SINGAPORE - The hotly anticipated video game, Grand Theft Auto 5, was launched on Tuesday.
The game, in which players can commit all sorts of crimes, came with an M18 rating.
That means it can be sold only to those aged 18 and above.
Yet, copies of the game still found their way into the hands of gamers younger than 18.
Some of them and video game store employees said people sometimes disregard the Video Games Classification system.
What the sellers do not realise is that they can get in trouble with the authorities because this is not a guideline but a rule, and according to the Media Development Authority (MDA), it is enforceable.
The regulatory body said it conducts regular checks on businesses to ensure they are acting in accordance to the classification system.
"We will not hesitate to take the necessary action against errant retailers," said the spokesman.
But the classification system has little effect on some retailers.
One 14-year-old student said he got the game without much fuss.
Said the Secondary 2 student: "I pre-ordered the game in June. No one told me that I couldn't buy it. I simply paid and left."
He paid $69.90 for a standard edition of the game with money that he saved up over a month.
And when the game was released yesterday, he produced his receipt and collected it. No questions were asked.
The video game store employee who served the student said: "We know we are supposed to check everyone who buys a rated game. But most of the time, there is no enforcement from MDA's side.
"So we just let sleeping dogs lie."
Other video game store employees we spoke to also admitted that they did not think much of the ratings.
"We don't really check the age of customers who buy from us," said a sales staff from a store in Funan DigitaLife Mall.
"It's not like selling cigarettes, where there are strict laws against selling them to minors."
One junior college student, 16, said he played truant yesterday just to play the game after buying it without any problems.
He said his parents had no idea that the game contained violent and sexual content.
"I play games in my room, so they don't see what I do," he said.
Parents we spoke to said it was important to monitor the type of video games their children play.
A father of four, Mr Effendy Ibrahim, said: "Parents have to get themselves up to speed by reading up on their games."
Still, it is a challenge for busy parents to find time to learn more about video games, said Mr Effendy, who is also a council member of the National Family Council and serves as an advisor to Singapore's Cybersports and Online Gaming Association.
He said: "Games like the Grand Theft Auto series can have a negative impact on impressionable children. It's not about controlling them, but guiding and showing them how to act in games or online."
Madam Irene Lee, 40, who has a teenage son, said parents are often unaware because they cannot understand the allure of video games.
She added: "If I am not interested in (the game), how can I talk to my son about it?"
But she would chide him if she sees him playing a video game with objectionable content.
"He knows where my boundaries are," she said. "Hopefully, he's able to separate what's on the screen and what's reality."
No child's play
1. It is one of the popular titles to bear the M18 classification.
2. It reportedly cost £170 million (S$341 million) to create, making it one of the most expensive video games of all time.
3. In the game, players can pick up prostitutes to have sex with them.
4. Players can go on a rampage and massacre random pedestrians.
5. There is a lap dance scene involving full-frontal nudity.
6. It has scenes in which the characters smoke dope.
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