Emotional Data: Video Games vs Brexit

Paul Kilduff-Taylor talks about the relationship between the video games industry and politics, our industry’s deep (and complex) connection to Europe and what you can do to avoid a Brexit car crash.

Politics and interactive entertainment have always had a stormy relationship.

From a mayor smashing a pinball table with a sledgehammer in the 1940’s to constant Twitter altercations about ‘political agendas’, emotions tend to run high whenever games are concerned.

If you’re a game developer — or a player who follows the industry — it’s easy to become lulled into apathy by the drone of endlessly cycling arguments. The temptation is to narrow your focus, to zero in on the task in front of you and dismiss any unwanted political intrusions as background noise.

Here in the UK, there is no louder and more fatiguing sound and fury than our chaotic attempt to leave the EU, which has built from backroom Eurosceptic rumblings into the urgency of a full-on Brexit clamour over the last couple of decades.

Personally, I’m sick of it. I just want it to go away. I don’t feel like spending my time futzing around with the loose ends of a parochial mess perpetrated by professional politicians and Machiavellian malcontents, and I’m sure many others feel the same.

The problem is that inaction is a luxury none of us can afford. Brexit has become everyone’s problem, and we still have an opportunity to do something about it we can look up from our own concerns and take action.

I’m going to make a factual argument as to why the games industry is a significant economic force that needs to be protected, and then delineate the core issues that have lead a majority of UK games professionals to oppose a withdrawal from the EU.

And at the end of this piece, I’ll link to real data from Games4EU that you can consider including in a letter to your MP.

But I won’t start there. Instead, to the facts of the matter.

The European Connection

If there’s one thing every game developer knows — particularly one who has to read Steam reviews — it’s that people aren’t persuaded by reason.

I’ve been lucky and privileged enough to work in game development for over 14 years. One of the most exciting periods of my career was setting up our indie studio Mode 7: it was 2005 and real digital distribution was just kicking off. We could make a game in a bedroom in Oxfordshire, and suddenly it was all over the world in an instant.

Frozen Synapse 2

This new paradigm brought new connections: some of our first ever players were from Finland and Germany. My dream of writing music for games came true, and I suddenly found myself travelling all over Europe playing gigs and attending events. I interviewed one of my personal inspirations, the Danish composer Jesper Kyd, alongside musical legend and cultural luminary Nitin Sawhney on stage in Cannes; I somehow ended chairing a panel at a conference in Cologne; I collaborated with Swedish hackers at a weird LAN party in Marseilles and performed with experimental chiptune rappers in Oslo; I released dance music on a label in Finland.

I didn’t pay any attention to the freedom of movement or the frictionless trade agreements which facilitated all this; I just got on with the business of making friends and contacts, producing things to sell and trying to contribute something meaningful to the places I visited. Isn’t that the way things should be?

So many of us who work in this industry have had experiences like these all over the world. That’s because games transcend arbitrary boundaries; play, collaboration, competition, problem solving, silliness and creativity are universal values. The colourful, storied, fascinating cultures that are just on our doorstep share these core values in abundance. Britain would be exceptionally foolish to snub their hospitality and generosity. What possible reason could we have to cut the connection?

I sympathise with those who despair of EU bureaucracy. I empathise with those who have careers in troubled industries, or those who feel that their communities are disintegrating. I have time for arguments which shine a spotlight on the downsides of economic union and a single currency. We always need to continue asking questions — every political system is a work-in-progress, shot through with compromise — but opening the door to jingoism, finger-pointing, insidious racism and economic isolationism should never be the answer. Complex problems require collaboration. We should be asking our friends for help.

Right, that’s quite enough of the mushy stuff. Let’s calm down a bit — after all, we are British.

Cold Hard Facts

The UK games industry is worth nearly £3bn to the British economy.

There are over 2,200 games companies employing nearly 50,000 people across the length and breadth of the country.

The majority of Grand Theft Auto 5, the best-selling entertainment product in the entire history of humanity, was developed in the UK.

The games industry now has a significant economic voice, and it has spoken out against Brexit: over 80% of UK video games industry professionals supported Remain in the 2016 referendum.

This stance has a factual basis. As Games4EU’s extensive report has shown, there are justifiable concerns over logistics, bureaucracy, tax, relocation, access to talent, access to funding, data protection, consumer rights, regulation, IP law, civil law, employment law, and macroeconomic consequences in the event of a withdrawal from the European Union. A hard Brexit would undeniably bring a huge raft of unwanted costs and challenges to game developers across the entire spectrum, from small indies to giant studios.

How about the other side of the equation? Not once has the government, the Leave campaign or any entity involved presented any sort of argument as to why Brexit would be a net positive for games. Whenever a large scale economic initiative is instigated, there is a moral — and often legal — requirement to make a strong data-driven case for it. As a major player, the games industry is entitled to this information — so far, we’ve had nothing.

As Andy Payne put it in his recent article: “What a shame we are where we are. We had it so good and we’ve trashed it.”

If you’re anything like me, those facts will make you feel frustrated, and that frustration could turn your apathy into action: it comes down to emotion again.

A Glow Beyond the Screen

Games in the UK are about more than data: their impact can’t be encompassed in sales figures, GDP contribution and employment statistics. They have illuminated UK culture for over 40 years, from the hopeful glow of a Pong machine in a mid-70’s Woolworths’ window to the pyrotechnics of this year’s CSGO major at Wembley. If the games industry is harmed, it’s British culture that bleeds.

So when I think about what might happen over the next few months, I think about how I’m going to feel about it in the future.

Every time I hand over my passport, I don’t want to feel embarrassed by my failure to stand up for my beliefs.

Every time I work on a project, I don’t want to be buried in ridiculous VAT forms, ratings documentation and legal issues.

Every time I work with a contractor, I don’t want to worry about where they come from.

Every time I think about my country, I don’t want to feel ashamed.

Thoughts and Actions

So is there anything we can do?

We’re currently at a critical point in the process. A People’s Vote is arguably the only viable path out of the woods, and we desperately need our government to realise this before it’s too late.

It’s the perfect time to write to your MP, join with Games4EU and speak out about your own concerns and experiences.

If you want to express yourself in person, Games4EU is heading out on the People’s Vote March in London on March 23rd. You can sign up to join the march here.

The only way to get back to what we love — to keep our focus, to create worlds and help others do the same — is to channel our emotion into concrete action.

Games4EU is a pro-European Union grassroots movement that is seeking to keep Britain within the EU or as close to it as possible. Join us at www.games4eu.com.

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