Pick Your Poison

The world of gaming is always a roller-coaster ride of emotion and this week is no exception. In the same week games have been praised and condemned in equal measure here in old Blighty. (that's slang for England for all you US readers)

We all get spat out of the other end of the Christmas holidays, bleary-eyed and throbby-headed, but this year the New Year revelries were somewhat marred in the UK. On New Year's Eve two teenage girls were killed after being shot on a night out in Birmingham. Needless to say the country was shocked. The media was swamped with stories about young people and crime and the rising threat of gun culture – and rightly so.

Then my understanding of the media began to wane somewhat. The tabloids grasped the wrong end of the stick and ran off with it so nobody could beat any sense into them with said stick.

It's official! "Urban music" is the new video games industry.

Urban music was the political scapegoat for these murders – not unemployment or the state of our inner-city schools, because that would be pish and nonsense. Urban music is the new evil force corrupting our children and causing them to shoot each other by glamorising gun culture and encouraging violent crime.

Bands were named and shamed as the evil influences in the tabloids, whilst the broad sheets devoted pages to heated debate on the subject.

Thus far, video games had seemed to slip through the scapegoat catcher's net. It took a long time coming, but the negative comments came none the less and urban music breathed a sigh of relief.

In an interview with the Independent newspaper, Britain's culture minister, Kim Howells blamed the producers of "blood-spattered" video games for spreading the acceptance of violent crime.

"I look at some of the video games my kids play"and I see no humanity there at all, nothing that tries to highlight and underpin the finer virtues that in people and society. It's always playing to the lowest common denominator, which is a kind of vicarious pleasure in spilling blood."

Yes folks, this is the "culture" minister! Sometimes I just despair.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch"

Rockstar Games has been nominated and shortlisted for the Designer of the Year Award for GTA – Vice City. Now, make no mistake, this is no industry award. Oh, no, dear playmates. This accolade comes from the Design Museum, London, which is dedicated to international contemporary design.

"At last, justice!" we cry.

Rockstar is up against jewellery designer, Solange Azgury-Partridge; furniture and lighting designer, Tord Boontje; and Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple, Jonathan Ive. The winner of the Design Award will receive £25,000, hardly the budget of the next GTA game, but it would be a sweet victory none the less.

It certainly is good to see games getting their just deserts in amongst more commonly recognised forms of design. We all know what a fine game Vice City is and it's refreshing to see people outside the industry appreciate the talent and creativity that goes into a game of its calibre.

Visitors to the Design Museum will be seeing edited highlights of Vice City. Other Rockstar games will be on show, along with an edited DVD of the record breaking Vice City. Hmm, you'd think in the context of a museum they'd be able to get away with showing some of the action. I mean we all had to endure Tracey Emin's pee-stained bed (British conceptual artist, renowned for a piece that featured an unmade bed featuring her own wee, also know for appearing drunk on TV a lot). But then we must be thankful that Vice City is there at all – we live in sad times.

ELSPA (The Entertainment & Leisure Software Publishers Association) issued a press release on Rockstar's nomination and praised the judges at the design museum for taking "a sensible and adult view of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." You tell ’em ELSPA!

ELSPA continues, "There is a lot of flak flying at the moment from ill-informed commentators who are making all kinds of unsubstantiated claims about the social and psychological influences of video games."

Hmm, a thinly veiled jibe in Kim's general direction perhaps!? Oh I certainly do hope so.

It really is disappointing to see someone who supposedly works to strengthen the UK's creative industries, actually working against them. This is a man who I would love to take into a room containing an Xbox, Gamecube and PS2. Then I would introduce him to Pikmin, any Mario game, Ico, any Final Fantasy game (but probably VII), Jet Set Radio Future and Splinter Cell. He would then be forced to play each of them, until finally I would challenge him to say that none of these games had "humanity," or displayed any of the "finer virtues" and that he didn't enjoy playing them. Then I would go "Hah!" really loudly, right in his face and leave him a spluttering, confused mess, begging for the forgiveness of gamers everywhere.

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