Gaming is more than child's play

The government should get behind the UK games industry. It's leading to some interesting places

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things

1 Corinthians 13:1

St Paul's theology has been influential, but he had nothing to say about videogames. That may be just as well, seeing how many commandments you can break in Grand Theft Auto. Yet virtual sin has been good for the UK: according to a report commissioned last year, the interactive entertainment industry is doing better financially than the film and television industries. The UK leisure software market employed some 22,190 people and put away some £1.22bn in 2004 — not bad for an industry still seen as a childish thing. That perception hurts: the sector does not attract the official support it deserves.

Last year the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association warned that despite the growth in the games market, the UK risks losing its position in games development due to government apathy. The organisation wants some of the proposed tax relief offered to the UK film industry to apply to the gaming market. Games development is no longer two kids in a bedroom — consoles like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 need Hollywood levels of development effort.

Such support will capitalise on the attraction the industry has for new talent, but also the opportunities to develop what it can do for more than just entertainment. At this years technology in education show BETT there were numerous seminars exploring interactive learning via games as well as games development as an introduction to programming and improving IT skills.

Collaborative social networks will go a lot further than getting teams of kids to flirt rather than fight. Gartner has suggested that IT professionals should see next-generation consoles as disruptive technologies set to invade their space, not just boxes full of pixellated distraction: spending days in practical research was never so attractive.

Games technology doesn't stop there: not only does it have the ability to affect existing business but also generate completely new forms of commerce. Last year a 22-year-old gamer spent £13,700 on an island that exists only in a computer role-playing game called Project Entropia, and the combined in-game economies of the leading massive multiplayer games now exceeds that of some small countries.

Gaming isn't a teenage kick. It's big business and a more promising gateway to a new world than Apollo ever was. Our government ignores it at our peril — and that would be a sin of Pauline proportions.