Tag: The Future

I need reading week

(much like I need oxygen or the excitable voice of Superjeenius as he plays Phoenix Wright blind)

I know that medics, lawyers and anyone doing a degree slightly more employable than a BTec in remedial knitting will take reading week as just another seven-day span of revision, stress and underappreciation that mirrors about 98% of adult employment, but for a special creative snowflake such as myself, I need this bloody week.

It’s not that I’ll be noticeably freer over these seven days; I visit uni less frequently than one uses Kanji as a party member in Persona 4. And my writing and society responsibilities aren’t going to bugger off into the either just because some administrative bigwig at UCL arbitrarily circled this upcoming stretch of days as ‘days off’. It’s just the concept of ‘no classes’ that sings to me, like a siren dragging me towards evenings of Football Manager, Doritos and sandwiching my feet under my desk between two pillows like giant monolithic slippers.

Often, I feel that stress only has an impact on your life if you define yourself as ‘stressed’. I’ve worked through the hell of A-levels, which is objectively the busiest few months of my life, but never felt strained or stretched as I didn’t think that I was getting stressed, only that I was getting work done. Similarly, hammering out a dozen articles a day can feel rather easy if I don’t think about the scale of work I have to do, and instead focus on that work. Without context, stress ceases to exist, as one’s to-do list becomes nothing more than a series of individual tasks.

Yet recently, I’ve had to contextualise my actions. Whenever I’m reading a piece in Old English, I’m aware that my work counts towards my degree, and immediately start questioning if this degree is worth the tear-inducing debt I’ve racked up to pay for it. When I write for The Game Shelf, I’m not just thinking about the article in question, but how that article feeds into the broader identity and appeal of the magazine, it being the project I’m most serious about pushing to a profitable state (at least on a part-time basis). As my life becomes more real life, it becomes harder to focus on tasks and distance them from their scary, stressy contexts, and panic and fatigue quickly sets in.

The best part, however, is that there isn’t really a solution as far as I can see. I can’t be oblivious to the broader consequences of my actions, because they’re more real than ever before; if I don’t take paying my bills seriously, I won’t have a home; and if I don’t take my degree seriously, I won’t have a job. I’m aware that I’m defining a lot of my future in the negative, but that’s just how responsibility makes you think. Instead of doing task for benefit y, you’re doing it to avoid consequence z. Equally, I’m not going to let off on any of my activities, because they’re all engaging and fun and I’d honestly struggle to justify dropping one instead of another based on arbitrary and subjective definitions of ‘usefulness’ (apart from my addiction to Persona 3; I’m pretty sure I’ll only get better grades if I cut down on that). So in the absence of an answer, I’ve stuck it out, to wait for a temporary reprieve from the madness and fear. This seems to be the default response for a lot of people my age, and until I graduate, and have time to consider my experience, qualifications, interests and dreams, that’ll have to do.

Of course, by then it’ll all be too late, and I’ll have to give up, become a secondary school English teacher and get a cat to keep me company.

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 Benchmark Of Success

(*raises bar*)

When I was a kid, I’d always compare myself to young footballers; not only were they literally the only celebrities 10 year-old James had any contact with, but these 17 and 18-year-olds were that perfect mixture of being young enough to be relatable to a child, yet old enough for their lives to be separated from my own, and their lives as athletes to be something I was so far away from that I could put off becoming a pro footballer for the foreseeable future. But then I became 16 and 17, and slowly crossed off milestones that I’d missed: Aaron Lennon was playing for the Leeds first team at sixteen; Wayne Rooney won the BBC’s Young Sports Personality Of The Year award at seventeen; Iker Casillas was starting the Champions’ League final at nineteen, the age I’ll be in almost exactly a month next week.

I don’t think it’s harmful to have these aspirations based on people, especially when you’re younger; they provide some general parameters for what you define as a ‘successful’ life when the rest of your time is spent playing Need For Speed Carbon, and can help split up the various phases of life into manageable sections, as opposed to the only other people you know in your life who are either old (your parents and teachers) or the same age as you (your friends). But as you grow older, and people turn out to be more than images on a screen for you to gawp at and feel inferior to (at least most of the time), standards shift to more tangible things, things that you can achieve, rather than people you can emulate.

