Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio JAMES LEACH

James ames Leach frets over the im­pact his is games have on young minds

If I some­times ap­pear cyn­i­cal it’s be­cause the world is rub­bish and al­ways lets you down. But, just oc­ca­sion­ally, nice things hap­pen. I was ap­proached at a party re­cently by two trendy guys. They looked like they were in their 30s and also like they were in the ’30s, thanks to their hip­ster clothes. I was pre­par­ing to tell them I was not in a po­si­tion to sell them any drugs when they men­tioned that they recog­nised me as one of the peo­ple who worked on Lion­head (RIP)’s Black & White and Big Blue Box (Lest We For­get)’s Fa­ble.

It’s one thing to have your name spot­ted. This has hap­pened be­fore, be­cause I was also a mem­ber of the US House Of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 1977 to 2007. Or some­one with the same name was. That part of my life is a bit of a blur. But these guys at the party knew me as the game-writer dude, and it turns out they loved the games I’ve worked on.

Yes, I know this is all self-ag­gran­dis­ing show­ing off, but the guys ac­tu­ally said that these games changed their lives. This stopped me in my tracks be­cause I’ve never con­sid­ered the im­pact of videogames to be as big as that on the peo­ple we sell them to. For me, a few ZX Spec­trum games re­ally did change my life be­cause I knew I wanted to play them for a liv­ing, and even one day be a part of the teams that wrote them. Up un­til then I was pre­des­tined to be a weapons in­struc­tor for the SAS in Here­ford. And, as a teen, it’s clear that games de­layed my in­tro­duc­tion to fe­male girls of the op­po­site sex. In fact even more re­cently, af­ter I was in­volved in a road traf­fic col­li­sion near my home, which was en­tirely my fault, I had the pres­ence of mind to drive rapidly of­froad and park up in an aban­doned mi­ne­shaft for three min­utes to suc­cess­fully avoid the po­lice cars and he­li­copters that were in­stantly af­ter me.

If, though, we as de­vel­op­ers are chang­ing young lives, it’s a re­spon­si­bil­ity we need to be aware of and to take with a de­gree of se­ri­ous­ness. Black & White pi­o­neered, I be­lieve, the no­tion that if you are pow­er­ful enough, be­ing good or evil is a choice you can make purely de­pend­ing on the short-term gains you achieve from ei­ther path. You are not ul­ti­mately judged on your align­ment, and thus you do not have to face sanc­tions from above at any time. It’s sim­ply a de­ci­sion you make to get what you want. As I chat­ted to the lads at the party, I learnt that one had de­voted his life to vol­un­teer work for the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross, and the other had a tri­dent and a Transit van out­side full of wail­ing or­phans. Both seemed equally happy with their lot. It seems Black & White was ahead of its time.

It’d be in­ter­est­ing to know the num­ber of peo­ple who trade on the world’s stock mar­kets as a di­rect re­sult of ship­ping slaves be­tween plan­ets in Elite. Or, in the fu­ture, whether the ranks of space agen­cies will be filled with bright young minds who ac­tu­ally un­der­stood what was go­ing on in Ker­bal Space Pro­gram. Maybe, when the in­evitable break­down of so­ci­ety fi­nally plays out and zom­bies come for us all, we’ll be fine be­cause most of us know ex­actly where to camp and what weapons to use. Al­though equally, per­haps we’ll die out be­cause in­stead of cor­rectly treat­ing the wounds we re­ceive dur­ing this dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing time we’ll sim­ply go and eat tiny roast chick­ens in an at­tempt to re­store our health. I’ve talked be­fore about how I can­not pass a crate in real life with­out hit­ting it with a sword in or­der to see what ar­mour-based bonuses lie within.

Ex­pen­sive pub­lic board­ing schools saw an up­take in ad­mis­sions while sales of owls sim­i­larly rock­eted af­ter the Harry Pot­ter books came out, and I sus­pect that nowa­days sniper schools ev­ery­where have long lines of po­ten­tial re­cruits. If that’s the case, their first mis­take is stand­ing still in an or­derly queue, es­pe­cially if they’re sil­hou­et­ting.

I haven’t met any­one in their mid-20s named Dhal­sim or E Honda, but I like to think that they’re out there. In fact, I know they are. My neigh­bour is ac­tu­ally called Ken. He once told me that be­fore he re­tired, he used to work for Uni­gate Dairies, just like his dad – who, I’m will­ing to bet, had a mod­ded Su­per Fam­i­com con­sole in his par­lour. Proof if proof were needed.

Bur­dened by the weight of my con­science, I have now vowed to work only on games that pro­mote fam­ily val­ues and peace­ful dis­course rather than vi­o­lence. It’s blind­ingly ob­vi­ous that the woes in the Mid­dle East came about as a di­rect re­sult of my work on Dun­geon Keeper.

Oh, and the two hip­sters did even­tu­ally say that they pre­ferred Skyrim to the Fa­ble se­ries, so I had to kill them with a rail­gun.

I haven’t met any­one in their mid-20s named Dhal­sim or E Honda, but I like to think that they’re out there

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