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

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Divided Britain: how the EU referendum exposed Britain’s new culture war

The EU referendum exposed a gaping fault line in our society – and it’s not between left and right.

There are streets in Hampstead, the wealthy northern suburb of London, where the pro-EU posters outnumber cars. A red “Vote Remain” in one. A “Green Yes” in another. The red, white and blue flag of the official campaign sits happily next to a poster from the left-wing campaign Another Europe Is Possible proclaiming that the world already has too many borders.

If you were looking for an equivalent street in Hull, in the north of England, you would look for a long time. In the city centre when I visited one recent morning, the only outward evidence that there was a referendum going on was the special edition of Wetherspoon News plastered on the walls of the William Wilberforce pub in Trinity Wharf. Most of the customers agreed with the message from the chain’s founder, Tim Martin: Britain was better off outside the European Union.

“Far too much Hampstead and not enough Hull” – that was the accusation levelled at the Remain campaign by Andy Burnham in the final weeks of the campaign. He wasn’t talking about geography; Remain’s voice is persuasive to residents of Newland Avenue in Hull, where I drank a latte as I eavesdropped on a couple who were fretting that “racists” would vote to take Britain out of the EU.

Rather, Burnham was talking about an idea, the “Hampstead” that occupies a special place in right-wing demonology as a haven of wealthy liberals who have the temerity to vote in the interests of the poor. The playwright and novelist Michael Frayn, in his 1963 essay on the Festival of Britain, called them “the Herbivores”:

“. . . the radical middle classes, the do-gooders; the readers of the News Chronicle, the Guardian, and the Observer; the signers of petitions; the backbone of the BBC . . . who look out from the lush pastures which are their natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate creatures, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass.”

For Hampstead then, read swaths of Islington, Hackney, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Oxford today – all areas that were most strongly in favour of Remain and where Jeremy Corbyn is popular. But Remain never found a tone that won over the other half of Labour England; the campaign struck as duff a note among the diminishing band of pensioners on Hampstead’s remaining council estates as it did on Hull’s Orchard Park Estate.

The rift between “Hampstead and Hull”, in the sense that Andy Burnham meant it, is one that has stealthily divided Britain for years, but it has been brought into sharp focus by the debate over Europe.

Academics use various kinds of shorthand for it: the beer drinkers v the wine drinkers, or the cosmopolitans v the “left behind”. “It’s not just that [Britain] is div­ided between people who buy organic and people who buy own-brand,” says Philip Cowley, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, “but between people who wouldn’t understand how anyone could buy own-brand and people who wouldn’t buy organic if you put a gun to their head.” Equating political preferences with shopping habits might sound flippant, but on 21 June the retail research company Verdict estimated that “half of Waitrose shoppers backed a Remain vote, against just over a third of Morrisons customers”.

The referendum has shown that there is another chasm in British politics, beyond left and right, beyond social conservatism v liberalism, and beyond arguments about the size of the state. The new culture war is about class, and income, and education, but also about culture, race, nationalism and optimism about the future (or lack of it). This divide explains why Ukip’s message has been seductive to former Labour voters and to Tories, and why Boris Johnson, an Old Etonian, led a campaign that purported to despise “elites” and “experts” and spoke of “wanting our country back”.

***

At the start of the campaign, the question that most accurately predicted whether you would back Remain or Leave was consistently: “Are you a graduate?” (Those who answered yes were much more likely to vote in favour of staying in the EU.) Stronger In never found a way to change that and win over those who left education at 18 or earlier. Pollsters also suggested that the much-vaunted Euroscepticism of older voters reflects generations where only one in ten people went to university.

This fissure has been growing for the best part of a decade and a half, but Britain’s first-past-the-post system, which deters newcomers and maintains entrenched parties, has provided a degree of insulation to Labour that its European cousins have lacked. Yet even here in the UK the mid-Noughties brought the brief rise of the British National Party, powered by voter defections from Labour in its strongholds in east London and Yorkshire, as well as the election of the Greens’ first MP on the back of progressive disillusionment with the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

In office, both Blair and Brown calculated, wrongly, that Labour’s core vote had “nowhere else to go”. In opposition under Ed Miliband, the party calculated, again wrongly, that discontent with immigration, and the rise of Ukip powered by that discontent, was a problem for the Conservative Party alone.

In a 2014 pamphlet for the Fabian Society, ­Revolt on the Left, the activist Marcus Roberts, the academic Rob Ford and the analyst Ian Warren warned that Labour had “few reasons to cheer about the Ukip insurgency and plenty to worry about”. When the votes were cast in the general election the following year, that prediction turned out to be dispiritingly accurate. Defections from Labour to Ukip led to Labour losing seats to the Conservatives in Gower, Southampton Itchen, Telford and Plymouth Moor View.

