Guðni Th. Jóhannesson is a historian. The sixth president of Iceland delighted in telling the amassed crowds at EVE Fanfest 2023 this, before whipping out a note from his pocket and reading an excerpt of an ancient saga. It’s possibly the most Icelandic thing I’ve ever seen: patriotic without being jingoistic, educational without being patronising. Jóhannesson was making a point: he was celebrating the 1000+ people in attendance in Reykjavík (from 54 countries around the world), and noting that video games, actually, are socially good.
I know, right? Imagine a politician making that point. He joked about it himself, saying he knows he “should” be up there, giving it mouth about how video games make us all “violent, angry, hateful”. But he diplomatically and tactfully undercut that stereotype, and read part of a saga about two young boys – 1000 years ago – that began a rivalry over a game of football. Long story short, one took an axe to the other’s head, killing him in front of a gathered village. The moral of the lesson? If you’re going to enact violence over your hobbies, do it in virtual space – no one’s getting hurt that way.
“Be violent, be angry, be as full of revenge as you like in games,” he said. “But in the real world, make friendships, be merry, be respectful, be safe.” He gave a thumbs up to a nearby camera, then left the stage. “Have a great Fanfest,” he said. The crowd whooped and hollered, and the opening ceremony continued.
As a Brit, this was one of the most refreshing political involvements in games I’ve ever seen. Can you imagine Rishi Sunak doing this? Theresa May? Can you imagine Boris Johnson standing in front of RuneFest, charismatic and eloquent, and extolling the virtues of fantasy violence because it has positive repercussions in the real world? No. It’s impossible. It feels like the upper echelons of the British government couldn’t even name a UK-made video game. Even though it’s a £2.8 billion industry and contributes a significant portion to the health of our GDP. The closest we get is a milquetoast tweet from the Treasury, showing Jeremy Hunt meeting with some nameless industry heads because someone likely thought it’d make a good press op.
President Emmanuel Macron of France has recently backpedalled in a significant way when it comes to video games. Back in June, he explicitly stated that Parisian rioters were “living out, in the streets, the video games that have intoxicated them”. Embarrassing and small-minded, that castigation, scapegoating an industry he likely knew little about. Tekken’s Harada, ever the mouth, scolded Macron and said “blaming something is a great way to escape the burden of responsibility.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Harada.
Just last week, Macron apologised for “making gamers jump”, and noted “video games are an integral part of France.” He went on to say “it is this violence that I condemn, not video games.” But the fact he had to climb down and backpedal is embarrassing, and is the apparently default position of a lot of politicians in this sector. To see Jóhannesson happily and energetically take to the stage at EVE FanFest 2023 and dish out praise to Icelandic company CCP is a breath of fresh air.
Perhaps it’s because Iceland is so small that he gets to see, directly, the influence a company like CCP has on the nation. “There are under 400,000 people living here,” he noted during the presentation, “and as such I have a very close relationship with CCP: my wife worked there for a while, my brother worked there for years, I play football with some of them every week.” But that means he gets to have real, meaningful conversations about the industry with the people on the front lines of gaming.
And the result is that he comes to events like this, and shows us all how important and refreshing it is for politicians to show vocal, informed support for the industry.
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