2007 Awards and reviews

Awards ceremonies for video games are growing in size and status, reflecting the acceptance of video

Video gaming has come a long way. It has been a difficult journey from humble origins, surviving derision, scandal and protest but, after a painful birth and turbulent adolescence, it may finally be attaining something approaching respect from its industrious peers.

Much in the same way that film, and later television, spent years defining themselves and proving their worth before they were critically accepted, video gaming has now become a viable institution that can no longer be ignored or instantly dismissed as a lesser form of entertainment.

Growing stature

Since 2003, BAFTA has acknowledged video games' growing stature, popularity and importance by holding a separate award ceremony for them - the first time another medium has been included since the British Film Academy joined with the Guild of Television Producers and Directors in 1958. Progress indeed - something which has been reiterated this year as, for the first time, video games have their own category at the Children's BAFTAs, 12 years after its inception.

What this signifies, and will no doubt help to propagate, is the changing perception of the gamer. Recognising their presence at the children's awards goes some way towards regarding video games as a positive and beneficial aspect of modern culture. This is opposed to the negative influence they were previously perceived to represent, with the controversy surrounding games such as Grand Theft Auto and the destructive influence it was argued they had on impressionable young minds.

This is thanks in no small part to Nintendo, whose family friendly, inclusive outlook on gaming has deliberately sought to appeal to a broader audience. With the huge success of its handheld DS, and more recent Wii console, Nintendo has redefined the video gaming landscape by offering titles which are both educative and entertaining while boasting innovative controls that make the experience truly intuitive. The Wii has become the fastest-selling console of all time, and accounts for why Wii Sports - its benchmark title - stole the spotlight at the gaming BAFTAs by receiving six awards; for most innovation, best gameplay and best multiplayer as well as being the best sports, casual and simulation title of the year.

Laissez-faire glamour

The awards were hosted by comedian Vic Reeves and were attended by a wide range of industry professionals, along with celebrities from the film, TV and music world. The whole event approached the glitz and glamour of BAFTA's more illustrious film awards, but with a slightly more laissez-faire attitude; a celebration of gaming's achievements to date and a recognition of key figures who have been invaluable in its development. The BAFTA Fellowship, the highest accolade the academy can bestow, was this year awarded to Will Wright, a pioneer of game development for over 20 years, with landmark critical and commercial successes such as Sim City and The Sims to his name. This marks the first instance that anyone within the industry of video gaming has been given the honour, and signifies yet another step forward for the medium.

Golden Joysticks

However, the BAFTAs were not the only video game award show to take place this year, as 2007 also marked the silver jubilee of the Golden Joystick awards. Differing from the BAFTAs in that the awards are voted on by gamers themselves, this year saw the highest-ever number of votes cast, with over three-quarters of a million people selecting their gaming highlights for 2007. Less of a mainstream televised event than the BAFTA ceremony, David Mitchell, star of Channel 4's Peep Show, hosted the proceedings in front of a crowd of industry professionals, keeping the tone light hearted, adult themed and brisk. Mitchell was quick to point out the Joysticks' importance in that they are voted on by "the people that really matter - the gamers themselves", yet the outcome of the awards reflected a similar general consensus to the BAFTAs.

Nintendo's Wii Sports picked up the award for Best Family Game, and Nintendo as a company won for Best Innovation with its Wii console, and took home the coveted Best Publisher award. Microsoft, too, picked up a significant reward with its in-house title Gears of War being voted the Ultimate Game of the Year. Less prosperous was Sony, whose technically superior Playstation 3 console failed to pick up awards for any of its releases, or hardware.

Underachievementby Sony

This underachievement by Sony was evident with the list of BAFTA winners too, with awards for Techical Achievement, Best Score and Artistic Achievement going to God of War 2 and Okami - two Playstation 2 titles - but no awards for the Playstation 3.

