From amateur programmers, arcade subcultures and industry pioneers, to iconic titles such as ‘Dizzy’, ‘Simon the Sorcerer’ and ‘Tomb Raider’, the UK’s Midlands region has played a pivotal role in the history of computer games.
On Wednesday 9 May, Birmingham City University is bringing together a group of industry experts to celebrate the Midlands’ important contribution to this global industry and pastime, and give members of the public the chance to play some of their favourite games created in the region.
Level Up: A History of Computer Games in the Midlands will take a gathered audience on a lively audio-visual trip across the last four decades, focusing on the iconic characters, developers and companies that helped create a regional industry that is still growing today.
Featuring on the panel will be Louise O’Connor, Executive Producer at Leicestershire developer Rare. Louise will bring her wealth of knowledge and experience of the industry from her extensive career at the Twycross-based company – known for creating ‘Banjo-Kazooie’, ‘Donkey-Kong’, ‘Perfect Dark’, ‘Viva Piñata’ and ‘GoldenEye 007’, the later considered one of the greatest computer games ever made.
“I’m delighted to be involved on this panel, not just because I love talking about the games industry, but especially because I think the Midlands is a key part of our thriving industry – full of exciting and talented developers.”
The event will also welcome gaming journalist Damien McFerran, Editorial Director of Nintendo Life.com, who has written for magazines, websites and television programmes such as Eurogamer, IGN UK, Pocket Gamer, ‘Retro Gamer’, ‘SFX’, ‘Stuff’, The Gadget Show and US Gamer.
Also speaking on the panel is Zuby Ahmed, a veteran games developer offering over 20 years’ industry experience with companies such as Digital Image Design, Warthog Games and EA Games. Today, Zuby is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham City University and is Programme Director of the University’s Video Game Enterprise, Production and Design postgraduate course, as part of the internationally recognised Gamer Camp finishing school.
Zuby is also one of the founders of the University’s first set of two-year FastTrack undergraduate degrees and has taught graduates who have gone on to have successful careers, working for companies which include Sony, Ubisoft, TT Games and Rockstar North.
Completing the panel will be Birmingham City University’s Dr Alex Wade, a Senior Research Fellow who has written extensively on the history of computer games.
“From Codemasters in Birmingham to Core Design in Derby, ‘Donkey Kong’ in Twycross to ‘Dizzy’ in Southam, the Midlands is a sandbox of video games which are played and respected all around the world.
“Home to bedroom coding and international imports, controversial magazines and cheat cartridges, James Bond and Lara Croft; if you’ve ever played, or even heard of video games, the chances are that the Midlands has had something to do with it.
“The event at Birmingham City University will be a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the rich gaming heritage we have in this region by looking back at – and playing – some iconic games, as well as look forward to exciting future developments within the local industry. As an avid gamer myself, I can’t wait!”
Birmingham’s own 8bit Lounge will be joining the event, creating an opportunity for guests to relive some old classics, with a selection of retro games available to pick up and play before and after the City Talk, including several made within the Midlands region.
Level Up: A History of Computer Games in the Midlands forms part of Birmingham City University’s City Talks series. The series features a programme of high profile speakers who share their views and insights on a range of topics, promoting the institution’s ambition and aim of being a ‘university without walls’. The talks are free of charge, and open to the public.
The computer games event will also host the launch of Dr Alex Wade’s new book, ‘The Pac-Man Principle: A User’s Guide to Capitalism’. Published by Zero Books on Friday 27 July, Dr Wade’s work focuses on one of the world’s most famous characters, who has appeared in over 60 video games on virtually every games platform ever released since 1980.
Pac-Man, with its avowed commitment to non-violence was a videogame of many firsts, including being designed to appeal to children and females, and providing the first narrative interlude in a videogame. According to the Davie-Brown Index (DBI), 94 per cent of Americans were able to recognise Pac-Man in 2008, which gave the character greater brand awareness than Super Mario.
Although iconic, Pac-Man has not been subject to sustained critical analysis. Dr Wade’s book helps to fill that gap, providing an extensive but accessible analysis of the influence of Pac-Man on the way that we live in contemporary western societies.
The work also includes an afterword by Toru Iwatani, the Japanese video games designer who created the original ‘Pac-Man’ game and will be available to purchase at the event for a reduced price.
Following on from his first book looking at the UK games industry in the 1980s, Dr Wade is now researching into economies around games, with a focus on the influence of individual publishers such as Robert Maxwell and a subsequent book is planned for publication in 2021.