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Marketing Violent Video Games to Kids
In today’s generation, video games have become a major part of children’s lives. Unfortunately for parents, video games have been created with goals to kill, steal, and participate in illegal and dangerous activities. Research done on this type of entertainment tends to indicate it fosters violent behavior. “Playing video games mimics the kinds of sensory assaults humans are programmed to associate with danger and that the threat does not have to be real — it only needs to be a perceived danger for the brain and body to react” Dunckley (2016, para. 14).
“The creators of Grand Theft Auto, Rockstar Games, are somewhat in fact, the rock stars of the video game industry” (Simmonds, 2013, para. 3). The Grand Theft Auto (GTA) series is their most notable game. It is a third-person game that puts the player in control of a person looking to move up in the ranks of the criminal world by participating in and completing in many illegal activities. This game is one of, if not the most criticized games on the market today. Many organizations and groups have cried foul with the marketing of this game to the children and the game producer has gone about it with some ethical issues.
There are a couple ethical issues that can be addressed regarding the marketing of Rockstar Games’ GTA. Utilitarianism can be argued from the game producer’s point of view, as well as the consumers. They are out there with the intent of grabbing a market share that will make them enough money to satisfy their shareholders. Producing “the greatest good for the greatest number” is a major concern for a company like Rockstar Games. Of course, this does not always sit well with the stakeholders. Research has implied that this game leads to increased violence, less respect for women and minorities, and more likely to participate in crimes and communicate with prostitutes. These actions cannot be seen as a greater good for anyone.
According to Perrault, Jr., Cannon, & McCarthy (2014), “Marketing managers should be concerned with social responsibility – a firm’s obligation to improve its positive effects on society and reduce its negative effects” (p. 23-24). Children are learning everyday how to interact with others, whether it be from the parents, teachers, friends, television, and now, video games. In order to become a better person, kids should engage in activities that promote a healthy and prosperous existence. Playing a video game like GTA, does not promote such behavior. As previously stated it is a game that involves the player to interact with prostitutes, steal cars, and commit murder. Activities like these do not, in any way, influence a person in a good way.
There were no laws or regulations in place, which could be found, restricting the sale or marketing these type games to our children. The game industry does, however, have a self-regulating body in place that is responsible for the enforcement of its rating system. This body is known as the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB). ESRB is in place to ensure any game publisher rated by this system is disclosing all content required to rate the game. This also includes any hidden codes in the game that may not be playable.
Game publishers that carry the ESRB rating are also legally bound to follow the principles and guidelines for marketing and advertising practices. They are also compelled to comply with the requirements of how the rating information is displayed on the packaging. The advertising restrictions of where ads may be placed for games that have teen, mature, and adult ratings are also enforced by the ESRB system.
The ESRB does have any authority to enforce retailer sale policies, but it does work closely with them on several issues. It provides in store signage with explanations of the rating system, it supports their policies on the sale of mature rated games to minors, and most importantly, the ESRG assists in the education and training of store associates in regard to the rating system.
Even though the research did not find any current laws or regulations restricting the sale or rental of video games with violent tendencies to minors there is a June 2011 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that disallowed a California law enacted to restrict violent video games sales or rentals to minors. California is one of several states that implemented similar laws that restricted the purchase of violent video games by minors. These laws have been struck down repeatedly by the lower courts. Federal judges blocked Illinois and Michigan laws in 2005, citing First Amendment infringement. Indianapolis and Missouri’s St. Louis County had laws shot down as well. (McCullagh, 2011).
California’s law did not target any game specifically, however attorneys representing the state of California singled out the game Postal 2, in which murderous rampages are allowed. Additionally. the Federal Trade Commission has targeted Rockstar Games, makers of GTA: San Andreas for including sexually explicit content. The California law punished anyone $1,000 for selling or renting “violent video games” to minors. A violent video game was defined as, “a game in which the player has the option of ‘killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being’ in offensive ways” (McCullagh, 2011, para. 14). These “violent video games” may be purchased by parents for minors though.
The American Marketing Association (AMA) has established a code of ethics promoting a set standard of norms and values for its members. In theory, these norms and values represent the collective conception of what society holds as desirable, important and morally proper. According to the AMA, anyone who is involved in marketing for members of the marketing profession, these norms and values are supposed to serve as the criteria for evaluating our own personal actions andthe actions of others.
