The Tralfamadorian

A few months ago I wrote a short story about being bummed out and disconsolate while living in London, and being too lazy to try and get it publised, I decided to post it on here so that someone other than myself might get a look at it.

The title is taken from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” in which the Tralfamadorians are a race who don’t experience time in a linear fashion, so states such as sadness, death and decay are trivial curios. In my story it refers more to a creature who isn’t capable of living in the present moment.

There’s an excerpt below, followed by the full PDF document…

Enjoy!

 

Excerpt:

“Hey…”

Sam stood in the self-checkout lane, amid the industrious early risers, and those like himself whose sleeplessness was more an indication of his lack of synchronicity with the world. He’d driven there a little blissed out, distractedly watching the first morning light play over the incongruous mass of concrete and gaudy corner shop signs that made up North London. He’d shuffled through the isles, only vaguely aware, or rather, aware but in a state of heightened indifference that would have been disabling if not for the sense of slow burning contentment he felt. It bordered on euphoria. Cradling several items in the crook of his arm, a few cans filled with some sort of vat prepared slop, ill monikered “thai red curry” or “beef steak in gravy,” and an assortment of caffeinated beverages, he perambulated. Having dropped a couple Valium last afternoon and woken up at one in the morning, still in the midst of the dosed expansiveness that comes from having one’s anxieties obliterated in the downing of a pill, Sam’s only concern was whether this feeling would last him through the day. He stood at the end of the store, gazing out at the unmanned checkouts cascading seemingly into infinity, as though in opposing mirrors in some bizarre carnival horror house. Except he realised from his comfortable middle class perch that this was undoubtedly some sad sack’s daily existence, rather than an amusing hangout for high school potheads. Everything around him had become a Radiohead song. He was aware of the novel absence of stress – that without his brain feeling the need to triage his life’s exigencies, his first impulse was to stare distractedly into space, grinning sloppily as the attendant tended to the flashing lights the incompetents had set off. Unexpected item in bagging area. He’d sat down. This whole vignette was a shambles, he knew. Some part of him could see his own embarrassment in the third person, but in a good natured, inconsequential way, sort of like the guys on You’ve Been Framed who step on rakes and hit themselves in the dick. He was fully in the grasp of interpenetrating daydreams, shifting from one to another, weaving memory with projection…

PDF:

The Tralfamadorian

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Download 2010: The Festival Highlights of a Personable Metal Afficionado

I was just looking through some of the documents I have saved on my old computer, and I came across this thing, which I can barely remember writing, but was asked to do so for my university magazine. The content was self consciously ridiculous and a little vulgar, and I don’t even remember seeing it in print, so I thought I’d share it with you guys, seeing as it made me laugh, almost three years later:

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As a tribe, if not as some bizarrely mutated subspecies, we metalheads have an at once playful and disturbing fascination with the sordid, as my friend pointed out while we watched an ageing Angus Young striptease the crowd amid Brian Johnson’s wheezy invocations for titty. Anyway, establishing any sense of chronology would be impossible after some entrepreneurial smoke peddler stopped by our tent early on the second day, and much of what we saw and heard melded into a haze of downtuned guitars and onomatopoeic vocals. Such were the sets of Killswitch Engage and Lamb of God, host to some pretty whiplash inducing headbanging, especially during the former bands rendition of holy diver – an ode to the late Ronnie James Dio. AC/DC were the highlight of the first day for reasons previously mentioned as well as a cool animatronic stage show, and some rad songs.

The second day consisted of elbowing past overweight middle aged metalheads guzzling Chinese and using their saggy man-breasts as gravy bibs, just to get a better look at Megadeth who were on superb form, playing a set consisting mainly of songs taken from fan favourite 1990 album Rust In Peace. On the second stage Cancer Bats served as a crushing bridge to Deftones’ return to form, just before Rage Against The Machine rode in on a wave of current British popularity and stole the weekend. Sweat dripping from every pore we return past the sulphurous bog the portaloos have become – the use of which was not unlike swimming in a vat of diced onion and Branston pickle – to our tent, which must have been composed entirely of fecal matter by that point and brace ourselves for the final day. Disaster. We miss 3 Inches Of Blood by… Never mind, we think as we light up and wait for Slash, with Miles Kennedy on vocals; as expected he blows us out of the water with an incredibly impressive set comprised of both songs from his recently released solo album, and old Guns N’ Roses classics such as Night Train and Sweet Child O’ Mine, all of his brilliance shining through in the crafting of the songs and the soaring guitar solos. Then to the second stage, just before Dillenger Escape Plan get on, riding on the recent release of Option Paralysis, and who play a ferocious set. By now though, some divine force has noticed the subterranean clot of scum congealed around Donnington park and decides to flush us out. Making our retreat to our tent we get blazed and fall into a narcoleptic doze before Aerosmith, honouring the veteran band in the truly geriatric fashion they deserve.

