My Favourite Game

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Labour’s Tom Wat­son re­veals the ex­tent of his bond with Por­tal 2

The Labour MP re­calls how Space In­vaders ate his lunch money, and the morn­ing-af­ter ef­fects of a late-night Por­tal 2 ses­sion

Tom Wat­son’s ca­reer has been a colour­ful one. Cur­rently MP for West Bromwich East, he has been Labour’s cam­paign or­gan­iser, was in­stru­men­tal in se­cur­ing par­dons for WWI sol­diers shot for cow­ardice, and cam­paigned to ban the sale of Gary Glit­ter al­bums. But his en­dur­ing pas­sion is gam­ing, and Wat­son’s be­come a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for the in­dus­try dur­ing his time in par­lia­ment. You’re a big sup­porter of the UK game in­dus­try. Why is it im­por­tant to you? I feel ter­rif­i­cally priv­i­leged to have lived through the pe­riod where gam­ing be­came ubiq­ui­tous and moved into the home. From the point I first saw the Space In­vaders coin-op to when I could pro­gram in Sin­clair BA­SIC on a ZX80 to the day my brother and I re­ceived our Atari con­sole – th­ese are in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful mem­o­ries from my child­hood that have given me a love of videogames. I love shar­ing that joy with my kids and, would you be­lieve it, I’ve ended up be­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment who can talk about ut this stuff on a plat­form where it can ma­kee a dif­fer­ence. When I was first elected, I got in­cred­i­bly ir­ri­tated about the way that par­lia­ment knew noth­ing about the in­dus­try and saw it al­most as a dis­eased arm of com­merce. But the main rea­son is s that I just ab­so­lutely love videogames! Were you ever wor­ried about speak­ingg out in sup­port of your pas­sion? It’s never wor­ried me, but when I first started talk­ing about the videogame in­dus­try – or at least when peo­ple started d lis­ten­ing to me talk­ing about it – I was cu­ri­ous about what the re­sponse would be. There are sev­eral things that I’ve done in par­lia­ment that I won’t say have been sig­nif­i­cant, but have moved the de­bate on. The most im­por­tant thing was chang­ing the neg­a­tive stereo­type of some of the house­hold names, such as Call Of Duty or GTA. I amended one of Keith Vaz’s mo­tions, and ev­ery time he con­demned games, I chal­lenged it with pos­i­tives about games and the con­tri­bu­tion they make to in­dus­try. I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the re­sponse – a lot of MPs started tak­ing an in­ter­est. Did you face re­sis­tance when pre­sent­ing ideas like that to par­lia­ment? I once had to do a pre­sen­ta­tion to the cabi­net when Gor­don Brown was Prime Min­is­ter, and one of my bul­let points was: ‘We’ve got to learn to love the videogame in­dus­try.’ I gave the ex­am­ple of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who was tasked with tran­si­tion­ing from the Bush team – a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal op­er­a­tion – who was [also] a highly re­garded World Of War­craft player. I ex­plained that he showed lead­er­ship and team­build­ing qual­i­ties in a vir­tual world, and that th­ese qual­i­ties had helped him get the job. I looked around the ta­ble and most of my col­leagues clearly thought, ‘He’s lost con­trol of his senses,’ but it was a real buzz for me. What kind of games do you en­joy? There are very few games that have re­ally got in my head. Be­ing a male of a cer­tain age, the one that first did that for me was Space In­vaders. I re­mem­ber the first time I played it at the Sil­ver Blades ice rink in Birm­ing­ham. It was 50p for school lunches, but if you went to the cafe you could get sausage and chips for 30p and have two games on Space In­vaders. And what about now? The cur­rent one is Des­tiny – I’ve been on that for hun­dreds of hours, and it’s the first time I’ve re­ally en­joyed the on­line space. So which game is your favourite? I’m prob­a­bly over­come with nos­tal­gia about Space In­vaders, but an­other game that took over my life was Por­tal 2. No­body’s got a bad word to say about it, but it nearly ended my po­lit­i­cal run of good luck. I’d been in­ves­ti­gat­ing phone hack­ing, and we had Ru­pert and James Mur­doch in front of us… We brought James back be­cause we thought some of his an­swers were con­tra­dic­tory. The first time around, I’d been in­ves­ti­gat­ing this thing for two years. I had a ques­tion plan, I’d been talk­ing to friends who were lawyers, and I was work­ing out dif­fer­ent an­gles. I was work­ing on the same for James, but un­for­tu­nately be­tween the two ses­sions I’d bought Por­tal 2, which I played till 4am the day he was ap­pear­ing at the com­mit­tee. It was all go­ing OK, but twothirds into my ques­tion plan, I ran out of ques­tions, be­cause when I should have been pre­par­ing, I’d been play­ing Por­tal 2. I’ve never ad­mit­ted that to any­one.

“I looked around the ta­ble and most of my col­leagues clearly thought, ‘He’s lost con­trol of his senses’”

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