My Experience sitting in on the most recent DCMS Committee ‘Immersive and Addictive tech’ inquiry

This blog was authored by Mike Matheny, a BRIT School student undertaking work experience at Ukie, the views are his own

Hello! My name is Mike. I’ve been doing work experience at Ukie this past couple of weeks. It’s been a fantastic and I’ve learned a lot about the industry, thanks to the wonderful Ukie team. One such learning experience was being able to go to the Houses of Parliament on 5th March (my 17th birthday) and sit in the Thatcher Room to listen to the DCMS Select Committee’s latest oral evidence session on Immersive and Addictive Technologies.

After politely eavesdropping on all three witnesses’ conversations just before the session outside the Thatcher Room, it became clear that this was not going to be a balanced session for and against video games. This was because two of the speakers (James Good and Matúš Mikuš) are from a Reddit based organisation called Game Quitters and are dedicated to help people completely quit playing video games.  The other speaker, Jack Edwards, was there to talk particularly about social media, but he didn’t seem to get as much time as the other witnesses which is a massive shame because what he was saying was clear, insightful and compelling. The MPs at the table didn’t seem to care though. 

I’m sitting directly behind Jack Edwards, looking very bored, I promise I wasn’t.

I was trying very hard to be a neutral party, but when you’re only hearing one side of the issue speak, and you have to sit in silence, it’s incredibly frustrating. The session started with James and Matúš blaming a multitude of issues in their lives on their history with video games. Matúš claimed video games tarnished his social skills, caused his girlfriend to break up with him and caused him immense stress from being yelled at by people on League of Legends. Personally, and as someone who plays games regularly, I feel this is a ridiculous foundation for an argument against games, as these events could just be down to personal issues. Just because a game has replayability does not mean you were forced to continue playing and not do other things. You can always Alt+f4 out of games, but you made the active decision not to. The third one is an easy fix, just block the person, or move to a different server. Matúš says he was a professional competitive LoL player but couldn't handle the adrenaline of a game where people were saying the typical things you hear in a games voice chat. He was also very hesitant to agree with the MPs that a lack of other stimulus could cause “gaming addiction”. He also says he’s introverted, so of course he might be more likely to enjoy being inside on his own.

Both witnesses neglected to acknowledge the many single player game genres that tell a story and can teach valuable life lessons to kids and adults; games like The Last of Us and Life is Strange. They also were very confident that parental controls are useless and kids know every which way around them (then saying their parents might keep a notebook of passwords in their drawer, which I hope isn't true because then you'd be asking to be worked around at that point.) For example, I’m 17 and I still have parental controls on my console, I play video games max 4 hours a week. I don’t spend every waking second thinking about games I wish I was playing, because I know how to balance myself, and I probably will continue that habit into my adult life and try to instil it in my children too.

The session casually segued into the topic of lootboxes, which was inevitable. One MP outright called them gambling rather than questioning them or trying to understand them in the context of business models. James claimed that the “majority” of new games follow the free to play format now, which is wholly untrue; like I said, there is a huge range of games across different formats always coming out.  They mention how these lootboxes are an exploitative money-making scheme, but they never seemed to stop to think that it could be simply a valid business model. When games are free to play, how do you expect them to make money to pay for development, keep servers active or add more content without adspace? James also mentioned how the Fortnite Battle Pass was a monthly subscription, which once again, isn't correct. While you can immediately buy the battle pass every time a new one is released, it’s not a forced payment. You buy it with real money once, and it opens opportunities for you to earn the in-game credits yourself, so you don’t have to buy battle passes in the future.

The debate about lootboxes and gambling is complex and wide-ranging but it is little understood, particularly amongst people who don’t play games. A balanced and evidenced-based debate on the subject would be far more productive.

A few more amusing, bizarre and frustrating observations:

  • An MP trying to imply that “Super Immersive Virtual Reality” was causing more knife crime. I can positively say most knife crimes happening are caused by people who probably don’t own a VR headset.
  • James Good saying he procrastinated through gaming in university, says he still procrastinates without playing games, essentially stating that the games were not the problem.
  • And an MP assuming that the percentage difference in the player base of video games was 95% men, to which Matúš agreed. It’s actually 51% women across genres and platforms. There is a diversity challenge in the workforce, but from my week at Ukie I know the industry is taking this seriously.

Thank you for reading my rather opinionated view on the evidence session and thank you so much to Ukie for having me around for the week, it’s been a blast!