem is a lot of parents dont understand that, due to lack of ESRB marketing. Putting game rating advice in a gaming magazine isn’t going to tell anyone in the gaming world anything new. They need to advertise in men’s health, cosmo, people and other magazines moms and dads buy.

    I remember being in a GameStop and buying Pokemon White and seeing some kid (between 7-9) with a God of War game in his hands. The mom was standing nearby and saw me (21) with a pokemon game and asked “Aren’t you a little old to be playing pokemon?” to which I replied “Isn’t he a little young to be playing God of War?” I could tell as soon as she looked at the game she was buying her son that she had never even thought about what she was getting him, never even looking at the rating. If she was just involved with her sons hobbies then I wouldn’t have ’embarrassed’ her. People need better communication with their families. But is it the stores responsibility?

    Ratings aren’t law, they’re recommendations. If a parent has given their child permission to go walk to Gamestop and buy a M rated game, the store has no ‘legal’ right to stop that purchase. Maybe it’s store policy, and that’s ok. But at the same time there’s a lot of things rated M (Halo for example) that really shouldn’t be, in my opinion. Maybe limiting age based on reasons for rating could be an option, but then that’s a huge strain on the merchandiser. I think the best answer is to have parents just be aware and part of their kids lives.

  9. Rob W says:

    I think this is something that should be up to the parents, and should be considered on a case by case basis.  I remember trying to buy Mortal Kombat II from Jumbo Video and was declined due to not being old enough (this was the only time I ever had an issue, but there wasn’t a LOT of “M” games before I was old enough that it didn’t matter), I was shocked, and super annoyed for biking all the way there for nothing…  Then I just went and bought it somewhere else, and never went back to Jumbo Video.

    I think I’d treat it the same way for my kids.  I would be ok with “Cartoon Violence”, (something like MK is so gory it’s silly), stuff like the previous poster LOTR / Fantasy Super hero stuff, because the theme is still solid, and any reasonable kid understands right from wrong.

    I think the concern needs to come into the “WHY” it’s rated “M”.  “You let me play LOTR and its rated “M”, can I get the new GTA?” etc.

    No one is going to lose sleep over a 1 time use of the word “shit”, but a game containing “shit” would still be described as containing “Foul Language”.  Compare that to GTA, and well, I don’t think a 10-12 year old should be playing a game like GTA.

    (Not to crap on GTA, but if you’ve played the latest one, you’ll know why it stands out here).

    The other aspect is that the Rating doesn’t help with “Online Play”.  And that’s where I think parents need to be cautioned more.

    The stuff you hear over voice chat in any online game involving teens+, can get quite brutal…

    Long story short – NO, I don’t think this is the responsibility of the store.  *BUT* the stores should make it a point to have their employees educated on games that could be controversial (if not all products).  But product knowledge should be an important asset for any retailer anyway.

  10. Joe Fec says:

    Great conversation. As a gamer dad I’ve long struggled with this. I think context is everything for me. While the gory violence of Shadow Of Mordor is high, I find that my boys (and I) have no trouble with it since its orcs, and the mission is to defeat evil, sorta. But with GTA, horror, some of this is over the top. For example, in the God Of War series, my son thought he was trying to rescue a person from a burning building, and instead the “hero” smashed his skull against the wall. I wonder about the effects on empathy. I think Call of Duty is generally fine, since its war and not gratuitous, but the cut scenes are usually far worse. So as a parent I’d like to be given more tools to turn down the gore, language, and chatting features. I would also like a more nuanced scoring system for the nature of these games. That way when older brother plays younger brother can watch without me in the room cringing. Because parents do not have the time to be with the kids always and there’s no way the clerk at target is going to know, or care. So for those who try to intercede on a child’s behalf – well done!

  11. Togashi says:

    I was 11 when I played my first M rated game. That game was the most real looking game I had ever seen. Then when the match was over I saw one character rip the others heart out of his chest still beating. That game was Mortal Kombat, It was the first day they had it in the arcade. 

  12. Sam says:

    A friend of mine was just complaining that she get’s carded more at Game Stop than she does when she’s buying alcohol. Maybe other retailers should be carding the consumer like Game Stop does. Then at least they’re trying to sell age appropriate games to consumers rather than just selling to any and all.

  13. Bobbert says:

    As true as it is, I think “it’s the parent’s responsibility” is the easy way out of this question. While the parents do bear a significant responsibility, the fact is that some of them just don’t care. The  question then becomes, does a parent’s apathy make it acceptable for these kids to play these games?

    I would argue that a lot of M-rated games don’t deserve their status as such. XCOM, for instance, could easily be rated T. On the other hand, GTA V should almost certainly have been AO. Evil Within certainly deserves the M, if only for being so downright creepy.

    The fact that the ratings of these games has so little impact on who plays them makes one wonder why we even bother. If 8-year olds are playing GTA and every online multiplayer game with chat has a bunch of preteens insulting your mother, regardless of the rating, why put time into giving a game a rating (accurate or not)? If we’re going to make a system, it should be enforced.

  14. PodcasticJoe says:

    Great question! Absolutely. The employee should always be prompted at the register when selling games rated “M” or similar. Gamestop is on the ball with this. My son is 13 going on 17 and no matter what Gamestop we go to, they’ve always made me approve the purchase. Every time. Target employees don’t sell games all day, they’re busy pushing paper towels and scented candles across their registers. They’re probably not in-the-know like the true game stores are. That kid probably knew he could score that game at Target… Gamestop probably shut him down just before that. 

  15. Tod says:

    Yes. Period. They don’t let kids under 17(or shouldn’t be) into rated R movies. Same idea. As far as parenting goes, you can’t control them but giving them the heads up on the content of the games can help them make a better informed decision.

  16. Samantha Sofka says:

    A couple of weeks ago I saw a Game Stop employee trying to persuade a parent to not purchase GTAV for their 10 year old. After telling them about all of the inappropriate content, the parent replied with “Well this is the one he wants so I am going to buy it for him.” Kind of disturbing (mostly bc the kid had such control over the parent) but perfectly fine. If a parent is ok with it, they can deal with whatever effect it has on the kid.

    • zach says:

      Game stop seems to be good about enforcing the ratings. I had a similar experience where I saw an employee try and advise a parent not to purchase a game that a pre teen wanted.  also, I get carded at a game stop more often than at restaurant/bar when ordering a beer.

  17. Jack says:

    As an 18 year old working in CeX (retail store seling secondhand games/dvds/phones/etc.), I do ask for ID a lot for kids that look younger than me, but if they are with their parents, even if they’re as young as 8, so long as the parent says they are okay with their child buying the game, I will sell it to them.

  18. Danny says:

    Yes they should be more strict. There’s no way a kid should be buying that Hatred game that’s coming out soon.