10 Years Ago, Boris Johnson Held Games Responsible For 'Ignorance, Underachievement and Poverty'

By Julian Benson on at

Earlier today, Boris Johnson announced Games London, a new £1.2 million investment in the London Games Industry. In the announcement video, in which he appears as a Minecraft character, Johnson says:

"We're home to fantastic software studios, like State of Play and Sports Interactive, who make world-leading games, like Lumino City and Football Manager. From NASA to the NHS, games software now influences the way we manage our health, educate our children, and even how we explore space but international competition remains fierce and we need to ensure our city can compete with our global gaming rivals. Games London will be a three year program that will help the game sector shout louder and attract more investment."

Very supportive words. And somewhat surprising, considering Johnson wrote a piece in The Telegraph back in 2006 that was titled The Writing is on the Wall – Computer Games Rot the Brain.

Johnson, the man who has just announced a week of games celebration that will rival London Fashion Week, wrote: "it is time someone had the guts to stand up, cross the room and just say no to Nintendo. It is time to garrotte the Game Boy and paralyse the PlayStation, and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and the prospects of young males."

Of course, in ten years a lot can change. In this morning's video Johnson specifically highlights gaming's role in education, whereas ten years ago he said that "these machines teach them nothing. They stimulate no ratiocination, discovery or feat of memory — though some of them may cunningly pretend to be educational."

One thing hasn't changed, in both this morning's video and his old article, Johnson did point out how large the British games industry is compared to the rest of Europe. This morning he pointed out the £4 billion British consumers spend on games every year. In his 2006 article he wrote "it is no comfort that Britain has more computer games per household than any other EU country, and, even though they are wince-makingly expensive, an amazing 89 per cent of British households with children now boast a games console, with distribution right across the socio-economic groups."

Hopefully he no longer believes that "these possessions [consoles] are not so much an index of wealth as a cause of ignorance and underachievement and, yes, poverty." Because having a person who believes games consoles cause ignorance, underachievement, and poverty as the spokesman for an event that promotes the economic gains of games, their role in education, and their cultural value may be a mistake.

I wonder if Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, spokesperson of Games London, and potential Prime Minister of a country where game revenues are larger than music and film, still believes that you should:

Get up off the sofa. Can the DVD of Desperate Housewives, and go to where your children are sitting in auto-lobotomy in front of the console.

Summon up all your strength, all your courage. Steel yourself for the screams and yank out that plug.

And if they still kick up a fuss, then get out the sledgehammer and strike a blow for literacy.

Of course, before writing an article that wrote off an entire medium and one of the this country's great success stories, I'm sure that Johnson would have researched games thoroughly. So what is it about games has changed his mind so completely? Did he play Dear Esther? Little Big Planet? Grand Theft Auto 5?

Or maybe he's just willing to promote any opinion that either scores political points against a labour government (like in his article in 2006), or potentially brings investors into London in 2016.