A SCOTTISH video game developer has said the push for independence was part of the attraction in him returning to his home country from the US. 

Jonathan Cooper, originally from Dundee, has worked as an animator on some of the world’s biggest video game franchises including Assassin’s Creed, The Last of Us and Uncharted. 

He spent time working in California where he said that Scotland was perceived as a “progressive nation”. 

How was Scotland perceived in America? 

Speaking to The National, he said: “The whole time I was in North America, it went through a crazy period with Covid and Donald Trump as president. 

“Everything that was getting across was about Scotland being progressive, forward-thinking in total juxtaposition against the Tories

“Scotland was often spoke about in the same breath as forward-thinking countries like New Zealand. 

“Boris Johnson and Brexit seemed so similar to Trump but news from Scotland was about things like embracing green industries. 

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“Over the course of Covid, I thought about coming back because I could see it was a country that was moving forward.

“America doesn’t think outside of America very often but when Scotland was mentioned, it was never in a bad way. It was always reported in a positive light and people’s general impressions were really good.

“People I spoke to in America who visited Edinburgh thought it was amazing. My impression is that Scotland has massively changed since I left 18 years ago and it is a very progressive place.”

How did you develop an interest in video games? 

Cooper originally studied at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and has worked in the video game industry in Scotland, Canada and the US. 

He first worked for VIS Entertainment – a company which no longer exists. 

Initially, he wanted to go to Japan but was unable to get a job there as he couldn’t speak the language and so eventually ended up working for BioWare and Ubisoft Montreal. 

He has also published GAME ANIM – a book which outlines the technical and artistic fundamentals of video game animation. 

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One of the games he worked on, Mass Effect, was recently re-released. “That’s how long I’ve been around for now, they’re actually re-making my games now,” he said.

He continued: “I’ve always loved video games. I always dabbled in making them as well and animation was what I was into. 

“I started off working with grizzled vets who were so miserable and critical of everything but they knew how to do stuff”, he adds, laughing. 

Globally, the video game industry is believed to be worth $200 billion and estimated to be worth around £350 million to Scotland’s economy

Scottish based firms such as Rockstar, Axis Studios and Tag Games are all globally recognised brands. 

The key question though is whether or not Scotland can be a permanent home for talent or whether it will act as a jumping off point. 

“I do know there is a lot of smaller teams started up across Scotland and it’s now easier to do that – you don’t need to leave for that to happen”, Cooper explains. 

He added: “There’s also Rockstar which is one of the biggest game studios in the world so we can’t say Scotland is a wee place in that regard, because it’s home to a company that makes huge games.”

Rockstar is responsible for some of the world’s most popular video games including Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption. 

Thoughts on independence

As well as seeing Scotland as a more progressive nation, the push for independence also served as a reason for Cooper moving to Edinburgh where he is now based. 

He said: “The independence movement in 2014 seemed to be doing really well and it seemed like a mad dash of project fear that put people off. 

“The fact is there is a major difference between what Westminster and the Scottish Government want. 

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“I’m confident Scotland could do well. If I had to have a guarantee every video game I’m involved in would be successful, nothing great would get made. There’s a degree of risk in anything.

“You set yourself up as best you can and then go for it. That’s what I’d say about independence. We know things aren’t working with Westminster and I’d rather we take a chance and own our own problems and if things don’t work out then we can change our Government. 

“Right now we just have whatever Westminster has. I was a Thatcher kid and having it that way just never works out.”