Annual MediaWise® Video Game Report Card
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the Report Card
David Walsh, Ph.D.; Douglas Gentile,
Ph.D.; Erin Walsh; Nat Bennett;
National Institute on Media and the Family
November 28, 2006
This MediaWise Video Game Report Card is the eleventh issued
by the National Institute on Media and the Family, an independent,
non-partisan, non-sectarian, nonprofit organization. The
MediaWise Video Game Report Card provides a snapshot of
the interactive gaming industry with a focus on issues related
to the welfare of children and teens. The full Report Card
is available at www.mediawise.org.
A Shifting Focus
This year, as always, is marked by change in the world of
video games. Video game consoles that take advantage of previously
unthinkable technologies have been launched by Microsoft,
Nintendo and Sony. A growing body of research continues to
expand our understanding of the impact electronic games have
on young people. Innovation in more technologically advanced
countries provides a window into the problems looming for
American families. In short, the relationship between families
and video games is becoming ever more complex, making an overview
of the issues even more vital than before.
For the past ten years, we have used this annual report card
to challenge the video game industry to improve its record
of attending to the welfare of younger players. More recently,
we urged retailers to step up to their responsibility to keep
adult games out of the hands of children and youth. This year
we acknowledge the strides taken by both sectors of the industry.
For example, the major retailers have made real progress in
fulfilling their commitment to restrict the sale of mature-themed
Industry representatives have also been willing to participate
in meaningful discussions, including a national summit we
co-hosted this fall. Early next year we will release the findings
from the summit which will lead to important next steps to
ensure that youth derive the benefits from games while avoiding
While we will continue to pressure the industry to improve,
this report card focuses less on the flaws of a complex industry
and more on what all of us can do about the real risks posed
by some types of video games. The fact is video games are
here to stay. Increasingly, they play a large role in the
lives of young people. Games and game systems are becoming
more complex, allowing them to have a greater impact and unlocking
new potentials as excellent teaching tools. If we want our
children to benefit from technological innovations and to
avoid the harm that some games pose, we parents need to roll
up our sleeves and get to work.
This report suggests that the solutions to the problems presented
by video games lie in eradicating ignorance on both the scientific-technical
and the parental knowledge levels. Simply put, parents need
to step up to the plate and the experts need to conduct more
and better research. The research and anecdotal findings we
already have portray ahe present rating system is broken and
can't be fixed. growing health crisis on multiple levels,
each of which shows an important link to video games. These
findings confirm the critical need for increased understanding
of video games impact on kids as well as greater involvement
in childrens media use.
Parental Ignorance: No Longer Bliss
As the world of video games continues to evolve, parents are
falling behind. As we
found last year, this years parental survey uncovered
an alarming gap between what
kids say about the role of video games in their lives and
what parents are willing to
admit. For instance, while nearly two-thirds of surveyed parents
said they had rules
about how much time their children may spend playing video
games, only one third of
their children said they had such rules. Perhaps parents are
reluctant to confess how
little they attempt to control the amount of time their kids
spend in front of the screen.
This much is certain: too many of us do not seem to exercise
enough control. The
amount of time kids spend playing video games is on the rise.
First and foremost, parents need to pay attention to the relevant
research and the industry needs to stop denying research-based
Once parents realize what is at stake, based on scientific
research, they should start
limiting game time and keeping M-rated games away from their
children. Although the
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system seems
to underrate some
games, giving Teen ratings to games that deserve Mature ratings,
all agree that the Mrated
games are inappropriate for kids.
- Whos playing? While the industry
constantly reports that the average age of the player
has risen to the late twenties, a new study has found
almost half of all heavy gamers, are six-
to 17-years-old (NPD, 2006).
- Game time and physical health. Our own
research this year found children who spend more time
playing video games are heavier, and are more likely to
be classified as overweight or obese. Furthermore, playing
video games in the bedroom is an added risk factor for
overweight and obesity.
- Screen time and school performance. We
found the amount of time kids spend playing video games
is correlated with poorer grades in school and attention
- Violent video games and aggression. Scientific
research shows that violent video game play increases
aggression in young players in the short term. Additional
studies show these effects last.
