IT all started with a Sega Mega Drive her grandad bought her when she was five and SNP MSP Natalie Don has never looked back since.

It didn’t matter her girlfriends thought she was odd playing Sonic. Growing up in poverty in a single-parent household as a young carer made being at home tough, and she will go as far as to say gaming saved her life.

Now Don is hoping she can encourage Scottish Parliament colleagues to better support the industry by combatting the bad rep it often gets in the media.

After meeting with Scottish Government officials and big players including Sony and trade body UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), she is aiming to launch a cross-party group on the subject in the new year.

Don said: “I tend to think the media are focused on the negative sides of gaming more than the positive ones.

“I met with Scottish Government officials about a year ago to see if there had been any investigation into gaming and there has been quite little and that’s something I’m hoping to change given the hugely successful industry we have in Scotland.

“I think it’s something we could promote because it’s just getting bigger every day. You’ve got E-sports now where people can make a living out of gaming, so enhancing that industry as much as possible is so important.”

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Don – who is a keen Xbox gamer in her spare time – attended Scottish Games Week recently and from various conversations, it became clear there were frustrations with a lack of connection between developers.

The mum-of-two said creating a CPG will not only show the Government cares about the industry, but will help large and small developers to share ideas.

She told The National: “It’s about opening up the conversation. You don’t get many parliamentarians speaking about it and perhaps that’s because in the past there haven’t been people with experience of it.

The National: Natalie Don took other MSPs to task on Sonic RacingNatalie Don took other MSPs to task on Sonic Racing (Image: Natalie Don)

“In the UK Government there is an APPG [all-party parliamentary group] on gaming and so I think a cross-party group in Scotland would be something that would be beneficial to have these people coming together and link that industry up a bit more.

“Developers at Scottish Games Week were keen for a more connected industry in Scotland. I think one of the challenges is there are lots of different developers and groups doing different things and just having that connected a little bit more would be great.

“It will help the professionals in the industry to discuss how we better gaming and promote the image of gaming as positive.”

Don sees creating the CPG as a first step to putting gaming firmly on the parliamentary map, but the 33-year-old has ambitions beyond that too as she hopes to ensure young people – particularly women - can discard any guilt they feel for picking up a controller.

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Don added: “I want to change attitudes so that people who game are understood.

“We have to make sure it’s regulated and we’re putting the right messages out there but people shouldn’t feel bad for sitting playing their computer for a couple of hours.

“People tell me they feel a sense of guilt when they play and you wouldn’t get that if you were reading a book.

“Older people have a tendency to think if you’re sitting gaming you’re wasting your time, but there’s so much within games that disproves that. It can have educational benefits, you can immerse yourself in it, and there are things like problem-solving.

“During the pandemic, people felt like they could still be part of a community too. I want to move away from the stories of the past that have shone a bad light on it.

The National: Natalie Don with Chris Van Der Kuyl, chairman of 4J StudiosNatalie Don with Chris Van Der Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios (Image: Natalie Don)

“I hope me speaking out about this will also help people see its normal for a woman to game. I think that attitude has changed over time, but I still think it’s focused more towards boys and men and there are still some games that are sexist.”

A study by Oxford University in the last couple of years has shown video games can have a positive impact on mental health. It focused on players of games such as Nintendo’s Animal Crossing and found that people who played more regularly reported greater wellbeing than those who played less.

In 2023 and beyond, Don said she will be looking to strike up more discussions with smaller developers which focus on areas such as educational games and how these could be used in schools.

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The Renfrewshire MSP believes being able to immerse herself in games when she was younger was vital to her wellbeing and hopes the Scottish Government can show its support for those who feel the same way.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say to someone you’re wasting your life [gaming] because there are opportunities to make a career out of it now,” said Don.

“It was life-saving for me and there’s probably many others in the same boat.

“There is real scope for games to be used in education. Games are coming out now that are focused on climate issues so if we can get young people playing games that are promoting the values we hold dear that can only be a positive.

“I also want to focus on promoting games for autistic people.

“The gaming industry in Scotland is world-leading. It can bring huge benefits for us and in terms of independence, if we can make the most of having a hugely successful industry, I think that’s important.”