When the head of Britain’s biggest business organisation warned that any computer game designed by a “spotty nerd” might not be too successful, he didn’t realise he was going into battle with the gaming industry’s very own jousting knight.
John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, has been accused of bullying after his comments during in an interview with The Independent.
Calling for more teenagers to study the arts, rather than maths and science, Mr Cridland said last week: “We need extra coders – dozens and dozens of them – but nobody is going to play a game designed by a spotty nerd. We need people with artistic flair.”
His comments did not go down well with Jason Kingsley, who as well as being a keen battle re-encactor is also the chairman of TIGA, the trade body for the games industry. Mr Kingsley, co-founder of Rebellion – the company behind games such as Sniper Elite III, Aliens vs Predator and Zombie Army Trilogy – warned that it was dangerous to deter teenagers from pursuing their “positive obsessions”.
“It is simply counterproductive to stigmatise our highly technical and creative industry with terms like this,” he said. “Many of my colleagues come from arts and technical backgrounds, sometimes a combination of both.
“To belittle pure academic achievement with words such as ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ is something done by bullies, and is surprising coming from someone in a position to influence the career choices of many young people, some of whom respond to social pressure in ways that may not benefit them in the future. To be a nerd is to be passionate about something, and surely we should want everyone to be passionate about their career?”
Mr Kingsley, 50, said that as a small boy he had had a “positive obsession” with dinosaurs and that he been lucky that his parents and teachers had encouraged this side of his character rather than ridiculing it.
Today he is an expert on medieval warfare, with his own suit of armour, 10 warhorses and his own stables where he practises jousting. He also takes part in re-enactments for English Heritage.
He said: “I’m a games designer, artist, boss of Rebellion, jousting knight with warhorse, lance and sword, Oxford full Blue, international sporting competitor and trustee of Her Majesty’s Royal Armouries, as well as chairman of TIGA, the trade body that represents the games industry. I would hope I deserve a broader description than ‘spotty nerd’.”
Mr Kingsley told The Independent that the games industry had often been dismissed as less important than other creative trades such as TV or movie-making, but it brought in approximately £1bn to the UK economy every year.
“If someone was passionate about becoming a footballer and all they did was play football, that would be applauded. The same goes for young people with an enthusiasm to become writers, dancers or artists. But when it comes to young people with an interest in computers, why is it seen as acceptable to characterise them as spotty nerds?”
Mr Cridland said in response that he had not meant to cause offence and admitted his comments had been “clumsily” expressed.
“The wider point I was trying to make is that often when business or government speaks of the importance of studying science, technology, English and maths] subjects, we forget the valuable role that the arts can offer.
“At a very important time in their lives, encouraging students to blend some of their studies at A-level can help develop both technical and creative skills and lead to well-paid, successful careers. I certainly didn’t mean that there is no creative flair already existing within this thriving UK industry, or that there is anything wrong with focussing on some of these core subjects”
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