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Games and the Govt - Part Two

Labour MP Tom Watson on games in education, the role of the BBC and parents monitoring kids' play

In the first part of the exclusive GamesIndustry.biz interview with Labour MP Tom Watson - the founder of Facebook support group Gamers' Voice - he talked about what such a movement might be able to achieve, as well as the progress made on getting PEGI ratings into law.

Here, in part two, he talks about the role of games in education, how the BBC might play a part in the industry moving forwards, and how parents should approach the subject of their kids playing games.

GamesIndustry.biz With your vocal support of the games industry and being a gamer yourself, how do your parliamentary colleagues view you?
Tom Watson MP

Most of them think I'm a nutcase if I'm being honest with you. They think I'm slightly eccentric; although there are a few of them that are secret gamers and we occasionally have Guitar Hero nights but they've told me I'm not allowed to name them on camera because they'll get murdered in their local paper, which is a bit of a shame.

And the sensible ones know that they've got a lot of constituents for whom games are a really big deal in their lives. They're listening, I think, and their opinion is shifting.

GamesIndustry.biz That's part of the problem, isn't it? What a sad state of affairs when ministers and MPs feel that playing videogames is something to keep secret, almost something to be ashamed of.
Tom Watson MP

Yeah. You know, when I was first elected in 2001, you suddenly appear in 'Who's Who'. It asked for recreations and I put 'PlayStation 2' as my recreation, which actually at the time it was, and was ridiculed in half a dozen diary columns and a load of MPs said it as well.

It's actually recognition that games are just part of our lives now, they're not trivial they're just what people do to amuse themselves and get some kind of enjoyment.

GamesIndustry.biz Precisely. And people of a certain generation might be baffled by the technology, might not understand it, but kids just get on with it, they consume media and information through many different forms of technology. You've spoken previously about the role games and gaming technology can play in learning and education - if you look at education at the moment and school leavers, the level of people leaving with even pass grades in maths and English is not good enough. My feeling is teaching methods are increasingly anachronistic and videogames could play a role in that.
Tom Watson MP

Ironically I'm in my early 40s, so I'm of the generation that learnt to code in school. I remember the first Commodore Pet arriving in my school and learning routines in BASIC, and then Sinclair BASIC on the Spectrum with those little thermal printers. We don't teach kids to code now, we teach them to use Microsoft Word and I think that's a shame.

I do think there's work that can be done at a much lower level in the system at an earlier age for people to think about how to make things, about electronics and how to code that will benefit the industry - not just the games industry - the wider industry going forward. Yeah, I'd like to shake it up a bit in that area.

GamesIndustry.biz That would be Ed Balls' brief at the moment. Do you know what his views are on this? Does he view them as part of the potential solution or part of the problem?
Tom Watson MP

I think his department, they look in different ways, but Ed himself has said he would like his department to be the most digitally enabled department in government.

They're on a long journey; but you look at the Games Based Learning conference that takes place in London every year. There are some amazing, creative teachers out there using games to capture children's imagination, to teach them the basics: literacy, geography, history. Whatever can get a child enthused with learning we should be learning, and I know his department are looking at how they can embed this and scale it.

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Johnny Minkley

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Johnny Minkley is a veteran games writer and broadcaster, former editor of Eurogamer TV, VP of gaming charity SpecialEffect, and hopeless social media addict.

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