This week we’re delighted to announce that Tom Watson, who resigned as Labour’s 2015 election strategist in the wake of the Falkirk selection brouhaha, has agreed to take up a new berth at the NS as a regular games reviewer for the Critics pages. The MP for West Bromwich East is a keen video gamer who has long argued there is too little sensible debate about the role of virtual worlds in modern society. He uses his inaugural review – of Rockstar North’s Grand Theft Auto Five (GTAV) – to press the point home:
When GTA emerged, the Mail described it as “criminal computer game that glorifies hit-and-run thugs”. It set off a moral panic so great that virtually no commentator said anything positive about the game that is now an integral part of innovative gaming history and culture around the globe. But Hitchens and the outraged political classes have been duped, like one of the weak-willed minor characters designed to add colour to the lives of Michael, Franklin and Trevor in GTAV.
Watson waxes lyrical about the world of GTA:
As I write this, I realise how hard it is to describe the game to you. You just have to play it in order to understand the comedic depth of the world you enter when you switch on your console – a world so layered in detail that even the most dedicated players will not get to see most of Los Santos and Blaine County, the world created by Rockstar North for you to adventure in. Every feature, from the flickering streetlights and unique advertising hoardings to ambient noise and radio station playlists, has been painstakingly woven into the experience. How could poor Hitchens have a clue? There is room for legitimate criticism of GTAV, but politicians and commentators will have to work much harder to understand this creative medium before they can be taken seriously by gamers.
Elsewhere in The Critics section of this week’s New Statesman: Peter Gabriel talks to arts editor Kate Mossman; Ryan Gilbey reviews the new Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine and Thomas Calvocoressi visits the ICA’s new off-site show, A Journey Through London Subculture. We have a long essay by Ed Vulliamy in celebration of American classical music and in Books, Richard Overy reviews a crop of new books about the First World War, while, as Boris Johnson prepares to tackle the life of Winston Churchill, Peter Clarke asks why politicians are so fond of writing political biographies – and what their choice of subject reveals.