Public Service Gaming

Originally published April 2006

I, for one, have been saying that gaming needs more non-commercial funding for some time now- if gaming is to move out of this same-old-same-old mire of going ultraviolent and baiting the critics for sales, the artform needs alternative methods of funding.

It would appear that David Rejeski, Director of the Foresight and Governance Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, agrees with me, citing television as an example of such a system working-

"In 1967, President Johnson signed legislation to establish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), asserting that “we have only begun to grasp the great promise of the medium” and noting that noncommercial television was reaching only “a fraction of its potential audience – and a fraction of its potential worth.” As part of the legislation, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was to launch major research on instructional television in the classroom. The $9 million investment in CPB in 1967 (about $47 million in today’s dollars) has grown to over $300 million in annual funding today."

It's not like there's no call for such games, we've reported ourselves on documentary games, games used in health care and even corporate and political satire- but these are very much the exception, rather than the rule. A "Corporation for Public Gaming", as Rejeski puts it, would change this-

"A Corporation for Public Gaming (CPG) could be established that would operate on a model similar to its broadcasting equivalent, providing grants to develop a diversity of games for the public good."

Of course, if nobody wants to start up a whole new fund, then there is an alternative-

"An alternative model would be to support serious games within the existing Corporation for Public Broadcasting, by increasing the appropriation and changing the allocation formula from the 75-25 percent split between television and radio to one that reflected the additional funding for games."

The United Kingdom has probably the best example of public television in the world, in the form of the BBC, and Alice- of popular UK games blog Wonderland fame- has tried applying David's theories to it, and explaining eaxactly why they should be taking it up- posing such questions as "Should the BBC, as a public service entity with an understood remit to Educate, Inform and Entertain, be doing games?" (The answer, according to Alice, is yes), "Should the BBC, as a creative content producer, be doing games?" (yes), and "Should the BBC, as a broadcaster, be doing games?" (Shockingly, yes.)

This isn't to say a gaming initiative by the BBC would work- one look at the frankly diabolical Fightbox, an attempt by the BBC to fuse gaming and television together, tells us that- but then, that was only its first attempt- and given how television viewing is in decline, can the BBC afford not to approach the medium?
Published version here.

Website (C) Mark Kelly 2002-5.

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