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Children and Teens are Major Consumers of Adult-Rated Video Games

  • Mature-rated games are now the fastest growing segment of the video game industry (Knight-Ridder Newspapers, 1/5/03). About one-third of video games now purchased are rated "M," the marketing firm NPD Funworld reports.
  • About 40 percent of those who play Mature-rated games are under 18, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But children under 18 comprise less than 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • 45 percent of all video game players are under the age of 18, according to a Wall Street Journal survey (10/14/02). That means that of the 146 million gamers in the United States, 65.7 million are children and teens. 20 million video game players are 12 and under.
  • The best-selling game of 2002 was M-rated: Grand Theft Auto III.
  • 78 percent of unaccompanied children ages 1316 were able to buy Mature-rated games at retail stores, according to a secret shopper survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission in 2001. Even among several of those retail stores with programs in place to restrict sales, 73 percent of unaccompanied children were able to buy violent, Mature-rated games.
  • 95 percent of teenage boys play video games each month, according to a survey conducted by Jupiter Research in April 2003.
  • Children are leaving traditional toys and play at younger and younger ages in favor of electronic entertainment. Toy sales were stagnant in 2001; video game sales were up 43 percent over 2000. (The Washington Post, 2/17/02)

The video game ratings are determined by the video game industry itself.  The Entertainment Software Review Board (ESRB) develops and maintains the ratings system in total secrecy. Neither the names of the raters nor the criteria they use to arrive at ratings decisions are available to the public -- or even to federal regulatory agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission.  The ESRB president is hired by the video game lobbying group, the Interactive Digital Software Association.   The ratings board is funded by video game companies, who can also appeal ratings.   There is no appeal process for parents or consumers who question a ratings decision.

The main ratings used by the ESRB are:   "E" for everyone (six and above), "T" for Teen (13 and over) and "M" for Mature (17 and over.)  The ESRB definition for Mature games is:

MATURE "M" Content may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. May contain mature sexual themes or more intense violence or language.

For more information on video game ratings, see


The Lion & Lamb Project

The Lion & Lamb Project is an initiative of the Tides Center.