Professor Simon Pearce Dr Tim Cheetham published an fascinating clinical review in the British Medical Journal earlier this month. Their research, a collaboration between Newcastle University and Newcastle NHS Foundation Hospital, led the two respected academics to conclude that Vitamin D should be added to milk and other food products, in a bid to halt a rise in the number of children suffering from rickets. Here’s the press release from Newcastle University that highlights their research.
After reading the press release, a startling fact jumped off the page:
“Half of all adults in the UK have Vitamin D deficiency in the winter and spring, and one in six have severe deficiency. This is worse in northern regions and could be part of the reason for the health gap between the north and south.
“And the condition has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and autoimmune conditions as well as osteomalacia, which is the painful manifestation of soft bones in adults.”
I discovered their research after reading lurid headlines in the Metro Newspaper last week. The front page splash carried the headline “Video gaming leads to a surge in rickets”. The headline was so obviously misleading that I knew it would irritate the army of video game players who form Gamers’ Voice, the group we established just before Christmas.
Even the respected correspondent in the Times, David Rose, had to suffer the indignity of the headline “TV and computer games blamed for rickets” ITN (yes, ITN) ran the story “Experts say gaming leads to a rise in rickets”. Well done to the one media outlet I could find thatwrote the headline: “50% of UK Vitamin D deficient”
After consulting members of Gamers’ Voice, I emailed Professor Pearce:
“I read the front page of the Metro this morning with interest. Am I right in thinking that you have written a report that links video games to rickets? Is it possible to send me details?”
He was candid about how the story was portrayed in some newspapers and online outlets:
“No we really didn’t do a study to show that, or say that Gaming causes rickets. It was a classic piece of dodgy lazy journalism, taking 3 words out of PA’s hyped-up version of our press release.”
The Press Association release that I assume he’s referring to, does not mention video games, though there is a reference to computers.
By chance, I’d met the amiable Nicholas Lovell at a video games industry conference on the day the story was published. He was similarly irritated by the misleading headlines and had contacted the academics as well. Nicholas is not a journalist. He’s an analyst. Still, he did fair reporting a favour last week.
So, once again video games get a kicking in the press based on an untruth. And the poor health academics who are trying to get their important research across to policy makers have their work undermined by nonsensical headlines. Now that I’ve read the research and talked to Professor Pearce, I feel I have a duty to help them get their message across.
I’m going to table this motion later today:
This House notes with concern the recent clinical review by Cheetham and Pearce in the British Medical Journal, “Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency” that shows an increase of rickets amongst children in the UK; further notes that this was reported in many newspapers as being linked to the growth of video games and that the newspaper “Metro” published the front page headline “Video gaming leads to a surge in rickets”; understands that half of all adults in the UK have Vitamin D deficiency in the winter and spring, and one in six have severe deficiency and the condition has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and autoimmune conditions as well as osteomalacia; understands that it has been known since 1922 that rickets and osteomalacia are caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D in the diet and inadequate exposure to sunlight; and therefore realises that video games do not, in fact, cause the disease; believes that the solution to combatting rickets is cheap and simple; calls on the government to examine the case for Vitamin D supplementation in food and for parents to encourage their children run around more.”
I’m also going to quiz Department for Health Ministers to see what work they’re doing in this area.
Finally, if you’re a gamer, why not let Metro know about the research.
Fascinating taxpayer funded research commissioned by NESTA on what leading figures in the games industry think the effect of a cultural tax credit might be. It’s Time to Play: A Survey on the impact of a tax credit for cultural video gamesin the UK development sector (pdf format) The executive summary says it all:
A world-class sector under pressure
Survey respondents describe a world-class creative industry under increasing pressure. Experience, creativity and quality have been the traditional advantages of UK video games developers, while high costs and skill shortages are their main disadvantages. The availability of government subsidies overseas is making the UK even less competitive as a video games development territory, not only from the point of view of costs, but also of skills -Strong government support in competitor countries (particularly Canada) is attracting key senior staff in a ‘brain drain’ which intensifies existing skill shortages and threatens the quality of the UK’s output.
