The Future For Culture In Scotland: A Digital Media Perspective

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A guest feature for Creative Dundee by Colin Anderson.

Colin Anderson is Managing Director and Co-Founder of Denki, Dundee’s longest-established video game company and creators of the BAFTA nominated games Denki Blocks! and Quarrel.

I know it’s becoming less fashionable by the day, but I’m still firmly in the ‘dinnae ken‘ camp on the topic of Scottish independence.  It was this passionate commitment to indecision and my enthusiasm for digital interactive media that led to me being in Glasgow last Friday. For that’s where Fiona Hyslop was outlining “The Future for Culture in Scotland” at Glasgow School of Art.

The Reid Theatre was about two-thirds full and the event took the form of a 30 minute presentation from the Cabinet Secretary followed by a full hour of questions. Fortunately there weren’t many partisan pleas from supporters of either side during the debate. Instead it felt like a respectful, reasoned exploration of important cultural issues such as broadcasting, language, and music.

A few things surprised me about the day however: first, it wasn’t raining in Glasgow. Second, it seemed clear that broadcasting is the SNP’s number one cultural priority for a newly independent Scotland. And third, I didn’t spot anyone else from the video games sector at the event.

On the first point, I’d happily share Glasgow’s rainfall burden if it meant Dundee could enjoy its sunny days without the ever-present threat of haar. I’m big enough to admit I have coveted their 26 degree clear summer skies from under a blanket of freezing-fog on more than one occasion.

On the second, I was particularly pleased to hear this renewed commitment to broadcasting and digital media. I addressed the Scottish Broadcasting Conference in 2010 about the importance of establishing a digital network for Scotland, and four years on… well… still nothing. As I recall, it was an idea that proved somewhat controversial at the time. Not everyone saw the need, and I doubt the intervening years will have changed that much. However, I remain convinced a digital network with a strong public-service focus would be an important step in ensuring our society benefits from everything interactive media has to offer. Much as I am intensely proud of what the games industry has achieved for Scotland I am also aware interactive media is about so much more than games. That’s what disappoints me most each time I look at the disparity between where games are relative to other areas of interactive media. They’re way ahead, and they really shouldn’t be. A Scottish Digital Network would go a long way towards redressing this imbalance.

As someone working on the inside of the interactive industry I know Scotland’s games sector has the desire, ability, and vision to innovate across many other areas of interactive media. And yet each time a company steps outside the mainstream they risk everything. That’s because there’s a proven market for interactive entertainment, and so the safe money chases it. There’s already enough commercial risk in developing games without adding ‘bucking the trend’ to the list of challenges. Don’t misunderstand me – as a life-long gamer I love the choice and quality I currently enjoy in my gaming. I’d just prefer to see that choice and quality distributed more evenly across other areas where interactive media has yet to make its impact felt. Areas such as the arts, humanities, health, education, research, and politics.

To the third point, I’m not sure what the lack of games professionals at the event says. Or, indeed, whether it says anything at all. Some may take it to reinforce the stereotype that the games industry is not interested in cultural and creative issues, but I know it’s not that simple. For the moment interactive media exists on the uncomfortable cusp of culture and technology. Typically welcomed in technology circles, it can still be eyed suspiciously in cultural ones as the ‘unruly problem child’.  Thankfully that’s improving every day as a new generation enters the workforce. They bring more informed and positive views of interactive media with them, and video games normalise as a result. But it takes time for that realignment to complete and it still has some way to go. Regardless though, the next generation will see interactive media become mainstream in a way that leaves few in any doubt about its cultural significance. After all, it’s worth remembering that little more than a hundred years ago broadcasting was still perceived as ‘only for enthusiasts and hobbyists’ too. Despite outward appearances interactive media is still in its infancy today. As it matures it will undoubtedly become as important in defining 21st century culture as broadcast was in defining 20th century culture. How so sure? Because to some communities it already is.

As a long-time advocate of interactive media’s potential to do so much more than entertain I’m looking forward to that day. But we’re still some way off yet. Fortunately, with its long history of successfully innovating interactive media, Dundee remains well placed to lead interactive’s climb to cultural prominence over the coming decades. I sincerely hope Scotland is able to make the most of Dundee’s potential to lead in this area, and a commitment to implementing a Scottish Digital Network is certainly a welcome statement of intent.

Whether as a newly independent nation or a recommitted partner in a strengthened United Kingdom? Hmmm… I still dinnae ken.

 

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