Sunday, 26 May 2013

Have I finally grown up?

Last week I wrote about board games having been usurped by Playstations, but there's a more personal aspect of this that's been bothering me recently.
I think I'm bored of video games.
I started back when Space Invaders and PacMan were all the rage in the arcades, and the only game consoles were the ones with the built-in games of tennis, football and squash that just had a simple rectangular bat, a square ball, and a really annoying beeping noise when the two met each other.
In 1981 Clive Sinclair brought about a revolution with the release of the ZX81. For the first time Joe Average could afford to have a computer at home, and although kids today would piss themselves laughing at its capabilities it really was a milestone product. Not only did it kick start a generation of programmers, but if you plugged in the 16kb RAM pack you could actually play Space Invaders without having to go to an arcade and blow all your pocket money.
My first step beyond the old bat-and-ball basics was a Sinclair Spectrum and that was the start of a parade of assorted consoles and computers that has progressed through the years. There's been two Spectrums, a Sega Master System, an Atari ST, a Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, Playstation, XBox, XBox 360, and probably other stuff I've long since forgotten about.
All this time I've had enthusiasm by the bucket load and I've always been looking forward to the next generation of games and hardware. Never what you would call a hardcore gamer, but enthusiastic nonetheless.
The last couple of years however have been leaving me more and more disappointed. Now I know that many would say that gaming has never been so good, and in terms of graphics, speed and complexity there's no doubt that things have progressed to a staggering level since we were blowing up dodgy looking asteroids with a heavily armed triangle.
But all we seem to be seeing these days is prettied up reworkings of the same games we've been playing for years, and as brilliant as 'Modern Warfare' and 'Forza' are, there doesn't seem to be anything new and innovative to tempt me into buying games any more.
Both Sony and Microsoft have recently made announcements of their next-gen consoles and all they seem interested in is how to cram as much social media as possible into the machines, before chucking it on the market bundled with a copy of 'Call of Duty Forza Zombie Theft Auto'.
I've no doubt that the new hardware will be faster and have better graphics but things won't really be any different. With all the supposed new innovations the manufacturers bang on about, they seem to be drifting away from what video games were about to begin with - buy a game, shove it in the machine, and play until your eyes feel like they're full of cat litter and premature arthritis has taken its toll on your thumb joints. I just want to play the game. I don't want to talk to people I've never met while being shot for the hundredth time by everyone that's better at first person shooters than I am, and I have no interest in Twatting or Bookfacing my friends while I'm waiting to respawn into someone's rifle sights. If video games ever become like 'Better Than Life' from Red Dwarf then I'll be at the front of the queue, but I've just lost interest now, and at this stage no matter how shiny and fast the new consoles might be, for the first time I really couldn't care less. Maybe this is a sign that I'm finally growing up and I'm ready to take up gardening and sitting on the sofa watching endless repeats of 'Last of the Summer Wine'.
A few weeks ago I had a bit of a tidy up during which I disconnected the XBox and shoved it out of the way in the bottom of the wardrobe, and I haven't touched it since. That doesn't mean this is a permanent state of affairs, but aside from fleeting thoughts that a couple of levels of 'Sniper Elite V2' might make a change during bouts of terminal boredom, I haven't really been bothered. I'd rather listen to music or go and fanny about with motorbikes in the shed.
On the subject of which, Project Donkey is now complete. It is MOT'd, taxed, insured, and currently awaiting a decision as to whether I sell it, keep it for a winter hack or just hold on to it for when the boy is sixteen. It's not a bad little beastie, although getting off a 1200 Bandit and getting straight on to that is the biggest culture shock imaginable ("there's lots of noise but nothing's happening") but eventually it struggles up to about 85kph (just over 50mph) leaving a delightful plume of blue smoke in its wake which is a great defense mechanism against potential tailgaters. The seat is hard, the riding position is cramped, and the vibrations through the bars and footpegs turn your hands and feet numb. On the plus side, having taken so long to wind it up to any kind of speed the last thing you want to do is slow down again, so it's fun to plot lines through bends and roundabouts that allow you to avoid needing to close the throttle, and eventually you start to feel that although it's slow, it is actually sort of a laugh. How long it will tolerate me wringing its neck is as yet unknown though so if I do use it from time to time the boy will probably need something different anyway because Donkey will be dead. Again.