Adventure Time

The Rise of Old School Adventure Games on Nintendo Consoles

When Nintendo first unveiled their strategies for the original DS and subsequently the Wii, their audience were embroiled, en masse, in speculation about what these new and off-the-wall control types and console designs would mean for the future of software on Nintendo’s machines. The assumptions were many, and among them were ideas that developers would be afforded a new lease of creativity, inevitably in hopes of creating new genres that would be as wildly imaginative as the consoles they would appear on, and re-invigorating existing ones with a sense of the intuitive that was perhaps lost with the ten button controllers that had become standardised. Whatever can be said for the fate of these expectations, something came about that perhaps not so many foresaw; the revitalization of a genre that had not only been dormant, but had long been considered the irrelevant reserve of the PC hardcore. Of course, the old school Adventure game.

Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge

PC Adventure games are informed by design that involves close observation of environmental clues, and a sort of bizarre, often kooky, largely inductive way of reasoning that requires the player to combine items in very specific ways, and use them as varieties of “keys” that induce a reaction in the game world, and drive progress. When done right – a very occasional event, with elusive requisites – a good adventure can enthral, engross and entertain even while it perplexes and causes you to think carefully through possible solutions.

Roberta Williams, creator of the King’s Quest series of adventure games once said, “I think in the last 5 or 6 years, the demographics have really changed; now this is my opinion, because computers are less expensive so more people can afford them. More “average” people now feel they should own one.”

The comment reads like a sort of dry admonishment, and was in response to the fact that adventure game sales were taking a downward turn, and formed a lesser proportion of sales as a whole than previously. It was a sort of a knee-jerk, defensive proclamation insinuating that adventure games weren’t proliferating because people of – how should one say – dubious mental capacity, were buying computers. The counterpoint, of course was the fact that adventure games seemed to be taking on a sense of internal logic that became progressively more insane, often devolving into pixel hunts for the sole interactive spot in a frame, or item combinations that made no sense. This school of game design culminated in the infamous and often ridiculed cat-hair moustache puzzle from Gabriel Knight 4 – an example of how completely out of touch creators had become with player need for clear, intuitive design. The idea was that these games that ostensibly required a level of canny observation were instead becoming completely bereft of any unifying logic and clarity in the game world. If Williams’ point was salient in its implications, then growing popularity of consoles made entirely for gaming should have had a further adverse effect on the genre she helped start. Rather than prove her point though, the birth of the DS and Wii, helped spark life into the old ghost, and streamlined the genre for a new generation.

Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations

The DS came first, and with it, a legion of games in this style, ranging from Phoenix Wright to Lost in Blue, to Hotel Dusk; each game pushing its own idiosyncrasy, and its own unique wrinkle on the template. The original Phoenix Wright came out on the Gameboy Advance in 2001, before being ported to the DS in 2005, where it found an audience and expanded into a series. The games see you play as rookie attorney Phoenix, as he makes his way in the profession and through some unbelievably bizarre, incredibly entertaining and downright Japanese scenarios. On some level it can be seen as a commentary on odd nature of the Japanese penal system, and on another as an exercise in adjusting the adventure game model for a handheld audience. The game’s template is based on a dichotomy in scenarios. First is forensic examination which takes place in various locales and crime scenes around the game world, where Phoenix and his companions interview possible witnesses and scan the environment for hidden clues. The second part of each case is triggered when all possible evidence has been collected, and the scene shifts to the courtroom where Phoenix is tasked with presenting his case. It’s interesting for this, because it very clearly telegraphs what is expected of the player in any given scenario; in forensic situations, you’re tasked with collecting incriminating or acquitting evidence in the form of items or other clues, and in the court room, with augmenting your argument by presenting these at the correct times. Still, the cues in the courtroom can at times be opaque and elusory, and occasionally this is part of the fun. At other times, when you’ve presented every item in your inventory, it devolves into something uncannily like the frustration experienced in traditional entries in the genre. Nevertheless, the games have accrued a rather large cult audience, and evolved a method of making the genre more accessible to an audience of newcomers.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