Considering the length of development and hype surrounding Sony's new console, relatively poor sales - and now lack of industry recognition - can only be seen as a slight embarrassment, and could further affect the struggling behemoth. Despite its market dominance since the release of the first Playstation in 1994, Sony now finds itself in the unfamiliar position of trailing in Nintendo's wake, with Microsoft also gaining significant ground since the release of the Xbox 360 in 2006.

In the run-up to Christmas, the Wii has sold out across the country and, while Sony and Microsoft may put this down to poor set-up with their suppliers, the unavailability will only increase demand for Nintendo's flagship console as its run-away success continues.

Spike TV awards

One awards show where Nintendo hasn't stolen the centre stage, though, is Spike TV's Video Game Awards. Marking its 5th anniversary, the awards once again took place in Las Vegas on 7 December, billing themselves as "the biggest event in videogames". Spike TV is a division of the MTV network (which might account for the hyperbole) and is available in 96.1 million homes worldwide. The awards are more of a commercial event than either the BAFTAs or the Golden Joysticks, with big name sponsors such as Mountain Dew, Burger King and Nikon among others. Since its inception, Spike TV has made a concerted effort to include programming on video games to create a brand identity in keeping with the similar core target audience of the MTV channels.

The two gaming highlights for this ceremony were Microsoft's Bioshock and Halo 3, with seven nominations apiece, including Game of the Year. Contrary to the results of the BAFTAs and the Golden Joysticks, Wii Sports only received one nomination, for Most Addictive Game.

From over 13 categories, this is incidentally the only award voted for by the public, the awards being determined by the VGA Advisory Council.

Mobile gaming

For this year's Spike TV awards there was also a special set of sub-categories for mobile games, that are exclusive to mobile voting.

The progress of mobile gaming has been a revelation over the past few years, with technology advancing leaps and bounds since Snake represented the pinnacle of mobile gaming only five years ago. Now mobile games have storylines, 3D graphics, downloadable levels and more. In a recent list of top-10 downloaded games on mobile phones, as monitored by Orange, Sonic the Hedgehog came out on top, the same game that was a best seller for Sega's Mega Drive back in 1991. It may have taken 16 years, but the ability to play the full title on your mobile phone as a moderately priced download is quite an achievement.

The possibilities for mobile gaming are potentially limitless because the future of distribution seems more and more likely to be based online. New devices, such as the Nokia N95, can easily connect to the internet and have aspirations to be multimedia centres in their own right, suggesting that there is no reason why movies, music and games cannot become as popular on our mobile phones as they are in our homes.

Consistent innovation

It is an exciting time to be a gamer, with every year bringing with it new technologies and surprises and, as these awards signify, critical and social acceptance as well. Whether Nintendo's latest consoles present an evolution or revolution in gaming, with Microsoft and Sony still providing strong competition, and with mobile gaming advancing at an alarming rate, no other industry currently provides such continual and consistent innovation - long may it last. As Will Wright stated in his acceptance of the BAFTA Fellowship "Year after year games are permeating our culture and I don't think they will be dying off any time soon." Let's hope not.

A full list of all the awards' nominees and winners can be found at:

www.bafta.org

www.goldenjoystick.com

www.spiketv.com

Gaming and me

I got into games when I was about eight, through my older brothers, they had an Amiga. As the technology got bigger I moved along from there.

When I was younger a game I loved to play was Syndicate. This was a group of genetically made agents and you had to track people and assassinate them in a Blade Runner-style world. At the moment I'm a fan of any kind of sports game.

What I want for Christmas...

In my stocking I would like to get Mass Effect. Contrary to my sports taste this is a game with role playing, and you travel the galaxy. It was made by the people who made the Star Wars games a few years ago, Bioware.

Myles Robey

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2007

Chris Ball/UNP
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The fish-eaters and the fasters

With a population split between whites and Asian Muslims, in some ways Nelson in Lancashire feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication.

In the late afternoon of local election day this month, the chairman of Nelson Town Council was working the terraces of old cotton weavers’ houses on his patch. Sajid Ali was wearing a red rosette and a navy blue cardigan over his capacious white shalwar kameez, and what looked like his dancing shoes.