And with this aspiration based on product, I have found a mark against which to judge myself for the next five years: Classified’s excellent 2001 album, Union Dues, a record so obscure it’s not even on iTunes. All of these aspirations work off the dodgy indicator of progress that is age – we all grow and develop at different rates so it’s not a great scale but bear with me – and if we look at that, Classified released this album at the age of 24 and, frankly, it’s one of his best: it’s punchy without feeling like a churned-out, record exec cock-sucking EP; it’s musically stripped down and edgy without any of the musical fuzziness of a Minor Threat album; it’s lyrically diverse, and surprisingly mature for a bloke without much commercial success to his name. Obviously, it’s not a perfect record, but I think that as a piece of art produced by someone very much in the early stages of their life, it has a depth and stylistic craft that’s truly commendable.

I’m not going to be dropping a rap album any time soon, but it’s those last two things that I can work towards in my writings (be it in these posts, prose, poetry, journalism or god knows what I’ll try next), and those two things that I’ll judge myself as a writer against on my 24th birthday. With any luck, I’ll still be writing this blog, and we’ll be able to see how it’s gone.

The ‘Kill Me’ List

(I’ll probably stick this onto my flat’s fridge, alongside the decidedly anti-kill me list of numbers to call in case of a diabetic emergency)

I’m realising that change is important in one’s life. I can’t go on dismissing other people’s opinions because I treat everyone equally badly forever, not every Rise Against album can be a rehash of their superb Revolutions Per Minute, and someday Peyton Manning will retire from the NFL. However, there must be a limit to change, to avoid totally overthrowing one’s old identity; of course, if you want to revolutionise your life after spending a gap year in Singapore that was so inspirational, go for it. But I have no such desires, so any changes I do make to my life have to come with the condition that I’ll still be fundamentally the same person, just now with a few new interests and ideas.

With that, I present to you the Kill Me list, a series of conditions that, if all are fulfilled, will mean the person masquerading as James Patrick Casey will have deviated too far from the person he was at eighteen to accurately use that name. As a result, this imposter must be killed immediately, and with as little collateral damage as possible. This is a personal quest I’m entrusting to you fine friends and readers, so don’t let me down!

1) I start a discussion with someone who is not interested in protein shakes with the words ‘I tried this new protein shake recently…’

2) I legally purchase a Taylor Swift album.

3) I cosplay as a member of the Akatsuki without having cosplayed as Pain first.

4) I concede that The Last Of Us is superior to Mass Effect 2.

5) I stop obsessively putting all of my notes and papers into colour-coordinated folders.

6) I stop making notes by hand.

7) A week passes without me mentioning the UCL Dodgeball Club to someone not in the UCL Dodgeball Club.

8) I look forward to becoming a parent.

9) I stop putting my phone in my right trouser pocket, and my wallet and keys in my left trouser pocket.

10) I write a novel that does not include a complex female lead.

11) I start ironically using hashtags in places not suited for hashtags for comedic effect.

12) I claim to be wearing guyliner (this isn’t 2006. It’s eyeliner).

13) I create a version of myself on a sports game and do not give myself a jersey number including the number three.

14) The colour black is not a significant part of the design of this blog.

15) I wear a pair of jeans when a tracksuit would be perfectly appropriate instead.

Today Was A Bit Of A False Start

(on your marks, get set, don’t learn – yet)

Sorry if this is abrupt but there’s somewhere I have to be in about half the time it takes to write a blog post without spelling and grammar mistakes, or the sort of long-winded and multiple-claused sentences I think are funny but are really a pain to figure out in my head, and are a bitch to proof-read later, but I have had my first day of universitying after three months of summer spent waiting for this, and it was a bit of a false start.

I understand that there are a load of things they want to introduce to us, and I’ve not got a problem with the fact that most students don’t come from the UK, let alone London, so a day and a half of figuring out this ridiculously poorly-planned city probably isn’t enough, but for those of us with no other interests, and a working knowledge of what the frak on Oyster Card is, I wanna do the English Literature thing, not the ‘welcome to UCL’ thing.

