The retailers said they will no longer sell video games with the "mature" rating to anyone younger than 17. The policies, which Kmart unveiled first, came in response to lawmakers encouraging the companies to stop selling such games, which some believe glorify and contribute to violence.
The M-rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board â€“ created by the industry to independently rate games for age appropriateness and content â€“ indicates that the game has more violence, profanity or other adult content than E and T ratings, which stand for "everyone" and "teen."
Toys 'R' Us Inc. already restricts sales of M-rated games to minors, and Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Co. do not sell them.
Kmart officials said they have no plans to pull the games from shelves in their 2,164 stores nationwide.
"We feel that would alienate some of our customers â€“ why should one group mess it up for everyone?" said Frank Buscemi, a spokesman for the company based in Troy, Mich. "This is the best way people 17 and over can still have access to the video games and those under 17 are restricted."
Wal-Mart officials could not be reached for comment.
Local Kmart officials said bar codes on M-rated games will alert cashiers to ask customers for identification, starting in October.
That couldn't be soon enough, said one clerk who deals with irritated parents returning the violent games.
"Parents try to bring them back and say, 'This one's got too much profanity,'" said Sondra Autry, who was organizing games in a case at the Kmart off Interstate 30 at Buckner Boulevard.
When adults are with young customers, Ms. Autry said, she warns them about the content. The store won't take back opened games.
When Ms. Autry saw the game WWF Smackdown, she stopped her 8-year-old son from playing it.
"Lord, I just couldn't believe what I was hearing. It's got cussing in it, and lots of it," she said.
Among the choices at her fingertips Thursday afternoon was the Grand Theft Auto 2 game, which offered users the chance to "earn and maintain the respect of gangs or play the gangs off against each other" in a "backdrop of urban anarchy."
Prompted in part by events such as the massacre last year at Columbine High School in Colorado, a growing group of scholars, media observers and lawmakers has said that video games and violent acts are connected.
Among the officials seeking restrictions on violent games are Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic nominee for vice president, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who joined seven other lawmakers in writing to retailers this year about restricting or pulling the games.
The industry's leading trade group, the Interactive Digital Software Association, has said that studies linking games and actual violence are sparse and largely inconclusive.
Some researchers and media scholars agree that more specific studies are needed. Others point to a study in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that showed short-term exposure to violent video games increased aggressive thoughts in men and women.