PTC History on Violent Video Games

videogame_smoking"Similar to age restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, pornography and other products that are potentially harmful to children, parents deserve a reasonable expectation that age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.”-
- PTC President Tim Winter

See more about the PTC video game campaign
See Research on Video Games and Behavior

PTC Timeline 


In 2005 the “Hot Coffee” controversy (about a certain video games that allowed children to access supposedly hidden content containing graphic sex. ) drew much public attention.

PTC Chapter Directors in SE Michigan and Southern Illinois came to the PTC and asked what we could do about adult video games being played by kids. Efforts were underway in both states to pass legislation protecting children from these games. Subsequently, the PTC’s Video Game Campaign was born.

These chapters helped to galvanize public support for these laws and both were passed. PTC member participation was significant and both chapter directors were personally invited to be a part of a small group of people present at the bill signing ceremonies with their respective governors and legislators. Both bills were subsequently struck down by courts. Michigan appealed.

California passes video game bill restricting sales of M- and A-0 rated video games to minors. Under the law, video game creators would still be able to create and sell violent video games; and the adults – for whom the games are purportedly intended – would still be able to purchase and play them. The statute only prevented young children from purchasing these adult products without their parent or guardian present at the time of sale. State Senator Leland Yee, sponsor of the bill, would later say that the PTC membership was critical to the passage of the legislation.


The PTC educated the legislators in Florida and Kansas on game legislation. Florida SB 492, Kansas Child Protection from Violent Video Games Act were introduced as a result. Both would eventually fail in the face of lobbyist pressure.


Indiana SB 238 proposed by Sen. David Ford. Indiana legislators relied heavily on PTC expertise in crafting their legislation and appealing to the public for support. Failed in the face of a major lobbying effort by game industry groups.

Denver Regional Transportation District responds to a request from the Denver PTC chapter by voting in committee to keep adult game ads off of transit, fails to pass before full board after game industry lobbyists have a closed door meeting with the board.

After working with the PTC, Oklahoma passes HB3004, subsequently struck down by courts.

2008:  The Secret Shopper Survey

PTC releases secret shopper survey results showing 36% of stores willing to sell adult games to minors, a higher percentage than was reported in May 2008 by the Federal Trade Commission.

PTC works closely with U.S. House Members Matheson (D-UT) and Terry (R-NE) and Senator Ricker (R-Miss) to introduce constitutionally sound federal legislation. Bill never receives a full vote and dies in committee.

From November 2007 to July 2008, Parents Television Council grassroots chapters conducted Secret Shopper visits to over 100 local video game retailers. PTC chapters sent children between 11 to 16 years of age to attempt to purchase M-rated video games, which are classified by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as inappropriate for anyone under the age of 17. Children who participated were both boys and girls of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

The retailers visited have company policies that require that video games not be sold to people outside of the ESRB assigned age classification. The children were told to enter the chosen store, find an M-rated game and attempt to purchase it with cash. They were instructed to never lie or misrepresent themselves during the process. When games were purchased, the adult who had waited outside the store would return with the game and ask for a refund.

Major Findings:

  • The PTC focused most of its visits on the big chains that are part of the ESRB’s Retail Council including, Best Buy, Circuit City, Game Stop, Hollywood Video, Kmart, Target, Toys “R” Us, Blockbuster and Wal-Mart. Together, these stores violated their age restriction policies by selling M-rated video games to minors 34% of the time. However, Best Buy and Game Stop fared the best; each sold video games to minors only 8% of the time. Excluding these two retail chains, the other seven major retail chains sold M-rated video games to minors 44% of the time.
  • Local stores and regional chains sold a minor an adult game 47% of the time.
  • The ESRB Retail Council and local/regional chains together allowed minors to purchase M-rated video games 36% of the time.
  • The majority of the children who were successful in their purchases reported that when the game was scanned for sale at the register a note came up to ask for ID but it was quickly by-passed by the cashier.

Noteworthy Examples:

  • At a Target store in Massachusetts, 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.”
  • 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?”
  • At a Blockbuster in Houston, a manager showed a 13-year-old where the M-rated game, “Scarface,” was located and a different employee rang up the sale without any questions.
  • At a Toys “R” Us in New Jersey a manager handled the sale of M-rated game “Rainbow 6” to a 15-year-old.
  • At a Target store in Florida, when a 16-year-old girl was asked if she had ID to purchase “Grand Theft Auto IV,” she replied no and completed the sale.


After the 9th District Court of Appeals upholds an injunction against California video game legislation, the PTC convinces Governor Schwarzenegger to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Rhode Island Chapter encourages state representatives to introduce video game bill.

The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take up California case, Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Associations, 08-1448.


On June 27, 2011, the Supreme Court upended the California law that would hold video game retailers accountable for selling or renting adult games to unaccompanied minor children. The PTC denounced the ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, but pledged to continue holding irresponsible video game retailers publicly accountable.

PTC President Tim Winter’s statement on the decision: “The Court has provided children with a Constitutionally-protected end-run on parental authority. This ruling replaces the authority of parents with the economic interests of the video game industry. With no fear of any consequence for violating the video game industry’s own age restriction guidelines, retailers can now openly, brazenly sell games with unspeakable violence and adult content even to the youngest of children.

“The carefully-worded California statute would not have interfered in any way with the rights of the creators of adult games or the adults who wish to buy them; and in fact, it would not interfere with parents who wanted to purchase such a game for their children. Rather, the measure only would have prevented an unaccompanied minor child from buying or renting the product.

“Countless independent studies confirm what most parents instinctively know to be true: repeated exposure to violent video games has a harmful and long-term effect on children. Despite these troubling findings, video game manufacturers have fought tooth and nail for the ‘right’ to line their pockets at the expense of America’s children. Today, the Supreme Court sided with them and against parents. “

The Parents Television Council continues to use all the resources within our power to call out unscrupulous retailers. If the federal courts won’t stand for parents, then we hope the court of public opinion will.