This isn’t a problem with the uni, it’s just my own impatience; I suppose that I had fixed today, Monday the 22nd of September, as the day that university starts for me, none of this ‘early move in’ crap, this is when the nine grand a year starts paying off. And it was perhaps unrealistic of me to expect that I could, or that I would, be thrown straight into fighting about the grammar of Paradise Lost so I’ll just have to wait for a little longer.

Of course, having said that, I’m probably not prepared for the things I’m waiting for, because I’ve not looked at Paradise Lost in a few days now and my completion of the remainder of the reading list closely resembles the completion of the stamp collection of an individual with a clinical fear of stamps, but in a way I want that. It’s not that I can’t motivate myself to do things, and I’ll have to learn over the course of the next year, but I think I react well to people telling me to do stuff, and pointing out all the ways I’m not really doing well enough for their liking.

I might be a masochist, but I’ve been anticipating the grind of reading a bajillion hours a day, the fear of saying something stupid in a seminar, and the inevitable car crash that my first university-level essay will resemble, and three months is a long time to wait for that when you’re playing Madden by yourself in a depressingly well-lit living room for days at a time.

So I’ll try to look at this as a positive, that the ideal of my university life is still very much alive, and I’ll be able to eagerly look forward to it for another week yet, before the depressing reality of having to choose two from a completed essay, enough sleep, and three meals a day, sets in on a daily basis. So bring on the learning, because I for one am quite ready.

The Last Day Of Innocence

(sadly I’m not referring to sexual innocence)

Tomorrow, A-level results are released here in England, the slips of paper and single letters devoid of meaning that are apparently more influential over our university options than our identities, interests, or characters. The day itself will be a mixture of fear, despair, and elation, all conveyed through the means of poorly-organised alphabetised queues dispensing bits of paper and envelopes to eighteen-year-olds faster than STDs at a Christian rave, where the alcohol is plentiful but contraceptives still totally banned.

I could stay up until midnight, frantically refreshing the UCAS homepage to see if my first-choice university has, indeed, given me an offer, but I’ll just wait until nine o’clock, when I will go to my school and be given my results in the archaic form of paper; essentially, the outcome of these exams has been settled for over a month now, so waiting an extra nine hours for my results is no problem, considering I get much more sleep that way.

This Summer has been by far the weirdest as a result; I’ve found devoting myself to work – in case I get in – has been difficult to motivate myself for, and devoting myself to enjoying my summer – in case I don’t get in and this is my only big holiday of the year – can’t be done without a niggling feeling that I should really be reading some poetry or something. I’ve basically had to settle for a halfway house of watching Naruto while talking about university stuff with a friend, a compromise I never through I’d reach.

I called this post ‘The Last Day Of Innocence’ because I feel that I will have lost some of my innocence as a student at the end of this process; this is the first set of exams to have a direct and meaningful impact on my later life – secondary school admission wasn’t based on the big, end-of-year-six SATs – and so whether I pass or fail, I’ll have undergone a process with a big impact on my future for the first time in my life.

If I ‘pass’, and I get the grades, I’ll have both lost my innocence as a school student, and my identity as one altogether as I’ll be able to move on with my life and get to university; if I ‘fail’, and don’t get the grades, I’ll have tried, sucked, and will have to repeat year thirteen with my tail between my legs, both wiser and angrier for the failures of what will be last summer.

But either way, I’ll be glad to have done something for myself – I wanted to complete these exams, and I have – and something difficult, as I don’t think the exams were a catastrophe or flawless victory so this should have been a challenge that I’m pretty close to matching.

I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow, but I might not upload a whole post about it – life’s too short for focusing on just one thing. And I’d like to say ‘best wishes’ to all of you getting results tomorrow, but honestly, I don’t know you and can’t be happy for your success, so I’m actually going to ask you to piss off and fail spectacularly, to keep the grade boundaries low for the rest of us.