Parents should also take advantage of new technological tools
to protect their kids. For
instance, most new consoles include parental controls. Parents
should learn how to
use these devices and use them to set appropriate boundaries
for their children.
Additionally, some video game makers are focusing on kid-friendly
technologies. The Nintendo DS, for example has gained a reputation
as a clean
console because of the vast number of E-rated games
it supports, and Microsoft is said
to be investing heavily in E and E 10+ games.
Parents also need to understand the changing purchasing patterns
of their children.
While the bricks-and-mortar retailers have made important
improvements in keeping
Mature games out of the hands of kids, online sales now account
for a growing number
of total sales. That means any child with an Internet connection
and a debit, credit or
magnetic striped gift card could purchase a Mature- or Adults
Finally, and most importantly, we encourage parents once again
to be MediaWise® and
to Watch What Your Kids Watch. Limits and boundaries are crucial,
but simply laying
down rules and hoping kids will follow them is not enough.
Parents need to engage in
an ongoing dialog with their children about what games they
are playing and for how
long. Watching what your kids watch might mean playing what
your kids play. Creating
a conversation about content and amount wont just protect
kids it will help parents
reinforce meaningful communication with their children.
In summary, we recommend parents take the following steps:
A Public Health Crisis Continues to Grow
- Follow the ratings.
- Use Parental Controls.
- Put your kids on a media diet.
- Set limits and be willing to say no.
- Watch what your kids watch, play what your kids play.
The necessity of parental involvement becomes apparent when
examining the diverse
set of health problems linked to inappropriate video game
play. The latest research and
anecdotal reports link video games to health issues affecting
the bodies and minds of
an ever-widening population.
A childhood obesity epidemic, as well as a corresponding increase
in Type II Diabetes,
is sweeping across the continent. Approximately 30.3% of children
ages 6 to 11 are
overweight and 15% are obese. For teens the rate is almost
identical: 30.4% are
overweight, and 16% are obese (American Obesity Association,
The link between obesity and media use has become increasingly
clear with each new
study. Children, ages 8 to 18, spend more time (44.5 hours
per week) in front of
computer, television, and game screens than they spend on
any other activity in their
lives except sleeping (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005). The
lack of physical activity
that comes with all those stationary hours in front of the
screen is a large contributor to
the obesity problem. In fact, children who use a lot of media
have a lower activity level,
and lower activity is linked to a higher rate of obesity (Vandewater,
2004). In at least
one study, a strong relationship was found between playing
electronic video games and
childhood obesity (Stettler, 2004). Our research finds that
children who spend more time
playing video games are heavier, and are more likely to be
classified as overweight or
obese. Furthermore, playing video games in the bedroom is
also related to children's
Video game addiction is another alarming game-related health
issue. Many of the
symptoms of this type of addiction are largely the same as
the symptoms of other
addictions including obsessive behaviors, deceitful behavior,
neglecting people and
responsibilities, and increased isolation. Video game addiction
has led some children to
fail out of school, alienate themselves from everyone in their
lives, and in extreme cases
to commit suicide. Some of the most popular online community
demand an obsessive and time-consuming approach to play. As
with any addiction,
once children are hooked, it is very difficult for them to
South Korea has seen a recent explosion in cases of video
game addiction. The South
Korean government now supports more than 40 treatment programs
to deal with video
game and Internet addiction. If the situation in South Korea
is any indication of what is
to come here, we will be largely unprepared for the number
and intensity of cases of
The Need for Additional Research and Next Steps
As the health crises besetting our children continue to grow,
and as the industry
continues to expand, the need for additional research becomes
ever more apparent.
Only by overcoming our ignorance and filling in the gaps of
our understanding about the
impact of video games on children will we be able to determine
how to address the
problems we already face and the ones we foresee.
Last year we said that every child who plays video games is
undertaking a powerful,
developmental experiment the results of which we dont
understand. This is truer now
than ever before. We need more research on the ways interactive
child health and development. We must focus not only on aggression
and violence, but
also on health, behavior, school performance, and work skills
as well as the positive
effects and uses of video games.
