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How the Midlands has played a vital part in the gaming industry

By Tom Oakley | Birmingham entertainment | Published:

From its rich industrial past to some of the greatest rock bands on the planet – our home is famous for a whole host of things.

Carter Allsop-Rees, aged 9, and Shay Allsop from Kings Norton

But who knew the Midlands played such a pivotal part in the illustrious history of computer games?

Some of the world's most iconic and popular titles – played by millions – were created across the region.

And from Codemasters in Birmingham to the East Midlands' Core Design and beyond, the region is a sandbox of video games – adored and respected by players around the world.

It's home to bedroom coding and international imports, controversial magazines and cheat cartridges and of course, James Bond and Lara Croft.

And in more recent news, Brum served as the backdrop for an array of live-action scenes and sequences in director Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, which is drowned in video game references throughout.

Leon Trimble and Tony Grainger from 8 Bit Lounge, Kings Heath

All-in-all, if you've ever played – or even heard of video games – the chances are that the Midlands has had something to do with it.

Earlier this month, Birmingham City University brought together a group of industry experts to celebrate the the area's important contribution to this global industry and pastime.

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Level Up: A History of Computer Games in the Midlands took a gathered audience on a lively audio-visual trip across the last four decades.

Among those featuring on a panel of experts was Zuby Ahmed, a veteran games developer offering over 20 years’ industry experience with companies such as Digital Image Design, Warthog Games and EA Games.

He said: "The Midlands is most definitely trailblazing when it comes to gaming – it's huge.

Louise O'Connor, executive producer from RARE

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"Some of the largest game studios that have had a global impact come from the area.

"Games like Donkey Kong Country, GoldenEye and Banjo-Kazooie originated here.

"And, to think years later I'm playing these games on my Xbox. And they are still going strong to this day.

"I'd say the Midlands is still on it for gaming. And all those games that were huge years ago still influence other games of a similar type made today."

Today, Mr Ahmed 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.

Daniel Riley and Sandeep Matharu from Birmingham

He is also one of the founders of the uni's first set of two-year FastTrack undergraduate degrees a– teaching graduates who have gone on to have successful careers, working for companies which include Sony, Ubisoft, TT Games and Rockstar North.

During the event at the uni, which took place on May 9, members of the public enjoyed playing some of their favourite retro games created in the region.

The evening focused on the iconic characters, developers and companies that helped create a regional industry that is still growing today.

It was attended by more than 100 people and it is hoped similar Level Up events are held at the University and other venues in Birmingham and beyond in the future.

Mr Ahmed added: "From my perspective,, the event went very well, it allowed the uni to profile the great work that has been done in the Midlands.

Tosh Azam, aged 16, from Birmingham

"The gaming lounge was good because it gave people a lot of nostalgia – it's great to walk into a room and see people playing on screen and having fun with one another.

"I wasn't head counting but there must have been about 100 people. There were people of different ages too.

"The reason why there's been a huge resurgence in retro gaming I think, is because people of my age grew up playing games and we want to see them come back. It shows longevity that children today find fun with some of the old games."

Leon Trimble from 8 Bit Lounge, Kings Heath

Birmingham’s own 8bit Lounge were at the event and created an opportunity for guests to relive some old classics, with a selection of retro games made available to pick up and play before a talk, including several made within the Midlands region.

Level Up: A History of Computer Games in the Midlands formed 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.

For more information about the City Talks series go to www.bcu.ac.uk/news-events/citytalks

Tom Oakley

By Tom Oakley
Trainee Multi-Media Journalist

Express & Star reporter responsible for covering Walsall and Staffordshire. Got a story? Email tom.oakley@expressandstar.co.uk or call 01902 319482.

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