This was not the forlorn ritual of unanswered doors, blank looks and curt responses habitually experienced by Labour canvassers even in more promising political times. Along these streets Sajid is a figure of some consequence: a jolly fellow and, as one opponent put it, an “interesting character”.

Almost everyone was in; Sajid knew almost all of them; and they in turn understood what was required. Sometimes a quick burst of Lancy Punjabi did the job: “Salaam alaykum, yoong maan, how yer doing? What time yer coomin’ to vote?” To older voters his spiel would be entirely in Punjabi and the response would often be a head-wobble, that characteristic south Asian gesture, which, when given to Westerners, can be baffling, but in these cases clearly signified solid intention.

The Labour candidate in the Brierfield and Nelson West division of Lancashire County Council, Mohammed Iqbal, held his seat comfortably on the day his party lost control of the county. And he did so on a poll of 58 per cent: a far higher turnout than in any of the other, whiter areas of Pendle; the highest in Lancashire; and higher than wards with these demographics would usually expect even at a general election. The average across Lancashire on 4 May was 37 per cent. It seems reasonable to conclude that the votes from those of ­Pakistani heritage, marshalled by Sajid, were wholly responsible.

Nelson is a strange, sad, divided, forgotten old cotton town, not without beauty. The weavers’ houses are stone not brick, which, elsewhere, might make them rather chic. A few minutes from town is wonderful Pennine countryside, and to the north the view is dominated by Pendle Hill itself, brooding like some sleeping sea monster.

Pendle is both the borough council and the constituency, where the mix of urban and rural has delivered it to the winning side in seven of the eight general elections since its creation 34 years ago. (Labour took it, five years prematurely, in 1992.) No one seriously believes the 5,400 Tory majority is in play. Nonetheless, Nelson can explain a lot about British politics in 2017.

“This was a cracking town,” said John Bramwell (“John the Fish”), who has been purveying cod, haddock and non-stop banter to Nelson for 41 years, first on the market, now from one of the last white-run, independent shops in the town centre. Nelson had a football team that played fleetingly (1923-24) in the old Second Division, what is now called the Championship. And in 1929 the Lancashire League cricket team, flashing cash in a manner that baffled the national press, signed Learie Constantine, the most gifted and thrilling West Indian all-rounder of his generation.

“When he arrived, no one in Nelson had ever seen a black man close-to,” said Derek Metcalfe, the club’s historian. “People would cross the road when he passed by. But he grew into their affections. He was a highly intelligent man as well as a great player.” Constantine, after a post-cricket career in the law, Trinidadian politics and diplomacy, finished life in the House of Lords as Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson, Britain’s first black peer. In July 1943 the Imperial Hotel in Bloomsbury accepted his booking but not his presence, and he promptly sued. His victory at the high court the following year was an early landmark in the fight against racial discrimination.

It was the 1950s before Nelson would get used to seeing non-white faces again, when the mill owners, battling labour shortages and overseas competition, turned to Pakistan to find biddable and affordable workers. They found them in Gujrat District, which is not one of the more worldly places, even in the rural Punjab.

“The first group were young men who in many ways integrated better than they do now. There were no mosques. They went to the pubs with their workmates and knocked around with local women. Then they had to go to the airport to collect the intended wives they hadn’t met yet,” recalled Tony Greaves, the Liberal Democrat peer who is deputy leader of Pendle Borough Council.

The mills disappeared, gradually but inexorably, but the Pakistani community kept growing and has now reached its fourth generation. The young men do not normally spend time in pubs; indeed, in a town of 30,000 people, there are only two left, plus a couple on the outskirts. It is hard to imagine anywhere that size in Britain with fewer. There are, however, at least a dozen mosques. The 2011 census recorded 40 per cent of the population as Asian, but on market day in the town centre the proportion seems much higher. The most prominent retail outlets are two bazaars: the Nelson (the
old Poundstretcher) and the Suraj opposite (the old Woolworths). Few white faces are seen in either: the saris and hijabs are beautiful but of little interest. They are all imported to this textile town from south Asia.

