FOR those of us who whiled away our youth feeding ten pence pieces into blinking and bleeping arcade games, the current National Museum of Scotland exhibition on the history of video gaming is something of a nostalgia trip.
But aside from allowing veteran gamers to test their reflexes again on Centipede and Hang-On, the Game Masters showcase – which runs until 20 April – is also a timely reminder of Scotland’s contribution to an industry worth more than £1.7 billion to the UK economy.
From Lemmings, in which players have to guide cute green-haired creatures away from certain death, to the all-conquering Grand Theft Auto series, our small nation has consistently punched above its weight in an arena dominated by Japanese and US studios.
Thanks to Sinclair’s decision in the 1980s to contract out the production of its ZX81 home computer to the Timex plant in Dundee, a city previously known for the “three Js” can add joysticks to its industrial heritage of jam, jute and journalism, as the generation that grew up tinkering with Sir Clive’s box of tricks helped to create and inspire some of the bestselling games of all time.
In 2002, it was a Dundonian who helped bring the first iteration of Microsoft’s game console to these shores, and Xbox Europe vice-president Sandy Duncan went on to found YoYo Games, the developer that has just been bought by betting software firm Playtech in a deal worth up to £14 million.
While Scotland’s gaming scene may be centred around Tayside, an Edinburgh start-up called Two Big Ears is also hoping to make a big noise in the industry with the launch of its kit, which delivers three-dimensional audio through standard headphones. The firm’s software is already being used in the burgeoning virtual reality (VR) space, where consumer software sales are predicted to hit $2.8bn (£1.8bn) in 2018.
VR has never quite delivered on the hype of the 1990s, but with Facebook buying headset maker Oculus for $2bn last year, and Samsung jumping on the bandwagon, it looks like the technology is getting closer to becoming an everyday reality.
At the more accessible end of the market, the charitable foundation, Raspberry Pi, is hoping to inspire the next generation of bedroom coders with its miniature computers which sell for less than the price of the latest PlayStation 4 title. Raspberry Pi’s software includes a copy of Minecraft, a game one can best describe as digital Lego that allows players to build their own worlds, grow crops and – if they feel the need – slay zombies and dragons. Microsoft last year paid $2.5bn for Mojang, Minecraft’s Swedish developer, and the console versions of the title were crafted by 4J Studios, which has offices in East Lothian and – of course – Dundee.
Video games, and those who make them, often find themselves spuriously blamed for encouraging violence and lethargy, but as a gamer and father I believe they should be applauded for inspiring children of all ages to take on the world.
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