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Age rage: Why we mustn't be surprised that age checks happen

One of the more unusual stories we've published in recent months was yesterday's piece entitled "Mary Portas rages over age-restriction issue" and without knowing the background to the article I was preparing myself for the worst. For a change, I was pleasantly surprised.

What we have, in a nutshell, is a person getting upset because a retailer - in this case GAME - enforced age restrictions for a videogame purchase. As it turns out, the lad who tried to buy the 15-rated game (Mary Portas' son) was 17 years old, but the store staff had erred on the side of caution.

Why is that a surprise? Because most outrage normally stems from some mystery shopper horror story, where a seven year old manages to purchase a copy of Manhunt without an eyebrow being raised. Okay, that's an extreme example that I just made up, but for anybody that follows some of the mainstream portrayal of videogames, you'd be forgiven for feeling jaded.

This time, it's the other way around, and I wonder if the reaction from Mary Portas epitomises neatly the problem that the industry has faced - and continues to face. People don't particularly consider videogames a danger, and so the prospect of age restrictions being enforced is a shock. After all, it's not cigarettes, whisky or porn, they think.

Happily for the videogames industry, while although GAME's customer service phone line might use some improvement, it's been caught in the act of following policy and enforcing measures designed to protect children from accessing inappropriate content - and from some of the comments on yesterday's story it's not the exception to the rule.

But - why should that be a surprise? Is it because there's some latent perception that retail store staff don't have the confidence to ID people? Is it because we genuinely are jaded by mainstream reporting of videogame industry issues? Or is it the fact that the industry is still between age rating solutions, with the UK government continuing to dither on PEGI despite it being alerted to a child safety issue three years ago in a report that it commissioned?

Well, much as I'd like to jump on the PEGI delay soapbox, the truth is that it doesn't actually matter. Regardless of the reason for 'pleasant surprise' at what's basically a positive news story, we need to recognise that it's not an anomaly, and that similar good decisions are taken by retail staff across the UK every day.

And if we're not at the point where those decisions are an expectation rather than a hope, how can we expect those not working in the industry to feel the same way?

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Phil Elliott avatar

Phil Elliott