Original IP development seems to be in decline
Nearly three quarters of respondents claim that original Intellectual Property (IP) development has slowed or stopped in the last 5 years, and more than half think that this the trend will continue in the future, with the potential exception of emerging networked gaming platforms. Risk aversion by publishers is making it harder for UK developers to be creative and innovative, areas where they have excelled in the past.
A slow-down in the UK video games sector
Most respondents report growth of some kind over the past 2 years. This growth is expected to slow down, or halt altogether in the coming 2 years. The survey sample includes some of the UK’s most successful video games business. This means that the growth prospects for the rest of the industry could be expected to be significantly worse. A shift in publisher strategy might benefit some UK developers Although 3rd party development managers report low levels of investment in UK-based original IP production over the last 2 years, they claim that there will be a steady increase in the funds available for original IP in the years to come. This is a consequence of a shift in some publishers’ development resources from internal studios towards external contractors, who are often seen as more efficient. This increased demand will, however, need to be matched by an increased supply of original IP from the UK. There is optimism about the potential impact of a tax credit for cultural games Almost all respondents believe that if introduced, the tax credit for cultural games currently under discussion would have a positive impact on the sector, as long as it is designed to take into account the specific requirements of the industry, and administered effectively. The tax credit for cultural games would help to ‘level the international playing field’, and make it easier for UK studios to retain their talent. In regards to direct impacts, 89% of studios responding to the survey believe that a tax credit for cultural games would lead to increases in their staff numbers. 70% of publisher and external finance company respondents state that a tax credit could make the difference between investing in and passing on a games development opportunity in the UK.
The tax credit for cultural games would kick-start original IP development and encourage experimentation with new business models. Two thirds of studios claim that a tax credit for cultural games would have a definite, positive impact on original IP development, while 75% of independents believe that the measure would help them to keep hold of the original IP that they produce.
All independent studios state that a tax credit would encourage them to adopt new business models based on digital distribution, with the potential to establish direct relationships with their consumers and generate steadier revenue streams. In order to fund these new ventures, they would be more likely to seek financing from sources outside of the video games industry, such as venture capital or project financing. The tax credit would boost publisher investment in the UK video games sector All 3rd party development managers claim that a tax credit would increase their companies’ funding of externally contracted development, and could make the difference between investing in and passing on a UK games development opportunity. Similarly,80% of senior publisher executives claim that tax credits would boost their funding of development by both internal and independent studios in the UK.
The investor perspective
The majority of external finance sources consider the UK video games sector to be an unattractive prospect for investment at the moment. The reasons for this are lack of scale, and an excessive emphasis on traditional, high-risk retail business models instead of network gaming and direct-to-consumer propositions. They are unanimously positive about the impact of a tax credit on the scale and/or number of investments in UK video games projects. Half of respondents would change their attitude towards investing in UK video games companies if the tax credit for cultural games was introduced.
Thank you, Graham (Brown-Martin, Founder, Learning Without Frontiers). It’s truly a pleasure to be here.
Well, some people think that the Sports Minister has the best job in government, but he doesn’t get to play video games at work.
Though I do sometimes fight against the perception that that’s all I do. And, to be fair, when I first entered parliament, I listed my hobbies in Who’s Who as walking and Playstation 2. Though I don’t want to sound partisan; that was in 2001 and now I’ve also got an XBox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. And I am a bit of an evangelist for the industry. So I suppose I see where they’re coming from.
But I’m willing to take the knocks, because I think the video games industry is important. It’s important many of the things that government does, and there are few ministerial portfolios that the industry doesn’t have an impact on: education, health, defence, business, criminal justice… They all have the opportunity to benefit from the video games industry, whether it’s training, planning, simulation, learning or benefiting from a growth engine for the economy.
