Her son, according to Portas, attempted to buy the age-rated game using a photographic Oyster card to prove he was old enough to purchase it. But the shop chose to refuse the sale, prompting Portas to express her disappointment over Twitter:
"STILL holding on after 8mins to spk to a human at GAME Ox st where they refused to sell my 17 yr son a 15 game. Now they’ve cut me off," she tweeted, before asking to talk to GAME CEO Ian Shepherd.
"Son and I had rotten attitude from your shop today. Want to discuss," she wrote directly to the CEO, prompting him to offer the following reply:
"that’s appalling," he wrote. "I’m very proud of our focus on age verification but also of our service. If that’s gone wrong, we’ll fix it".
But is there anything to fix, or were GAME correct in their actions?
According to the BBFC, there is no universal policy to determine which forms of identification are acceptable when it comes to serving age-restricted products, and instead it’s down to the stores themselves to govern how to sell them without breaking the law.
The text below is taken from the BBFC’s Parents site, and though it refers to cinema, a similar set of guidelines apply to retailers:
"The responsibility for complying with license conditions rests solely with the cinema. It is outside the remit of the BBFC to advise on how these age restrictions are enforced by cinemas. They will be a matter of company policy, or made in accordance with license conditions or the requirements of the local authority. However, all cinemas will have terms of admittance, and parents and teenage viewers are advised to consult these initially.
"Often these terms will identify what forms of ID are acceptable. They can be found on cinema websites, or should be available from the box office staff. Some cinemas and chains operate their own ID card system for teenagers and students. Some local authorities offer ‘proof of age’ cards for public transport which may be acceptable."
Furthermore, shops legally have the right to refuse the sale if they are not happy with the sale in any way.
Obviously, the public transport ‘proof of age’ cards were not accepted by GAME as part of their company policy, something they seem within their right to do.
Portas’ claims that her son "did have valid I.D.", therefore, seem misinformed.
Having worked in games retail myself, I understand the pressures staff are put under to ensure they aren’t selling age-rated products to minors. The training is far from extensive, yet points out all the requirements of the Video Standards Council and the BBFC, and the responsibility of the seller. Sellers must comply with age-rated products, and must ask for identification when they’re uncertain whether the buyer’s old enough. With the threat of both internal and external mystery shoppers (and some severe consequences to those caught selling product to minors, including a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment), it’s no surprise that staff are always on their guard when it comes to age ratings and identification.
But Portas’ problem with the store doesn’t seem to be confined strictly to the system – despite seeming to question the importance of age restrictions on video games at one point ("We are not talking drink, but a 15plus video!") – and more the shop staff.
According to Portas, her son was advised to purchase the age-rated game by one sales assistant, and refused it by another. This is obviously poor customer service and a mistake on GAME’s part, and one Portas is well within her right to complain about.
Portas’ complaints do, however, raise an important issue for the industry. Are video game stores giving enough visibility to the laws, restrictions, and accepted forms of identification for age-rated products? And are they being responsible enough when it comes to advising said products for purchase? Portas’ claims suggest not.
According to GAME, "The Group takes its responsibilities very seriously, and we provide all of our employees with all of the tools they need to sell age rated games effectively". But without talking directly to Mary, her son, and, of course, the shop staff involved, it’s difficult to understand the full story here. And if she’d like to talk, I’d be more than happy to listen.
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