News & Commentary, Screen, Video Games

Election scorecard: How the three major parties perform on video games

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In the wake of the Federal budget, an already devastated arts industry is looking at a truly decrepit future — so this election is not about optimism. The best we can hope for come July 2 is a reversal of some of the damage the LNP has inflicted in the last couple of years.

But purely in the interest of self flagellation, let’s take a close look at what the election might hold for one very small, but very important, corner of the arts: the video game industry.

This has been said many times before, but needs to be said again for context; the video game industry is the emergent art form across the globe. In terms of raw dollars it is now bigger than any other art form (other than cinema) and it is rapidly catching up to the superhero churn machine.

As a creative outlet games are increasingly legitimised as an art form. People are writing books about them (I should know, I wrote one of them). People are studying games as part of arts degrees (when once it was a subset of computer science). Cultural organisations are now starting to throw money at game projects which once went to film. A title called Never Alone is this generation’s Whale Rider, and it’s a game.

Games are everything that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claims he cares about (and then fails to do anything about to help).

Games development is an ultra high-skill career path to take, meaning its developers will probably never have to dig ugly black rocks out of the soil. It’s innovative, and it’s an economic boom to any country that participates in it. For example, Australian game developers earn roughly 96 per cent of their revenue from overseas – there is no better export market than games.

Just before the Federal budget, the results of a Senate inquiry into the games industry found that, somehow, Labor, the LNP and the Greens agreed that the solitary investment a Federal  government (Gillard) had made into the games industry in 2012  —  and cut in 2014 by the Abbott government — should be restored.

That $10 million fund to finance game development had directly resulted in two of the most productive years of game development of all time in Australia in 2014 and 2015. Despite this the current arts minister, Mitch Fifield, had no interest in adopting that recommendation at for recent budget.

So, with all that context, let’s get into the scorecard for the three political parties, and whether you should vote for them in the coming election if you care about games (as an extension of the arts in general).

Mitch Fifield, LNP; Hah! Nope and no way


Fifield has been a spectacularly uninterested Arts minister since replacing George Brandis in the chair. At least Brandis had an interest in poetry; Fifield’s most significant contribution to the arts to date is to remind us on Twitter that New Order is cool, even as he continues to do his best to ensure that every Australian artist with talent looks to relocate overseas.

To date Fifield has not mentioned anything to do with the games industry. Potentially it means we might get an announcement down the track as an election promise, but I don’t think anyone’s falling for that one. The chances of the games industry getting anything out of the LNP if it should win this election are lower than the chances of me being a useful contribution to my team in League of Legends


Mark Dreyfus, ALP: Mabye, but don’t hold your breath


Dreyfus, as with Fifield, hasn’t really singled out the games industry for any kind of commentary through the early stages of this election campaign. What he has done is to announce his intention to repair the damage that Brandis has done to the arts funding, which in theory means a restoration of the games fund, but that hasn’t been made explicit, and given that he was explicit about other changes he will champion, that’s something to ponder over.

Of course, the greater question remains to whether ALP will be particularly sympathetic to the value of games as an art form. What we really need is a party that’s going to be properly consultative and informed about the sector, and not just throw money at it. Gillard’s government threw money at the industry, and it happened to stick, but if Dreyfus is to assume the mantle of arts minister, we’d like to see an improvement to the fund, and not just a restoration of it


Adam Bandt, Greens: Look, I’m utterly confused by this too


Scott Ludlam is the champion for games within the Greens –and this is a concern in itself. He announced that the Greens will restore funding to the games industry (good), and he was the Senator that drove through the enquiry into the games industry (showing that his party is keen to listen – also good).

But he’s not the arts spokesperson. Adam Bandt is.

This actually means one of two things, neither of which are actually good for games. One possibility is that it might mean that Ludlam is on a personal crusade driven by his own set of interests, and Bandt’s not interested enough in his portfolio to be a proper spokesperson for it. The problem with this scenario is that it means games might not get much of a look in.

Alternatively it might mean that the Greens view games as part of the Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy portfolio (Ludlam’s), which means that should the Greens end up in a position of power in parliament, games will be shifted over to a STEM-focused discipline, rather than the STEAM-focused discipline that will see the local industry develop in line with global trends.

A restoration of $10 million in funding doesn’t help a whole lot when the expected outcomes aren’t in line with what games actually deliver.

I know that even within the under-cooked arts portfolio, conversations about the games industry will be limited or non-existent this election. But it’s still a question worth putting to your local MP if you get the chance; Asia is rapidly emerging as a game development centre, and do we really want a repeat of what happened to the film industry with this new, emergent, art form? Do we really want to disincentivise kids from entering a lucrative, high skilled field, or drive them overseas to develop their careers?

We shouldn’t.

I contacted all three parties to ask them to highlight their specific plans for the games industry (and in Bandt’s case, why he isn’t the spokesperson for games in the Greens). No response from any of them.

[box]Main image: A still from the video game Never Alone[/box]

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