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Sandy Hook, Video Games and The Sun’s Incessant Hypocrisy

29 Apr

This article was originally published on 21st December 2012 on the now sadly defunct site Invert-On following the Sandy Hook tragedy. I am re-publishing it here as it tackles the Daily Mail’s latest attack on games (following the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds on Monday) far better than yet another article from me on the same subject ever could.

 

My heart sank as I’m sure it did for many other rational human beings across the land when they walked into their local newsagents or train station on their way to work on the morning of 18th December 2012. Video games and their creators, notably Call Of Duty and Treyarch respectively, were being implicated by the most widely read newspaper in Britain – The Sun, along with the Daily Express – in the previous Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school of twenty children and six adults, and the gunman’s mother. Adam Lanza who carried out this atrocity, turned the gun on himself soon after.

The reporting of the story has been widespread, as one would expect. What happened on that sunny and seemingly normal Friday has ended, devastated or changed lives forever, and could have long lasting political ramifications for American gun owners. Unfortunately, some news outlets have taken it upon themselves to already start pinning blame on others, and in doing so, skirt around what the real issues are, such as gun control and the accessibility to proper mental health care. The Sun‘s front page headline of “KILLER’S CALL OF DUTY OBSESSION” with the two page spread’s headline “BLACK OPS BUNKER” are sad evidence of this; the use of attention grabbing headlines diverting readers’ attention from the real problems that we as a people face.

We have read this reactionary, kneejerk guff before, however. Anders Breivik, who carried out the infamous attacks of 2011 in Norway, provoked similar reactions from world media as they began speculation about what was the cause of such a terrible act. Like Lanza, Breivik apparently spent hours playing Call Of Duty, whilst using a “holographic aiming device”, an exercise which reportedly helped in real-life “target acquisition.”

Breivik’s case led to a hugely lengthy trial, which itself followed much to-ing and fro-ing between mental health experts as to whether he was sound of mind or criminally insane. At first he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and then, after a second assessment published a week or so before his trial, he was diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder. It was adjudged that Breivik was not psychotic during the attack.

This was an intelligent man, holding political ideologies very different from the majority of us, with a host of unchecked mental health issues. It is deeply saddening that in the case of Adam Lanza we will never know what his were. All we have to go on are testimonies from his brother who according to the Express, had not spoken to him for more than two years.

Fortunately, Pete Samson of The Sun informs us of what Lanza was like, and that he “fuelled his violent fantasies” by spending hours “playing bloodthirsty computer games such as Call Of Duty.” According to Samson’s piece Lanza lived in the basement of his mother’s house which local plumber Peter Wlasuk, having worked at the house on numerous occasions, described as “strange.” At no point does Samson deign to mention that Lanza was living with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism no longer listed on the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association’s manual of guidelines for aiding psychiatrists in making correct diagnoses.

People who have Asperger’s tend to be characterised by their “social impairment.” They can be obsessively focused on one particular subject at a time and in some cases they can come across as lacking in empathy. Taking that into account, a 2008 study carried out by the University of Oregon found that, with regard to violent crimes committed by those with Asperger’s, over half already – or “probably” as the report says – had some other underlying psychiatric disorder(s) at the time of the respective offense.

As much as this is a gaming site, it is important we examine the evidence and other notable research on the matter if we are to make informed judgements (an awful word given the subject matter but you know what I mean) and not come across as ignorant twerps. Even if someone is diagnosed with Asperger’s, being violent is most definitely not one of its characteristics. There is more at play here than the tabloid press would like its readers to believe.

What makes this headline splashed across The Sun so galling however, is that if one takes the time to do a bit of digging around on the internet about Mr Samson, as I did, you will find this picture of him (printed below) with a frankly rage-inducing and grotesquely smug grin smeared across his face whilst pointing a magazine-less MP5 down the range.

This enraged me so much I tweeted it and then sent it to two people I respect hugely and who I and the gaming community know to be avid players and have big followings. Not expecting to hear anything, as most of us mere mortals do on Twitter, my phone beeped twice within ten minutes to tell me they had both RT’d it. The beeping that followed was incessant to the point where I had to switch my phone to silent. The picture of Mr Samson had now gone viral and The Sun‘s double standards and sensationalist agenda were there for the world to see. This dreadful and lazy piece of journalism had clearly twanged the public nerve.