The Professor Layton games, came sometime later, with Curious Village arriving in 2007, and unlike Phoenix Wright, had a uniquely European aesthetic to it, with houses and masonry that had a rural French feel, which the accordion backed soundtrack only deepened. It has perhaps a more professional presentation than the Phoenix games, with cut scenes in beautiful hand animated style, and pretty great voice over work. Undeniably distinguished gentleman Layton, who for some nebulous reason travels everywhere with a young schoolboy named Luke, has some sort of idiot-savant esque obsession with puzzle solving in unlikely, occasionally inappropriate situations. These are hidden everywhere in the world. Bushes, buildings, random items, and dialogue with any given character reveal yet another quaint puzzle to solve. In Professor Layton, the correlation between environment and puzzle is pretty loose, and the world is there not so much to provide a consonance between interaction and narrative, but to give the game a veneer of lightness and atmosphere. In this sense it succeeds to a large degree, and also avoids the pitfalls of the graphic adventure genre where the parameters and the rules are often plagued by vagueness and random luck. In the Layton games, there’s a pristine clarity to puzzle logic, simply because the logic derives from the real world; solving a knight’s tour on a chess board, or filling different volumetric flasks with identical amounts of liquid aren’t tasks that are mired in the abstractions of a game world and its internal logic – their rules are laid out plainly before you. Puzzles are never frustrating to the point of being unsolvable, and for younger audiences there’s a tiered hint system for every puzzle that nudges you towards the correct solution. All of this helps circumvent the limitations and frustrations of the genre that constricted its proliferation into the hands of a wider audience.

There are other notable adventure experiences on the DS, such as Hotel Dusk, but many of these tend to conform to the traditional template with all of its old frustrations. These days, the integration of game systems and mechanics in video games are following an almost mirror path to the evolution of videogame storytelling: Whereas in times past, story exposition has occurred through extensive cut scenes and dialogue that required a stop in the interaction, we are now moving towards storytelling methods that are implicit in the way the world of a game is organised, and the same goes for puzzles. Where we would previously be required to stop, say, in a Resident Evil and solve a literal slide puzzle to open a pathway, now in games such as Half Life, the puzzle elements are actually part of the physics as they are integrated into the environment, allowing for a more fluid sense of pacing and cohesion within the game world.

Nintendo have always been a company apart, fastidious in their design vision and very much prone to ignoring industry trends, but in a sense, they were pioneers of environmental storytelling and puzzle integration. The Metroid series, for example, all the way from the original to the Prime series, rarely relied on text or video as context for story, but rather, hinged on visual cues, and rewarded your sleuthing and curiosity. Exploration of Zebes revealed a civilisation eradicated by predators, eroded and overgrown with foliage and overrun by creatures that seem evolved to take advantage of the narrow crawl spaces and overhanging canopies. Upon landing on Tallon IV in the original Prime, you gathered a sense of ecology with an aesthetic consistency as you travelled from zone to zone, traversing obstacles, with Samus’ suit and abilities constructed specifically to take advantage of the particulars of Chozo architecture and engineering. Sure, the idea of every mechanism from Zebes to Aether being powered and manipulated via morph ball seems a little contrived, but it’s a small suspension of disbelief for the gain in such a tight feel and vibe. The Zelda series functions much the same way, albeit with a more fairytale-esque wrinkle on the trappings.

A little of Nintendo’s design sense seems to have trickled into third party games created for its systems, and these sensibilities served as a panacea for a genre that had lagged in obscurity for so many years. Between games like Metroid and The Secret of Monkey Island, there had been abstract similarities in the sense that puzzles consisted of collecting items or abilities that interacted with the environment in novel ways. There was an emphasis on visual memory and observation. The dissimilarities between console and PC adventure games were in the particulars of style and interface, and this is something that was resolved with the release of the DS and Wii systems, both of which allowed, to varying degrees, input that was able to emulate the precision and speed of a mouse.

Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure

The Wii was essentially the first home console that seemed like the viable candidate for adventure gaming. One of the most notable of these, Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure, despite having a name just as ridiculous and imaginative as its presentation and graphical style, is perhaps one of the most unique and interesting titles to appear on a Nintendo console for years. The set up is that you play as Zack, kooky midget and pirate extraordinaire, and his flying monkey companion Wiki, who has the ability to transform into a bell that in turn transforms animate objects such as snakes, centipedes and such, into items that can be used to solve puzzle elements around the game world. They crash on an island and happen upon a gaudy golden skull that demands you re-assemble the remaining parts of its skeleton. Essentially, the story can be jettisoned when considering the game, because it’s only there to give a thin overarching motive to go from level to level. That, really, is the interesting thing about Zack and Wiki: In structure, it consists of little vignettes – small, self contained levels that have their own neat solution, and exist entirely for the puzzle – rather than the traditional adventure game trait of having an environment that functions as a narrative space, with puzzles peppered throughout. This provides the benefit of a sense of clarity to the proceedings; you know that each level can be solved with the tools made available within them, and furthermore, each item you find has fixed utility – centipedes saw, umbrellas can be used to prod, protect or grab depending on which end you use etc. In this way, Zakk and Wiki contains a logic that’s incorporated directly into the visual space, and vertically integrated into its mechanics. Everything that can be used around the level is immediately apparent, and in itself provides clues that nudge you toward the solution – oh, there’s a centipede saw? I suppose it must be used to saw down the stick propping up this rock. The amazingly intuitive visual design of the game leaves it free to incorporate more complexity into level design and scenarios that later on in the game become fiendishly puzzling and for that reason, so completely satisfying to solve. The functions of the Wii controller are integrated into the entirety of the game in an interesting way providing a unique way to interface with practically every interactive object. Keys have to be turned, and bells have to be jingled with actual physical motion, which doesn’t really add much to the game, but was a novel way to interact when the game released. Everything about the game had a completely novel, unique feel to it, and in retrospect, trapped in the amber, it seems like there probably won’t be a game quite like it ever again.

Beyond Zack and Wiki, and some of Telltale games’ adventure series such as Sam & Max, it’s a shame that the Wii didn’t see that much more in the same vein. There’s an optimistic future though. With the impending release of the Wii U, Nintendo has created a console that offers something like the DS’ touch screen interface, as well as incorporating a more precise version of Wii Remote controls. From now, it just remains to be seen if developers will leverage these features to take advantage of the fact that the Wii U seems like a more than ideal place to rally the cause, and continue innovation on the adventure game front.

Time-Space Compression

Time-Space Compression is a term developed by David Harvey in his book “The Condition of Post-modernity,” as a way to describe the change in our experience of time and space that started as a result of technological innovations involving transport and communication which lead into the twentieth century and continue to progress today. The technological boom started in the nineteenth century with the harnessing of electrical power, the invention of the telephone and the automobile as well as radio broadcasting. Initially, these inventions were the reserve of the wealthy or as facilities afforded to the townspeople in general, but with their inevitable wider proliferation came an increase in the agency of lay people, as well as a shift in their fundamental understanding of the world around them. In physics, the values of speed, time and distance are inextricably linked, with the variation of any one inevitably affecting and interpenetrating the others. Distance, our essential relation to the space around us, as well as time and speed, while being objective scientific measurements, also occupy subjective space within our cognition. In mathematical terms, simple distance between two points is calculated by the multiplication of speed and time; the numbers remain constant. However, in our imaginations – being fundamentally temporal beings – the burden of distance is significantly reduced by the decrease of time required traversing it, and the increase of speed with which we do so. With the steam train and subsequently the automobile, came an expansion of the landscape for ordinary people who would otherwise be confined within the immediate area surrounding their residence, larger distances being navigable only with the speed of a horse drawn wagon. The former, more modest situation of man was also subject to structural differences in terms of his organisation of his geography, facilities and relationships. Where previously, in general, travel was restricted to local sites, family members were dispersed within close reach and friendship groups formed around shared geography, all this became subject to an immense overhaul that is still continuing to this day. The automobile allowed wider access to consumer product retail and made social visits an easier undertaking, while the telephone did the same for maintaining frequent contact with people with whom ties would have otherwise been strained. Radio broadcasting and later the television allowed the instant transmission of news stories and media such as films, programmes and advertisements, negating spatial distance, and creating a breadth of information available with greater frequency that pertained to a wider geography than before. All this allowed an expansion of provincial mindsets, creating a heightened awareness of wider cultural influences, with the only real impediment being the money required to procure use of these facilities.

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The implications of time space compression are manifold in that they hold significance not only for the individual, or collective cultural perception, but also for the economic models and material production that provide a framework for society. The benefits afforded by new technology were bifurcated in the sense that they were both practical – allowing transport of goods and people across large spaces – and informational – relaying information instantly irrespective of distance. These factors were responsible for a huge sea change in the way material production was orchestrated and organised. Because land travel had been prohibitively expensive, all the key elements in a supply chain had to be closely concentrated around a locus, which led in the earlier stages of the industrial revolution, to sprawling industrial cities which specialised in the production of particular goods. With the minimisation of exigencies relating to the difficulty of transporting raw materials over land, supply chains were able to broaden geographically, allowing manufacture related labour to occur at sites separated spatially from the source of the raw materials. This meant a new set of considerations had to be taken into account: how could the proprietors of these industries minimise the cost output in manufacture? The answer to this was decentralisation, and relocation to regions with cheap and readily available labour power, resulting in the globalisation of industry, and creation of new interrelations between nation states.