My how things have changed...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Bored games

In the first post I wrote for this blog I talked about games and the differences between traditional board games and the modern equivalent, video games.
I recall that a year or two ago there was a report that UK sales of board games had seen a huge increase which I suspect was linked to the end-of-year-silly-holiday. The time of year when everybody knows that there's going to be bugger all to do for a few days, so people think it would be a good idea to inspire a bit of old-school family togetherness by forcing everyone to sit around playing the latest attempt at electricity-free entertainment.
Every year sees the release of a couple of new board games, all designed by people who believe that they can eliminate the global need for Playstations with a new and confusing way of moving a plastic counter from one bit of a printed board to another bit over a period of 2-4 hours.
Many of us try to keep alive the methods of entertainment we remember from our childhood by insisting that our own kids extract themselves from Facebook and actually go out to socialise with their friends, or go for a bike ride instead of shooting zombies in the face on the Xbox. This effort is always doomed to failure because whether we like it or not, things have changed.
Bringing out a board game these days is a surefire way to alienate at least some of your intended victims. Children automatically mistrust anything that doesn't plug into a power supply and preferably the internet as well, so they will be the most reluctant participants. The idea that they have to learn the rules is too much like learning stuff at school for them to bear, so they either have a hissy fit over the 'stupid' game or become a zombie like the ones they wish they were shooting instead.
By the time the rules have been established and the game is underway, boredom is already setting in and it's usually only thanks to the players propensity for alcohol consumption that a game ever gets played to its conclusion, at which point the collective sense of relief that it's finally over is plain to all. Packing away a board game is always carried out with considerably more enthusiasm than it was unpacked with, and generally accompanied by another glass of happy juice to get over the shock of having wasted time that would have been better spent doing pretty much anything else.
Board games have had their day and even if the day comes when the survivors of the apocalypse are camped out in a desolate cave somewhere, and some bright spark combines a handful of interestingly shaped stones with a grid of squares scratched crudely into the dirt on the floor, a primal instinct will seize the onlookers who will proceed to insert the playing pieces into every available orifice in the inventors body.
We're now too used to our entertainment being based around video games, TV and YouTube to turn things around. Board games are as dead as the next wave of zombies. Perhaps it's time to accept it.



The kids greeted the suggestion of a game of Monopoly with limited enthusiasm...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Ramblings, rants and Reggie

In a major break with tradition we actually went out for the evening yesterday. This is not a normal occurrence so despite having had the tickets since they went on sale at the end of last year, by the time the day finally rolled around I'd convinced myself I didn't really want to go. This is what I always end up doing. The prospect of anything outside my comfort zone sends me off into irrational fits of worry and angst and I've no idea how to stop this happening.
I never used to be like that though. When I was younger I wasn't fazed by anything; it was all an adventure to be experienced and enjoyed no matter how things turned out.
At 18 I thought nothing of getting in the car or on the bike and going up to Tyne & Wear for the weekend by myself to visit a friend who lived up there, including one memorable night in torrential rain one October riding my TZR250. The memory of stopping for petrol half way there, wringing the water out of my gloves and having to put them on again will haunt me forever along with almost needing to be lifted off the bike when I got there because my body had practically frozen into position.
But at the time I didn't care.
Tell me I need to go up there now and my first thoughts would be how to get out of it and if I couldn't then I'd be scouring the train and coach timetables in the hope of getting there without having to deal with the tedium and frustration of driving up the A1.
In November we'll be going to Motorcycle Live at the Birmingham NEC, but I'm only able to cope with the prospect of getting there because our tickets include coach travel from Cambridge. So then I just have to find a way of switching off that part of my brain that goes into panic mode when I'm in a crowd.
As it was, last night we had a really good time. It was the first time I'd been to see a stand-up comedian live which was an interesting change from seeing a band. The main act, Reginald D Hunter, was absolutely brilliant and the support act, Pete Johansson, a Canadian comedian who I'd never heard of had me in stitches - top bloke!
This is how it seems to work out these days. Something is arranged and seems a good idea at the time, as it nears I get fidgety about it, immediately before I don't want to do it, I force myself to do it, and then I'm glad I did it. I really need to fix this now so I only have the first and last steps because if I'm not careful it'll be another way that I've become like my dad and I'll never go anywhere.
This Friday we'll be going out again, but this time I'm really looking forward to it as we'll be visiting with people we thoroughly enjoy spending time with so my phase of worry and uncertainty won't happen at all. I think that for me this shows that spending time with family and friends is the most enjoyable and important bit of my life.
I enjoy being at home with its comforts and familiarity. Food, drink, music, movies, and pottering about in the shed tinkering with bikes and pouring another pint of homebrew. I'm a simple guy with simple needs - beer, bikes, and boobs - and although I sometimes wonder if I might be missing out on something, I'm basically happy doing what I do.
Now to some all this may sound a bit restrictive. I know there are plenty of people out there who would consider life without big adventures, foreign holidays and frequent new experiences to be a life not worth living at all, and they're entitled to their opinion. Everyone's different and it would be a very dull world if we weren't.
Some people are all about image and spend their time worrying about how they appear to other people, expending all their time and money ensuring they drive the right car, live in the right house, wear the right clothes and eat at the right restaurant. But that's OK, because it's fun for the rest of us to be able to take the piss out of shallow people with so little self esteem that they feel the need to surround themselves in shiny things in the mistaken belief that others will think "ooh, aren't they an inspiration", rather than "ooh, don't they look a twat".
As for me, I don't do foreign holidays (don't even have a passport), I don't do designer clothes (unless Florence & Fred counts), I don't have a flash car (we're all stuck in the same traffic jam), and if I eat out it's more important that it tastes good and fills me up than that it looks like a little bit of insubstantial art with a side of 'jus' (I don't want to have to go home and have another dinner immediately afterwards).
And most importantly I really couldn't give a toss what others think of me. Seriously, I just don't care. I don't do anything to make other people's lives unpleasant, I try to be helpful where I can, I try to think the best of people until they prove otherwise, and if someone has a problem with me it's their problem not mine.
Looking back through what I've written this morning I realise it's all a bit disjointed - just another case of me emptying my head of thoughts and writing them down - and it doesn't seem to have much direction. But frankly I don't care.

Father Jack Hackett and Victor Meldrew.
Characters of inspiration because they don't care about image either.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

The creative committee

I was listening to Depeche Mode's 'Playing the Angel' album on the way to work the other day and some words from 'John the Revelator' got me thinking.

By claiming God as his only rock
He's stealing a god from the Israelite
Stealing a god from a Muslim too
There is only one god through and through

Now if it's true that there's only one god, then is any one religion right or is it (more likely) that none of them have got it right but they all make their own interpretation of the same idea.
This is a good point because it would mean that all the conflict in the world that has arisen from the simple premise of 'My god's better than yours' is all wrong. Which it obviously is anyway. Let's face it, as little kids there were always the inevitable playground fights that started with someone uttering the phrase 'My dad's better than your dad - my dad can beat your dad up'. These same kids grew up (well, got older anyway) and decided to continue knocking seven shades of shit out of each other for a reason they perceive to be bigger but is essentially still bollocks.
It's funny how if you start to compare the stories in the Bible with those in Greek and Roman mythology there are many parallels that can be drawn. There are common stories, just with places and names changed which shows that perhaps these events occurred somewhere at some time but nobody really knows for certain. And if nobody knows, then why make a big song and dance over the who's right or wrong?

But could it really be true that there is only one god? The Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Pagans for example had many gods. Some seem to have a god for every conceivable occasion, and maybe these guys are / were closer to the truth.
If we assume for now that the world happened by creation rather than the detonation of a very large firework, looking carefully around us we can see that the world was in fact designed by a committee.
Surely no single god would make it like that? Any god that allegedly loves us should never have created the wasp. Those were clearly made by some belligerent bastard of a god who didn't like the god in charge of making the humans and decided he'd make these creatures as a petty way of getting one over on him. He didn't stop there. Not content with making a creature that serves no useful purpose on this earth beyond annoying us during the summer, he went on to make ants, mosquitoes, and any number of other pointless bitey things. This bastard god was obviously a bit of a renegade outcast of the creation committee, because the others let him get away with these things. It must have been a 'he' because it's hard to imagine a woman coming up with such things.
The most obvious illustration of the committee theory has to be the platypus. This poor creature has lived its life having the piss taken out of it by everyone because of its oddball looks. The committee had an argument over this one, that's for sure, and no firm decision was arrived at. So a group of very disgruntled gods sent their CAD files to the 3D printer at exactly the same time, causing a glitch in the software which combined elements of every design and what came out was the platypus. Whereupon they all just shrugged and said "whatever...." and created April fool's day as an excuse.
Everywhere you look you find examples of compromise in design, and this only happens in a committee. If it's just one person there's usually a sense of direction and a commonality that you don't get when there are others involved. If a car is designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro you get something that looks like it grew organically from a single source. If the bloke who designed the chiller cabinets in Tesco got involved the result would be a complete mess. Like the Fiat Multipla.
So I therefore conclude that if there is a god, there's actually a whole bunch of them. This is handy because if there's something you don't like you can bitch about it to the god responsible rather than having a bleat to one who actually did lots of other things right and makes you feel guilty for moaning about something so trivial.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld books there are assorted gods all over the place (I was particularly amused by the concept of 'Anoia' - goddess of things that stick in drawers), and I think this is the answer to religion.
Just believe what the hell you like; make up your own gods if you want, because when the curtain finally falls we'll all be wrong anyway.


The platypus - a result of bluesky thinking outside the box in a committee meeting