COGS: Parents, The Rating System, and Selling Games to Children

Confessions Of A Game Salesman (COGS) is a new series of articles completely unrelated to specific games. Instead, I have a more informal rant about the problems I run into on the front line of video game sales. This series covers the practical problems of video games and how they are perceived, as well as a more down-to-earth, run-of-the-mill interpretation of why and how people keep playing these weird pixelly behemoths.

Fair warning, I will be far more prone to swearing and colloquialisms in these articles. I do not apologize. Also, I will not disclose where I work. Do not ask. 

          – Doc


“I’m sorry, ma’am,” I say, shifting my glance between the copy of Grand Theft Auto V, and the ten year old boy that has just placed it on the counter. “I cannot sell you that game, it is an R18 title, which means it is restricted to people that are the age of 18 or over.”

The mother looks sheepishly between her child and the game, picks it up, and places it deliberately on the counter. She looks up at me knowingly. I sigh.

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” I repeat, firmer this time. “I know it is for him. I cannot sell you that game.”

“But you’re not selling it to him,” she replies, bangles jangling as she gesticulates. “You’re selling it to me.”

“Ma’am, I know it’s for him, I know he is going to play it. I cannot sell you the game, it is against the law.”

“I don’t understand,” she replies indignantly, going through the list of excuses. It’s not for him it’s for his brother/father/uncle/granddad, the law says I can buy it, what if I just leave the store then walk back in and buy it, come on it’s not that big of a deal. I rebuff them all with my refrain: I cannot sell you that game, your son put it on the counter, I know it is for him, I am required by law to sell these titles to people 18 or over, I will lose my job if I sell this to you.

Finally, in a huff, she declares that the current system is bullshit, and that she will buy it from our competitor, striding out of the store with her spawn in tow. I take the game from the counter, place it back on the shelf, and wait a few hours to repeat this conversation.

*resting retail face*

This is a regular occurrence in my life as a video game salesman: parents buying their children games that they are clearly too young to play. Eventually parents wise up. They take the game out of their child’s hands and place it on the counter themselves. I ask them whether or not it is going to someone over the age of eighteen, and I am required by retail etiquette to give them the benefit of the doubt when they lie to my face about it. Regardless, I am selling these games to people that are too young to play them. I see the hole in the system, and I am powerless to stop it.

Here’s the problem with the law surrounding video game rating systems, in my country at the very least: video games have the strictest control of any restricted substance or product available. With alcohol, as long as you are accompanied by someone that is over the age of 18 and they are providing alcohol responsibly, then someone under the age of 18 is allowed to drink. Video games do not have the luxury: there is no honour system with video games. If you provide it to a parent who is in turn providing it to someone under the restricted age, that is an illegal act.

7-Honest-Mistakes-That-Can-Get-You-FiredGUESS WHAT DAY IT IS

Now, this may seem a little archaic. If a parent is providing a piece of entertainment to a child, and the parent is completely aware of the content, then they should be able to oversee their participation in that medium. To this, I completely agree, but video games are where this argument falls down. Film, television and books are non-participatory mediums, and it would stand to reason that if a child is exposed to something within those texts that was untoward, then they could ask their parent for guidance. The act of participating lends itself to an unwritten contract between player and game, where there is an acceptable suspension of disbelief: this space is enclosed, do what you want, leave when you’re done.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way suggesting that children are going to start shooting people up because they played one too many games of Doom. Moreover, I know plenty of people that played games that were slightly too mature for them and came out just fine. The issue comes with flippancy, and not knowing the ramifications of what you are participating in. There are no real world consequences for yelling at someone to go fuck their own mother on Call Of Duty, or for being terrified at a jump-scare in Bioshock. The difference is in knowing this fact; younger players may not have made this distinction yet, and are more susceptible to interrogating these ideas outside of the game to see how they relate to real life. This is fine: we do this on a regular basis in formative years. It is the communication aspects and subject matter of these games, made manifest in a child that does not know any better, that give me pause.

Unfortunately, video games are a paradox. After all, video games are toys, right? Only kids and people that live in their mother’s basements play games, obviously. I know this because I get office drones and executives trading in their games, or purchasing new releases, saying that “just don’t have the time anymore”, or that they’ve “grown out of video games”. But at the same time, if video games are so violent and awful, then surely we should be more careful as to which games we are letting our children playing. I don’t want this violence emulated in my home, or these swear words yelled by my child. That’s not okay. Why are the games that I have given my child teaching them this? And what the fuck is this stupid red label that says [RESTRICTED] on the box?

kil360aYou can add “retail” to that list.

Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry with something of an identity problem. The closest that video games ever got to proper, mainstream levels of universality was the Wii – otherwise known as a gimmick in a box. Mobile games are surging in popularity, and the Switch is becoming less of a craze and more of a point-to-point distraction module. Yet somehow the irony is not lost on people when people see them as a novelty, while playing Candy Crush or Pokemon GO! to while away their hours with mindless distractions. They don’t mean anything, but they mean the world to these “nerds”. It is only ever these two poles: the dismissive and the obsessive. There is no middle ground in this narrative. It is in this niche I find myself as a tour guide in a polo shirt, standing behind a counter, haggling with a mother over the philosophical ramifications of letting her child buy and play Mortal Kombat seven years too early.

My job gets looked at with simultaneous envy and confusion. On the one hand, I work at a video game store, so surely I must have so much time to play all of these video games I am surrounded by. The confusion comes from my being 25, and people looking at me weirdly because, despite the fact that I have this cornucopia of free time on my hands, I choose to use that time to play video games instead of something else equally as productive. At least, that’s what I take from people that come into my store and mutter something along the same lines of “why the fuck would anyone buy this, what’s the point?”

Which beings me to the conversation I started with – the one I have a dozen times a week. I do this job because I enjoy the medium, and I enjoy providing people with information about a medium they know nothing about, educating and recommending in the same way one might recommend a book or a movie. The truth is I don’t really care what people play, regardless of age, as long as they remain informed. I don’t expect a young child to interrogate their games, so the gatekeeping must fall to the parent. The opus of blame falls on them. Of course, there’s not much to really think about on that front, letting my son play whatever he wants. I mean, it’s only a game, right?

Except, you know, until it’s not. And that’s a whole other conservation to have across the counter.



Image credits go to, TalentSmart, Tom Gould and The All Guardsman Party.

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