The rank hypocrisy of The Sun in running Samson’s story without checking his previous articles manages to be staggering but not exactly surprising. In case you’re wondering where that picture originated, it is from a story Samson wrote last year on Rihanna and the “training” she went through for her movie debut in Battleship. The woman he is photographed with, Jackie Carrizosa, is the woman who put the pop superstar through her paces.

So why all this topical ranting on a gaming site? It’s simple. Because game developers, Treyarch being the main target here, are being indirectly blamed for the murder of twenty-seven people by a publication with a dubious record of reportage – Hillsborough can’t help but spring to mind.

It has happened before. Look at Columbine, Toulouse earlier this year, Norway last year, Aurora and now Sandy Hook. One can only wonder at the pain the victims’ loved ones go through, only to have it exacerbated by senseless and insensitive press speculation as to the catalyst for such brutality. Some in the media demand a scapegoat to pin this on and again, gaming takes another undeserved beating.

It would be incredibly easy to roll out the usual “gaming has been around for forty years!” and “violence since the dawn of time” arguments, or talk about America’s frankly ludicrous gun control laws, but it doesn’t help anyone or anything, not least of all those who just need time away from the public and media gaze to come to terms with their grief.

There are so many issues at play here: what triggers these outbursts – not just those involving huge loss of life but all serious emotional over-reactions across the board. We, as gamers, use video games as a means of escape from the daily grind of real life. For example, if we’ve had a particularly shit day at work, we might unwind for an hour blowing away a faceless goon online while playing Battlefield. We sometimes use these type of games as a form of catharsis.

As disturbing as that may sound, it is no different from other people cycling 100 miles for the same purpose which to me, borders on the insanely masochistic. Habits like these serve as a release and allow us to de-stress.

I have lived with depression for over twenty years and I honestly couldn’t tell you whether, without games in my life, I would be sitting at my desk writing this very article. Games have often been saviours in my life and provided me with joy when all I felt was despair and self-loathing. It is one reason why Super Mario Galaxy in particular, if you’ll excuse my sentimentality for a moment, holds such a strong place in my heart. It truly got me through some dreadful times.

It would appear that Lanza was not as fortunate as those of us, with a strong support network of friends and no doubt loving parents (which is not to say his own mother did not love her son, we will never know why he murdered her). We have plenty of other outlets, gaming being just one, through which we can vent our worries and inner turmoil. It would seem Lanza did not. He took it upon himself to let his mother and the world know just how unhappy he truly was, with horrendous results. Tell me again, what has Call Of Duty really got do with any of it?

At the heart of all of this there lies an enormous cultural problem – it is the culture of fear. Not just of there being guns in children’s hands (although that is a perfectly legitimate fear to have), nor of violent video games being played by our kids (again not without reason, but in this case Lanza was twenty years old). The real fears are of speaking amongst ourselves of our own problems, and of the stigma attached to such confessional openness, a stigma which has been perpetuated by the press for far too long.

Unfortunately, because of the general portrayal of mental health issues in the press, sufferers suffer in silence for fear of being labelled, to use an example in Samson’s story, a “maniac” or any other derogatory term for people who are on the face of it, merely ill.

So what can we, as gamers who love the medium, do to combat this gross stereotyping as peddled by redtop rags like The Sun? It is the simplest thing, and you don’t even need to play games to achieve it. All you need to do is carry on enjoying your games, relish the company of your friends and family and show respect to others. As Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” It really is as simple as that.

Let the families affected by what happened on Friday deal with it in their own time and don’t seek to blame this on anyone or anything. Let whatever investigations being carried out run their course and until we know the facts about Lanza, we should keep our mouths firmly shut.

 

Star Citizen: How the biggest crowd-funded project ever could change the gaming landscape

14 Apr

When Chris Roberts, creator of renowned space-simulator series Wing Commander announced in October 2012 that he was to make his return not only to the stars but to the medium of games itself following a ten year break, he could never have foreseen the outpouring of support he has received from all over the world. For many, Star Citizen is the game that, if successful, could fundamentally change the way that games are made, financed and marketed. It is a project of breathtaking scope, endeavour and ambition.

