Play time is over – Why Scotland Has to Get Serious About Gaming

by Scott Douglas

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Rockstar North in EdinburghA version of this post first appeared in the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement

Among my teenage flirtations was a brief dalliance with a character who changed my life over a summer.

Commanding nothing less than my full attention, demanding absolute devotion, it’s fair to say I was utterly seduced and thoroughly corrupted.

The hours when we were parted were anxious and unsatisfying. The times we were together often worse, as I had to watch a procession of my friends put through the same emotional wringer as we competed ferociously over our new muse.

Aye, Miner Willy still dwells a special place in my heart; even though I’ll never get back the months I spent hunched over a ZX Spectrum playing Manic Miner.

It was my introduction to computer gaming. For endless weeks a group of us would descend on a pal’s house every evening possible in our quest to complete all the levels.

One thing I knew by the end of that summer was that I had the potential to acquire a serious addiction. The crudely drawn characters, garish colours, bleeping soundtrack and simple, central concept hadn’t just diverted or entertained. They had consumed me.

In the intervening years I have studiously avoided the world of gaming. Not because it isn’t for me, but because it so absolutely is.  That brief experience with Miner Willy served as a warning. When it came to computer gaming I was one of those boys who couldn’t say no.

Thankfully I realised the dangers while engrossed with a simple, hard-hatted miner. I dread to think what a wasted sinkhole my life would have become if I’d been diverted by the outstanding points of Lara Croft and the delicious complexities of the Tomb Raider series.

As it was, I gave the charming Ms Croft a wide body swerve and a host of other nagging itches have also gone unscratched – Fallout, Half-Life, World of Warcraft, Zelda, Halo. All games I would love to have played, but was too wary to try.

That precautionary exile from the game world means I’ve been nothing more than an interested bystander as an intriguing and money-spinning new creative industry has emerged – one that could eventually dwarf or even absorb Hollywood.

Like the movie industry, gaming exceeded early expectations and confounded most of the critics who lined up to condemn it as mind-rotting pap, youth-corrupting vice or a questionable blight on art and culture.

It has seeped into daily life. How many commuters play simple games on their phones, dabble with Farmville or Mafia Wars on Facebook or while away an hour playing Angry Birds? This is now a mega business. In 2011 the global industry was worth an estimated $65 billion.

One of the genuine giants of the sector is based right here in Edinburgh. In a non-descript modern building just opposite St James Centre is the HQ of Rockstar North, which gave the world Grand Theft Auto V.

When launched in September, GTAV earned revenues of $1 billion in three days and has been the globe’s best-selling game for the past two months.  It’s been acclaimed for its graphics, epic story, gaming experience, cheeky humour and sheer depth. This is a modern work of art.

So much so that Edinburgh is now one of the main stops on the ultimate gaming holiday – a £5500, four-week pilgrimage to eight countries to visit some of the most important stop off points in gaming lore.

Store chain GAME teamed up with STA Travel to create the Epic Gaming Adventure, which puts Edinburgh in the same company as London, Tokyo, Seoul, LA, San Francisco and New York.

Should this take off, there are some fascinating possibilities.

Might Scotland have a finger hold in a potential new tourism market? When the first studios moved to Hollywood area in the early 1900s did they dream it would become a Mecca for map-carrying tourists who travel the streets gawping at the mansions of the new stars spawned by celluloid?

Grand Theft Auto V has introduced gamers to a host of Scottish names – including Hawick, Port Seton and Elgin and even made wry reference to the Edinburgh Tram shambles. Might they become bona fide attractions for hordes of gaming lovers?

However, top of the agenda is that Government and captains of industry should be doing everything possible to nurture the Scottish video gaming sector.

Play time is over. When it comes to gaming, it’s time to get serious.

 

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