THE DIARY: Games rule Britain

Mark Hardisty
Mark Hardisty
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THERE will be shoot-em-ups, racing games, fantasy arcades and sport multi-players.

There will be games from the future which have not yet been released, and games from the ancient past – or, at least, from 1981 when consoles were in their infancy.

The launch of Games Britannia

The launch of Games Britannia

There will be Nintendo, Sega and Playstation. And there will be guest appearance from Lara Croft and Batman.

But – parents, listen up – when more than 1,000 youngsters are bashing away at keypads, joy sticks and consoles during a huge gaming festival at Rotherham’s Magna next week, they will be doing something they perhaps don’t realise: they will be learning.

Because this will be the UK’s first ever festival of video game education – and organisers are promising it will inspire disciplines from English to maths, art to drama.

“It’s learning by stealth,” says Mark Hardisty, the Brinsworth Comprehensive School teacher behind the huge event. “We’re showing that video games as an educational tool are just as valid as, for example, literature or theatre.”

How? We’ll get to that shortly.

Firstly, the details of that Games Britannia festival?

More than 1,000 school children will come from across the country (“the furthest away is Dundee”) to the event where there will be 300 gaming stations, 20 keynote speakers and more workshops than you could shake a Nintendo DS at.

Among the specialists offering advice will be Ian Livingstone, life president of Eidos, and Kate Russell from BBC’s Click.

The first five days will be open to schools only. Then, at the weekend, the gaming hall will be opened to the wider public. There is also an adults question time hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts on the Monday.

“The idea is not only to celebrate the strength of the UK games industry and inspire new talent,” says Mark, 38. “It’s also about using these games as a force for good in helping kids develop traditional skills.

“Video games get a bad press but they can really inspire young people to be creative. One example is in English. Some video game these days has more text than a novel. That means it’s not only encouraging children to read, if we use it right, it can also encourage them to write creatively themselves.”

It’s an idea Mark first had in 2011, when he held a similar festival for pupils at Brinsworth Comp.

Rotherham Council education bosses thought the scheme so worthwhile they asked him to make it a national event this year. Funding has come from the gaming companies themselves.

“And, stupidly, I said yes,” he says. “I had no idea how much work would be involved but hopefully it will be worthwhile. Will there be a second? We’ll have to see how this one goes but I don’t see why not. We had schools from across the world – from Belgium, Malaysia and Abu Dhabi – inquiring about it with a view to coming to a second event so the possibilities are there.”

Now he just has his consoles crossed everything will go Super (Mario).

Games Britannia runs July 2 – 8. Details at www.gamesbritannia.com