Tag: Art

I’m Not Very Good At Games, And I Don’t Care

(this isn’t just the repeated deaths from Bloodborne talking)

I’m a big fan of games, both as an amusing way to pass one’s time and as a form of art to be appreciated and engaged with in an intelligent manner. But while I love them, and know a fair bit about them, I can’t run away from the fact that when it comes to most games, I’m simply not very good.

Platformers, for instance, are often the death of me, as my apparently godawful hand-eye coordination means I’m constantly plummeting into bottomless chasms like a one-man recreation of a hoard of lemmings diving over cliffs for no reason. I’m hopeless at first-person shooters because I dislike the narrow camera angle, which is why shooters designed in the third-person, like Mass Effect, are so much fun for me.

I’m too much of a perfectionist when I play racing games, often not being content with collecting second-place finishes to unlock a new car or area, instead pushing for first-place on every track which boils the game down to a precision driving sim, as opposed to a fun arcade game. I’m also too stupid for most puzzle or adventure games, relying on walkthroughs for even some of the more obvious puzzles in early Zelda games (OOT’s Water Temple allowing), and totally losing my shit when I come up against something like Myst, which is a mystery wrapped in an enigma bottled in a set of clunky controls.

I usually better at RPGs, as success in the game is based on a grasp and application of mechanics, rather than the execution of button presses, but these are often so expansive that I don’t have time to finish them with all the other things I have to do, and games I have to play; I’ve not beaten a Pokémon game since the first Black, and my Golden Sun playthrough is currently on its fourth hiatus as I power through my writing work.

But I honestly don’t care. A big draw of games is that they’re an art form more dependent on audience interaction and skill than any other, but the growth of the Internet and Let’s Play culture means this skill is only required to beat the game for yourself, not experience the full extent of the worlds and stories these games have to offer. I’ve never picked three of the Mass Effect endings, but have an intimate knowledge of all of them because I want to know the details of the game. This is why I may even like talking about games more than actually playing them; to discuss a world and its characters with someone who cares as much as I do is often more fun than clunking through that world with my slow, pudgy fingers.

If I wanted to be a real wanker I’d say that I’m not a gamer, but an appreciator of games, one who doesn’t really play them, but analyses and contextualises them like Classical poems set against particular historical backdrops. But I don’t feel like being a wanker today, so I’ll say I’m a gamer who really likes lore.

The Curious Tragedy of Satoru Iwata

(written at five in the morning because some people are more important than sleep)

A few hours ago, Japanese gaming company Nintendo released the news that legendary game developer, and company CEO, Satoru Iwata, had passed away from bile duct cancer. He was 55 years old.

Obviously, this is a tragedy, but as with the deaths of all living creatures, there are multiple levels to this sadness. There is a clear personal tragedy, that a human being with friends and family members has died, and a cynic would point out the economic tragedy of all this that Nintendo shares have fallen 0.7% this morning as a result of this news according to this particularly macabre BBC footnote. But the most wide-ranging form of tragedy here is a cultural one: gaming culture has not only lost the visionary who lived, worked and died as a gamer before anything else, but the man who gave up half of his salary in atonement for his company’s poor recent sales record. In a very similar way to the death of Nelson Mandela apparently robbing the world of likeable, genuinely altruistic political figures, this tragedy has left the gaming community staring over the precipice of half-finished games padded with DLC to squeeze money from consumers, technology that is more invasive and obstructive than entertaining, and endless identical Assassin’s Creed sequels.

But to draw away from an emotive response to this death for a second, this event has placed the gaming community at a relatively new crossroads: namely that gaming culture has not existed in its current form for long enough for such passings to be expected, and there isn’t really an obvious response as a result. The art of writing, for instance, has existed for thousands of years, and modern literary criticism deals almost exclusively with the dead, seeing them as contributors towards historical-cultural periods, and is rather comfortable analysing writers as artists, as opposed to people; literary criticism is an exercise in looking backwards, and looking at the products of people’s lives. Yet gaming culture is not so historically advanced; this is a culture saturated with relentless innovation, from double-screened consoles to ones activated by voice. Gaming isn’t a thing to be reviewed from an armchair with a book in one hand an an In Our Time podcast gently playing in the background, it’s a thing to be lived, to experience now, and to contribute towards ourselves, rather than limit ourselves to looking back on the work of our ancestors.

Yet Iwata’s death will undoubtedly lead to a lot of back-looking from the gaming community; media outlets will release an obituary in their gaming sections as opposed to rumours of a new Nintendo handheld, gamers will chat nostalgically about the exploits of this great man, instead of speculating on the new Smash Bros. DLC characters. Already the hashtags #RIPIwata and #ThankYouIwata are filling up Twitter feeds.

For the first time in its short existence, gaming culture has come to the definitive end of an era. Other prominent figures have died in the past, and prominent consoles and series have risen and fallen, but there has never been a single event in the gaming world to stun the entire culture to its core. And now, the most futureproof, forward-looking cultural movement on the planet has had to slam its brakes and check the rear-view mirror. And it’s seeing sadness. Lots of nostalgia. A bit of anger at the brutality of mortality and the fragility of humanity. But there’s a lot of shock, a stunned, near-denial of the fact that the man who presided over platformers built on the basis of infinite lives won’t live forever himself.

This is a turning point, not just for Nintendo but for all of gaming culture, as we move towards an existence as a storied, established form of art as opposed to the new kids on the block with our fast blue hedgehogs and turtle-crushing plumbers. And it’s appropriate that this turnaround comes from the man who, despite his own modesty, became more than a gamer; he was a legend and a figurehead for a hobby that became a movement that became a culture.

Thank you, Iwata.

My Sister Started Playing Mass Effect 2

(I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite sibling on the Citadel)

It’s no secret that I’m a huge, obsessive fan of the Mass Effect series. But while I’ve gushed over the games for five years now, none of my friends or family have shown a particular interest in picking up a controller and firing incendiary ammo at the Collectors; this stopped today, as my sister dived into Mass Effect 2 with all the grace and decisiveness of someone who’s never played a shooter or a game with an interactive narrative.

Watching her play made the game into a movie – a link that is itself a testament to the awesome cinematic qualities of the game – where I wasn’t deciding the fate of the galaxy, but responding to another person’s decisions regarding that end. And while it’s not a particularly interesting idea to say that art is a thing to be appreciated and responded to, this was a pleasant inversion from the immersive, James-revolving focus of my previous Mass Effect experiences that were themselves an inversion of the typical relationship between artist and audience that drew me to the series in the first place. Basically, it was nice to be a bit powerless in an art form where empowering the audience is at the core of all things.

And these choices and reactions were decidedly more human than looking up alternate paths on the wiki; I know these games inside out, from several playthroughs and obsessive research online, so the things my sister’s Shepard were saying weren’t a surprise to me, but her thought processes behind those words were fascinating. As were her reactions to characters and events, as were my own opinions on characters now that I know their fates, and can employ the reverse-engineer character analysis you can do when you reread a novel.

But, most of all, the way she approached the game was striking to me, simply because it was so different to my own. Saying I focus on the narrative of games directly, while she explores and discovers lore, is too simple a distinction, but choices she made, as a player not as a character in the game, regarding her class and method of recruiting squad members, opened up a way of looking at characters and Shepard’s role in this universe that I’d not thought about before.

So I’ve learned something today. And, not for the first time in my life, I have Commander Shepard and my sister to thank.

Why Do I Write?

(asking myself makes this a meta-post! Probably)

I’m a creative person. I don’t think it’s narcissistic or inaccurate to say that I like playing around with ideas and forming them into these things called ‘creations’ that other people stare at and derive meaning from. But there’s a disconnect between the ideas that make up a piece of art, and the piece of art itself; in the past I’ve looked at those pieces as wholes, and discussed things like writing technique and forms of literature on this blog, but I’ve never explicitly taken a step back. I’ve never looked at the kind of art versus the original ideas. Essentially, if I am a creative person, why have I chosen to write, as opposed to paint, or draw, or sing?

A lot of it comes from the lack of barriers between written word and thought: the fact that language is not only the tool used to create art, but the tool used to create thought – do it now, try thinking without words, and you’ll see how reliant on language you are – means that turning thought into art is a less convoluted process when I’m writing. If I want to create an ominous setting, I write ‘this was an ominous place’, rather than faffing about with appropriately ominous shades of burgundy when painting a landscape. Part of this is laziness, sure, but a bigger part is that I think my ideas are quite specific and, to be honest, confused. Take my ideas on education – that learning is an inviolable human right but university, in its current format, cannot and should not be made available to everyone in the country – that are simultaneously leftwing and elitist, inclusive and snobbish; I feel like my message comes across if I present this complex stance through words, rather than adding in an extra level of complexity and confusion by introducing additional mechanics like rhyming lyrics or brushstrokes.

Related to this is the fact that I’m a bit of a control freak regarding matters relating to me. Obviously I’m not opposed to debate, or other people to have different ways of looking at my ideas, but I want conversation and interpretation to be based around those ideas, not the medium I use to present them. I can’t control how you respond to a thing I produce, but I can control the thing you see to generate that response, and if a key feature of art is to blast the artist’s ideas though a loudhailer, writing gives me the control that other mediums lack.

But I’m aware that writing is a deeply flawed medium. As well as the social problem that people don’t read shit any more, writing is intrinsically inferior to music in that it lacks a performative element and writers are often devoid of a personality while musicians are encouraged to indulge in theirs; writing has much less of a mass appeal than a painting that anyone can see, and the difficulty of sharing a 600-page tome over a single-sided picture makes writing one of the more elitist of art forms; writing is far less collaborative than acting or directing; and writing can very easily be ignored altogether, unlike larger forms of creativity such as sculpture or even architecture.

So I guess I write not because it’s a good art form, but because it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. I was writing my own comics and gamebooks from when I was about eight, I’ve had poetry and journalism published, I’ve put over 550 posts on this blog alone, and I’ll have written a novel by September. Be it childhood experience, genetics or dumb luck, I have always written, and words are my go-to medium when I’m feeling creative. I can pontificate all day on the importance of spreading one’s internal ideas through the external mediums of art, and weigh their relative flaws and advantages, but I don’t really create for your sake. I don’t create for the sake of making something perfect. I create because the process is deeply satisfying for me, and written creativity is the most therapeutic, empowering form of addiction I know.

In answer to that initial question, then, I write because I think it’s bloody awesome.

I’m Enjoying Playing Bass Again

(the goal is to learn the solo to 88 Finger Louie’s 100 Proof. Then I will rest)

I used to play bass. Long ago. Before this blog. Before my A-levels. Before the glorious York save on Football Manager 2013 even. I was part of a music group up in Ponder’s End (a group that I attribute almost all of my social skills, ability to make new friends and attempts to treat others as complex, inherently valid individuals to), that was a very welcoming and accepting of people who aren’t musicians but are willing to learn. I found out about it through an old school friend who was a member (the means of this finding out is another story for another post), so I tagged along, with my mum’s rather superb bass, and about a half-term of half-arsed plucking in year seven as experience.

I bombed out of the group pretty quickly, lasting just two months over summer before A-levels got in the way and I had to quit, and never really went back to playing music. Although that group was brilliant in so many ways, the fact that our social interactions were based around a skill – playing an instrument – that I was so desperately inferior in meant that I always had a nagging sense of inadequacy whenever I thought about playing the bass again; my only memories of playing it were playing it badly.

This was also the point in my life where I started to take writing pretty seriously (this blog started thirteen months after this flirtation with bass-playing), and was quickly drawing comparisons between the artistic craft of writing and the artistic craft of music that left music looking a bit naff. To produce a story, one must have ideas; technical skill is important, sure, but you can create a finished product without much redrafting or rewriting if you’re only interested in that story. Yet a piece of music physically cannot exist without a certain level of technical competence, i.e. the ability to play that piece of music. And it wasn’t like I was afraid of hard work, but putting hours into a novel meant creating new worlds and new characters, while putting that same into a song meant going over the same parts again and again. It became an exercise in repetition, not creation.

But recently an odd thing has happened, namely that I’m really getting into music. Like really. There’s been the Savage music writing for UCL all year, but now I’ve got a job writing for a new music magazine that’s insanely promising, and I spend hours reading and annotating write-outs of Rise Against lyrics, breaking them down as poetic narratives rather than just fuel for moshing. And, having exhausted this vein of interaction to the point that I’m seriously considering writing a book on the relationship between religion and American hardcore punk since the 1980s, I decided to move on from responding to music to creating music.

Sure, I’m not writing my own songs as such, just learning Rise Against’s 1000 Good Intentions, but it feels good to make things; that sound coming from my living room that sounds like a cat purring into an early version of a Guitar Hero mic to only score 70%? That’s me. That’s my sound! And it sucks, and it’s unoriginal, and it’s probably annoying the neighbours because I’m practicing at like 3am, but it’s something I’m doing.

This is all a far, far cry from making my own songs or, gods forbid, forming my own band, but as someone who is vaguely arty and creative, it’s a great feeling when you engage with a new kind of art.

And for the record, some of you may know my buddy Izzy, from blogging and Zone Of Proximal Development fame? Yeah, I met her at that music group.

2,500 Words A Day

(*grabs ink and quill*)

Remember when I vowed to finish my current novel before I head back to university in September? Like four days ago? Well I’m realising the key obstacle to completing this quest: based on the amount I’ve written and the amount that is left to right, and comparing these figures to the length of time I have left before mid-September, and the need for a few weeks of editing, I have calculated I will need to write 2,500 words a day, every day, for the next two months.

This is a lot for a guy who failed NaNoWriMo by like half the target.

But I shall not falter! I’ve written my 2,500 words for today and I’ve only been up for like eight hours. But, more importantly than that, it felt good to write those 2,500 words. Having started a series of novels with insanely ambitious narratives, and promptly giving up or shelved them indefinitely, I know too well how hard it is to get back to writing if you take a break for too long. Or how tedious writing becomes when you realise that you’ve been plugging away for three hours, and a combination of your perfectionism and procrastination has left you with 351 words and a bold-faced title to show for it.

Actually writing, however, has helped me like the characters and world I’ve created, as opposed to seeing them as a series of outlines I have in my head to mechanically fill in by writing the damn thing. Because I’ve planned this novel out in meticulous detail, writing it becomes more obligation than creation if I were to do it sporadically, and I only had the skeleton of events and characters in my plan to work with. The more I write, however, the more organic the characters become, and, almost paradoxically, the more flexibility I have to deviate a little from the outline because I know who my characters are and what they’re doing, by virtue of engaging with them more often. I’m less reliant on the notes I wrote months ago, and I’m enjoying writing way more as a result.

Now I just have to keep it up for another two months.

That Rainbow Banner Pisses Me Off

(still better than a Confederate banner)

I see you there, Mx. Rainbow Banner. With your colours, and your lines, and your general vibe of tolerance and empathy for our fellow human beings. And I get all that, really I do: the idea to stick a pro-LGBT+ banner on such a big site as this one (as are the parallel ideas employed by Facebook and Twitter) are nothing short of highly admirable and wholly needed in a heteronormative society. That being said, it is ugly as shit.

My first problem with the rainbow banner is that it’s not a rainbow. Anyone with a basic understanding of colours knows the colours of the rainbow are, in order, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet (or ROY G BIV). But this banner shamefully ignores the last two colours, conflating them into a single, bastardised purple thing that is both an insult to indigo and violet, and gives unnecessary status to purple, a colour which looks like garbage anywhere other than the uniforms of the Minnesota Vikings.

But this is a problem among the LGBT+ community, not specifically WordPress’s adoption of their trademark symbol; somewhere, someone decided to give indigo and violent the shaft, and it’s a chromatographical problem that WordPress isn’t really responsible for. But what this site is to blame for is the silly placement of the banner atop the reader. WordPress’s colour is a rather industrial light blue, the sort of shade you’d find on the side of a heavy goods lorry after eighteen consecutive return trips from Barnstaple to Wellingborough, where its sides are all grotty and faded, all semblance of a chirpy, friendly image cooked up by a vaccumed PR department lost to the ravages of the elements. Or its the kind of colour you’d see on an old set of the game Battleship, a shade opposed to the enemy red that is both vibrant and attracted, but backboned with the steel and aggression befitting tiny plastic submarines. And, from a purely aesthetic point of view, this is a total clash with the bright, carefree colours of the rainbow.

At least Facebook and Twitter have the decency to abort their traditional colour schemes in favour of this rainbow-bannering: Facebook’s fabulised profile pictures are greyscaled before they are rainbowed, so there is no contrast between the original photo and its social justice-supporting colouring; and Twitter has abandoned its sky blue background for a rainbow background behind a neutral white bird, and white is a sweet accompaniment to any spectrum of colours. But WordPress insists on pushing its brand identity, and its progressive leanings, down your throat simultaneously, screwing up the design of what is normally a pretty, functional site.

I’m all for rainbow drapery – I’d love to see a temporary replacement of WordPress’s blue livery and the black trim on the WP Admin page with an appropriately exploded Skittle factory – but I can’t get my head around the design choice to smash two contrasting colours against each other. It’s baffling, stupid, and kinda hurts my eyes.

This is clearly the biggest problem facing the LGBT+ community.