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The Soft Target

Games are still in the firing line in Westminster.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz' widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial offers analysis 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 GamesIndustry.biz newsletter subscribers.

After almost a decade of watching with thinly-concealed smugness as America's conservatives tore into the videogames industry, confident that Britain's more liberal society would protect the medium on these shores, the worm has finally turned. The alarm bells are ringing, and an unpleasant awakening is upon us - Britain now faces exactly the same kind of backlash against games that has blighted the United States for years.

It is not, as yet, at the kind of fever pitch which anti-videogames sentiments have reached on occasion in the USA. Britain fundamentally lacks the sort of high profile youth crimes, such as school shootings, which have focused attention in the United States - and when high profile cases do come along, the UK seems more willing to condemn the failures in society which have caused them, rather than trying to pin everything on an easy scapegoat like videogames.

However, the atmosphere around games is shifting slowly and unpleasantly, and nowhere is that to be seen more clearly than in Westminster, the administrative heart of the United Kingdom. Here, there's a certain measure of desperation in the air. Gordon Brown has transpired to be a deeply unlikeable and unpopular Prime Minister, and his Labour government faces the possibility of a humiliating defeat in the next general election if a slide in popularity cannot be halted promptly. Every straw in sight is being grasped at, and videogames, it seems, are well within reach.

A "hard line" on videogames certainly seems to be one of the options on the table for Brown's strategists, who know that the government needs some kind of answer to questions of law and order, and especially regarding youth crime.

The government's problem is that telling the truth - that Britain's crime figures have been falling steadily for some time, and that we're safer now than we've been for a long, long time - doesn't seem to work. A vicious campaign of lies, half-truths and insinuations on the part of the UK's vile tabloid newspapers (and, shamefully, some of our broadsheets too) has convinced the population that UK society is in meltdown. Faced with a population who believe that they're in danger of being stabbed by a feral youth at any minute, the government can't simply tell them to stop being so bloody stupid; it is forced into a position of Being Seen To Do Something.

The something in question, I increasingly fear, will be the imposition of restrictions, regulations and censures on the videogames industry. This will come as part of a wider package of measures against the creative industries. The BBFC, which has moved with the times and now reflects Britain's largely liberal views on media, has also been slammed in the right-wing press in recent weeks for allowing the release of movies formerly classed as "video nasties" in the 1980s, and it seems eminently likely that government will move to grant itself a veto over the BBFC's decisions.

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About the Author
Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey


Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.

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