Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Britain's got Chlamidia

Britain's got history. Britain's got an inescapable charm that makes tourists gloss over the chavs, late trains and cost of everything. And according to the Health Protection Agency, nearly 10% of Britain's got Chlamydia. But judging by the recurring nightmare of weekend TV, one thing I would be reluctant to say Britain has got, is talent. At this point I'd love to run through a list of the opening acts from last weekend; highlighting which ones shone, which ones burned the skin from my eardrums and which ones had suspiciously tear-jerking backstories. But the problem is, I just don't want to. I've seen enough Big Brothers, X-Factors and Fame Academies to realise that sitting down to watch another one would be like tracking down a previous mugger and offering him a hammer. And then telling him he's got gay shoes. All these shows do is highlight the reason we have celebrities, actors and rockstars instead of listening to the guy down the street with the guitar - your average, common or garden citizen is boring as shit. Actually I take that back - judging by a few episodes of CSI and Bones in which lumps of shit were used to extract vital forensic clues, shit is at least interesting enough to write an episode centering around it. Whereas judging by the steady stream of nonentities pouring out of reality TV these days, average people are the precise demographic the production companies fail to attract. After all, I often find myself sitting in a pub surrounded by tables full of normal people, and while I don't want to go over and engage them in idle chit chat, I don't want to punch them in the face until one of us starts bleeding either. Unless of course, they're one of those people. The ones who are either talking loudly about nothing or "amusing" their "friends" with their "wacky antics." In other words, your average reality TV participant. Admittedly, there's something voyeuristically satisfying about locking them all in together somewhere and watching them annoy each other instead of us, but without dropping weapons and exacerbating grafitti into the arena (as I dream of someday being able to call it), I just don't see the point. Anyway, you'll have to excuse me for now. There's a man with a hammer at my door again, nodding suggestively at the bloodstained meat-tenderiser in his fist.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

A Brave New World

"The telephone is a fantastically rude invention - it's like someone bursting into your office, banging on your desk and yelling 'Speak to me! Speak to me!" Stephen Fry said that, and he knows stuff about things. Me, I have an abusive relationship with phones. A while back, I was sitting watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes I know) with a friend ten years younger than me (yes, I know), and one of the characters had failed to meet the other at a cafe at a prearranged time. She asked why she didn't call the missing person's mobile, and I explained that it was filmed in the late nineties, not everyone had a mobile then. I didn't get my first mobile 'til about 99, and it was a brick. But the point is, she sat for a second, processed this information, and then asked possibly one of the worst things you can say to someone ten years older than you: "What was life like before mobile phones?" Well for one thing, we were fucking organised. It seems impossible to impress on anyone younger than 25 the baffling notion that I don't want to be available to them 24 hours a day, and that this is in no way a slight on them. For years I've apologised, made excuses and avoided talking on phones and come away feeling like I'm the antisocial one, as if by not immediately answering people's calls and texts I'm personally slighting everyone I know. But sod you all. I was just drifting off for an afternoon nap when my phone clattered onto vibrate beside me and woke me up. What was it's message? An urgent request for kidney donors of my registered blood type? Something's on fire? Zooey Deschanel is wandering through town and she's totally getting them out for anyone who asks? No, it was a stupid sodding chain text, the same one I've recieved three times so far today. I've had enough. Don't get me wrong, I love my mobile as a compressed piece of technology. The fact that it's a decent digital camera (well, mine is), an mp3 player, web browser and java platform all packed into a pocket sized shell is great. It's handy. It's the nearest I'll ever get to owning a sonic screwdriver in this lifetime. But every time the damn thing fulfils it's primary function by ringing, I feel that moment of irritation, of interruption. I know it's going to ring, and if I cut it off the caller's going to try again in a few seconds assuming a network fault. If I leave it to ring, it'll only go off with a voicemail in a bit, and then there's the inevitable 'tried to call you' text that follows, and the texts that follow THAT if you don't answer. You can't win, and it's not even your fault - you HAVE to deal with a ringing phone, even if it's just to throw it in a ravine. It's not just mobiles though. Xbox Live - now that I've accidentally paid for Gold again - is starting to get the same. I go online to play something single player, and if I've accidentally left the network cable plugged in, I get bombarded with requests to play multiplayer. At least I used to have the excuse of being a silver subscriber, but now people know I'm gold, they won't leave me be when all I want to do is load up Dead Rising quickly and smash zombies with hammers. We have so many exciting new avenues open to us now to irritate the shit out of each other, and it's done something fundamentally terrible to our society. It's the bloody invasiveness of it all that gets me. Peripheral hangers-on in a group at the pub could be ignored or avoided, or fobbed off with promises that you'll get back to them later. But now they're on your Facebook - they have to be, or you'd get a successive stream of whiny messages and requests until you add them. And then they can see and involve themselves in everything you do, which just makes their presence even more invasive. MSN, Facebook chat, mobiles, email... It's like we've armed all the bastards with sharp sticks and then wonder why everyone keeps getting poked all day long. And I realise: It's not a brave new world at all. It's a sodding annoying one.

A Memory of Gaming

Nostalgia is a strange thing. The same part of my brain that stared back at me in bafflement this morning as I tried to remember where I'd put the key for the back door is the same part that effortlessly flew through the first chapter of Doom this morning as though it had been five minutes since I last played it, and not more like 15 years. Memory, it seems is a fickle bitch on the scale of Catherine the Great. >I do find myself worrying about how much I forget nowadays. Even worse is when I misremember something. I don't mean forgetting something; that's a simple absence of knowledge. No, misremembering is when you've gotten two things mixed up or been creatively filling in the blanks, and have a clear, defined mental image of something that never fucking happened. When you let thoughts like this enter your head, it's like a virus. Because if all your knowledge and assumptions are based on the thoughts that lead up to them, then having a misremembered fact or conclusion in there is like sticking a plasticine girder at the bottom of a skyscraper. Actually more like a beehive (I can switch metaphors if I want). Either way the foundations are rotten and all the conclusions that lead off it are unsound. I went through most of my teenage years - right up to university in fact - believing that birds were a separate classification to animals (an idea that can be blamed on a primary school teacher with horrific pronunciation issues). I mention this only in case I've misremembered two important facts that make me angry at the government's recent howling ravine of twattery, the Digital Economy Bill (I say recent; it being from a British government, it's moving at the pace of an entirely spavid horserace). The stupidity in question?
"Improving digital security and safety, by putting in place a classification system for boxed video games that meets the needs of parents and children... protecting children by making age ratings compulsory for all boxed games designed for those aged 12 or above."
Excuse me if my brain is farting out soup again, But don't we already have two different systems of ratings? Isn't the BBFC system, at least, already enforced by statute? I am so pissing sick of hearing about how the gaming industry needs regulation and we're selling violent games to children. I remember (but again, this is just my flawed, personal recollection) working at a branch of Game and being told by the manager that the flaming mount of shit the store would be in if we sold games to underage kids would see us out of a job the second we were found out. Parents who will stand there and bleat about their right to make decisions for themselves, and how dare some shop monkey tell them what they can and can't buy for their family; when all the frustrated minimum-wager is doing (between grinding their teeth into a fine powder) is explaining that they're not even supposed to sell the game to someone if they suspect it's being bought on behalf of a minor. It's fairly obvious you're not buying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II for yourself when your son is standing beside you making sure you buy the right one, you asked for the Sony Wiibox 360 thing and he's telling you how he can't wait to play it when he gets home. Imagine doing this with alcohol or cigarettes and then tell me it's not retarded. There clearly are some games that are completely unsuitable for children. That's because they are designed, marketed and statuted to be sold to adults. And some fucking retards can't get their weird, smug, punchable heads round the idea. Lazy parents and Daily Mail readers want acts like these so they can sit their kid in front of the idiot box and never have to deal with the actual meat and two veg of parenting: guiding your child through life experiences by talking to and spending time with them, instead of wrapping them in cotton wool and trying to keep the wolves from the door. Preparing them for the adult world, instead of trying to destroy the adult world for your child's 'safety.' It's also going to stifle the slowly growing sector of mature, well scripted games that make full use of a storytelling pallette. I'm not talking about things like Manhunt or Mad World, the modern equivalent of 80s video nasties; I'm talking about games like Borderlands where the adult content is so subtly woven into the audio logs and enemy responses, removing it would completely strip the realism from the lawless borderworld setting. Or the Modern Warfare series' single player campaigns, which (in bizarre contrast to the multiplayer content) try to show the full gravity of war and death by facing incredibly dark themes in an incredibly dark way. More importantly, these games have the freedom to do so under current statute, and saying there is no protection for children is a bare-faced lie. But if we let the Alan Titchmarshes and Claire Rayners of the world hop onto a new censorship bill, will companies be willing to let designers make games like these in an ever more 'financially aware' climate (by which I mean publishers and producers shitting themselves over every minor factor that could contribute to a project's failure)? The issue isn't stores selling unsuitable games to kids, it's the stores selling them to protesting parents who have no idea what the hell they're passing on to their kids. But unfortunately, the one thing the government won't try and regulate is stupid and negligent parents.

Friday, 2 April 2010

It's a Good Start

Since I despise blogs that start with "This is my first blog; I'm an idiot and I have nothing to say" with all the piss and vinegar of an impotent dictator, I'm going to start with a story. It's not a good story - for a start it doesn't have a dragon, there's nary a whiff of damsel in distress and it has about as much regard for the three-act-structure as a toddler does for A Brief History of Time. Stick with it though, there's a good bit near the end. Having not slept since arriving back from an uncharacteristically hedonistic evening involving jagerbombs, breasts and my first visit to a city centre pub at night in around two years, I wandered downstairs at six in the morning (making a mental note that there is a six o'clock in the morning as well) to make myself a cheese toastie. My sandwich maker had, as usual, been packed neatly onto the top of the fridge at some point, and - being unwilling to wake my housemates getting it down - took some bread out of the freezer and put it in the toaster to defrost. After stepping aside briefly to allow one of our ant kitchen guests to pass, I buttered the toast, grated the cheese onto it and popped it back into the toaster. Outside the window morning was, if not breaking, cracking slightly around the edges and looking worryingly fragile. The kettle boiled. I watched the aforementioned ant report back to the two guards stationed beside the takeaway container, wondering to myself that the only thing standing between them and agonising oblivion was my laziness in not being arsed to get the spray from the cupboard. At some point during the planning stages of the oncoming Formicidae holocaust, the toast popped, I popped it on a plate and opened the fridge to put the butter back. It was then that I noticed the jar of sandwich pickle. And now I have a perfectly serviceable toasted cheese sandwich which will remain marred forever by the thought that it could have been so much more. I'm hoping that somewhere in that last post you got something of an idea of who I am, and what sort of blog this is going to be.