Politicians love to bash videogames.
No matter where you live – you know it. From English Lords attacking Grand Theft Auto to Greek lawmakers banning coin-op arcades. From restrictive laws in Germany, to senators talking ‘murder simulators’ in the USA.
But 2010 is the year of impossible things. People playing Duke Nukem Forever. A brand new Pacman game in the arcades. And now, a politician who likes videogames. Mind you – he’s not just an MP… he’s the Tasmanian state premier. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the world’s most game-friendly politician, David Bartlett.
“The first videogame I had at home? Well, we had the ubiquitous Pong…” he recalls. Blip.. blip… blip… Ah yes, Al Alcorn’s famous game, which dominated home TVs, till the Atari 2600 took over. It was love at first sight. “Then we had a Vic 20. Then my father started investing in Apple computers. So we had Apple II’s and Apple IIe’s… then the first Mac that came out. Then we went on to the Atari ST…”
Wow, Commodore, Apple, Atari… the Bartletts experienced all sorts of gaming in the 80s. And what were David’s friends playing at that time? “My next door neighbour and best mate had a Commodore 64…” Ah, now we’re talking… and what did they play on that? “There was a Moon Patrol-style game.. we used to play that a lot.”
Now that we’ve covered home gaming, it’s time to talk arcade machines. But first, we need to travel back to 1980, and step through the doorway of a Tasmanian fish ‘n’ chip shop. In the corner, sits a driving game called Monaco GP.
“It was the first arcade machine I played; there was just a steering wheel, with one car. You had to ‘flick’ between two lanes…” The game the premier refers to is a fascinating piece of arcade history. Monaco GP was one of Sega’s last games to use ‘discrete logic’ chips, rather than a CPU. This means you can’t play it on a computer. No, you actually have to track down a (very rare) original cabinet.
And – an original Monaco GP cabinet is exactly what David Bartlett found recently, at Game On 2.0. As we’ve blogged previously, it’s a travelling history of videogames which wraps up it’s world debut season this Sunday in Launceston. The premier was present of course, on opening night.
But not just to make a speech. Oh no.
“I ‘wormed’ my way in with my son and brother for an hour before, so we had a good look before the queues arrived.” he admits. And that – is the best political perk, since Obama booked Beyonce for his inaugural ball. OK, so the president’s a fair way ahead, but organising your own exclusive ‘gaming expo time’ is still pretty impressive. And once inside the exhibition, the two elder Bartletts found a game to play together – Konami’s Track & Field.
If you haven’t played it before, this 1984 classic (also known as ‘Hyper Olympic’) was one of the first great sports-themed arcade games. One to four players could compete in up to six events, such as Long Jump and the 100 metre dash. “My brother & I played [that game] for half an hour, trying to belt the hell out of each other.” Mr Bartlett said. And I don’t blame him. It’s one of those ‘pure’ multiplayer arcade games, designed to provoke fierce competition. What else caught the premier’s eye?
“One of the original fighting games, Street Fighter, with seven or eight buttons… Everything from the original Donkey Kong, Asteroids… remember the vector graphics Star Wars game?” he asked. Yes – who could forget! That game was a real hit at previous Game On events. Mind you, not everyone at the exhibition was excited by the retro displays…
Whilst ‘dad’ was reliving his teenage years, six year old Hudson Bartlett was enjoying the more recent titles. Seizing the moment, his father attempted to bridge the generation gap. “I showed him this huge ‘wall-sized’ version of Pong, and tried to make him play it. His eyes glazed over, like ‘So what Dad? Is this what they did in the olden days?’” Ouch. That’s about as bad as it gets, for a Gen X father. And yes, we now know it even happens to state premiers.
But let’s step back a moment. What is the attraction here? What is it about these old games, that gets us all misty-eyed? Tasmania’s number one gamer has a few ideas. “It’s an interesting phenomenon… nostalgia for technology.” Mr Bartlett suggests. “In our parents’ days, to feel ‘nostalgic’ about something… it had to be really old. These days… I dragged out my old iPod the other day, the first clickwheel model, and thought ‘what a quaint bit of technology’ – but it’s only five years old!”