Time is of the essence. With new technological innovations,
the ways in which
interactive entertainment affects our kids become more complex
and difficult to manage.
Increasingly, we can take games with us and play them wherever
we are. Personal
gaming devices continue to evolve, and are becoming widely
available in stand-alone
devices or integrated into other technologies like mobile
phones. Other remarkable
innovations are available to the dedicated, stay-at-home gamers
in the form of
downloadable content, episodic games, and online multiplayer
games. We can now
play games everywhere, all the time, and in a multiplicity
of ways. The implication and
the need for research are the same: the role of games in the
lives of young people will
continue to grow. If we expect parents to manage this, we
must give them the
information and the tools to do so.
A Hopeful Collaboration
Last year, we promised to bring people from diverse backgrounds
and interests together
in order to discuss these issues. This year, we convened the
first National Summit on
Video Games, Youth and Public Policy, a two-day conference
sponsored by the
National Institute on Media and Family and Iowa State University.
For the first time
ever, the Summit gathered together academic scholars, public
health officials, child
health advocates and representatives from the video game industry.
As a show of concern and dedication to addressing the challenges
posed by video
games the Summit was a resounding success. One of the many
positive outcomes of
the Summit was a pledge by the ESRB to put more funds into
ratings education for
parents. We applaud this step not only as a show of good faith
but as a meaningful
contribution to the effort to provide parents with the tools
they need to keep their kids
healthy and safe.
Many of the participants were experts on the effects of media
or video games. After
consideration of the research, participants signed an historic
joint statement that read:
Behavioral science research demonstrates that playing
violent video games can
increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior in children
In the coming weeks, the Summit participants will release
a ten-year plan, which will
outline benchmarks and creative solutions addressing childrens
access to violent and
sexually explicit video games. One component of the plan calls
for ongoing summits to
continue this important dialogue.
2006 Survey Results
Surveys Covered in 2006 Report Card
Data for this years Parent and Student Surveys were
gleaned from an ongoing study of
Switch®, a new program created by the National Institute
on Media and the Family.
The Switch program is designed to promote healthy lifestyles
as well as measure
behavior relating to fitness levels, nutritional choices,
and screen time usage. Our
longitudinal study with 1,430 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade
students and their parents is
currently ongoing. Although this program does not target video
games, we took the
opportunity to collect some information about video game use
from families. The
resulting data provide a rich look at several aspects of the
effects of screen time.
- Student Survey
- Parent Survey
- Retailer Ratings Education Survey
- Retailer Ratings Enforcement Survey
Student Survey Results
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than
one to two hours of screen time per day, including time spent
on video games, television, videos/DVDs, and computer use.
However, our data shows that:
Total amount of game play is not, however, the only issue
that matters - the content of
the games played matters greatly too.
- Forty-two percent of children play for at least one
hour per day, with 22%
reporting they play for two or more. This is on top of the
three hours a day the
average child spends in front of the television.
- Fifteen percent of children state they feel they spend
too much time playing video
games. Interestingly, 26% say they play too little, suggesting
what a large role
games now play in young peoples lives.
- One in ten (9%) admit they play so much that it sometimes
hurts their homework.
This finding is particularly surprising, because third-, fourth-
and fifth-graders do
not typically have a lot of homework.
- Over half (55%) say they sometimes try to stop playing
video games so much.
Children who play video games in their bedrooms play five
hours more per week
than children who do not play in their bedrooms.
In short, the research demonstrates that both the amount
and content of games matter. The ones who spend more
time playing video games are heavier, and are more likely
to be classified as overweight or obese. And confirming the
results of several other studies, our survey found that the
amount of time a child plays video games is correlated with
receiving poorer grades in school, as reported by both parents
and teachers. In addition, the amount of time spent playing
video games is correlated with teacher-reported attention
problems in school, also corresponding to other research which
finds a link between heavy screen use and attention problems.
- We found that playing a large amount of violent video
games increased childrens
risk of physical aggression in school by 42% over children
who do not play
violent video games.
