Tag: Culture

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.

Kick-Ass Music In Gaming

(there are many secrets in this land, up in the clouds or beneath the sand…)

One of the best parts about video games as an art form – beyond obvious stuff like the interactivity and their relentless pursuit of new technologies to tell their stories – is the variety of other kinds of art that make up a single game: take something like the recent Tomb Raider reboot, a game with cinematic visuals, an impressive narrative, and the mechanical aspects such as gameplay and the rendering of models, that are themselves forms of art, deployed excellently. But a big one is music, with some game’s songs transcending the limited number of pixels they’re associated with, and become memes and parts of gaming culture in their own right; there are a lot of crap songs in games, but today I’m gonna pick out some of the best ones.

1) Super Mario RPG – Beware The Forest Mushrooms (1996)

As part of Nintendo’s attempts to make Mario games in every genre known to man, Super Mario RPG was produced, a fun, simple RPG known for its awesome character Geno, a doll brought to life to fight alongside Mario, and the Forest Maze where he is introduced; said maze brings with it the aforementioned Beware The Forest Mushrooms theme, an upbeat, playful tune that captures the insanity-inducing repetition of getting lost in the maze. There’s also this fantastic Martin Hagwell-XBrav-Kirbopher-Shadyvox fan version, Waltz Of The Forest, whose combination of a classic theme, original lyrics, collaboration across generations of fans, and even a rap segment, is pretty strong evidence that gaming has a phenomenally creative and collaborative community.

2) Kirby Super Star – Gourmet Race theme (1996)

I’ve mentioned this one before on this blog; the theme itself is a frantic, light-hearted piece of music that aptly mirrors its subject matter, namely a race involving a sentient squishy pink ball with adorable stubby arms, and serves as an effective alarm clock. Speaking of collaboration again, You’re The Man Now, Dog has brought us this wonderful mashup of the theme with Snoop Dogg’s Drop It Like It’s Hot; this is one of those times where I’ll claim the fan mashup is better than the original, not to be a knuckleheaded online fanboy, but because Snoop’s original music is a bit naff in comparison.

3) Sonic Adventure 2 – City Escape theme (2001)

Apologies for the impending stream of Sonic Adventure 2 songs, but the game is important to me; it was my first ‘favourite’ game, one that seven-year-old James (I didn’t get the game until early 2004 when it was rereleased on GameCube) could point to as being noticeably superior to his other awesome games (such as Pokemon Colosseum). A big part of that distinction was the music in SA2, which consists of actual songs, instead of repeated jingles; these songs have lyrics, and clearly-defined versus and choruses, and were the first pieces of video game music that I heard that held meaning in of themselves, instead of being things that – while sounding cool – only added to what was being presented in the gameplay and story of the games. And while that meaning usually consisted of just how frakking cool it is for a hedgehog to be skating down a highway on a piece of metal ripped off a helicopter, there was meaning nonetheless.

4) Sonic Adventure 2 – Pumpkin Hill theme (2001)

A song that’s about as close to rap music as the theme from the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, all of Knuckle’s faux-hop backing tracks in this game are brilliantly awful, but I always liked the ‘so bad it’s good’ quality of the Pumpkin Hill theme, which is incidentally a description I only use to refer to songs from the Knuckles levels of this game. The lyrics aren’t inspired, the rapper’s ‘flow’ is decidedly not ‘sick’, but I love the bassline, and the turntable scratches which would, unbeknownst to me at the time, rear their edgy heads once again when I got into hip-hop I actually liked, with Classified and DL Incognito.

5) Sonic Adventure 2 – Live And Learn (2001)

I’m cheating a little bit here, because this song wasn’t as striking to me when I first played the game, because it was the background music for the title screen, which every seven-year-old in the world clicks through ASAP to get to what they perceive to be the actual game; but having looked up the previous two songs, and listened to this one in its entirety, I think this is my favourite of them all. While the others sound like honest, yet unsuccessful, attempts at replicating the rock and hip-hop genres, Live And Learn sounds like a hard rock song, not one made to sell hedgehog mascots to kids, but one whose lyrics could inspire a bunch of ironic throwback t-shirts worn by pretentious bastards such as myself thirty years after they stopped being actually relevant. And speaking of the actual music industry, I think one astute YouTube commenter sums up this song more eloquently than I ever could –  ‘This is better than everything the Beatles have made.’

6) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Steel Samurai theme (2001)

I’m going to get away from gushing over fan-made things now, to bring you this amazing minute from the GBA soundscape; the whole tune fits the game, and the episode it’s used in perfectly – the industrial, synthed guitar just after the intro fits the urban, mechanical world of the Steel Samurai and Neo Old Tokyo, and the jingles heard at the very start of the piece that pop up throughout reinforce the vaguely Japanese origin of this fictional kids’ show. The jingle, immediately followed by the crash of the intro, is also reminiscent of songs like Rise Against’s Ready To Fall, with an almost pre-introductory bar, long enough to make listeners squeal ‘Oh my God it’s that song!’, but not quite long enough to take away from the awesome introduction itself. I’d set this as my ringtone, if I wasn’t surprisingly technophobic.

7) Pokemon Colosseum – The Under theme (2003)

Another song with an awesome bassline, the theme song for Orre’s shady Under, literally an underground slum built beneath another slum, Pyrite City, is both dark and foreboding, but also energetic and strangely vibrant, especially the piano parts that come in around the 38 second mark, which help to build up the Under – and by extension Pyrite above it – as a place of crime and deceit, but also a place with its own identity. Indeed, when – spoilers – you defeat Team Snagem and restore order to the region, the dark, criminal world of the Under and Pyrite become ‘a noble town of roughs and scoundrels’, showing misery to come not from the people in this world, but from an outside force, those who try to control them. Admittedly, both the Under theme and the Pyrite City theme do this excellently.

8) Super Mario Galaxy – Gusty Garden Galaxy (2007)

Often pointed to as an example of video games being not only artistic, but beautiful and elegant (because I’m noticing that all the examples I’ve given previously have been dark, childish or parodical songs), the Gusty Garden Galaxy is a world of floating around on dandelions, riding the winds, and generally feeling carefree, yet refined as you blow over grassy fields and planets made of rolling hills. It’s a bit like drifting through the winds above the setting of a George Eliot novel with a fat Italian plumber, and while the soundtrack lacks the variety of the Under theme, or the tight structure of the Sonic Adventure 2 pieces, it’s still a powerful piece, that never falls back on mindless aggression to force a simple ‘this is sad!’ response out of the players.

9) Mass Effect 3 – Leaving Earth (2012)

Speaking of being sad, I couldn’t get through a post on music, video games, or sadness without mentioning what I honestly consider to be the most beautiful piece of music I’ve sat down and listened to; the song plays towards the start of the final chapter in Bioware’s sci-fi epic, when the player flees Earth from the relentless Reaper invasion, who literally rain fire and brimstone onto the planet, obliterating civilian ships as you watch from the safety and helplessness of your ship, the Normandy. I honestly think the theme is underused in the game, only being a background factor as the much more vulgar scenes of the Reapers ravaging Earth play across the screen, and the reuse of the piano loop in the Extended Cut’s An End, Once And For All seems like a cheap attempt to shoehorn in an awesome loop that should have got more exposure. But the music itself is a wonderful mixture of fear and loss, with the initially slow piano parts and the crashing drums, but ultimately hope, as chords come in later in the piece, a dichotomy that is basically the heart of Mass Effect 3 – everything’s falling apart, but until it’s broken, we won’t stop trying to fix it. Also, the repeated synth notes throughout the piece binds it together musically, but also thematically, uniting that initial despair, and the ultimate sad, regretful hope that characterises the start of Mass Effect 3, after the end of the prequel in which the player undertakes a suicide mission, where any of their friends and squadmates can be killed at any point. I don’t want to harp on about this last point too much, because this song is the only one to fit into a wider narrative trilogy of the games I’ve mentioned so it’d be unfair, but Leaving Earth isn’t just a perfect song for where it fits into the Mass Effect universe, but an inspiring song I use with embarrassing regularity to motivate myself after screwing something up.

10) The Last Of Us – All Gone (Aftermath) (2013)