Star Citizen is a space-sim, trading game and first-person shooter, set in a vast online universe – though it does also feature a 50+ mission single-player/co-op campaign known as Squadron 42 – where players can ply their trade and make a name for themselves; perhaps as a bounty hunter, or through mining and selling materials, resources and weapons to other players, or as a hotshot pilot. The emergent gameplay will be similar (but not identical for technical reasons) to EVE Online, another massively-multiplayer space sim albeit one that operates very differently. Imagine seeing a cruiser that you know has at least a five or six player crew on board, but has you and your squadron of fellow players outgunned. Well, try boarding it, killing the crew and stealing the ship for you and your partners in crime. Just be prepared to face the consequences.

Star Citizen. Needless to say, it's beautiful.

Star Citizen. Needless to say, it’s beautiful.

For many in their mid-to-late 20s and above, this could be the game they dreamed about playing ever since they first saw Star Wars. Who wouldn’t want to play an online game in a persistent universe where you could walk into a seedy bar much like Mos Eisley’s cantina, meet another player who then offers you a job, asking you to smuggle a shipment of contraband to another system for a hefty payment, or hunt down a player with a significant bounty on his head, then climb into the cockpit of your very own ship and take to the stars and explore the vastness of space in pursuit of your goal? Roberts himself has said pretty much exactly this, and technology is now at the point that he believes he can finally make the game he always wanted to play.

He’s clearly not the only one. Star Citizen is the biggest crowd-funded project of any kind having raised, at the time of writing, a staggering $41.9m. What this means for Roberts is that he will have the tools, the hired talent and the time to make the game that he envisioned, unhindered by publishers breathing down his neck, forcing him to meet a release date. The drawback of this of course, is that expectations, particularly amongst fans, are beyond stratospheric. This is not helped by the game’s graphics, which are frankly astounding, powered as they are by a heavily modified and expanded upon CryEngine 3.

Much as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have heralded a new generation of console hardware capable of pushing more polygons and adding more cinematic shader effects that once were the preserve of companies such as WETA Digital and Industrial Light & Magic, Star Citizen is pushing the more powerful PC hardware to its absolute limits. Of note is the game’s support of the upcoming virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, placing players inside this enormous universe and overcoming a fundamental flaw in flight sims – the inabilty to see where a passing craft is behind you as real life pilots can. The results of all of this are jawdropping.

Never was this more clear than at the Penny Arcade Expo that took place recently in Boston, US. Last Thursday gamers finally got to see something playable of a project that has spent approximately 18 months in development. Soon, those who have pledged will get to try it out for themselves and provide feedback in order to ensure that bugs are squashed, the combat is balanced and that the required sheen can be added to all aspects of it. What was shown at PAX was a demo not even in pre-Alpha, of what Roberts’ team at Cloud Imperium Games had made to show how basic combat and flight controls will work during dogfights. Littered with bugs, and crashing twice during the live demonstration – much to Roberts’ frustration, “This is bullshit!” – it was clearly a work-in-progress with plenty of spit, polish and embellishment still to be added, but it showed just enough to set the mind racing as to just how huge Star Citizen could be, as well as highlighting the enormous task CIG have ahead of them.

Simply put, it was dazzling.

Not that you’d know it, based on reaction afterwards across the Internet (and the less said about certain members of the audience the better). It is becoming seemingly endemic amongst the gaming population now, in an industry that is more open to inviting players to participate in Alpha or Beta testing, that they expect a game to be finished, or at least look the part, having no bugs at all no matter what stage of development it’s at upon being revealed. Sadly that is not how software development works.

Most studios would never have dreamed of showing off their latest creation if it was as bug-ridden as the dogfighting demo that Roberts unveiled, but to his absolute credit he has been remarkably upfront and open about the development process. A visit to the official website will provide ample proof of this. The process of making a game is incredibly arduous and challenging, particularly one of this magnitude, and we have been given access to the team attempting to overcome this mind-boggling task.

With the colossal amount of money that fans have pledged out of good will, there is a segment of the community that is hoping Star Citizen not only fails, but crashes and burns. A game this expensive, financed as it has been by the public, will always attract those hoping to wallow in the failure of others, which is incredibly sad and borders on tragic. Star Citizen could be an absolute disaster and leave Roberts’ reputation and career in tatters, or it could change the medium of games as we know it. What many are forgetting is that nothing of this scope and fidelity has dared been attempted before.

As children unsure of what we want to accomplish in life, we are encouraged to aim for the stars, that if we work hard enough we can achieve what we didn’t think possible. Chris Roberts seems to be taking this literally and I, along with over 400,000 others who have pledged our support, admire him for being brave enough to risk his reputation in order to fulfil a vision he has clearly had for the best part of three decades. It is this kind of ambition that games have sorely missed and I look forward to strapping in and heading off into the void.

Why my respect for Grand Theft Auto is up in smoke.

21 Aug

**NB** This is about the single player component of the game, not the online multiplayer.

To gamers the world over, there is one franchise that many might argue is the biggest of them all. The Daddy, or perhaps more appropriately, The Don Corleone of game franchises. Arguably more culturally significant than Call Of Duty, no doubt generating more column inches than any other series since it was birthed to the world in 1997, stoking concerned parent’s and the conservative right’s fire upon each new iteration’s release. I am of course referring to Grand Theft Auto (GTA), which if you weren’t paying attention has a new installment (GTA V) due in just under a month’s time, the seventh main release in its controversial history (GTA III had two pseudo-sequels). Come September 17th, you’ll know all about it, whether you want to or not.

For the uninitiated, Grand Theft Auto puts players in the shoes of a sometimes nameless and usually aimless protagonist in a huge city. In gaming terms this type of world would be called a “sandbox,” not to be confused with “open world.” The game allows the player almost complete freedom to do as they wish.  They may either choose to follow the games’ main story and complete missions, usually involving murder, intimidation, extortion and other such nefarious activities, or, the player can simply wander off and do their own thing. This usually involves causing as much mayhem as possible, getting into the sort of car chases that would make all the blood in Sheriff John Bunnell’s body rush to his second head. Other, more sinister and evil activities that are well documented involve, to give a notorious example, paying for sex with a hooker (the sex itself isn’t portrayed in-game), and then beating her to death and taking your money from her bloodied corpse.

Understandably, this sort of thing upsets many people and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s not totally unreasonable to ask, do games really need to depict this sort of thing? On the other hand, should they shy away from such subject matter? The makers of GTA, Rockstar Studios, would argue that they are depicting the real world, scraping away at the American Dream, exposing the seedy underbelly that exists beneath the pristine exterior and is hidden away from innocent American eyes. The game does this, but admittedly with no subtlety or knack for satire, through mock TV shows that your character can watch when in his apartment, and on dozens of radio stations that play in the background whilst driving any of the games’ huge array of vehicles. GTA does actually have something to say about America and amounts to far more than nearly all other games combined. The problem is, its attempt at satire is more akin to watching Greg Wallace attempting to cut through a badly cooked fillet steak with a sledgehammer.

You may be reading this and thinking that I hate GTA. Well, I sort of do and I sort of don’t. I used to love it when the very first game was released back in the mid-to-late 90s. Back then technology only allowed DMA (the series’ creators and some of whom would later form Rockstar Studios) to make a game that allowed players a top down perspective. 3D gaming was still in its infancy and detail on characters, environments and, well, pretty much everything we see now was nothing but a dream back then so wasn’t remotely possible. As a result the game took on a very cartoonish art style and as a result the violence, whilst arguably more deranged than in recent installments, seemed so ridiculous it looked more like something you might see on South Park. It’s very appearance made the whole thing seem utterly bonkers. Most importantly the game did two other things: it didn’t take itself seriously, and it oozed charm – it knew it was daft.

As technology has advanced so too, quite rightly, has Rockstar’s ambitions. That is to be expected of any studio working to produce something of artistic merit. They have some very talented writers working for them (in fact the man who runs the company is their lead writer) who feel that through video games, they can satirize and make players think about the world they live in, both virtual and real. The problem, however, stems from Rockstar’s quest for this hallowed realism. Now it seems their goal is to create the most realistic world possible, the sort of world that players would want to get lost in.