- These findings held true even when the following other
constant: sex, violent television exposure, parent involvement,
and prior history
of fights (Gentile, Eisenmann, Walsh, & Callahan, 2006).
Parent Survey Results
The ESRB has promoted research suggesting that 74% of parents
regularly use the video game ratings and 94% find them helpful
in choosing games for their children (ESRB, 2006). Other research,
including ours, does not paint quite such a rosy picture.
In our sample of 1,430 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade children
and their parents, we find that parents and children have
very different perceptions of how involved parents are. For
example, most (73%) parents say they always help
decide what games their children may buy or rent. However,
only 30% of children say their parents do. On the opposite
side, only 1% of parents say they never help decide,
in contrast to 25% of children. This pattern of parents giving
much more socially acceptable answers is consistent across
several aspects, including responses to the following questions:
|How often does a parent/do you:
|play computer or video games with you/your child?
|talk to you about the video games you play?
|help decide what video games you may buy/rent?
|have to ask permission before playing video games?
|Does your family have rules about how much you may
|Does your family have rules about when you may play
This pattern appears in several other places in our study.
For example, when
measuring the amount of time children play video games each
week, parents report an
average of five hours per week. When their children are asked,
they report an average
of nine hours per week (13 hours for boys, 6 for girls). These
findings, and the gap
between them, are basically identical to the national averages
found in other studies.
This suggests that parents may provide overly optimistic responses
awareness of childrens video game habits and their use
of the ratings.
This parental optimism is very unfortunate, because parents
are in an extremely
powerful position to make a difference in their childrens
outcomes. Parents who are
actively involved in their childrens media habits have
children who spend less time
playing video games each week, get better grades in school,
are less likely to be
overweight, are less aggressive, are more prosocial, and have
fewer attention problems
in school. Active parental monitoring of childrens media
use appears to be a clear
protective factor for children.
Retailer Ratings Education Survey Results
We conducted our surveys in September and October 2006, surveying
by telephone 52
video game rental or retail stores in 12 states: Colorado,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada,
Oregon, and Tennessee. We surveyed stores in both large cities
and small towns
within these states. Of the 52 stores, 25 stores primarily
sell video games and 27
primarily rent. Forty-six of the stores surveyed are part
of a chain.
Eighty-six percent of the stores claimed to educate the public
about the ESRB rating
system. This number is up from 71% in 2005. However, when
these education plans
were examined, the number dropped to 73%, meaning that over
a quarter of the stores
surveyed did not meaningfully educate the public. However,
this percentage is up from
52% last year. The stores that did educate the public used
pamphlets or posters in the
stores, listings on the aisles, youth-restricted stickers
on M-rated games, and video
loops describing ratings. Similar to past years, only 25%
of store employees were
familiar with ESRBs OK to Play campaign
(26% in 2005 and 22% in 2004).
An overwhelming majority (98%) of the individuals we surveyed
say they personally
understand the ESRB rating system. This is up from 97% in
2005 and 76% in 2004.
Better yet, about three-quarters (73%) of the stores we surveyed
say they have a policy
for training their employees on the ESRB rating system (up
from 52% in 2005). In these
stores, training included word of mouth, reading material,
computer classes, or during
register training where registers are programmed to prompt
ID checks for sales of Mrated
games. This year, retail and rental stores were reported roughly
equally in terms
of understanding the ratings and training employees about
Policies about Ratings
Most (92%) of stores say they have a policy preventing children
younger than 17 renting
or buying M-rated games. This is virtually the same as last
year (94%) but up from 89%
in 2004, and 83% in 2003. When the actual policies are examined,
drops to 88% (encouragingly up from 80% in 2005). We did not
count policies when
employees were not able to describe them. Retail stores appear
just as likely as rental
stores to have real policies preventing children younger than
17 from renting or buying
Retailer Ratings Enforcement Survey Results
As in years past, we once again conducted a sting
operation to determine if retailers
are enforcing their ratings policies on M-rated games. Fourteen
children between the
ages of 10 and 16 (four female, 10 male) entered retail stores
and attempted to
purchase M-rated games without adult supervision. The sting
operations took place
between August and October 2006 at retail locations located
in California, Illinois, Iowa,
Maryland and Minnesota.