The AMA (2017), in its Statement of Ethics, has established three norms for anyone involved in the marketing profession to follow:
“1. Do no harm. This means consciously avoiding harmful actions or omissions by embodying high ethical standards and adhering to all applicable laws and regulations in the choices we make.
2. Foster trust in the marketing system. This means striving for good faith and fair dealing so as to contribute toward the efficacy of the exchange process as well as avoiding deception in product design, pricing, communication, and delivery of distribution.
3. Embrace ethical values. This means building relationships and enhancing consumer confidence in the integrity of marketing by affirming these core values: honesty, responsibility, fairness, respect, transparency and citizenship” (para. 2)
The AMA (2017), also established six values within its Statement of Ethics for anyone involved in the marketing profession follow:
“1. Honesty – to be forthright in dealings with customers and stakeholders.
2. Responsibility – to accept the consequences of our marketing decisions and strategies.
3. Fairness – to balance justly the needs of the buyer with the interests of the seller.
4. Respect – to acknowledge the basic human dignity of all stakeholders.
5. Transparency – to create a spirit of openness in marketing operations.
6. Citizenship – to fulfill the economic, legal, philanthropic and societal responsibilities that serve stakeholders” (para. 3).
When addressing ethics and the AMA norms as they relate to marking violent video games the most important aspect that needs to be considered is do no harm. The problem with this is who decides what constitutes do no harm?
The AMA believes that doing no harm meansconsciously avoiding harmful actions or omissions and adhering to all applicable laws and regulations in the choices we make. However when you have icons such as Pope Benedict XVI, voicing his opinion on these games , saying that violent or sexually explicit games are a “perversion” and “repulsive” (Surette, 2007) and studies like the metastudy conducted by Iowa State University’s Center for the Study of Violence according to their results, violent video games exposure is directly related to higher levels of aggressive thoughts and behavior, and lower levels of empathy and pro-social behavior in the youths exposed to them (Moore, 2010) it is hard for anyone marketing these products to change the image that these video games are not causing any harm on any one.
When addressing ethics and the AMA values as they relate to marking violent video games, one key value needs to be considered; responsibility. In addressing responsibility, the AMA believes that marketers need to accept the consequences of their marketing decisions and strategies. They also believe that marketing strategies should avoid as using coercion and recognize the special commitments that they have to vulnerable market segments (e.g., children). According to Jenkins (2003), it is a myth that video games are marketed primarily to children. “While most American kids do play video games, the center of the video game market has shifted older as the first generation of gamers continues to play into adulthood. The game industry caters to adult tastes and a sizable number of parents ignore game ratings because they assume that games are for kids (para. 4).
To conclude, Rockstar Games has the same free speech protections that apply equally to video games as they do with other forms of creative expression like books, movies and music. Even though many believe that Rockstar Games and other video gaming companies explicitly target their marketing to children, and they may, Rockstar Games and other video gaming companies follow the letter of the law when it comes to compliance with the ESRB ratings in the marketing of their products. Additionally, in reference to AMA’s Statement of Ethics, Rockstar Games and other video gaming companies do comply with the industry ethical standards and it is recommended that Rockstar Games as well as other video gaming companies to continue with a vigorous campaign of self regulation of their marketing practices.
- About AMA. (2017). Retrieved January 22, 2019, from https://www.ama.org/AboutAMA/Pages/Statement-of-Ethics.aspx
- Dunckley, V. (2016, September 25). Psychology Today: This is your child’s brain on video games. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201609/is-your-childs-brain-video-games
- Perrault, Jr., W., Cannon, J., & McCarthy, E. (2014). Basic marketing: A marketing strategy planning approach (19th ed.). New York, NY. McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
- Simmonds, R. (2013, September 13). Forbes: Four lessons from rockstar games, the innovators behind ‘Grand Theft Auto V.’ Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2013/09/17/four-lessons-from-rockstar-games-the-innovators-behind-grand-theft-auto-five/
- Surette, T.(2007, January 24). CNET Article: Pope Condemns Violent Games. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/Pope-condemns-violent-games/2100-1043_3-6153015.html
- Armstrong, E.(2010, March 2). CNET Article: Meta Study: Violent Video Games Raise Aggression. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-10462519-247.html
- McCullagh, D.(2011, June 27). CNET Article Supreme Court nixes violent video game law. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20074680-281/supreme-court-nixes-violent-video-game-law/
- Jenkins, H. (2003). PBS Essay: Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/videogamerevolution/impact/myths.html
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