Tom Watson MP Interview

PhotobucketWhen we told Luke we’d got access to Tom Watson MP, he thought we meant a new multiplayer beta. It took the brighter members of the team over 45 minutes to convince him this was not the case.

CG: So, to start at the beginning: What is Gamers’ Voice, and how and why did it come about? What does it hope to achieve?

TW: Gamers’ Voice was a reaction to one Daily Mail article too many. The portrayal of an important industry and the insults to the intelligence of millions of UK gamers prompted me to set up the group. We hope to achieve a fair hearing for UK gamers in the press and in government.

CG: Coming from a politician, this could be seen as nothing more than an attempt to break into the mostly untapped well of young, affluent voters. What would you say to counter such a suggestion?

TW: It’s not territory a sensible politician should really enter given the media outcry about games. I set the group up because at various points over the last 25 years I’ve been an avid gamer. And the stuff that’s written about gamers is generally ignorant.

CG: Do you play games yourself, and/or do you know of other MPs that do so? If so, what do you like to play and why?

TW: I’ve got two kids so my games are restricted to Super Mario on the Wii these days. But when I can, I’ll play Guitar Hero and more adult shoot ’em ups on the Xbox. I’ve owned many consoles over the years, starting with an Atari. I also listed PlayStation 2 in the “hobbies” section of Who’s Who in 2002!

I know of a number of MPs who play games – usually the ones with teenage kids though. MPs work long hours so there are no hardcore gamers in the House of Commons.

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CG: Keith Vaz has already built up a reputation in the British gaming community as being the first politician to publicly blame games for anything and everything. Do you have any idea why he has such hostility toward video games?

TW: Hmm. Keith has actually done a lot to get the big publishers to sort themselves out. A reformed classification system for games would probably not have happened without the pressure that he has applied. That being said, I hope to persuade him to acknowledge the great merits of the UK industry.

CG: Vaz is also often one of the first MPs to give his opinion in the media on seemingly anything. He appears to crave publicity; does that seem a fair judgement to you?

TW: He’s the Chair of a very important Select Committee so is often in the public eye.

CG: Do you feel that video games have the same ‘right’ to depict explicit violence in the same way as, for example, movies and books?

TW: Yes.

CG: Despite the most violent games carrying an ’18’ certificate, they still often fall into the hands of minors – mostly, it would seem, thanks to parents ignoring the certification and handing unsuitable material to their children. What’s the best way of tackling this; educating parents about the level of realism today’s video games can achieve, perhaps?

TW: I’d never dream of letting my kids play Call of Duty. Other parents must make similar judgments.  We’re not a Big Brother state and we must trust parents to do the right thing. Public Information campaigns will help though – it’s a fast changing industry that needs some explanation.

CG: The video games industry is a multi – billion worldwide business catering to people of all ages, employing thousands of skilled workers. Why do you think it suffers from so much hostility from a vocal minority – particularly within parliament?

TW: Because we’ve never had Gamers’ Voice before!

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CG: In 2007, David Cameron told the BBC: “…the companies which make music videos, films and computer games have a social responsibility not to promote casual violence, the gang culture and the degradation of women”. This statement presumes that these forms of entertainment do promote such things, and on a regular basis. Do you feel that to be the case?

TW: No. Some games have some unpleasant content. So do films and books. And I don’t buy the ‘games are different’ argument.

CG: Following on from that, aren’t you worried about losing votes by being the first MP to unambiguously support video games? On the rare occasions that games are discussed by politicians, it is almost always in a negative light, suggesting such a standpoint to be a vote winner…

TW: If I worried about losing votes I wouldn’t have sued The Sun recently. Life if for living!

CG: Have you found that your own party are unhappy with you setting up Gamers’ Voice?

TW: Most colleagues are curious. Some think I’m slightly eccentric but most are surprisingly supportive. Even the old timers.

CG: What help does the industry need from the British government? Developers often bemoan the lack of tax breaks, something Shadow Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey exploited when he spoke at the recent London Games Conference. Also, why did Labour not send somebody to speak at the LGC?

TW: I’d have spoken at the conference if I was invited! We should view the games industry as an important strategic asset. I want to see a UK Games Council that brings together all sections of industry and government, as well as consumers, in order to co-ordinate support for the industry.

I think industry leaders would acknowledge that in the past, they haven’t really helped themselves when it comes to talking to government. The Games Up? campaign showed what can be achieved when they work together.

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CG: The notorious ‘No Russian’ level in Modern Warfare 2, where the player opens fire in a busy airport, has recently been the cause of much controversy. What’s your take on it?

TW: It was gut wrenching to watch and I like shoot ’em ups. But frankly, I can decide what I buy and what I play. As long as it was rated with an adult content classification, people shouldn’t worry too much.

CG: What needs to happen for the games industry to earn the respect the movie, TV, and music industries now enjoy?

TW: I’d like to see the government make a declaratory statement that games are as important as music, films and telly. Political leaders should support the industry and people in public life should take a balanced approach when voicing their concerns about content.

A pro – games politician is a rare thing indeed. If you like the sound of Gamers’ Voice, you can find out more – and sign up – at the facebook page.

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Written by Patrick G

3 comments

  1. A surprisingly good interview. I hope he’s true to his word regarding his motives for doing this.

  2. I still think this is all a storm in a tea cup…

  3. Angus Prune /

    Tom Watson has a fantastic record on gaming, the internet and tech in general. Its great to see an MP approach this area so sensibly, I just wish that more politicians were in touch with modern life.

    You don’t have to be a gamer or internet junkie to ‘get’ these issues, you just need to approach them rationally and take them seriously. Tom Watson is one of the few politicians to do this. I really hope his attitude spreads to the rest of the government. The UK has a fantastic games industry with a great pedigree and it would be terrible to weaken it through poor regulation and law making.

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