Game over? Brexit video game paints dark vision of future Britain


It's not unusual for video games to be set in bleak, dystopian environments, but for Brits, this one cuts a little closer to home.

"Not Tonight," by London-based developer PanicBarn, presents an alternative Britain where Brexit talks have collapsed, a far-right government has seized control and people with European heritage have been rounded up and re-housed in "Relocation Blocks."

The authorities - donned in Gestapo-style military uniforms - have a simple message: "Work hard ... and we might let you stay."

"It's present day, but it's an ultimate vision of England where Brexit has taken place and it's a post-Brexit dystopia," explains Tim Constant, creative director at PanicBarn.

"Not Tonight," by London-based developer PanicBarn, presents an alternative Britain where Brexit talks have collapsed.
"Not Tonight," by London-based developer PanicBarn, presents an alternative Britain where Brexit talks have collapsed.

"We've really pushed it far, not only are European people treated as second class citizens, but British people with European heritage are treated as second class citizens."

It's certainly not punching high on the graphics, the platform game uses retro-style, two-dimensional pixel art.

Gamers play as a bouncer who must man the door at various pubs, clubs and parties to make ends meet.

But as anti-European legislation takes hold, it's not just people's age that's a factor, it's also their heritage.

"What's great about games is we can put people into that position and ask how do you feel when you have to start turning people away based on where they're from?" says Constant.

"Not Tonight" isn't the first video game to feature Brexit.

The 2017 version of football simulator "Football Manager" included a range of Brexit scenarios, some of them making it harder for teams to transfer players from the EU.

"Not Tonight" is released on Valve's online distribution platform Steam on Friday (17 August) for $19.99 USD.

The game's publisher, Manchester-based No More Robots is even making a politically-charged statement with its pricing - an online vote by gamers will determine the price for British gamers.

If they vote "Leave," the price will increase, as if mimicking a fall in the pound's value. If they vote "Remain," the price will reduce.

"The game will actually then cost more in real life just for British players," explains Mike Rose, director of video game publisher No More Robots.

"Everybody else's price will stay the same, it'll just be the sterling price that will rise."

The creators of the game say there's a serious side too.
The creators of the game say there's a serious side too.

Those involved with the satirical game say there's a serious side too.

They believe Brexit will have an adverse effect on the UK's video game industry, most importantly, causing international talent to go elsewhere. That might cause video game companies to consider their own position in the UK.

"Are they going to stick around? Are they going to leave?" says Rose.

"Are all of these massive games, which are bringing in so much money to the UK and giving us these rich stories, are they going to have to disappear somewhere else because they're just quite frankly can't afford to stay here anymore? It doesn't make sense for them, they can't get the right hires."

According to UKIE, the trade body for the UK's games and interactive entertainment industry, there are currently over 2,250 active games companies in the UK, with about 20,000 workers.

That includes Edinburgh-based Rockstar North, home to the "Grand Theft Auto" series, and Leamington Spa-based Playground Games, which makes racing game "Forza."

"The huge concern is our ability to attract the best in the world," says Jo Twist, CEO of UKIE.

"Games are made by people not machines. So, it's really important that we have a diverse set of talent because we're appealing to global audiences,"

Twist says her concerns aren't unique to the video games industry.

"People and data, as well as access to markets, that cuts across whatever business you're in and it's critical," she says.

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