Throughout the world, however, the dispersal of the facilities that enabled these things is uneven, and faster means of travel as well as media are not accessible to all people in the same degree. The availability of these faculties is subject to the financial means within both the macrocosm of national economies, as well as the microcosm of personal wealth. There is a sense of gravitation towards wealthier states, augmented by the increased ease of international travel, which can provide means of gainful employment as well as increased quality of life. Where there previously existed giant industrial cities there now are expansive metropolises with very diverse cultural demographics, such as New York City, which in the course of its twentieth century development was host to an influx of European immigrants, many of whom could not speak English. These migrants, as a result of the communicational barrier, as well as the comfort of familiarity, tended to cluster in social microcosms which were couched in the culture endemic to their home states. This resulted in several interesting phenomena. These new cultural quantities, rather than existing solely as appendages to a monoculture, instead became incorporated into culture at large. Consequently, there occurred a sort of homogenisation wherein the more idiosyncratic aspects of the foreign culture were jettisoned, very much in the way in which when two people speaking different languages are confined in a space, they reconcile the fundamental terms into a lingua franca. In the way in which the differentiation of species from a common ancestral genus occurs, wherein when a population is estranged geographically from its main constituency, it begins to evolve along different lines, dependant on the novelties of its new surroundings. These cultures, alienated from their main body, did the same. Simultaneously, however, there also occurred an expansion and complication of culture at large as a result of the incorporation of these new elements.

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In modernity, with the ubiquity of increasingly faster modes of travel, the world has in a sense, become smaller and more acclimated to cultural integration, while monolithic conceptions of national identity are seen as outdated as anachronistic by progressive parties. Ease of availability and the relative lack of expense of Intercontinental flights allow a sense of cultural tourism that was extremely limited previously. With the advent of the internet and social media came another shift and the corollary consequences of Time-Space compression continue to cause us to restructure our thought patterns. The need for physical presence became even more deferred, with social connections becoming augmented by a persistent documentation of events allowing a greater vicarious involvement in peripheral relationships and acquaintances, as well as expanding one’s social circle beyond the natural capacity of the human mind to maintain. In addition, the increased accessibility and speed of online resources is not only changing the way we conduct social interactions, but is altering our basic cognition. Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer says “For most of human history, the progress of knowledge was constrained by a shortage of information. Books were expensive and rare, libraries were reserved for elite scholars and communication was extremely slow. Mail moved at the speed of horses.”[1] Cultural artefacts weren’t abundant in their dissemination, and thus knowledge, such as it was, tended to be second hand and filtered through, for example, religious institutions. However, with the abundant wealth of information available in the internet age “the availability of the internet is changing the nature of what we remember, making us more likely to recall where the facts are rather than the facts themselves.”[2] This external storage of information allows us to become, in a way, conduits of temporary information flow, meaning our sense of identity based on what we read, perceive and assimilate becomes more fluid. In postmodernity, this is reflected in the increased rapidity of shifts in cultural identity where trends tend to be a sort of pastiche of old ideas, re-contextualised and given new meaning.

The title of Harvey’s book is a play on Jean-Francois Lyotard’s “The Postmodern Condition,” in which he, in part, addresses the unique privileges predicts will divide people in the information age of the twentieth century and beyond. He poses the question “Suppose, for example, that a firm such as IBM is authorised to occupy a belt in the Earth’s orbital field and launch communications satellites or satellites housing data banks. Who will have access to them…who will know?”[3] Lyotard predicts a culture of haves and have-nots based on the information they are privy to, which is what he deems will be the fulcrum of future political leverage. He characterises postmodernity as “incredulity towards meta-narratives,” which are means of “legitimising” swathes of information, in order that they may fit an interpretive paradigm. Postmodernity, by contrast, defines a culture constructed in piecemeal fashion from the excess of available ideas. Inevitably, Time-Space compression is an idea that is most useful when used in conjunction with others such as Archive Fever and Re-contextualisation, since the phenomena that these terms refer to interpenetrate and lead into one another.