This isn’t the exact version I intended to use here – for those of you who know the game I’m thinking of the music that plays in the brief cutscene after Ellie brutally kills the leader of the cannibals, and is comforted by Joel with the famous ‘baby girl’ line – but it’s the same piece of music, so it’ll have to do. Instead of the grand, orchestral pieces like Gusty Garden Galaxy, or the processed tunes of the earlier songs on this list, All Gone (Aftermath) is a stripped-down feels-generator, with the single guitar part reflecting both the simplicity of the nomadic, paranoid life survivors in the Last Of Us universe are forced to live in, but also their desire to get back to something older, something more traditional; until the end of the game, where Joel realises he must move on with his life and live new experiences, it’s not a stretch to say that he tries to relive his old, pre-apocalypse life in his new surroundings, loving Ellie as he did his own daughter, Sarah, before she died, and structuring his life around meeting old friends, like Bill, and distant relatives, such as his brother Tommy, from his past – he even tries to get back to city life immediately after the disease breaks out, living in martial law Boston as a replica of his old life in Austen. I also think the stringed parts of the piece reflect the tragic beauty of the game’s world: the heads of Clickers resemble abstract art, the blood from Ellie’s killed rabbit has the contrast and slightly warped borders of a Mark Rothko piece, and the settlements encountered throughout the game are like parodies of older, pre-apocalypse dwellings, functional, hand-made and unique, yet built to survive Hell on Earth. And it’s hard to pick a single minute of a three-hour fully-extended soundtrack to sum up those contrasts, but I think All Gone (Aftermath) does it pretty well.

Sorry that got a bit pretentious-English-student-seeing-art-in-bleeding-everything at the end there, but that’s how games have changed over the years and how I, now a pretentious English student, have changed how I respond to and appreciate them. This isn’t to say that all games these days have to be these dark, cinematic pieces of art, but I think the best games create worlds, and whether they’re silly and cartoonish, or resonate and meaningful, music is a key contributor, or even central figure, in creating those worlds.

A Small Epiphany About Context

(fun fact – I learned the word ‘epiphany’ from the Simpsons movie!)

My biggest weakness as a student of literature is my almost total ignorance of literary history; because I never really read for fun, seeing reading as an, albeit enjoyable, form of work, I was never particularly motivated to read beyond set texts and syllabuses, only branching out into Inferno and Middlemarch because I thought it’d help with my English interviews, because it all seemed a bit like work. As a result, I became – and I’d argue still am – pretty good at close reading and language analysis, but suck at actually having a conversation about books, because I kinda know bugger all.

And this never bothered me; I was happy in my ignorance, because I know that there’s more to life than a single interest even if that interest is something cool like reading, and felt that books can be appreciated in their own right, and knowledge of a wider context is only necessary to view those books within that context, instead of being an intrinsic part of getting to grips with the words on the page. Basically, knowing literary context was an optional in-app purchase compared with the free download of the book itself that is enjoyable in its own right.

But then that changed last week as I sat in a seminar on Rousseau’s Confessions, trying to not fall asleep in two straight seminars after a night of like four hours in bed (yet again); my mind drifted to my rather more expansive knowledge of American hardcore punk – from Minor Threat and Bad Brains on the East Coast, to Pennywise and Bad Religion on the West Coast, then the more recent north-south divide between pop-punk groups like Bowling For Soup in the south, and Rise Against in the north – and I suddenly realised that this knowledge is exactly the same as what knowledge of literary history would be. Essentially, I know the context of punk, but not the context of literature. I then realised that a lot of my enjoyment in listening to punk, especially new bands, comes from appreciating this context, and placing them as an individual group into the much larger stream of people with guitars who are pissed off at things, making them seem more relevant and influential than just their own songs.

It then hit me that literary culture is basically the same thing; close reading is all well and good, but it doesn’t really build up a wider understanding of culture, that I always assumed was one of those bullshit terms they use to sell A-level English to GCSE students caught between taking that and Economics, but might actually be something worth engaging with and enjoying for its own sake.

It remains to be seen if I’ll actually stick to this though, and how much I’m actually interested in this context malarkey; it’s one thing to plan to do a thing, like read all the Romantic poems over summer, and another thing entirely to actually do it (as my failure to complete NaNoWriMo continues to hauntingly remind me to this day).

But even if I don’t go out and read all the books I really should have at least heard of by now, I’ll be more aware of my ignorance, and the damage it’ll be causing; thank the gods for knowledge.

My Impending Descent Into Alcoholism

(I’ll have to burn my Minor Threat shirt and Rise Against CDs at this rate)

I make quite a big deal – not really by choice, but by the fact that I’m quite obviously the only person at the party not drinking – of the fact that I don’t drink alcohol, and the last drop of the stuff I tried was three years ago, when I was fifteen at a family Christmas party.

Until now.

Last night, I consumed alcohol for the first time since that fateful day: I ate half a party ring that had been dropped in my mate’s cider.

