Violent games: Rules for age verification not spelt out, say lawyers

Some young players say retailers do not verify their ages when they buy M18 video games such as Grand Theft Auto 5.
Some young players say retailers do not verify their ages when they buy M18 video games such as Grand Theft Auto 5.PHOTO: ROCKSTAR GAMES

Many violent games are no child's play but many young kids are playing these games, citing the ease of buying them off the shelves.

This is due to a possible loophole in the Films Act. Although the law requires titles unsuitable for children to be labelled, the rules for age verification during purchase are not spelt out, lawyers said.

Take Grand Theft Auto 5, one of the hottest video games here. Launched in September last year, it carries an M18 rating, which means that the title is suitable for only those aged 18 and above as it contains scenes depicting players massacring random pedestrians and picking up prostitutes for sex, as well as scenes with full-frontal nudity, among other content.

Some young players say retailers do not verify their age when they buy such games over the counter, although the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it conducts regular checks on video game retailers.

Said Secondary 4 student Yeow (not his real name), 16: "Sales are casual. I watched my friends buy and play such games with ease."

One retailer agreed that the lack of age verification checks is rampant based on customer feedback.

"They ask me why I must check their identity card when other shops don't," he said, declining to be named.

One Grand Theft Auto 5 distributor told The Straits Times that players as young as 12 years old have contacted its helpline for technical support.

An MDA spokesman said it will "continue to look into improving retailer compliance with the age verification requirements for M18 video games".

But lawyers are not convinced that retailers can be penalised. "The requirement for businesses to conduct point-of-sale age checks does not seem to appear in the legislation," said media lawyer Bryan Tan, a partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay. "It could be because the game can be downloaded online too and there is no way of verifying one's age online."

Lawyer Gilbert Leong, a partner at Rodyk & Davidson, said that age verification could be one of the conditions for granting a licence to distributors of video games here.

But video game retailers do not have to apply for a licence from the MDA to sell game titles here.

"How do you enforce age verification if retailers are not licensed? Moreover, it may be onerous to require every retailer from Takashimaya to the mom-and-pop stores at Sim Lim to apply for a licence," said Mr Leong.

Technology, media and telecoms lawyer Rajesh Sreenivasan, a partner at Rajah & Tann, said that retailers should, however, perform age verification checks as a matter of best practice.

"If not, you may force the regulator to take a harder stance," he said.