An 80% success rate isn't good enough, says media watchdog the Parents Television Council, not when it comes to retailers enforcing ESRB guidelines.
In its bid to protect children from the horrors of videogames, the Parents Television Council has blasted retailers for their "abysmal performance" in adhering to the ESRB rating system. In a "PTC Action Alert," it said that the incredible rate of non-compliance with the guidelines meant that legislation to fix the problem was inevitable.
The PTC's comments were based on the results of a recent secret shopper campaign it performed, where activists targeted 109 stores across 11 states to see how easy it was for a minor to purchase a game rated Mature by the ESRB. According to the PTC's statement, a youth aged between 12 and 16 went in to the store and tried to buy an M rated game. The youths were instructed not to lie or misrepresent themselves in any way. The PTC specifically targeted the ESRB's retail partners, as well as local retailers in each area, and found that its secret shoppers were able to buy M rated games in roughly 21% of the surveyed stores.
The PTC referred back to a similar study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission in 2008, which seemed to agree with its results, concluding that compliance with the ESRB's guidelines hadn't improved in the last two years. It neglected to mention, however, that the FTC's study also found that videogames were more difficult for minors to purchase than tickets for R-rated movies, R-rated DVDs, or music with Parental Advisory stickers.
The ESRB hit back against the PTC's findings, criticizing the methodology and saying that the results from a similar operation the PTC conducted two years ago actually showed a considerable improvement in the rate of compliance over the last two years, something that the PTC never made clear in its statement. "Frankly, the latest PTC member sting operation actually verifies the effectiveness of the ESRB rating system and the ever-increasing support it receives from retailers," said Eliot Mizrachi, the ESRB's director of communications.
What's frustrating about the PTC's statement is not that it's false - because nothing in it is technically a lie - but that it's filled with half-truths and spin. By taking statistics out of context and painting them in an incredibly negative light, the PTC creates the impression of gross negligence or incompetence on the part of videogame retailers, when in fact they're actually doing more to comply with the relevant guidelines than anyone else. The PTC isn't stating facts here, it's issuing propaganda.