The white people have retreated, either out of the town altogether or to the semis of Marsden, on the hill. In the visible life of Nelson, they are clearly a minority. Population change on this scale can be accommodated, if not always easily, in large cities. It is a different proposition in a small town that was once tight-knit and, despite its closeness to larger places such as Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley, largely self-contained.

Even after 60 years, hardly anything has melted in the pot. The early migrants were villagers who placed little value on education. Recent history has led Muslims all over the world to turn inwards, to their own religion and culture. This is being exacerbated by white flight and by the advent of religious free schools, a disaster for anywhere in search of cohesion. The old Nelsonians have turned away. “Nelson is not multiracial or multicultural. It is biracial and bicultural,” says Greaves. “I would love to tell you that I go round to Abbas’s house to have chicken jalfrezi and he comes to mine for steak pudding and chips,” says John the Fish. “It’s just not like that.”

Unemployment is high at 18 per cent; there is no shortage of taxis. Educational attainment is patchy. Teachers at the two high schools fear their best pupils will be creamed off further by the promised grammar-school boom.

The vicar of Nelson, Guy Jamieson, and at least some of the local imams do their utmost to make connections between the communities. In certain respects Nelson feels like similar-sized towns in Ulster: two communities separated by a gulf of non-communication. In other ways, this description is unfair. When Burnley, just four miles away, suffered riots in 2001, Nelson stayed quiet. I could sense no threat, no active tension, merely resigned indifference on both sides. “There’s a poverty of confidence,” Jamieson said. “They don’t know how to sit down and engage.”

***

A modern English town council, subordinate to Brussels, Westminster, county and district, is an improbable power base, but Sajid Ali seems to be making Nelson’s work. Its precept is only £330,000 a year but this is not capped, so it suits both district and town if Pendle offloads smaller assets: parks, play areas, community centres. It is a minimalist form of devolution, but harks back to the days when Nelson was a borough in its own right, and looks forward to an improbable future when our towns might again be allowed to take their own decisions as they do in more grown-up countries.

But the council votes on party lines, Labour’s 16 councillors trumping the Tories’ eight. “They won’t work with us,” Sajid says flatly. “They don’t run it fairly for the town itself,” says the Conservative Neil McGowan. “If we put something forward for Marsden, we are always outvoted. One council official told me they’d never come across a town like it.” In Tony Greaves’s words, “The
politics in Nelson were always sour.” In the 1930s it was known as Little Moscow.

When I first met Sajid, however, he was outside a polling station doing a stint as a teller and laughing merrily along with his blue-rosetted counterpart, Arshad Mahmood. Yet things were not quite as they seemed. Mahmood was part of a mass defection of Pakistani Lib Dems to the Conservatives which appears to have nothing to do with Brexit, extra taxes for the NHS or Maymania. What it does have to do with remains elusive even to local politicians: “clan politics” and “personal ambition” were mentioned. It may be even more complicated than that. “So you’ll be voting for Theresa May next month?” I asked Mahmood. “Oh, no, I like Jeremy Corbyn. Very good policies.”

Perhaps this helped Sajid maintain some enthusiasm for the bigger campaign ahead, though he was daunted by one fact: the general election coincides with Ramadan, and dawn-to-dusk fasting comes hard in these latitudes when it falls in summertime. Still, he was impressed by all the new members Corbyn had brought to Labour: “The way I see it is that each new member has five, ten, 15, 20 people they can sell the message to.”

This seemed a bit strange: it implied he thought politics in the rest of Britain worked as it did in these streets. He had boasted earlier that he knew everyone. “All over Nelson?” “Oh, no,” he had backtracked. “In the English community nobody knows their next-door neighbour.” Which was an exaggeration, but perhaps not much of one.

There were no posters along Sajid Ali’s streets – not one. The information about which house to choose was on the canvass return and, more significantly, in his head. Just once he got it wrong. A little white girl opened the door and then a tattooed, muscular figure in a singlet barrelled towards the door. He wasn’t aggressive, just brisk. “Naaw. I doan’t vote.” End of. It was a sudden reminder of the norms of modern British politics.

