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As Boris Johnson Launches the London Games Festival, Let’s Remember When He Hated These ‘Drivelling Machines’

Back in 2006, the Mayor of London demanded that we "garrotte the Game Boy and paralyse the PlayStation".

A screengrab of Boris Johnson in 'Minecraft', via YouTube

It's okay to change your tune about a topic, a trend, a pastime, or an important part of popular culture. We all do it at some stage of our lives. Me, I used to think cheesy Eurodance, the kind that soundtracked the birthday party discos of my early teens, was utterly without merit. Nowadays, I play Now That's What I Call 90s Dance in the car and drive my wife nuts with a string of hits from the likes of Baby D, Dr Alban and The Outhere Brothers. I've come to embrace Robin S like I never did over 20 years ago.

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So I'm not about to come down too hard on the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, as he becomes Minecraft-ed in support of a new video games festival taking place in the English capital. The originally named London Games Festival will run from April 1st to the 10th, supported by both the British trade body Ukie and Film London. This is A Good Thing for the UK, one of the most important markets in the global gaming industry as well as a hotbed of development talent. The London Games Festival will be open to both gaming professionals and the public, and you can find out a lot more about it by visiting the event's official website.

Click to that site and you'll find this video of Boris transformed into the kind of character you'd find in Mojang's Minecraft. Have a watch, why don't you.

There's a load of talk about money, numbers, jobs, stuff that means business – stuff that you probably don't care all that much about. He concludes with a clear mission statement: "We must now take London's gaming industry to the next level." And I'm right there with the man. Yes, we must. Britain is home to many amazing studios, like Rare and State of Play, Frontier and The Chinese Room, Hello Games and Media Molecule, Creative Assembly and Roll7 and I really could go on but the point is that we'd all like more of this sort of thing, please.

Thing is, Boris really didn't want more of this sort of thing a decade ago. Which is okay, it's alright, you should be cool with him hating on video games for The Telegraph back in 2006, and now fronting a fresh charge in the good fight for having gaming recognised not only as a vital force in the British economy but also a form of expression every bit as valuable to modern society as film, fashion, theatre and music. Because it's normal for us to reverse opinions, to contradict views we may have previously expressed because we now know them to be poppycock.

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But that doesn't mean we can't have a laugh, right now, at some of the absolute nonsense that the Mayor of London wrote in December 2006 under the headline "The Writing Is On the Wall – Computer Games Rot the Brain". Come on, let's all enjoy these cracking quotes:

"It is time to garrotte the Game Boy and paralyse the PlayStation, and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males."

"…surveys increasingly show that children regard reading as a chore, something that needs to be accomplished for the sake of passing tests, not as a joy in itself. It is a disaster, and I refuse to believe that these hypnotic little machines (he means games consoles) are innocent."

It gets better:

"We get on with our hedonistic 21st-century lives while in some other room the nippers are bleeping and zapping in speechless rapture, their passive faces washed in explosions and gore. They sit for so long that their souls seem to have been sucked down the cathode ray tube."

Ah, CRT TVs. Those were the days. The backbreaking days. Anyway, there's more:

"(The children) become like blinking lizards, motionless, absorbed, only the twitching of their hands showing they are still conscious. These machines teach them nothing."

"…it is no comfort that Britain has more computer games per household than any other EU country…"

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"…young males in particular won't read enough if we continually capitulate and let them fritter their lives away in front of these drivelling machines."

Related, on Noisey: Why Are So Many of Britain's Buskers Being Arrested?

The crux of his article, of his wonderfully naïve argument against video games, is that the playing of them directly relates to falling literacy standards at the time. Which is why we get this barbed paragraph towards the piece's end, aimed right at the then Labour government:

"Gordon Brown proposed in his Pre-Budget Report to spend £2,000 per head on improving the reading of six-year-old boys. That is all well and good, especially when you consider that the cost of remedial English in secondary school soars to £50,000 per head. But it would be cheaper and possibly more effective if we all – politicians, parents, whoever – had the nerve to crack down on this electronic opiate."

Mmm, electronic opiate, so moreish. And then, the climax we'd all been waiting for:

"Get up off the sofa… and go to where your children are sitting in auto-lobotomy in front of the console. Summon up all your strength, all your courage. Steel yourself for the screams and yank out that plug."

This is funny. You're supposed to laugh. At least, you are now. The passing of time heals (almost) all, and I don't think anyone involved in the games industry today is going to hold this ridiculous missive of misinformed ire against Boris, someone who chooses to have hair that looks as if it was doodled by an eight year old messing about with Deluxe Paint II. We can put it behind us – I mean, it's been nearly ten years – and look ahead to the London Games Festival knowing that the bloke who's in charge of the nation's most famous city absolutely, totally, 100 percent supports British gaming. Yep. Honest. Cubed hand on blocky heart.

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@MikeDiver

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