For the most part, however, first-past-the-post papered over the cracks in Labour’s broad coalition: cracks that, in the harsh light of the EU referendum, have become obvious. The divide isn’t simply one of class, or income. The social profile and culture of voters in Cumbria are no different from that of voters on the other side of the border – but Scots in the Borders backed a Remain vote while their English peers in the border areas opted for Brexit. Inhospitality towards Brexit proved a stronger indication of city status than a mere cathedral: Vote Leave generally found Britain’s great cities more difficult terrain than the surrounding towns and countryside.

The problem of the fracturing vote is particularly acute for the Labour Party, which for much of the 20th century was able to rely on the Herbivores. In concert with Frayn’s “less fortunate creatures”, they have been enough to guarantee Labour close to 250 seats in the House of Commons and roughly one-third of the popular vote, even in difficult years. But Britain’s EU referendum placed Hampstead and Hull on opposing sides for the first time in modern British political history.

It was Tony Blair who, in his final speech to the Trades Union Congress as Labour leader in September 2006, said that the new debate in politics was not left against right, but “open v closed” – openness to immigration, to diversity, to the idea of Europe. Driven by their commitment to openness, Blair’s outriders dreamed of reshaping Labour as a mirror of the US Democrats – though, ironically, it was Ed Miliband, who repudiated much of Blair’s approach and politics, who achieved this.

At the 2015 election Labour’s coalition was drawn from the young, ethnic minorities and the well educated: the groups that powered Barack Obama’s two election wins in 2008 and 2012. The party was repudiated in the Midlands, went backwards in Wales and was all but wiped out in the east of England. (Scotland was another matter altogether.) Its best results came in Britain’s big cities and university towns.

The Remain campaign gave Labour a glimpse of how Miliband’s manifesto might have fared without the reassuring imprimatur of a red rosette. Britain Stronger In Europe has been rejected in the Midlands and struggled in the east of England. But it also failed to inspire passion in Sunderland, Oldham and Hull – all areas that, for now, return Labour MPs.

***

In appearance, Hull’s city centre is built on blood and sandstone, dotted with memorials to a lost empire and postwar replacements for bombed buildings, all ringed by suburban housing built by the private sector in the 1930s and the state in the 1950s and 1960s. It could be Bristol without the excessive hills, or a smaller Glasgow with a different accent. Unlike in Glasgow or Bristol, however, the residents of Hull are largely hostile to the European Union. Unlike Glasgow and Bristol, Hull is a post-imperial city that has yet to experience a post-colonial second act.

The William Wilberforce is named after a native son who helped destroy the British slave trade, the engine of Hull’s prosperity in the 18th century. The destruction of another local industry – fishing – drives resentment among the pub’s ageing clientele, who were there for breakfast and a bit of company when I visited. They blame its demise squarely on the EU.

Although the Labour Party now has only one MP in Scotland, the back rooms of the labour movement host an outsized Scottish contingent. For that reason – and the continuing threat that the loss of Labour’s seats in Scotland poses to the party’s chances of winning a majority at Westminster – the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 loomed large for Labour throughout the EU campaign.

From the outset, Britain Stronger In struggled to replicate the success of the Scottish No campaign, in part because the price of victory was one that Labour regarded as too high to pay a second time. In Glasgow, in the week before the Scottish referendum, everyone knew where Labour stood on independence – consequently, many voters were already planning to take revenge. The proprietor of one café told me that Labour was “finished in this city, for ever”.

Predictions of this sort were thin on the ground in Hull. Alan Johnson, the head of Labour’s EU campaign, is one of the three Labour MPs whom Hull sent to Westminster in 2015. But even late in the campaign, in his own constituency, I found uncertainty about the party’s official position on the referendum. For that reason, if nothing else, it didn’t have the feeling of a city preparing to break with a half-century-plus of Labour rule, as Glasgow did in 2014. In Scotland, most people I spoke to believed that they were on the brink of independence, which made the eventual result a big blow.

Only among Hull’s pro-European minority could I find any conviction that Britain might actually leave the EU. In September 2014 Kenneth Clarke remarked that Ukip’s supporters were “largely . . . the disappointed elderly, the grumpy old men, people who’ve had a bit of a hard time in life”. To listen to Hull’s Leave voters is to hear tales of the same frustrated potential: they feel that politicians of all stripes have lives entirely removed from theirs. In their defence, they are right – just 4 per cent of MPs in 2010 were from working-class backgrounds.

As for Ken Clarke, he has carved out a second career as every left-winger’s favourite Tory, but that tone of indifference towards the “disappointed lives” of globalisation’s casualties recalls his younger days as a rising star of Margaret Thatcher’s government.