***

Another norm is that, at any local count, no one ever thinks much of the big picture. The rise and fall of prime ministers, earthquakes and landslides are no more than distant rumours, of surprisingly little interest to the principals; what matters is the here and now. Where did that ballot box come from? How big is the postal vote? Any chance of a recount? When the five seats for Pendle were counted the next day at the leisure centre in Colne, one stop further up the clanking branch line from Nelson, no one was talking about the Tory takeover at County Hall.

Here there was something for everyone: Mohammed Iqbal won, just as Sajid predicted. Azhar Ali took the other Nelson seat even more easily for Labour. Both results were greeted with more effusive male hugs than would be considered seemly in Berkshire. In Pendle Central the Tories knocked out the sitting Lib Dem, but – heroically, in their eyes – one of the Lib Dem candidates grabbed a seat in the rural division.

But the most interesting result came in the most trifling contest: a twinned by-election for two vacancies in Nelson Town Council’s lily-white ward of Marsden, so electors had two votes each. The seats were won by a Conservative married couple, the Pearson-Ashers, who got 426 and 401; the single BNP candidate had 359 votes, with one Labour candidate on 333 and the other on 190. The first of these was called Laura Blackburn; the second Ghulam Ullah. This suggests a good deal of vote-splitting that Labour might find rather unpalatable.

In fact, Marsden already has one far-right relic: Brian Parker, who sits on Pendle Borough Council, is the last survivor in the top two tiers of local government of the BNP mini-surge that took them to 55 council seats across the country by 2009. Of Parker, two opposing councillors told me: “He’s actually a very good ward councillor.”

Curiously, Ukip has made little impact in Nelson or in Pendle as a whole. So there is not much scope for the party to fulfil what appears to be its immediate destiny: as a way station for Labour’s historic core voters to catch their breath on the arduous journey into Theresa May’s arms. According to John the Fish, whose shop functions as a kind of confessional for white opinion, they may no longer need a stopover: “I’m getting plenty of people, staunch Labourites, telling me they can’t stand Corbyn.”

I asked him how many Pakistani regulars he had. He broke off from chopping hake and held up five fingers. On 8 June the fish-eaters of Marsden can be expected to rouse themselves more energetically than the Ramadan fasters across town.

***

Seedhill, the cricket ground graced by Constantine, is pretty Nelson rather than gritty Nelson, even though a chunk of it, including the old pavilion, was lopped off years ago to form an embankment carrying the M65. Upstairs in the pavilion is a wonderful picture of the great man, eyes ablaze, down on one knee for a full-blooded cover-drive. It would have made a better monument in the town centre than the 40-foot weaving shuttle that has dominated Market Street since 2011. I thought it was a torpedo; children think it’s a giant pencil.

The packed houses that watched Constantine lead Nelson to seven league titles in nine years have dwindled now: there were only a couple of dozen to watch his successors play Accrington recently. But it was a drab day with a chilly breeze and Burnley were at home to West Brom in the winter game down the road.

And generally the club thrives better than the town. Given the lack of hotels and pubs, the pavilion is much in demand for functions, and the team remains competitive. Nelson fielded four local Asians for the Accrington match, which suggests that, in one activity at least, integration is just about where it should be.

It seems unlikely that a similar situation would apply at the crown green bowls or the brass band, or any other of the long-standing recreations in Nelson (though small but growing numbers of Pakistanis are now taking allotments). The knee-jerk liberal reaction might be that this is somehow the fault of the white Nelsonians. I think this attitude is a grave oversimplification that has done much damage.

In one respect the incomers have re-created the old life of Nelson. In the hugger-mugger stone-built terraces, the neighbourliness, the power of extended families, the external patriarchy and the internal matriarchy, the vibrancy, the sense of communal struggle . . . that is exactly what this cotton town must have been like a century ago. 

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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