My Favourite Game
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’”