And obviously, the games industry is central for my brief – not just the digital engagement aspect, but also because I’m charged with the civil service, so the skills and training capabilities are vital.
But none of that is why I’m here today.
I’m here today because of my three-year-old son, Malachy. He learnt to count Telly Tubbies using the spacebar on a Mac. I was staggered. And my friend’s boy, Barney, learnt how to make bronze after he needed to smelt a broadsword playing RuneScape. He had to build a mine to extract the tin before he could do it. And he’s eight years old.
I’m also here because you give me the honour of meeting some of the people who are responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of hours of creative play in my childhood – Nolan Bushnell and Ian Livingstone, who between them unleashed a world of imagination, requiring skill, dexterity, logic, practice, discipline and above all else insomnia.
Whatever the perception about them, games are good. Games help you learn. They make you think, focus, challenge and change. Five hundred years ago, a medium that achieved that would be called art.
But I’m also here because I want to thank same of the greatest educationalists in the UK for the work that you do.
Last night I witnessed an incredible discussion between Nolan and Derek Robertson. They debated the limits and use of technology in the classroom.
Nolan of course was out there – envisioning a totally radicalised new classroom architecture. But Derek reminded me that at the heart of any educational journey is a teacher. And for great teachers, technology is just another tool to unlock a piece of knowledge, or impart a new concept.
Good teachers inspire children to learn whether it be using a rolled up piece of crepe paper and a Pritt Stick or an interactive whiteboard.
Derek’s passion for education and teaching was as inspiring as Nolan’s vision for a new technologically enabled future. To Derek, and the many of you here today – no child should be left behind; no child is the same; every child has a unique talent. It’s just that you have to capture their imagination.
You are here today because you know that if you can teach maths, logic, geography and planning using a World Tour of Guitar Hero, why shouldn’t you?
Stimulating all different areas of the brain is good for the intellect as a whole.
The idea isn’t new – it’s been the underpinning philosophy of education throughout history. Plato and Aristotle considered it essential to the development of intellectual and moral excellence. From the Middle Ages, it formed the basis for the university system. It was the foundation of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. And it can be found throughout modern education systems the world over.
People learn in different ways – so why should we cut off an avenue that can reach a whole segment of the population better than the traditional means do?
It’s unfair to students who learn differently.
And it’s unfair to us: do we really want to lose the next Nolan Bushnell – because they didn’t get the opportunity to learn the best way for them?
Malachy will be going to big school soon – maybe too soon for his parents – and the way they use technology when he gets there will be a deciding factor in his future.
But there is a tremendous challenge when it comes to the institutional implementation of games-based learning. Part of it stems from the very innovation that makes the industry so great: the speed of development means that it’s difficult for any institution – public or private – to keep pace.
And part of it stems from generational knowledge gaps. I’m not saying that older generations aren’t connected – and lest anyone think I’m being ageist, by ‘older’ I’m including my generation, and the one that came just behind me. On the contrary, we’re constantly hearing stories about how plugged-in everyone is: politicians are using Twitter, parents and grandparents are getting on Facebook – and embarrassing their children while they do it. But they’re about five years behind their children. Which, as you know, is a millennium in cyber-years.
We’re dealing with a generation of kids who are so familiar with what we call ‘technology’ that the word is virtually meaningless to them; what we call ‘technology’, they call ‘life’.
They aren’t worried about learning PowerPoint, and frankly, it won’t affect their lives – for them, it’s about web2.0, social networks, gaming, collaboration and self-published content.
This is the first generation of children who, by the time they enter school, will be in a position to teach their parents about one of the most fundamental aspects of our society.
Or, as Don Tapscott put it, ‘This is the first generation of people that work, play, think and learn differently than their parents’.
So how do we keep up with the constant pace of innovation? And how do we bridge that gap? I think that the passion for e-learning is there – a Futurelab/BECTA poll showed that the vast majority of teachers believe that a multitude of skills can be developed through playing computer games: cognitive and motor, ICT, higher-order thinking.
