Sorry by the sea

Is this really what the education system has done to the kids on the front row of the class? Leaving

As one who seems to spend large amounts of his waking life apologising to others, these last few days spent at the Develop conference have been a refreshing change. There, unusually, I listened to numerous speakers apologising to me. It wasn’t even for the normal reasons like a poor PA system or blurry powerpoint projection. Shockingly, these speakers were sorry for being clever.

Develop is an annual Game Developer gathering which this year had a particularly strong programme. Artists, producers, writers, animators, musicians all come together in sunny Brighton to discuss their craft and ingest large amounts of food and drink. Packed into the clammy conference rooms of the Hilton hotel, these leading thinkers and doers shared their insights, techniques and crippling, paranoid insecurities.

Ken Levine, creative director of Bioshock at 2k Games took part in a panel discussion with the rest of his team in which they detailed the depth of the approach taken in developing this unusually rich and intelligent game.

Levine, a charismatic speaker, gave a compelling account of the development of the work which took in Ayn Rand, objectivism, art deco design and mise en scene - each of these elements by a squirming apology for his own perceived pretentiousness.

Jonathan Smith, always an insightful and entertaining speaker delivered the best talk I’ve seen him do in ‘How to make children cry’. Smith is VP of publishing at TTGames who produce the acclaimed LEGO Star Wars series of games.

He showed some extraordinary footage of research interviews and playtesting with children that went in to developing their working thesis of ‘LEGO-ness’. Upon unveiling his ‘LEGO Manifesto’, a set of principles from which the game was created, he too finally caved and said sorry for being a too pretentious.

After further unpacking the fascinating thinking behind his notion of the game as teacher, he reminded us lest we get too intoxicated by his ideas that at the end of the day they were still making a ‘fucking platform game’.

Finally, Matt Southern from Evolution Studios came out as a Cultural Studies lecturer turned Game Director. His brilliant talk which illuminated the value of scholarly cultural theory to Game design was interrupted throughout with winks and apologies for coming across like a ‘twat’. Matt even had some material about him thinking he was better than us, ‘because he’s read all those fancy books...’

As the most toxic pretension is usually dealt from those least conscious of their audience, perhaps we should be glad of a little self-awareness in our keynote speakers? Maybe, but this was more than humility - this was executive insecurity.

Are there any other industry conferences where lectures are transformed into confessions? Seeing these brilliant artists relentlessly caveating every informed cultural insight with an insipid apology was depressing. Is this really what the education system has done to the kids on the front row of the class? Leaving headline speakers apologising for having read too many books? If they can’t comfortably come out as being intellectuals at an industry conference, where can they?

The best conferences are about brilliant people bring brilliant at you over a sustained period. Levine, Smith and Southern need to get together for a group therapy session and draw a line under this. With so many factions lining up to attack the games industry, its most inspiring and inspirational figures really should lay off themselves. These are the people we should be putting in front of parents, critics and young people who are struggling to be interested in being interested. C’mon Ken, Jonathan and Matt - relax, take us dancing with your ideas. Your industry needs you more than ever.

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage