Ed Vaizey is the UK’s minister for culture, communications and creative industries, a remit that just happens to cover some of the world’s best game developers. Vaizey has been instrumental in raising the profile of games behind the high walls of the Houses of Parliament but, it turns out, he’s equally happy playing Plants Vs Zombies on the Tube.
When did you first start gaming?
Well, I wouldn’t describe myself as a gamer, and I was never very good at games. Obviously, being aged 43, my gaming trajectory probably followed that of people very similar to my age, which is a bit of Asteroids to start with, and then moving on to Space Invaders. The memory probably plays tricks, but I think it was probably around when I was ten or 11. And then the most sophisticated it got for me was probably Defender. But I think the trouble with playing games at that age, when you’re 13 or 14, is if you’re not very good but your mates are, it tends to put you off! So games never really embedded in my consciousness. But now I’m starting to play games again. Partly, obviously, because I’m the games minister, but actually it’s become something I do with my son, who’s not yet five. It’s a very good example of why on one hand games have this image of solitary people who are antisocial, whereas my son and I started off with Angry Birds and now we’ve moved on to Plants Vs Zombies. It’s a game that I’m really quite enjoying – to the extent that I now surreptitiously play it by myself when my wife’s gone to bed! I’ve also got myself a Wii, and I play Mario Kart.
Other than professionally, how do games factor into your day?
All of this stuff depends partly on your background, and partly on your lifestyle. I think the reason that social gaming and apps have taken off is that if I’m on the Tube, for example, I’m not going to be able to look at my emails or anything, but I can take out my iPhone and get to the next level of Plants Vs Zombies! So I think that being able to dip into games when you’re travelling is the kind of thing that’s going to make people like me play more. Like I say, I wasn’t culturally a gamer – it wasn’t something that caught on with me in my teenage years because I wasn’t very good at them. But now, middle-aged men with iPhones are more likely to play games because they’re so easy to get.
Outside of game industry exponents such as yourself and Tom Watson, has there been a shift in attitude towards games among MPs?
Yeah, I think there’s been a definite shift. TIGA and UKIE have been very good at raising the profile of games and getting across a different message to politicians about the applicability of games to a range of sectors – such as education – and the fact that game companies employ top-notch graduates with formidable backgrounds in computer science and art. And I certainly think with a new generation of MPs you’re going to see a significant shift [towards] support of gaming in parliament.
Most people are aware of the Houses of Parliament’s bars, but when are we likely to see a gaming room for MPs?
It’s quite an interesting point you make there, because I asked if I could put a games console in my room in the department. The powers that be were against it, because people coming for meetings would assume that I was spending every spare minute playing games! Yet I’m allowed a TV… I should have been more firm. Perhaps I will be more firm and say I want a games console in my office to put on display and show the best of British gaming – I would happily do that! And I think that’s a very good point: people don’t think twice about the fact that every MP has a TV in their room. As for setting up a gaming room, why shouldn’t we? Especially as I think we have a rifle range somewhere – although I’ve never found it… [laughs]
A lightgun range would be a lot safer.
Exactly! And if the industry wanted to start talks along those lines with the Commons Society, I would certainly support them.
OK, time to pick your favourite game.
Well, it’s a complicated question. At the moment, it’s definitely Plants Vs Zombies. But Defender is the one that sticks mostly in my mind, because that was the block to me becoming a gamer, as I wasn’t very good at it. ‘Favourite’ isn’t the right word to describe Defender, but ‘most significant’ probably is.