bbcdish.jpgSimon Nelson, head of New Media at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is due to speak next Tuesday at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival about the corporation’s strategy for its new iPlayer software, which was released into beta last month. There are rumblings that the software could be used to serve games to users as well as TV and radio shows, Nelson will also be discussing how the BBC plans to move into the game development market. I don’t see them making much of an impact really, here’s why:

I was listening to the Today Programme, a morning current affairs show on Radio 4, when a segment about video games and the growth of the casual segment of the market came on, focussed primarily on “Brain Training” on the Wii. The first point that was made was that upon entering a teenager’s room you were likely to hear the sounds of someone playing a violent video game. The example given was Quake 4, which the “youngster” playing it described as being just a “General deathmatch, you know, kill ’em all”. The rest of the segment was fairly innocuous, talking mainly about the validity of the ‘Brain Age’ measurement used in the title.
I have a variety of issues with this, and I believe that it is indicative of the quality of coverage that the BBC gives the gaming industry.

  • Firstly, they seem to have a narrow view of what games are about, implying that “Bashing orcs and dragons and re-enacting world war two” are all games are about. The truth is that games cover as wide a range of genres as film or television, from horror to science fiction, strategy to beat ’em ups, and historical to fantasy. It would seem that they are trying to belittle an industry which they see as being in direct competition with the services they currently offer. Hardly a way to ingratiate themselves with an industry they want to be a part of.
  • Secondly, They have no knowledge of the demographic that they’re aiming for, regarding more traditional video games as being toys for children and “teenage boys”. A recent study by the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) discovered that the average age of game players is 33 years old and that they have been playing for 12 years. Only 31% of gamers are under the age of 18, so the BBC’s assertion that video games are for ‘youngsters’ is far from accurate. As a global media and news provider it is encumbent on them to do the proper research into the subjects they are covering, if they can’t do that for one of their more popular programs then how will they know which games will be popular through their iPlayer software?
  • Finally, the use of Quake 4 as indicative of games in general is misleading. Quake 4 is one example of one game in one genre among many. The impression given was that all video games that “teenage boys” play are similarly mindless and violent, when they aren’t. It was also not made clear that the deathmatch game mode is primarily a multiplayer mode which has none of the elements present in the single player such as story and characterisation.

All in all, I feel that not only have I personally been misrepresented to the listeners of Radio 4, which I also listen to, a whole segment of today’s society has been marginalised. Gamers are not only teenagers, they are mostly people who started playing when teenagers and continue playing to this day. The industry has also been misrepresented as one which caters to a juvenile desire to blow things up and “kill ’em all” when nothing could be further from the truth. There is no way that wider society will accept gaming and games as the art form it is if this misleading reporting continues, there is also little hope of the BBC’s future foray into gaming being as successful as it could be if basic facts are not realised.

I look froward to hearing what Simon Nelson has to say on the matter next Tuesday.

(From Scotland on Sunday.)

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