Hull’s residents have been dismissed, first as the regrettable but inevitable consequence of Thatcherite economics, and now as small-minded opponents of social progress and racial diversity. Unsurprisingly, people who feel that their wishes have been ignored and in some cases actively squashed by successive governments of left and right did not expect to wake up on the morning of 24 June to discover that this time, their votes really had changed something.

Equally unsurprisingly, the Remain campaign’s warnings of economic collapse lacked force for people for whom the world’s end had been and gone.

In Glasgow in 2014 Scottish independence was a question of identity in itself, whereas in Hull, hostility towards Europe is the by-product of other identities that feel beleaguered or under threat: fishing, Englishness and whiteness, for the most part.

In Hampstead, a vote for Remain feels more like a statement about the world as you see it. One woman, who walks off before I can probe further, tells me: “Of course I’m voting to stay In. I buy Fairtrade.”

***

Immigration, not the European Union, is the issue that moves voters in Hull. “Britain is full” was the most frequent explanation they gave for an Out vote. Knowing that immigration, rather than the abstract question of sovereignty, would be crucial to winning the contest, Vote Leave tried from the beginning to make it a referendum on border control. Leave’s main theme: the threat of Turkey joining the European Union and, with it, the prospect of all 75 million Turks gaining the right to live and work in Britain.

Although Turkey’s chances of joining the EU are somewhere only just north of its hopes of launching a manned mission to Mars, the tactic worked: according to an ­Ipsos MORI poll released on the morning of 16 June, 45 per cent of Britons believed that Turkey will be fast-tracked into the Union.

That same morning, Nigel Farage posed in front of a poster showing refugees – mostly from Syria and most of them non-white – on the border between Croatia and Slovenia, with a slogan warning that uncontrolled immigration was leaving Britain at “breaking point”. But the row over the poster came to an unpleasant halt just a few hours later as news began to break that Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, had been shot and stabbed on her way out of a constituency surgery. She died of her injuries a little over an hour later. On 19 June Thomas Mair, who was arrested in connection with the killing, gave his name at Westminster Magistrates’ Court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

The circumstances of the killing felt familiar. A little after midnight on 5 June 1968, Robert Kennedy was returning to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in high spirits. He had just won a crucial victory in the California primary and was well placed to secure the Democratic nomination to run in that year’s presidential election. Going through the kitchen in order to avoid cheering crowds and get straight to his press conference, he was ambushed by a man called Sirhan Sirhan, who fired six shots from a revolver. Kennedy was rushed to hospital, where he died early the following morning.

Five months later Richard Nixon was elected president. The American right held on to the White House for 20 years out of the next 25. Jo Cox’s killing, amid the nativist howling from Farage et al, felt like the beginning of a similar chapter of right-wing advance in the UK.

Labour’s problem, and that of its social-democratic cousins throughout Europe, is the same as the American left’s was in the 1960s. Its founding coalition – of trade unions, the socially concerned middle classes and minorities, ethnic and cultural – is united (barely) on economic issues but irrevocably split on questions of identity. Outside crisis-stricken Greece and Spain, the left looks trapped in permanent opposition, with no politician able to reconsolidate its old base and take power again.

***

When I arrive in Hull, preparations are under way for a vigil in Jo Cox’s honour, but it is the nation of Turkey that is weighing on the minds of undecided voters. On Park Street, residents are divided. Those who have exercised their right to buy and are concerned about their mortgages are flirting with an Out vote but are terrified about negative equity. Those who remain in social housing or the private rented sector are untouched by stories of soaring mortgages. To many residents, the Treasury’s dire warnings seem to be the concerns of people from a different planet, not merely another part of the country. As Rachel, a woman in her mid-fifties who lives alone, puts it: “They say I’d lose four grand a month. I don’t know who they think is earning four grand a month but it certainly isn’t me.”

As Vote Leave knew, the promise that an Out vote will allow people to “take control” always had a particular appeal for those with precious little control – of their rent, of next week’s shift, of whether or not they will be able to afford to turn the heating on next week. Never mind that the control envisaged by Vote Leave would be exercised by the conservative right: the campaign found a message that was able to resonate across class and region, at least to an extent that could yet create a force to be reckoned with under first-past-the-post in Britain.

Four grand a month isn’t a bad salary, even in leafy Hampstead, but in that prosperous corner of north London fears of an Out vote, and what will come after, gained a tight purchase. The worry was coupled with resentment, too, over what would come, should the Outers triumph.

The great risk for the left is that herbivorous resentment is already curdling into contempt towards the people of Hull and the other bastions of Brexitism. That contempt threatens the commodity on which Labour has always relied to get Hull and Hampstead to vote and work together – solidarity. The referendum leaves the Conservatives divided at Westminster. That will give little comfort to Labour if the long-term outcome of the vote is to leave its own ranks divided outside it.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

This article first appeared in the 23 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain