Jason Kingsley, the CEO of computer games developer Rebellion reveals why his passion for exploration and adventure led to him becoming a jouster – and the ‘King of England’
Every August, Jason Kingsley is king for a weekend. Both he and his trusty steed, Warlord, don royal heraldry and he becomes Richard III as part of an annual pageant held at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, to mark the Battle of Bosworth.
He recalls: “It was pouring down so we couldn’t do our usual display. I thought ‘this is ridiculous. The king is getting wet outside!’ So I asked if it was OK to ride into the castle. They said ‘yeah, sure’. It was wonderful. It had been one of my ambitions to ride a horse in a castle. I guess I will have to top that by finding a cathedral instead!”
Kingsley is CEO and creative director of Rebellion, a leading computer games developer. He formed the business with his brother, Chris, in 1992 and since then Rebellion has branched out into publishing books and comics including 2000 AD.
But whereas the day job involves creating adventures and taking gamers into fantasy worlds, Kingsley spends his spare time trying to faithfully recreate the past. “Rebellion came about through my love of games and fantasy. I was lucky to persuade my parents to buy me a pony when I was eight, which, in this country at least, is quite rare for a boy.”
He was talented enough to captain the British Universities Equestrian Squad and rode to Olympic standard. However, the cost of owning a thoroughbred led him back into his other great childhood passion.
“I also loved role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and RuneQuest, where you could escape to a different world. I guess you could also compare what I do with riding in armour, owning horses and living on a farm as another form of escapism.”
Kingsley is one of Britain’s leading exponents of medieval martial arts. He takes part in re-enactments and has appeared with his horses in films and TV shows, including Merlin, as well as a forthcoming revival of the BBC series Time Commanders. He is also one of a very select band of professional jousters.
Kingsley’s spirit of adventure has served him well and has made Rebellion an enduring success story to the point that he received an OBE in 2012 for his services to the economy and now employs more than 200 staff in Oxford and Runcorn. “A sense of exploration is important in business. But you’ve got to keep an eye on what the threats are and where else it might be interesting to go.”
Jousting dates back to the 12th century, and the knights who competed could be viewed as among the original adventurers. Kingsley took up jousting 10 years ago after seeing a duel at an English Heritage event and says there are parallels between being a successful business leader and being an accomplished jouster.
“It is one of the few extreme fighting sports where there is no defence. You just need to look after what you can do and if somebody is going to hit you, they are going to hit you. Business is like that – you can’t account for what other people do. You just roll with the hits.
“Jousting requires boldness, a focus on the objective, teamwork and people on the ground giving you support, helping you put on your armour. It’s a team sport and that team needs to be fully co-ordinated. And the rules of jousting are not to kill but to score points off your opponent.
“In the same way, business should be about business. If a deal is fair it should be good for both sides. Jousting when you’re angry is never a good idea and you should never do business when you’re angry.”
He adds: “Jousting is almost impossible to do when you’re angry, upset or simply not in the right frame of mind. Horses can pick up on your mood. They are very good at reading subtle body cues.”
He cites the death of Henry II of France as a gruesome example. The king was advised not to duel because he was too fired up, but overruled his subjects and was speared through the eye.
Kingsley hopes that the next big leap for gaming could open up a new world of adventures that allow us to explore our heritage like never before through virtual reality. (Rebellion has just launched its first VR game, Battlezone).
“VR is fundamentally different,” he says. “Every other media form has you sitting on the other side of the screen and the screen is being shown to you. VR is the first time that you’re on the other side of the screen.
“It is still early days and nobody knows if it will be really successful or moderately successful. True VR is different from 360° video. You can liken true VR to being a rally car driver and 360 to a passenger on a rollercoaster. I love the idea of being able to walk round a castle and see people going about their daily business.”
His eyes light up at the possibilities of creating a brave new old world. “What about walking round Stonehenge while it’s being built or walking around ancient Rome? That would be incredible!”
And that is what excites Kingsley – the idea that the next venture just might be his greatest adventure.
Watch Jason Kingsley discuss how adventure has inspired his business ventures at director.co.uk/adventure
Gallery: Jason Kingsley jousting
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