Cultural tests would be a funny idea, if they didn’t form a very real part of UK immigration decision-making. In the games industry, UK developers will soon have to commit to a similar sort of thing to be eligible for tax breaks - except rather than having to name the lesser royals, they’ll be awarded points for a recognisably British setting and cast.
One to four points will be given dependent on the amount of the game set in the UK, with another four points available to reflect the proportion of British characters in-game.
Further points will be awarded for a traditionally English or European narrative structure - although it’s not made clear what the government’s after here. Would they like Dickensian serendipity, for instance, or a classic British sitcom collapse into existential failure in the final act?
UK games industry trade body UKIE have voiced similar concerns.
"Clarity should be provided as to what narrative structure represents, and how such a structure can be British or European," reads the UKIE document. "Narrative structure is not an applicable concept for many games.
"For example, one of the biggest-selling UK games franchises is Football Manager, which is based on the Championship Manager game created by the Collyer brothers in 1992. We believe that this would clearly qualify for four points."
UKIE further note that the current draft of the test is adapted from an existing equivalent for UK films, replete with assumptions about story and structure not necessarily transferable to our fair medium, which frequently ventures into the abstract.
“A central problem with using the existing cultural test for film is that, unlike films, games will not always have a traditional narrative, describable setting, or characters of a recognisable nationality (or indeed species).
“The cultural test must therefore be designed to allow for, and award points to, games which are examples of British creativity that do not solely rely on film-like narrative concepts.”
Another part of the test assesses the proportion of the game's budget spent on creative talent - though troublingly doesn’t count programming staff as such.
“The current test includes costs for ‘animation’ staff, but not for programming,” say UKIE.
“This is a non sequitur; for anything to move in a game it has to have been programmed to do so. The artistic design of an in-game asset, its movement and its interaction with other parts of the game world are all determined by the programming as much as by the original art concept. It is impossible to separate the two.”
Points will be awarded out of 30 - developers will need a score of at least 16 to qualify for tax breaks.
The body responsible for conducting the test hasn’t yet been finalised, though the government are reportedly sizing up the British Film Institute for the job.
Let's play a game. How many titles can you think of with a British setting and cast?