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.
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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.