Casual gaming in Number 10

What does Cameron see in Fruit Ninja?

According to Fraser Nelson in Friday's Telegraph, a senior government source has revealed that:

the PM spends "a crazy, scary amount of time playing Fruit Ninja on his iPad".

Fruit Ninja, of course, is the popular iPad game – now back near the top of the bestseller list after this celebrity endorsement – where you cut and cut as quickly as you can until you cut the wrong thing by mistake and then the game ends. It seems like a bit of a busman's holiday for Cameron.

The life of a Prime Minister must be uncomfortably gamified already. You are continually given a score based on your performance, which is judged against other players on a near-daily basis, and while you attempt to memorise and execute complex manouevres designed to give you a lead, with opaque names like "expansionary fiscal contraction" or "third-sector pathfinder initiative", there is always the chance some random event like a global financial crisis will pop up and interrupt your flow, bringing it all crashing down.

Indeed, Fruit Ninja is a strange choice of distraction for Cameron. Unlike his previous timewaster of choice, Angry Birds, there is no completion to chase, no victory condition where you can put the game down with a confident glow. You play until you lose, and you hope that when you lose your numbers were better than everyone else's. Sadly, freedom of information legislation doesn't extend to high scores, and the PM refused to answer Telegraph deputy editor James Kirkup's questions on the matter, so we can't compare his skill at cutting fruit with his skill at cutting spending, but it seems like when he's bored of the game, it may be worth moving on to something a little less like the day job.

Unfortunately, the bestseller charts aren't particularly helpful. Cut the Rope extends the unfortunate slashing theme, while Bejeweled focuses too much on the high-score chase. Given the Prime Minister is likely to want to keep his addiction on the down-low, a social game like Draw Something might not be the best idea, and too much time spent playing Extinction Squad, saving cuddly creatures from obliteration, may remind him of the uncomfortably unfulfilled pledge to become the greenest government ever.

Perhaps he ought to give Minecraft a go. It has no scores reminding him of his (lack of) progress, no fellow players to compare himself unfavourably to and really no aim other than to just do what you want. It's also a game in which you can literally dig your way out of a hole, which is probably a dream come true.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war