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Video Game ‘Report Card’ Gets Fs

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The grades are in for how the video game industry maintains child welfare while turning a profit, and if parents pay attention to the report card, they won’t be happy.

The National Institute on Media and the Family issued its 8th annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card Monday. It gave the gaming industry two Bs, one C and two Fs.

The institute, in its largest student survey ever, found that 87 percent of 4th- through 12th-graders play video games. It also found that 96 percent of boys play video games regularly.

The report card said that a “balanced diet of good games” can play a positive role in children’s lives, but that the thriving gaming industry nevertheless presents several concerns.

The report mentioned two concerns specifically: the popularity and availability of M-rated video games to young boys, and the relationship of “screen time” to increased childhood obesity.

The report card gave the following scores:

· The Entertainment Software Rating Board received a B for its success in rating products.
· Video game retailers and renters received a C for their ratings education efforts.
· Some retailers received a B for enforcing ratings policies, whereas others received an F.
· American culture in general received an F for fostering “screen time” as opposed to exercise and other physical activity.

“It is not the responsibility of the gaming industry to solve the obesity epidemic,” the report said, “but it is clear that in order to successfully address this public health emergency, kids need to spend less time in front of screens and more time exercising.” The report said an average American youth spends almost 40 hours per week in front of a TV, video game monitor or computer.

The report card spoke positively in general about the ESRB‘s commitment to an effective ratings system. The current system includes a symbol (an age-appropriate marker like “T” for “teens”) and content descriptors (like “fantasy violence” or “use of tobacco”).

The report card expressed disappointment, however, that the ESRB rarely if ever rates a game “AO”—”adults only.”

The report found that 55 percent of stores educate the public about the ratings system, whereas 49 percent actually train their employees about the system.

“This year we see a more distinct difference between retailers with policies versus those without,” the report said. The institute sent children between 7 and 14 years old to stores with and without policies in order to purchase an M-rated video game. The children were successful 30 percent of the time in stores with policies. They succeeded in every instance if the store had no policy.

The report also included a list of recommendations for parents and the gaming industry, as well as a “research update” by two of the report’s authors: the institute’s director of research, Douglas Gentile, and its founder, David Walsh.

The National Institute on Media and the Family is an independent, non-profit organization based in Minneapolis. Walsh founded the institute in 1996 to provide resources, information and education about media’s impact on children and families.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.