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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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.