Of the 25 sting operations, eight resulted in successful purchases
(32% success rate, down from 44% in 2005, 34% in 2004, and
55% in 2003).
Eight of the purchases were attempted by girls. Girls were
much less likely to be able to
purchase games than boys (13% girls, 41% boys). This is a
large decrease from last
year (46% girls, 42% boys), but is more typical of rates weve
seen in past years where
girls are less able to purchase than boys (8% girls, 50% boys
Interestingly, we see a notable split among the big retailers
and stores specializing in
video games. Major retailersBest Buy, Target and Wal-Martemerged
scores, preventing underage customers from purchasing M-rated
games on every
attempt. We are very encouraged to see the big retailers stepping
up and keeping their
promise to enforce their own policies. Unfortunately, specialty
stores seem more
interested in making money than anything else. Despite years
of scrutiny and repeated
promises to clean up their act, it is still far too easy for
kids to purchase inappropriate
games at such stores.
|MediaWise Video Game Report Card Summary
| Parental Involvement
| Ratings Education
| Retailer Policies
| Retailer Enforcement
| Console Manufacturers
Parental Involvement ..............................................................................
Although the response of most parents to the challenge of
raising kids in a world filled
with video games is inadequate, it doesnt seem fair
to give parents a failing grade
because parents are constantly subject to mixed messages from
the video game
industry. While representatives of the industry encourage
parents to follow the ratings
which warn certain age groups away from mature content, they
that video games have any impact on kids. Making matters worse,
the rating system
itself has flaws. Parents could be, and should be, doing a
lot better, but at least part of
their failure can be attributed to the confusion created by
the game makers.
Our findings in the area of Ratings Education are nearly identical
to those of last year.
We are encouraged to see a visible effort by the ESRB to educate
parents and retailers
and a corresponding tendency on the part of retailers to educate
parents. Nevertheless, considering that we have found no significant
progress from last
year, we see room for improvement.
Retailer Policies ............................................................................................................B
Nearly every retailer we surveyed claimed to have a policy
preventing children and
teens from purchasing M-rated games, an improvement from last
year. Perhaps more
praiseworthy, most of the employees we surveyed could articulate
the policy and its
importance. Clearly, public pressure in recent years has put
retailers on notice.
Although it is encouraging to find that the retailers across
the board present the public
with a policy to prevent the sale of M-rated games to minors,
we see a remarkable gap
in the performance of retailers. The big retailers such as
Best Buy, Target and Wal-
Mart have kept their promise to keep M-rated games out of
kids hands. In our survey,
no children were sold M-rated games at these stores. Stores
specializing in video
games seemed to be willing to let profits take priority over
enforcing the policies they
claim to uphold. In our survey, half of all attempts by minors
to purchase M-rated
games were successful at specialty stores.
Console Manufacturers (Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo) ..........................................A
Every new console entering the market now includes parental
that only a few years ago such parental controls were unthinkable,
this is amazing
progress. The manufacturers of video game systems deserve
praise for their efforts to
make it easier for parents to protect their kids.
- The industry should eliminate the double messages to
parents and educate them about why it is important to
monitor game play and observe the ratings.
- Specialty game stores should follow the lead of the
major retailers who have fulfilled their commitment not
to sell M- or Adults Only-rated games to youth.
- There should be a universal, independent rating system.
- More attention should be paid to the emerging problem
of video game addiction.
- Kids bedrooms should be media-free zones.
- Parents need to supervise their childrens game
playing more closely.
- Follow the ratings.
- Use Parental Controls.
- Put your kids on a media diet.
- Set limits and be willing to say no.
- Watch what your kids watch, play what your kids
Guide for Parents
|Parent Alert! Games to avoid for
your children and teens
|Gangs of London
|Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
|Mortal Kombat: Unchained
|Scarface: The World is Yours
|The Godfather: Mob Wars
|MediaWise recommended games for
children and teens
|LEGO Star Wars II The Original
|Mario Hoops 3 on 3
|Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz
|Madden Football 07
|Nancy Drew: Danger by Design
|Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: The March of
This years research update provides a brief look at
some of the new research on video
games, including some research that was discussed at the National
Summit on Video
Games, Youth and Public Policy in collaboration with Iowa
State University. Much of
the research discussed below will be used when Summit participants
including recommendations for the future.