[1] Jonah Lehrer,” Focusing on Focus” in “The Frontal Cortex,” http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/09/focusing-on-focus/ [Accessed 05/04/1989]

[2] Jonah Lehrer, “Is Google Ruining your memory?” in “The Frontal Cortex,http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/07/is-google-ruining-your-memory/ [Accessed 05/04/1989]

[3] Jean-Francois Lyotard, “The Postmodern Condition,” Ed. by Michael Drolet, (Routledge, 2004) p.126

Resident Evil 5: A Retrospective

Whenever a developer hits on a commercially successful and critically lauded formula, the temptation is always there to take the successful mechanics, append them to the trappings of a new setting and story, and then proceed push them out of the gate as frequently as possible. And hey, it’s understandable to an extent; the chains that larger publishers and development houses are bound to are predominantly fiscal, but inevitably the cyclically amplified staleness of the whole affair is redolent of the law of diminishing returns. The problem with this mode of videogame production also lies in the seeming tendency of the developers to get a little bummed out with the process. You take a look at the past and present models of this type of publisher behaviour; The Splinter Cell series, Mario Kart, or actually, any Nintendo franchise, Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, and like the Termite Queen pumping out larvae every three seconds, you sense that the equivalent of these developer’s birthing canals are getting chafed and exhausted with the heaving effort of what year after year amounts to increasingly trashy sequels. There’s a total sense of joylessness to Luigi power sliding around the corner into a banana peel in the last Mario Kart, a total boredom to Sam Fisher’s workmanlike saunter through his annual neck-break and trespass simulator.

So I guess it’s a little weird, considering this perspective and what I knew about it leading up to release, how excited I was initially for the release of Resident Evil 5, although considering I played through Resi 4 9 times while I was supposed to be studying for my GCSEs, it was probably an obvious anticipation. 5, on the face of it, had several things in its favour; the immediate benefits bestowed by new hardware, co-op which, while inducing some trepidation seeing as isolation was one of the ways the previous game created tension, still had the opportunity to be adapted to the style of the series, and the fact that it had been three years since the last iteration, was enough to cleanse my palate and have me rearing for some new shit. I wasn’t anticipating some overwhelming, hot new gameplay innovation, just a new title with the feel and vibe of the game I had loved a few years ago, and enough different about it to not cause a jarring bout of déjà vu. I knew Capcom were going to rinse Mikami’s formula, and I was alright with that for the most part. Yet it still disappointed on such a colossal scale.

The first flag was one raised all over the internet; the racial tensions underlying the setting of the game. In typical fashion, the internet nerd collective, displaying that its culture has less to do with intelligence than anal retentive pedantry, blew up over the assertions of racist imagery. The same people that would try to convince you of gaming’s “artistic” merit were totally irate that such a concern had been levelled at a “game.” I guess, in part, gamers have become naturally defensive after having their pastime serve as the scapegoat for everything from the Columbine shootings to obesity, but, to be so totally clueless as to not see the obvious concerns underlying an entertainment product that involves a white male protagonist shooting up hordes of feral, “infected” Africans is a little dense. Walking through the opening scene, all you see in any direction you look is leering Africans, a brief detour into a side alley triggers a scene of a man being beaten into submission and then being dragged off. Flies congregate around the viscera of animal carcasses in outdoor stalls under the beating sun and you get one feeling; these are not humans, but a bunch of zombies waiting to happen. This was the immediate observation made by anyone with some social sense or memory of high school history classes, and it’s not to say that this game is deliberately racist, but rather that it’s pretty insensitive to issues of race that undoubtedly exist in modern western culture. Capcom’s response; make your co-op buddy an African, which sort of missed the point and also made an argument as similarly absurd as “I’m not racist, I have black friends.”