Now, t-shirt burning, straight edge tattoo plans-abandoning reactionary nonsense aside, this isn’t really a big thing – I didn’t even drink the stuff, it only came with the much more enjoyable party ring. But I consumed alcohol, even in a minute amount, and didn’t immediately pass out, nor do I feel a sense of shame for living a life slightly less based on endless restraint – I’ve still not eaten meat, or consumed caffeine this year.

And it was this – along with the remainder of last night’s party that involved going to a club playing so-called ‘indie music’, which all basically sounds like shit versions of Bad Religion and Units – that has made me rethink the stuff I said in this post about clubbing, that things like pop music have their place, even if I don’t particularly enjoy them all the time. Now, I’ve refocused this argument on myself in an appropriately narcissistic way, and have come to the conclusion that it’s tiring, almost impossible, to constantly reject and go against what other people are doing, or enjoying.

Again, this doesn’t mean I suddenly prefer indie to punk, or Bulmers to water, but I think it’s possible to enjoy oneself  by indulging in [stuff one usually wouldn’t like, because in all honesty, it does bug me a little bit when I go to a club and am the only person who doesn’t know the words to the songs. Today I went to the North London Derby, for instance, the big Tottenham-Arsenal rivalry game, and participated in the shouting of obscenities, accusations of pedophilia and willingness to offer death threats as the rest of the crowd, things I’d never usually do, but things I’m happy to do in the moment (incidentally, a couple of drunk Spurs fans mistook me for an Arsenal fan on the way home for some reason – I resisted the urge to respond to their vulgarity and idiocy by headbutting them off the train).

I like doing what’s not expected of me; sure there are obvious and important ethical and health reasons for things like not drinking or not eating meat, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t entirely motivated by that desire to be an individual that we all have, to set ourselves apart from the people we associate with as part of some paradoxical social construct, where we’re all simultaneously looking for acceptance from and conformity with a group, but also to be seen as unique and interesting within it; if I’m totally dull and annoying otherwise, at least I’ll have the not drinking thing going for me. But there are times – increasingly frequent times now that I’m going to clubs and other such fanciful things – where conformity is more important, and even more enjoyable, where you can put away your belief that New Order aren’t great for a bit, because everyone’s dancing to them and you don’t want to be left out in the cold (another ‘incidentally’ here – this isn’t ever the fault of the people around you, it’s more of a personal feeling of not belonging because of what you perceive to be your own ignorance or inadequacy, which is usually totally unfounded but we’re all basically pessimists when it comes to looking at ourselves).

My current solution is a good one: don’t drink, but behave in a more open manner around drunk people, and don’t listen to indie, but try to enjoy it in the heat of the moment. But there is a part of me that reckons that actually conforming to a group identity completely – hopefully by finding a group of people who fit me, because the other way around is totally never happening – might be fun once in a while.

So if you know any straight edge clubs in London that play Rise Against, let me know and I’ll buy us tickets.


(they don’t write blog posts like they used to)

Since hearing a rendition of Bowling For Soup’s 1985 at karaoke last week (as part of the more successful part of that two-legged party I went to), I’ve been singing it to myself for days now, and only now have I realised that I’m basically nostalgic for a period of time I wasn’t alive for, or am even interested in; if the song were entitled ‘1983’, and was about Minor Threat and Bad Brains, I could at least claim to have remorse for a thing I actually liked, but I don’t really care for U2, Blondie, or indeed, music on MTV.

But I still feel like I’ve been wronged by modern music in some way when listening to the song; why don’t they make songs like Hanging On The Telephone anymore? I’ll ask myself, completely oblivious to the fact that I’ve heard that song like three times, and was only introduced to it by the Rock Band iOS game from about 2011. I’m worried this is just part of the wider culture of nostalgia that our society’s full of, that we look back at things in the past and assume they were better just because they were in the past, instead of possessing some kind of intrinsic value. I know that bands like Minor Threat were awesome for their novelty back in the early 1980s, but it’d be completely incorrect to suggest that all aspects of their music are better than modern versions; production quality, for instance, has come a long way since 1983, regardless of the simplistic assertions that better-sounding tracks are indicative of the increasingly false music industry.

And we do this with everything from games – can anyone honestly tell me that the original Bowser’s Castle theme is a better piece of music than Leaving Earth? – to books – JK Rowling I’m happy for you, and I’mma let you finish, but Terry Pratchett wrote one of the best wizards-at-school stories of all time! – as if ‘the past’ is better than the present simply because it’s the past, instead of the more accurate description that it’s a dark, desolate place filled with, in chronological order, war, disease, poverty, more war, intolerance, even more war, the threat of even more war, some more intolerance, then a shit-load more war.

Perhaps nostalgia is just a form of escapism; we all like to imagine ourselves in situations other than the one we’re in currently, even if we’re very happy with our lives at the moment, because its these dreams that form the basis of motivation, providing a goal to strive for, or at least continue living for in hope, that keeps humanity trundling along. But if there is an absence of creativity or originality in that escapism, perhaps that distance between reality and aspiration is created by using an area separate to reality, that we don’t need to create: and if you watch some old Blondie music videos, you’re right back into a different world and you don’t have to do any of the confusing, messy world-building yourself.

I’d argue that this combination of a desire for escapism and a reduction in individual creativity in a world where culture is so oriented around explaining every last detail of a thing to us so that there’s no room for speculation or user interaction beyond idle admiration, has led to endless and mindless nostalgia, to the point where we long for things that we claim to have lived through, or once been a part of, whereas in reality we’re kids who’ve not yet figured out their own culture, let alone are in a position to piggyback onto another.

‘Why Don’t You Drink?’

(now I’m questioning myself in the titles of my own posts. Eep)

This is a question I’m asked seemingly every five minutes these days, because I keep meeting new people, usually in bars where my non-drinking is rather apparent, to which I give all my usual responses. But I was wondering if that question itself is a bit backwards: it places the emphasis on me to justify why I’m not drinking, instead of assuming that sobriety is the default, and that drinkers should be the ones to have to defend themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not offended when people ask why I don’t drink, and I’m quite happy to have a conversation about it in general – this isn’t an awkward topic for me. But it’s true that even a non-drinker like myself buys into this system, of drinking being the norm from which sobriety deviates, because I’m using terms like ‘non-drinker’ to highlight the fact that people don’t fit this norm – I don’t feel obliged to specify that others are ‘drinkers’ in the same way.

This comes down to a question of naturalness, that is what is it natural or expected to do in our society; someone that does what is expected of them is usually a ‘person’, and someone who deviates is qualified with an adjective, which places the linguistic emphasis upon the deviator to justify why they’re different, rather than the conformist to defend their conformity.

(as a sidenote I’d like to specify that these descriptions are neither inherently positive or negative; someone who stands up to oppression may be a ‘revolutionary person’, a positive description, and someone who rejects the idea that murder is a criminal activity devoid of morality can be a ‘slaughtering shit-headed person’ by the same logic)

And that conformity is based increasingly on what society tells us is normal, rather than what might be biologically normal; I don’t want to open a can of worms by talking about sexuality and ‘normality’ here, but it’s true that Ancient Greece included male homosexual relations as an integral part of its society, while later Western cultures criminalised the thing – same species, same biological desires, different cultural standards of normality and the need to justify oneself.

You could even say that social, as opposed to animal, constraints are greater indicators of normality as society has progressed; with greater factions within culture, there are even more ways in which we can defy the norm, and be questioned on it. Whether you’re into metal, pop, hip-hop or early eighties East Coast hardcore punk, there’ll be some group somewhere that tells you you’re doing being you wrong, and with the increase in connectivity brought about by the Internet, those voices are louder than ever. Of course, the other side of this is that it’s easier than before to find people who won’t question you and your ideas, either with the intent to undermine you or out of blissful yet ultimately offensive ignorance.

This means that I struggle to see a singular ‘way of doing things’, a universal cultural norm we should all adhere to or face scrutiny, at this point; even drinking alcohol, so long a mainstay of European culture right up to this century, is no longer as ingrained as it used to be – I have friends that don’t drink, and movements from Straight Edge to the Dryathlon have made sobriety not simply an individual rejection of a cultural norm, an identity made of absence, but an active identity in its own right, one with all the communal perks and collective ideas of the ‘drinking’ community.

This isn’t only why I don’t drink, but why I do whatever the frak I want more broadly; I’m not particularly interested in rejecting mainstream things for the sake of rejection, because there isn’t a single mainstream identity large enough for me to piss on to get any satisfaction from, and I know that whatever my random tastes in clothes, books, games and even sex, there’ll be a group of equally random people somewhere I can associate myself with, creating much greater pleasure than mere disassociation.

In truth, I’ve probably found a lot of those groups here at uni, which is why I’m doing quite a few things, and why I’m enjoying every last one of them; I’ll just have to find the Mass Effect 2 Society, and my life’ll be pretty complete.