Research on the Effects of Violent Games
Although there has been little new published research in 2006,
dozens of experimental
and correlational studies now document that violent video
game play is related to
increases in aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Carnagey, Anderson, &
Bushman (2006) published a study in which 257 college students
assigned to play one of eight violent or nonviolent video
games for 20 minutes. After
playing the game, the students were shown a 10-minute videotape
of real-life violent
acts (including shootings, stabbings, prison fights, etc.)
while their heart rate and
galvanic skin response (both measures of arousal and stress)
Students who had played one of the violent video games showed
lower levels of arousal
to the violent scenes. That is, 20 minutes of playing a violent
video game desensitized
them to images of real-life violence in the short term.
Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley (2007) will release three
new studies in January, including
an experimental study, a correlational study, and the first
true longitudinal study with
children. In the experimental study, 161 nine- to 12-year-olds
and 354 college students
played either a violent or nonviolent video game. The primary
finding was that even Erated
violent games increased childrens and college students
immediately after playing the game. In the correlational study,
189 high school students
completed surveys about their media habits, their personalities,
and their aggressive
behaviors. The primary finding was that adolescents who play
more violent video
games engage in more real-life aggressive and violent behaviors.
In the longitudinal
study, 430 third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students, their
peers, and teachers were
surveyed early and late in a school year. The primary finding
was that children who
played more violent video games early in the school year had
changed to become more
aggressive later in the school year, as reported by their
peers and teachers.
Research on Video Game Ratings
The research on the scientific reliability and validity of
the video game ratings (and other
media rating systems, such as TV and movie ratings) suggests
that the ratings are not
as reliable as parents might hope. Kim Thompson and her colleagues
at Harvard have
conducted several content analyses that demonstrate that a
high percentage of video
games have content that is not labeled on the boxes. This
year, a new study of M-rated
games was released, demonstrating that 81% of the games in
their sample did not
include some descriptor that seemed warranted (Thompson, Tepichin,
- American Obesity Association (2005, May). Fact Sheet: Obesity
in youth. Available:
- Anderson, C.A., Gentile, D.A., & Buckley, K.E. (2007).
Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents:
Theory, Research, and Public Policy. New York: Oxford
- Carnagey, N. L., & Anderson, C.A., Bushman, B. J.
(2006). The effect of video game violence on physiological
desensitization to real-life violence. Journal of Experimental
- Entertainment Software Rating Board (2006, March). Awareness,
trust, and use of ESRB ratings reach historical high-point
among parents [press release]. Available: http://www.esrb.org/about/news/03292006.jsp.
- Gentile, D. A., Eisenmann, J. C., Walsh, D. A., &
Callahan, R. (2006, July). Violent TV and video game
exposure as risk factors for aggressive behavior among
elementary school children. Poster presented at the
International Society for Research in Aggression Conference,
- Kaiser Family Foundation (2005, March). Generation M:
Media in the lives of eight to eighteen year olds. Available:
- NPD (2006, September). Report from the NPD group shows
45% of gamers are in the six -to seventeenyearold
age group [press release]. Available: http://www.npd.com/press/releases/press_060919a.html.
- Stettler, Nicolas, Signer, Theo, and Suter, Paolo (2004,
June). Electronic games and environmental factors associated
with childhood obesity in Switzerland. Obesity Research,
- Thompson, K.M., Tepichin, K., & Haninger, K. (2006).
Content and ratings of Maturerated video games. Archives
of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 160, 402-410.
- Vandewater, E.A., Shim, M., & Caplovitz, A.G. (2004).
Linking obesity and activity level with children's television
and video game use. Journal of Adolescence, 27,
- Waldman, Michael, Nicholson, Sean, and Adilov, Nodir
(2006). Does television cause autism? Available: