Parents are generally aware of the existence of videogame age ratings, but choose to ignore them or treat them as a mere guideline, according to a new study into the problem of children playing mature games.
The research was carried out by Swiss firm Modulum on behalf of ELSPA, and was presented by Modulum chief executive Jurgen Freund at the ELSPA International Games Summit in London earlier this week.
According to Freund, the study found a high awareness of the existence of videogame age ratings both among young gamers and among their parents - but parents tend to "divorce themselves" from active involvement in deciding what their children play.
"Parents perceive age ratings as a guide but not as a definite prohibition," he commented, going on to mention that while many parents weren't entirely happy with the content of the games being played by their children, few would take action to prevent it.
A larger concern for most parents was that children were spending too much time playing videogames, to the detriment of other activities, rather than specific concerns about content - with most parents adamant that their children are mature enough to handle adult games.
In terms of the attitudes of the children themselves, Modulum found that the 18+ age rating symbol is seen more as a recommendation than as a prohibition.
"The qualitative side of the study revealed that the 18+ symbol is more of a selling point than a warning," according to Freund.
The findings will raise difficult questions for an industry keen to avoid further debacles like last year's Manhunt controversy, when Rockstar's violent 18-rated game was linked in the tabloid press with the murder of 14 year old Stefan Pakeerah in Leicester by a 17 year old acquaintance.
Although the police involved in the case denied that there was any link between the game and the crime, the question of why children had access to adult content like Manhunt was raised nonetheless.
If parents are abdicating responsibility for keeping an eye on what their children are playing, the industry's job becomes that much harder; but according to one retail employee at a major UK entertainment chain, this is nothing new.
"The research is on the money," he told GamesIndustry.biz this morning, "but anyone working in a games store has known this for a long time. The number of copies of Grand Theft Auto I've had to sell to parents accompanied by their ten year old kids, who I had refused to sell a copy to just a few minutes before, is absolutely sickening."