He was the guest that no-one expected to see – and yet Keith Vaz MP, Parliament's most hostile critic of the industry, turned out last night at an event in support of gaming, claiming: "I've never been against games".
Parliament Games Day, held at Portcullis House in Westminster, was organised by pressure group Gamers' Voice to bring together politicians and the industry to promote the cultural and economic strengths of Britsoft.
Vaz, whose arrival turned heads, told our sister site Eurogamer.net: "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."
Vaz is well known to gamers for his fierce campaigning against titles including Manhunt, Bully and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. But in a sign that his views may have softened, he added: "Clearly there are some very violent games around – but if you're 18-plus then you can make those decisions yourselves".
"I don't oppose games," he inisted. "I just think it's very important that people respect and acknowledge the age limits. And the campaign has always been about ensuring there is proper labelling so that people know exactly what kind of games they should have."
Other guests saw his presence as symbolically significant. Minister for Culture Ed Vaizey said: "I'm constantly teasing Keith and I think he is aware of the sea-change in videogames and that, particularly with the new generation coming into parliament, there are now many more MPs who grew up with games as a normal part of their life."
He added: "It's important that there's a voice in parliament that talks about issues of concern, be it about videogames or media in general – I think he now realises the gaming debate is now far wider than that".
"Keith is very concerned about classification and violence in games," said fellow Labour MP Luciana Berger. "War games are one element of a very wide range of games you can play and engage with be that recreational or educational."
It was a big moment for Gamers' Voice chairman Paul Gibson. "When Keith Vaz walked in there was a murmur of recognition across the room," he said. "Keith is a sensible MP but at the same time he hasn't made many friends in the videogames industry.
"For him to show up this evening is a show of good will on his part, because he knew when he walked into that room that everyone was going to turn and look. It's fantastic that he came along – he didn't stay for long – but the fact he came speaks volumes.
Asked if he was happy with the new games classification system – still waiting to be passed into law – Vaz said he felt it was "moving in the right direction".
"When we started this campaign the age limit was the size of half a, I think, a 5p coin, which was very small," he explained. "Obviously we want to see what PEGI does, but the more that they can draw to the attention of young people the need to respect the age limit better – and if you're over 18 you can do what you want. No-one wants to stop you playing your games."
The Leicester East MP then drew attention to the recent, controversial Panorama documentary on games addiction, adding: "What is important is that people enjoy games but not spend their entire lives playing games".
Which is the same as any other hobby? "Indeed," he admitted.