Gaming the Vote

Whatever the election outcome, there will be much to do if British development is to remain world-class.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial is a weekly dissection of one of the issues weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

By the time you read this, it will all be over. The ballots will have been cast in the British General Election on Thursday, 6th May, and while it's highly unlikely that we'll have a new government yet, we'll be starting to get an inkling of the new direction the country will be taking.

That direction is one which will be watched more keenly than ever by those involved in the games business - from the biggest publishers right down to the bedroom developers hoping to create the next break-out hit on iPhone or Facebook. Politics has always, of course, had an impact on our sector, but never to quite the extent that it's having now.

The reason for this sudden interest is because the last five years have seen a complete reversal of mainstream political attitudes to videogames. The narrative of almost three decades has been comprehensively overturned. Our industry has, for most of its existence, fought a rearguard action against reactionary politicians, defending its right to exist against proponents of censorship and hand-wringing, headline-grabbing, "won't somebody think of the children!" politics.

That kind of politics hasn't gone away, and probably never will - but it was inevitable that sooner or later, its focus would shift away from videogames and find a new target, a new and exciting Evil That Is Corrupting Our Youth to shriek at. (Online social networking? You're up, kiddo. Batten down the hatches.) Those who follow the relationship between games and politics have seen the change come about at a glacial pace over the past decade, only to accelerate to breakneck pace in the dying months of the last Parliament as the medium finally found devoted champions on the floor of the House of Commons.

Watch the first episode of the Eurogamer TV series The Videogames Election, Playing Politics.

MPs such as Labour backbencher Tom Watson, Liberal Democrat Culture, Media and Sport shadow minister Don Foster, and his Conservative counterpart, Ed Vaizey, have all championed and defended the games business in the House in recent months. Their efforts, and those of industry bodies such as TIGA and ELSPA, have helped to ensure that Labour's last budget included, for the first time, a commitment to implementing tax relief for game developers, similar to the schemes enjoyed by other media businesses in the UK.

This extraordinary turnabout is not a total reversal of the old suspicions which dog any new medium, of course. The House also retains a number of MPs who are happy to toe the sensationalist tabloid newspaper line, and those who have watched the excruciating parliamentary performances of censorious Labour MP Keith Vaz will be disappointed to note that his Leicester East seat, in this week's election, is considered extremely safe.

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