Which I know because a rather neat tool came up on social media this week, which very efficiently searches Hansard (the extensive official record of the UK House of Commons) for the first mention of any word or phrase. Inevitably I went straight to Dreamcast – but nothing.
The first mention of Sega, however, was rather improbably on 11th June 1947: a Dr S Sega voted ‘aye’ on Clause 24 of the Finance Bill. Sadly, a typo: the MP for Preston was actually Dr Samuel Segal, later Baron Segal.
Delving into Hansard, though, the first real mention of Sega was during a debate on Wales on 1st November 1993. John Redwood, then Secretary of State for Wales:
I hope that he joins me in welcoming Sega as a new investor in Wales, through its links with AB Electronics and the 50 new jobs that that will generate at Abercynon.
There’s not much online from that time, but a definitely incorrectly dated article from the Independent reveals that it was the first European manufacturing base for Sega, and was due to pump out Mega Drive cartridges, starting with Asterix and Aladdin.
Incidentally, John Redwood may have been less keen on Sega in 1995. Just before the Conservative Party leadership election that Redwood was contesting with John Major, and the week before the Saturn launched, Sega projected the pair onto the House of Commons in a Virtua Fighter style as a publicity stunt. (No mention of Sega Saturn in the House of Commons though.)
The economic positives, and the perceived social negatives, of games both crop up in the records. But looking through more of the first mentions, we see that for MPs, the real concern is the greatest of British parliamentary traditions: the mega-burn.
Take Atari. Debating the London Regional Transport Bill on 13th December 1983, Peter Snape criticised the Department of Transport’s decision to ignore the results of a computer model:
There is a waste of public expenditure for a start! The computer is probably the biggest one that we have at present and it will probably be changed for an Atari which will come up with something different.
An Atari 800 would have done a super job, I’m sure.
Like some Nintendo character, the Secretary of State jumped over us. Far from being in front of us, he was standing behind us. He was hiding behind us, hoping that the Defence Committee would do the dirty work with his chums in the Treasury.
That was Bruce George on 18th October 1993, responding to Secretary of State for Defence Malcolm Rifkind’s Statement on the Defence Estimates. Super Mario Land 2 had been released that January, so perhaps George had sneaked a Game Boy into the chamber.
The transformative impact of the PlayStation wasn’t noted until 30th March 1999, when Eric Forth commented on the Blair government’s modernising agenda:
Among the clichéd gems that I made a note of are “vision of public service” and “new direction for change”. When the Secretary of State moves on from the “PlayStation Government” that he is offering us now, will he explain […]
Minister for the Cabinet Office Jack Cunningham, who presented the white paper, had a burn in return: “The right hon. Gentleman used clichés to complain about clichés.” All very productive.
It took even longer for Xbox to register in the minds of MPs, eventually coming up in a debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill on 18th October 2010. Referring to eligibility to vote in the referendum on the Alternative Vote, Charles Walker came up with this zinger:
I do not mean to disparage 16 and 17-year-olds, but most of them want to be on the Xbox, not putting in the X in the box.
Actually, that’s not a bad line. Patronising and dismissive, certainly, but a reasonable bit of wordplay. And if we’ve learned anything here, it’s that wordplay is the main priority in the House of Commons.