I think the discussion is in the logistics. It’s about how we make it work without having technology and software that’s obsolete two minutes after it’s installed. It’s about finding people with the skills to identify what’s out there and anticipate what’s coming. It’s about finding a way to make an intricately-woven, multi-faceted system keep pace with change, without throwing any one component out of sync. It’s about looking at new models of faster, streamlined procurement of ICT.
No small task, then. But I’m absolutely looking forward to hearing what you have to say about that today.
I don’t think there’s any doubt that we need 21st century education system that keeps up with 21st century needs. And the video games industry can be key to that.
I was at a mini-conference hosted by BERR a few months ago, and got so excited by some of what I was seeing and hearing that I texted Ed Balls in the middle of it all.
Beacuse there’s so much to get excited about in the field: just yesterday I met with a team who are developing a really fantastic game called MP for a Week. Tom O’Leary and Peter Sidwell are here today. Players learn the ins and outs of parliament – dealing with constituents, whips, parliamentary questions, speeches, the media; learning how to respond and what to prioritise – and losing party or constituent support when they get it wrong. And it’ll be online, so players can deal with real issues in real time. Part of me hopes that it won’t be too realistic and discourage a whole generation from entering politics.
The great thing is, it’s meant for Key Stage 3, but all my staff are really excited to play it. I’m sure a number of my colleagues will be, as well.
And one of the ways I can get an extra 10 minutes in bed when a 3 year old wakes up at 5am is to hand over my iphone to allow him to play a phonics game.
And when he’s older, he’ll be playing Rolando – a smash hit iphone game. It makes money. It entertains and teaches physics. Simon Oliver, its creator, epitomises the sheer genius of UK games designers.
And I definitely think that there’s a place for games and e-learning in every aspect of government. I’ve just taken a Cabinet Office e-learning module on data security; but that really is a story for another time…
The industry is key for all the reasons I already mentioned – health, defence, disaster preparedness; it really is all interconnected.
And there’s another reason: if my son’s education is an essential component of his future, so is the economic fortitude of the country he grows up in. Britain’s strength lies in a knowledge economy. We need to support sectors and businesses that can prosper and grow and put Britain on solid footing. This isn’t just important to help us come through a recession; it’s important to creating a Britain that comes out the other side with a reformed economy focused on new opportunities. This recession will end, and we need to prepare for that time by investing in our strengths. And the games industry is one where UK plc should be leading the pack.
It’s innovative. It’s world-leading. And in the face of all the doom and gloom, Britain’s games industry just keeps going: you can see it in the 23 per cent increase in sales last year; or in the fact that the UK already has a global reputation for its e-learning products.
Not to mention that the innovation that defines the games industry is the calling-card of successful business. Innovation and skills are the key to next-generation businesses, and we need to champion them. The Simon Oliver’s of the UK should have a big role in the future.
So I suppose you can see that I mean it when I say I want to be the industry’s champion in government. I realise, of course, that by doing this, I’m going to be the guy with a number of heavily editorialised tabloid newspapers on his back. But this industry is so important it’s worth the risk.
I know there are challenges right now. I know that outside organisations sometimes don’t move at the same pace as the industry – though I’m afraid nothing does, except maybe Formula One. But I have no doubt that, working together, there is much we can achieve.
And I think that government and the video games industry are a perfect fit. I represent a generation that grew up playing Manic Miner on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Defender on a BBC Micro, and I think the reason we have the best gaming industries in the world is because of the vision of that time: we put computers in the hands of a young generation of talent – and they have gone onto achieve the most remarkable things. In those days we programmed in BASIC. Today’s teenagers should be coding in Flash.
So I think there is a very positive future.
I am your advocate in government. This is important to me because I have a duty to do whatever I can to make this government the best it can be. And it’s important to me because it affects my children’s futures.
I’m looking forward to hearing what you all have to say; and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have right now – I’m keen to get the discussion going.