Many retailers sell M-rated games to young kids

While looking for a Nintendo Wii for my mother last week at a local GameStop (I know, good luck with that one), I saw what looked like a minor trying to buy a Mature-rated game.

I was pleased to see the store's salesperson ask for an ID. Apparently, that's not commonplace.

According to a nine-month “secret shopper” study done by the Parents Television Council, video-game retailers sold M-rated games to minors 36 percent of the time.

From November 2007 to July 2008, 16 PTC chapters in 16 states participated in more than 100 secret shopper visits. Most occurred since May. In many cases, PTC chapters had children between 11 and 16 attempt to purchase the M-rated games.

The PTC focused most of its visits on big chains like Best Buy, Circuit City, GameStop and Wal-Mart. It says Best Buy and GameStop fared the best, selling M-rated games to minors 8 percent of the time. The other stores, including Blockbuster, Kmart and Target, sold them 44 percent of the time.

The majority of the children who were successful reported that when a game was scanned at the register, a note came up to ask for ID, but it was bypassed by the cashier.

At one Massachusetts Target, according to the study, the cashier informed a 15-year-old boy that the computer was instructing him to ID anyone who looked under 35. The boy started to walk away, but the cashier said, “That's OK. I'll sell it to you anyway.”

In another example from the study, the manager at a Newbury Comics store in Rhode Island, when told that the store had sold the game to a 14-year-old, said, “Lady, do you have any idea how many kids we have in here every day buying games? Do you think we have the time to look at each and every purchase?”

PTC president Tim Winter believes this research proves that the industry needs tougher enforcement. I can't argue. Kids shouldn't be able to buy violent M-rated games on their own, no more than they should be able to see an R-rated movie without a parent or guardian.

“The failure rate we're seeing is downright pathetic,” Winter said. “Parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.”

Surround sound adds realism

If you want added realism in your games, I'd suggest investing in a surround sound system.

Don't know where to start? The Consumer Electronics Association has a new interactive guide that can help. It shows consumers, in easy to understand language, how surround and multi-room audio (an even cooler thing than basic surround) can enhance your entertainment experience. Check it out at www.digitaltips.org.

Online gamers can talk

Station Voice, a tool that lets players talk to each other in online games, is now available for “EverQuest II” and “Star Wars Galaxies.” The new tech will allow players to easily talk person-to-person in-game with any microphone and headset combo, play with no game lag, and mute or adjust volume. Details: www.station. sony.com/stationvoice.