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MPs show support for gaming

Gamers' Voice event "terrific", says Govt.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

MPs, including Cabinet Minister Ed Vaizey and controversial industry critic Keith Vaz, turned out to show their support for gaming at an event in Westminster.

Parliament Games Day, organised by pressure group Gamers' Voice, brought together politicians and key members of the games industry in an attempt to promote the cultural and economic strengths of the sector in the UK.

"The fact that we're standing here today is real progress," said Eidos life president Ian Livingsone during his opening address. "It's the largest entertainment industry in the world – it's bigger than music, it's bigger than box office, it's bigger than DVD, it's bigger than books – there are extraordinary opportunities".

"Everyone who works for Gamers' Voice does it in their spare time," added Paul Gibson, chairman of Gamers' Voice. "The reason we've called you here today is to try and dispel some misconceptions about videogames."

Hosted by John Whittingdale MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Computer and Video Games, at Portcullis House, the event offered politicians the chance to try their hand at a range of the latest games – with Kinect Sports proving the biggest draw and inspiring the most amusing photo opportunities.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who took on Labour's Luciana Berger at Kinect Sports bowling, told Eurogamer: "I think the event is absolutely terrific and long overdue. It's about MPs, some of whom might have kids and therefore see it in the house, seeing just how the technology is moving on in leaps and bounds and how these are becoming amazing experiences."

"I tweeted to say it's the best event I've attended this year," said Berger, who saw off gaming challenges from a string of male, and arguably unfit-looking, MPs. "Anything that's interactive and engages MPs with the issues of the day is helpful rather than a few speeches and a staid PowerPoint presentation.

"The fact that we've had it during Culture Questions is a step massively in the right direction."

Other MPs in attendance included former Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, Stephen Mosley, Clive Betts, Karen Lumley, Nigel Mills, Jason McCartney, David Hanson, Simon Kirby, David Cairns and Don Foster – although there was no sign of Tom Watson, Labour MP, vocal supporter of the industry and founder of Gamers' Voice.

Prior to last year's General Election, Foster disclosed to Eurogamer that his office had banned him from playing Harbour Master on iPhone as it had become too great a distraction.

His current favourite, he was eager to demonstrate, is Paper Throw. Eurogamer did the only decent thing and introduced him to Flick Kick Football.

One MP nobody expected to see, however, was Labour's Keith Vaz – notorious amongst gamers for his outspoken views against violent videogames. His arrival caused a minor stir and, while he only stayed briefly and didn't play any of the games, did watch parliamentary colleagues playing and worked the room.

Industry guests and other MPs saw his appearance as symbolic of the strides the industry has made in improving its public perception. A surprisingly conciliatory Vaz told Eurogamer: "I've never been against games. I've been against violent games that are able to fall into the hands of young people who are perhaps not able to understand the implications of what they're doing."

Gaming guests included UKIE director-general Michael Rawlinson and chairman Andy Payne, TIGA boss Richard Wilson, Sports Interactive MD – and recent recipient of an OBE – Miles Jacobson, Sensible Soccer creator Jon Hare, plus representatives from BAFTA and the Video Standards Council.

And children's charity SpecialEffect wowed attendees with a demonstration of the eye-control technology it uses to help disable children enjoy videogames.

Hot topics of conversation predictably included financial support from the Government to "arrest the decline", as Ian Livingstone put it, which has seen the UK "slip from third to sixth in the world development league".

Vaizey said: "We've got a roundtable with the industry next Monday to talk about access to finance. People know my view is that since the tax relief debate has gone quiet for the time being it's imperative that we focus on what's out there at the moment and what the Treasury is looking at in terms of its wider tax reforms, to ensure the games industry can access whatever kind of tax policies are appropriate."

Elsewhere, the Government Minister had some strong words of criticism for Apple. "I'll tell you a story I probably shouldn't tell you," he told Eurogamer. "I downloaded Smurf's Village for free on the iPad for my kids, who are four and two, because I wanted to get them used to playing games. And the first thing they did was bought a Wagon of Smurf for £59.99.

"There's no password protection," he added. "I think Apple might just warn people who are downloading a game for a four-year-old that it includes in-app purchases without password protection."

As the two-hour event – which had the additional surreal feature of MPs rushing in and out of the room to cast votes in the House – drew to a close, Gamers' Voice's Gibson told us: "We were a bit apprehensive beforehand because we didn't know if MPs were going to turn up or not. No-one's looked silly they've been picking games up and having a go."

He added: "We didn't want to be entirely reactionary – we wanted to be able to go out there and promote videogames in a positive light. I won't lie, this last week has been nerve-wracking."

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