Whilst young master Bartlett was unimpressed by dad’s ‘ancient games’ at the exhibition, the two have been able to find common ground at home. They play the various Traveller’s Tales Lego games on the family’s Nintendo Wii. At age six, Hudson was born long after the original films were released, but he enjoys playing through the classic scenes with his father. I wonder though… does dad ever get to play his own games?
Oh yes. Oh yes he does.
“I’m a bit of a Band Hero fan. After the kids have gone to bed; that’s what I get into.” Bartlett reveals. And what songs does the former science teacher like to play? “On the guitar, something off ‘Guitar Hero: Van Halen’”. Hell yeah. And does the member for Denison play any other virtual instruments? Yes, indeed. “On the drums, [my favourite song] would have to be “Eye of the Tiger”. I’m on ‘advanced’ level on that song, and going very well!”
With the premier’s plastic guitar “rock cred” firmly established, our discussion moves into more serious matters. Games development. “I think the right-size place for Tasmania, and we’ve got some good skills here, is to concentrate on the mobile end of applications development. That’s in entertainment, gaming…” I suggested Firemint as a great Ausse success story, best known for their iPhone hit, Flight Control. “And the ‘Tapulous’ guy…” Mr Bartlett replied “…an Australian who sold [his company] to Disney for… however many hundreds of millions..”
This talk of games and business leads the premier to revisit a familiar theme – his enthusiasm for Labor’s National Broadband Network. After all, Australia’s first NBN customers were in Tasmania. (Not that I’m jealous of those people with 100mps connections at home… Oh no, not at all.) “I think people are just beginning to see what a piece of optic fibre, coming directly to the door, can deliver. A lot of those technologies [business, health, education], have come out of the gaming industry.”
In talking up the NBN, Mr Bartlett has mentioned Everquest as an example of a game where selling in-game items had become profitable. So I asked if he’s speaking from experience.. “I haven’t actually played Everquest… but I read Ed Castranova’s PhD on it.” And what about other forms of online gaming? “Actually, a mate and I are currently trying to hook our Wiis up, so we can play some stuff together.” OK, so it’s not Team Fortress 2… but it’s a start. And it’s great just to hear a politician talking ‘videogames’ in terms of kids AND adults.
Of course, if you’re an Aussie gamer, you can guess where I steered the conversation next. The R18+ debate. What does the premier think about the proposal to bring Australian videogame classification into line with that of films? Mr Bartlett replied that “they’d just had a paper go through cabinet” and “had, as a government, made some decisions on this” but he’d need to refer me to the Tasmanian Attorney General’s office.
They’re “still finalising their position.” Hmm. Sadly, I doubt any AG’s office will lay their cards on the table until the next national meeting, on November 4 & 5.
Getting back to Mr Bartlett… I noticed in my research he’d done a computing sub-major… as well as teaching secondary maths, science and IT. This leads me to a vital non-gaming question.
Is he a fan of The IT Crowd?
(He laughs) “I LOVE the IT Crowd!” Got a favourite character? “That’s a tough one. They’re all so unlikeable, and yet, I can relate to them at the same time…” OK, confession time. Mr Bartlett, have you ever told someone to “Just turn it off and on again” without listening to their PC problem?
He roared with delight. “ALWAYS! That was the standard response; ‘Have you tried turning it on and off’.” (laughs)
Unfortunately, my time with the premier was very limited. Time to go out with a bang. I asked Mr Bartlett which one of these 3 fictional acts of parliament he’d support?
- A free copy of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, for every Tasmanian child.
- A new ‘med cert’, to be used by gamers the day after a big game release.
- “Videogame history” to be added to Tasmania’s school curriculum.
He laughed, and replied with mock seriousness…
“Oh, number 3. Definitely.”
The Game On 2.0 exhibition wraps up this weekend, at Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Inveresk, Launceston, Tasmania. Its next appearance will be in Greece. Further shows are yet to be announced.
This article couldn’t have happenned without outstanding help from Premier David Bartlett, Rowan Dix, Belinda King, WingtipVortex, Dkong, Rat, plus Graham Bartlett for the David Bartlett photo & Martin Goldberg for the Pong console photo.