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Inevitably though, whatever, it’s a Resident Evil game; if the stories of the series’ past are anything to go by, its designers aren’t really clued into anything beyond the mechanical functions of their product. Incidentally, I should probably add that moving from a sort of criticism of the games unwittingly racial undertones, to a description of the inadequacies of the mechanical aspects of the game is going to make me sound like a complete psychopath. But hey, that sort of transition is reflective of the continuing fissure between games as narrative and games as, well, games. And so, I will say that it just does not feel good to shoot someone in the face. This is something of an artistic problem with games; when you have to ensure the player gains some level of satisfaction from input feedback, you’re limited in the sort of emotions you can evoke through this interaction. If I was in the least bit inclined to take Resident Evil 5 seriously on an artistic level, it might force me to think about the frustration I feel in shooting at enemies, and how this perhaps reflects what the protagonist feels as he’s seeing these civilians turn into monsters, having no choice but to kill them for his own safety. But it’s not that way, and it’s clear that the only reason the story or any motivational backdrop exists is to serve as an excuse for changes in pacing, and where exactly you encounter the monster menageries, or boss battles or palate cleansing pseudo puzzles. When you level your weapon and shoot, the reactions of the enemies aren’t even as precise, and definitely not as fun as in Resi 4. The latter game rewarded you for skill shots, with enemies stalling, and falling on one knee as you pop them in the leg, leaving you a window of opportunity to take a hit at their heads, which exploded with all the impact of an elephant charging a rotten watermelon, and the sound to boot. The ridiculousness of how these ambling targets burst open like piñata’s full of b-movie gore was part of the fun, and in 5 by comparison, the sound design, apart from the ambient music with was about as impactful as the last game, was dulled and muted. Headshots no longer had the same gory payoff, and definitely not with the same frequency, while stalling an enemy with a quick shot to the leg to go in for a ammo conserving hook sounded with a low boring thud like a half hearted punch to a pillow.

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It just feels so sterilised of the little moments that made 4 so charming – rescuing the husky from the bear trap at the beginning, to have him show up later and help you fight the El Gigante, or the way treasure pieces you found fit together to create items far more valuable than their comprising units. Gone. Even the weapons feel dull. Where you had the Killer 7 magnum or the Blacktail in RE4, in 5 the weapon names are an impersonal series of letters and numbers that detract from the sort of enthusiasm with which you constructed your arsenal in the previous game. So many backwards steps and missed opportunities. Co-op, which ostensibly provides a strategic boon in a game all about finding ways to keep tides of zombies at bay, is hampered by an inability to have a friend jump in at any point during a play session, instead having to wait until the present chapter concludes. Meanwhile, playing single player is frustrated by the awfully programmed buddy AI that heals you at inappropriate moments, is incapable of switching weapons as required by the situation, and is a total annoyance in her frequent need for resuscitation.

The unfortunate thing about the game is that, regardless of how much I harp on about its inadequacies, it’s really not all that bad, and only looks it next to its predecessor. There are parts where it does well, even though its increased focus on action is misguided and cramped by the idiosyncrasies of its control method and the dampened gratification you get from the shooting that forms the bulk of the gameplay.

There is nothing quite so terrifying in the entirety of the game – tentacled super mutants included – as the moments when you see the surface of the water rippling in the tribal village stages of the game, while you’re wading waist deep in a crocodile infested creek. It resonates with the horror elements that have actually worked through the course of the series’ lifespan, and those have always been to do with evoking something primal; an intense instinctual fear, from the crocodiles ready to devour you in one surfacing swipe, to the feral dogs that burst in through the window in the first game. Inevitably, Resident Evil 5 focused too much on overblown spectacle, and the sort of screen filling boss battles that were impressive way back in the 16-bit era when you knew there were technical limitations that made it difficult to render that kind of thing. Unfortunately, as a successor to a game that was as much to do with the atmosphere and the interaction with environment as wit h the moment to moment action, it’s a poor placebo that leaves you with a wistful nostalgia and the sense that the crack dealer you buy from hooked you with the real good shit, and then subsequently left you bummed out with not much more than baking soda in your glass pipe.

I ripped a thousand bongs

He gibbered bleeps and bloops, a multitude of onomatopoeic utterances sent forth to distract him from his bewilderment and sedation and unseeing listlessness towards the world around him. He found a rhythm, and adapted the sounds to fit, excited, thinking he had created something new for once. But no, stone faced he realised it was the theme for news at six.  Why was his shit so played out? He felt revulsion at repetition, his skull felt like an upturned satellite reception dish, a misshapen parabola, barely containing the overhanging soft, drippy mass of his brain, infected with ugh whatevernevermind.

He looked to his right as he lay in his bed, saturated with apathy, and saw that he had a relationship with a woman. She had a frightening and intense rapport with her clickedy click machine on which her dainty fingers danced a furious jig, an interpretive dance that relayed her intent to an unknown cadre. She didn’t register his symphonic outburst. All communication had broken down, the signals and the vibes were inscrutable amongst a blithering of animal noises and comfort speech that had lost all meaning.  They had a relationship, but what was it and what did it mean? Where was it going? It had a name, but the word, like the rest of their exchange had become imprecise and bloated.

