Video gaming and UK politics

Firstly let’s set out the playing field. Video gaming is really, really important. Economically it is almost certainly a £100 billion a year industry already and a single game can gross half a billion dollars in a week. But we are still at the very beginning and it will grow to be perhaps the biggest industry on earth. Video gaming is not just about home entertainment, the fundamental mechanisms that it offers are so powerful that it will take over education and become a major and integral part of everyday commerce and the military.

So you would think that any government would put video gaming pretty high in its list of priorities. And many countries do, Canada, Korea and France, for instance. Yet in Britain the current execrable Labour maladministration has been positively anti gaming. So the industry has suffered. For a long time we were third in the world pecking order, behind Japan and America. Now we have been overtaken by Canada, almost certainly by Korea and probably by China. So we are almost certainly now sixth and sinking.

The crux of the problem is sheer ignorance, far too many politicians and journalists do not have the faintest idea about what gaming is. But this does not stop them exerting massive influence on the subject. So here is a quick education. Gaming is just a form of medium, like television, radio, books, the theatre or film. So, like all these mediums it can be used to carry an enormously wide range of content. The advantage gaming has comes from technology, which gives gaming three unique characteristics, these are interactivity, non linearity and connectivity. These are used to create a highly compelling mechanism whereby the player is given skills or powers which are applied to problems and then rewarded upon success.

One major problem that politicians and journalists have is violence in games. This is pretty stupid. There is far, far more violence in the older mediums. The Bible, East Enders and the Archers contain violence without anyone murmuring a whisper on the matter. In fact video gaming actually reduces youth crime and violence, because it acts as a catharsis. This is easily proven as the country by country uptake of video gaming has resulted in a corresponding drop in youth crime and violence. The statistics are there to prove it. And violence in games is psychologically less traumatic than violence in the older media because the player can do something about it, it isn’t just imposed on them. Anyone who wants to comment on this subject should read Grand Theft Childhood first, it is the culmination of much research and explodes the myths that industry critics hold dear.

But this fixation with violence by the ignorant and uninformed has led to them damaging the entire industry. We have had a whole pile of anti gaming rhetoric from Keith Vaz and even Gordon Brown has had a go. On the other side of the house David Cameron and Boris Johnson have also said silly things. Yet in education alone gaming promises immense riches. The classroom method of teaching is incredibly inefficient, chugging along at the speed well below the average capabilities of the class and with as much as 30% of time wasted by disruptive elements. Gaming provides one on one education with constant reward and reinforcement. It is the perfect mechanism for transferring knowledge.

Of course the industry hasn’t helped itself. Having two trade organisations, ELSPA and TIGA is plain silly and very, very counter productive. The industry needs to be able to speak with one voice to politicians and to the media. With the current system we just send out muddied messages.

And we need a QUANGO to support and promote gaming. We have the Arts Council, the Film Council and the Music Council, but no Games Council. Why is this when gaming is more important than the other three put together for the future of the country?

Gaming did have a spokesman in the Cabinet, but he resigned. Tom Watson was very plausible and good at mouthing platitudes but the very simple fact is that the government, of which he was a senior member, did not even give the game industry the same benefits that it gives the film industry.

On the other side of the house we have a lot more to cheer about. Ed Vaizey is the shadow Arts and Culture Minister and he actually understands the industry well, has contributed to the debate and has promised that things will improve when the current load of idiots are kicked out. He produces a weekly Arts and Culture newsletter that nearly always has a section on gaming in it, which shows that he has his finger on the pulse. Here is an interview with him.

And more good news, there is now an All Party Parliamentary Video Games Group chaired by Bill Olner MP, with Lord Puttnam, Philip Davies and John Whittingdale MP as vice-chairs. This is a beginning and it shows that not all politicians are ignorant of the subject.

And finally some very good new for us Brits, when it comes to the video game industry our old adversary, the Germans, are doing far worse.