It’s amazing how fast things can move in the video games industry – particularly if you’re someone who covers it. When you’re playing and reviewing games for a living you can get so bogged down in your workload that you fail to notice lightning rod events in your industry, unless they’re related to the specific games you’re working with. Case and point, how the hell did I miss Alan Titchmarsh using his show to host to spread disinformation about the video games industry?
If you’re like me, and you missed it, Alan Titchmarsh ran a segment on his show earlier this year which attacked the video games promoting “hatred, racism, sexism and rewarding violence” and for “corrupting our children”. To help make his case he brought on Kelvin Calder MacKenzie (former editor of The Sun) and Julia Peasgood (a sex-tips-book author). Neither of these two pundits can lay claim to any specialist knowledge of the gaming industry – although apparently Peasgood did provide the voice for a character in a rather violent survival horror game in 2000 called Martian Gothic Unification, which makes her condemnation of the industry over its violent content more than slightly hypocritical. To lend this discussion the tissue-thin veneer that it was an actual debate, Titchmarsh had booked CVG editor Tim Ingham.
The show went out in March this year and I only came across a clip yesterday. In a way I should be a grateful I missed it. After watching (what I’d laughingly call) the discussion on the show about video games, I was incensed. Titchmarsh made me as angry as Roger Ebert did when he made proclamations about the artistic worth of video games after admitting he had no experience of the medium whatsoever. In my view the only person who came out of the affair with any dignity was Ingham; even though he soon realised he was about to be used as a human piñata, Ingham handled himself with considerable grace and poise. He didn’t lose his temper and he came across as well informed and knowledgeable about his subject. This probably makes him something of an alien species on the Alan Titchmarsh Show. (And just by the way, Tim Ingham I belatedly salute you!)
What I found the most disturbing, however, is how on board with this ambush the studio audience were. They cheered as Peasgood offered half-facts and lies as proof that video games were a root of social evil. They broke into spontaneous applause when she condemned all video games as “just wrong.” But most frightening of all, when Ingham tried to use the Byron Report to argue the case that Peasgood was off the mark, the audience actually started booing him. By all accounts this was an audience that didn’t so much disagree with any opposing arguments to those presented by Titchmarsh, Peasgood and MacKenzie; they didn’t even want to hear them. If Ingham had been on stage by himself, without any other studio guest cutting him off or haranguing him, and had been able to present his case to the audience (perhaps with the use of pictures and diagrams), it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference. They were completely closed off to reason.
Video game journalists – especially those in mainstream press – are fond of beginning articles about the success of the industry by stating that “we’re all gamers now”. This implies the medium is almost universally accepted. But given the audience’s reaction on the Titchmarsh Show, and given the fact the broadcaster obviously felt confident that most of the opinions (I hesitate to use the word bias) in this show would be in line with most of their viewers (because after all, if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have aired it), I have to question this.
Video games certainly aren’t as fringe an activity as they were say, ten or so years ago. But ignorance about the medium is still widespread enough for shows like Alan Titchmarsh’s and certain other segments of the media to make money off it through sales and viewing figures. But is this audience growing or shrinking? What I’d like to know is how much the size of the sides in this clash have changed. What proportion of people still see gaming as some social ill which needs combating? How many people out there really believe that this artistic medium is detrimental to our well being? And would they please grow up and get a clue?