He looked left and musty, acrid warmth hit his face. Looked like it was still burning, so he telegraphed to an appendage, and a few moments later it flew past his face in a sort of spastic blur, matching precisely the imprecision of the command. And shit; now there was bong water on the carpet and there had been a shrill burst from his right that had all the force of the sound of a gunshot. He felt like one of those stills; a particularly glass jawed facial structure caught right in the moment of impact against a clenched fist. It startled him, and he rolled out of bed in his surprise, a pathetic, saggy frame stood sadly in the puddle. There was more movement, and he was alone. His thoughts loose and heavy, like bored rocks coming away from a coarse string, unwound and unattached, gently commanded him into bed. He closed his eyes and withdrew into a reverie of dancing images, auditory hallucinations begetting synaesthetic lights, and with hazy breaths settled into a sleepy rhythm.

Continuing on a theme…

…The “theme” being the throwing off of old perspectives and patterns of thought…So, this is a fairly cheesy little vignette I conjured a little while ago, when I was thinking a lot about my attitude towards my friends and their tastes in various things ranging from Music to Literature to Film. Music, ironically is the one artistic from that in my youth I was most defensive of, in terms of my own taste and what I thought of as it’s “superiority” – ironic, because it is also the most abstract; it’s form is its content, and its form, in its most basic terms, is characterised by the spaces between notes. How do you go about objectifying something of which the sole faculty is emotional? I used to troll blogs and forums with tomes of text arguing for musical taste having a heirarchy; being a solidified fact. And somehow, now I take the opposite stand. I took a look at my opinions, and this is what I ended up with:

You’re Wrong

My friend Jim and I were, during a Saturday night gathering, isolated amidst a crowd trying to drown themselves in temporary self-imposed vibes of good will. We were vying for control: The choice of music that was to set the tone, mood and pace to our habitual weekly exploration of how much intoxicant our liver and renal systems could handle, was all important, and we were debating – although haggling is more accurate – with our hands tightening over each other’s throats, regarding whose taste should have precedence. This argument, as with any regarding artistic elitism, was coloured by a fair amount of self-righteousness and the kind of one up man ship that has more to do with speaking volume than with any point of relevance. One thing about Jim is he’s the kind of person with whom to have any kind of conversation, the pretence of mutual respect has to be abandoned. Things began to get abusive and we realised that any attempt to approach the argument in a Socratic way would ultimately fail in our present conditions, and thus we decided to pursue it at a time when our mental faculties were more intact. Some saw us as being curmudgeonly, but this was always a point of pride for us; acceptance was usually a sign that something was awry.

                In the meantime, his argument had left such a mark of indignation on me that every musical experience became ammunition, holistically analysed for the sole purpose of facilitating an argument. The following evening I came across Jim, my first point of attack already formulated, and while we sat and made nice, we both knew what the inevitable point of focus would be. So it began with our mutual friend Jane seated nearby, feigning deafness, hoping not to get roped in. Eventually, we both gave up any sense of tact and directly began trying to extort some sort of contribution from her. “You know, your problem is that you try to intellectualise everything,” a fairly tongue-in-cheek response, but one that did not amuse Jim. “The difference between me and you is that I’m not someone who regards music as nothing but a way to fill an idle hour, or an uncomfortable silence.” I tried to hide my smirk. The slight looks of disdain on both faces were enough to tell me that this was precisely the kind of endless squabble that would entertain me. “That’s absurd, how is either of you going to be right in a discussion that concerns personal taste?” A satisfying assertion; one that immediately lead to the idea of subjectivity and objectivity, and as soon as there was a pause, I took the opportunity, “So Jane, you’re going to try and tell me that Coltraine and The Insane Clown Posse are of equal artistic worth? That’s fairly absurd in itself.” I felt a slight victorious twinge. “I guess you could say that you prefer one over the other, but that says more about your own personal neurosis than anything else.” Jim and I caught each other’s satisfied glances and chuckled. And then there was a silence in which I felt an uncomfortable subterranean breath. Something was wrong, something somehow perverse about the way in which we had cornered her. It made me think about my own guilty pleasures. Does preference not sometimes wish to be recognised in a kindred spirit? Was it some sort of defence that made us assert ourselves as the arbiters of taste? My smile waned with my thoughts for a moment. Then I remembered my own terms. I couldn’t allow myself to be carried away. The fiery zephyr died and was forgotten. After all, in a world so thoroughly governed by the tangible, how should one learn to rely on anything but the concrete? My lips curled upwards again. It was a practiced argument after all, I told myself. No need to second guess it. The sense of superiority was only a just reward for the enlightenment.