Games are killing your children!

Change4Life, the government’s flag-ship £75m pound nanny-state ‘health’ campaign to tackle obesity may have just made a costly mistake.

Their latest print advert (above) has angered the UK games industry. The advert created by the Department of Health in conjunction with Cancer Research, The British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK, shows a small boy slumped on a sofa holding what appears to be a PlayStation controller – above him is the headline, “Risk an early death, just do nothing”.

Condemnation has been universal throughout the industry. Richard Wilson, CEO of Tiga, the trade association representing the business and commercial interests of games software developers in the UK and Europe, is quoted saying

“This advert is absurd and insulting in equal measure. To imply that playing a video game leads to a premature rendezvous with the Grim Reaper is a non-sequitur of colossal proportions. Alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, obesity and involvement in violent crime are forms of behaviour that risk an early death.

“In contrast, many video games are mentally stimulating, potentially educational and social and some involve physical exercise. ‘Brain Training’, ‘Wii Fit’ games or ‘Civilisation’, ‘Singstar’ and ‘Buzz’ are cases in point.

“This advert is offensive to the 30,000 people who work in the UK’s video games industry, particularly the 10,000 who work in games development. Game developers are typically intelligent, very qualified and creative individuals who work to produce high quality games for people’s entertainment. They are not in the business of driving people to an early grave.

“With nearly a quarter of men and women and almost a fifth of 2 to 5 year olds in England obese we clearly need to encourage a more active lifestyle and healthy diet. It should be possible to achieve this objective without misrepresenting a creative industry of 30,000 people.”

Sony are considering whether to sue for the unauthorised use of their controller, James Binns, publishing director at Future, makes an interesting point:

“There is no arguing that the campaign’s underlying message about premature death is incredibly important – but the government would never risk the wrath of showing a child sitting still reading a book to illustrate their point.”


Picture by Nick Brickett

It could easily be argued that books and TV are much more sedentary, but demonising books was never going to go down well with the ad’s target audience of concerned parents. It would also have not gone down well with a famous Labour donor who amazed a fortune out of immobilising children for hours on end, year after year, with her stories of wizards!

The UK games development industry is a world leader, often cited as an example of Britain at it’s best, but like many industries is now suffering from foreign competition during the current economic downturn. It has asked for state help and has received little support and for the government to now demonise it as the bogeyman intent on harming children might just be enough to convince companies that their future lies elsewhere.

The Guardian blog article sums it up nicely.

But to many it feels like, once again, games are the soft target, the acceptable scapegoat for hand-wringing middle-aged policy makers unwilling and unable to engage with game culture in any productive way. It’s such a lazy cliche and such a convenient get-out clause for a society that’s been happy to slowly erode the freedoms of children, turning the education process into a joyless conveyor belt of examination and testing, while outside the playing fields are sold off to property developers.

Childhood obesity is a complex and devastating problem. It needs to be addressed, but it needs to be addressed properly. Giving parents a bogeyman to point at and blame is not the answer, is it?