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“Risk an early death, do nothing” – Change4Life puts the boot into the games industry

By on March 6, 2009

Will the government ever stop using lazy, knee-jerk cliches when considering the games industry?

The latest furore is a Change4Life ad published in women’s lifestyle magazines Star, Reveal and Heat, and revealed in MCV today.

The ad, pictured right, shows a boy slouched on a sofa holding a PS3 controller under the headline “Risk an early death, do nothing.” The clear implication: playing on the console leads to an early death.

It’s as if the Department of Health has wilfully ignored all the positive aspects of the games industry that the government is happy to wax lyrical about elsewhere.

The games industry “fulfills and plays an important role in our society, and a very constructive role in the lives of many young people, as well as middle-aged people like myself.” – Shaun Woodward, Government minister. (Source: Gamesindustry.biz)
The Byron Review refers to “the educational, social and entertainment benefits that the internet and video games technologies clearly offer.” – Dr Tanya Byron. (Source: Byron Review, p15)

I don’t think anyone would deny that spending too long doing anything sedentary is a wasted opportunity to get fitter. Watching TV, reading a book, social-networking, texting – all of these are sedentary activities, as is being driven to school rather than walking and an endless list of other possible targets.

I spoke to a Department of Health spokesman who pointed to Foresight, a government organisation that aims “to provide visions of the future using robust science to be used by policymakers to inform government policy and strategy, and to improve how science and technology are used within Government and by society. ” They produced a report (Tackling Obesities: Future Choices) which is cited by the Department of Health as evidence for their campaign.

Only the report doesn’t draw any such conclusions.

“the effect of technological development has been to continually engineer physical effort out of the environment. Cars, television and computer games are examples of technologies that have had such effects in recent decades… There is currently a lack of conclusive evidence on how and to what extent obesity is encouraged by the environment.”

The report highlights television, parents’ fear of letting their children play outside unsupervised, economic factors and food marketing as risk factors in the obesity issue. That quote above is the only reference to computer games in the 164 page document.

So on the one hand, the games industry is one of the UK’s great success stories, lauded by government. It employs 22,000 people directly. It represents 30% of all screen-based media exports from the UK, and the UK is the 4th largest developer of video games in the world. 59% of 6-65 year olds play games.

And on the other, it’s the lazy target of a wrong-headed campaign based around assumption and prejudice.

In a strident editorial, MCV Deputy Editor Tim Ingham encourages us to fight back. “It’s the time for us to stand up as an industry and say: “That’s not fair”

So I’m not just going to whinge. I’m going to do something. And so can you.

  1. Complain to the Advertising Standards Association. The ASA can stop “can stop misleading, harmful or offensive advertising” and I for one think that this advert is misleading, as well as being deeply harmful to one of Britain’s great success stories.
  2. Join the Facebook group Change4Life – gamers fight back to show your abhorrence of lazy stereotyping.
  3. Twitter it: #change4life reckons the games industry is the cause of obesity despite no evidence #fail http://bit.ly/fLOWy

We need to stand up and be counted, to make sure that games do not become the standard scapegoat for all society’s ills.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com