Judging by today’s coverage of GTA V, it would appear that Rockstar’s attempts at recreating reality seems to involve giving players, according to America’s Entertainment and Software Ratings Board, the opportunity for their character to smoke pot, either via a bong or a spliff. I think you know what I’m going to ask now… why? This is actually completely at odds with what Rockstar and most of their games attempt to achieve – the depiction of the real America. From a gaming perspective, it is also utterly pointless. As someone has pointed in the comments on the article linked above, it is like starving yourself for days only to then ring up Pizza Hut and ask the person on the other end of the line to read out the menu to you, and then hang up.

Smoking pot is not, as far as I’m aware, anything that might be considered dark or nefarious. Obviously it’s production and distribution may be a different story altogether and I don’t doubt that it is smoked by people who may not have given thought to or are just blissfully ignorant of its possibly sinister origins. But as for actually smoking it, the modern consensus would be that it apparently does society no ill (the effects on one’s mental health is a debate for another time). But why did Rockstar choose pot? Surely, based on their apparent love of films and television (though sadly not books) they could have latched on to the fact that crystal meth use is an epidemic across America and actually ruins lives, so why not portray an individual, even if just a supporting character whose presence is fleeting, that has had their life destroyed by it?  Wouldn’t that be the way to expose what lies beneath?

Amongst all the silly stunts and car chases and criminal activity, wouldn’t it be great to have a moment where the player is actively engaging with a character that would stop them in their tracks? GTA V seems determined to ape The Sopranos and The Wire (but all the wrong parts of both) so why not take a leaf out of Breaking Bad‘s book? After all, one of the playable characters in GTA V has retired from the life of crime only to be dragged back in. A perfect opportunity gone to waste? Absolutely. The target audience would no doubt understand the reference to Breaking Bad and it’s twisted morality tale, but most importantly, they would have some serious food for thought, particularly American audiences. But it’s also far easier to make stoner jokes.

This leads me to my main gripe with GTA. It has so much potential but Rockstar would rather do their research for each new iteration, as writer of Father Ted and The I.T. Crowd Graham Lineham perfectly described it, by watching Scarface twenty times. GTA could be revolutionary for gaming as a medium and forge a new path for mainstream games, but instead chooses to cater to the ignorant and the demographic who don’t want to think about the consequences of their actions and the people who share the same world as them. As a franchise, GTA has one of the largest fanbases so regardless of how bad a new game’s reviews are (which is never), they will always sell. Why not use that safety net and make something truly daring? Rockstar seem unaware of the fact that they are effectively the Pixar of video games, but for adults. No matter the quality of their output, it will turn a profit on opening weekend. Would Pixar, fresh from the success of Toy Story in 1995, have made WALL•E or Up as their next film? Of course they wouldn’t. They earned their ability to express themselves artistically by making consistently entertaining films, building up their audience and as a result, the freedom to make whatever they want. To prove this, go on to Google and look up their film Inside Out which is due for release in 2015. See what I mean?

My other bone of contention with Rockstar’s behemoth of a franchise is the illusion of choice and freedom that players are faced with. It is an outright lie and again, completely undermines Rockstar’s attempt at creating a truly living and breathing world that gives players the choice to do what they want. Examples of this include the fact that players can customise their character’s appearance and deck him out in all sorts of attire, from suits, to Hawaiian shirts, players can earn themselves a wardrobe to choose from. These clothes are purchased from shops and then if the player wishes they could have a different outfit for every day of the week. I mean, that’s what we do in real isn’t it? So why not give players the option to donate say, a coat to a homeless person, rather than just the opportunity to punch, kick, shoot or run them over in a stolen taxi? Why can’t I donate money I’ve earned, however illegally, to an in-game charity? Why can’t I do stuff to make the world I’m in a better place as opposed to merely adhering to the games’ status quo? Every choice the game offers you is something which is inherently evil, wrong or just plain idiotic. To use an example from the recent masterpiece Bioshock Infinite, every flick of the games’ coin ends up landing on heads.

GTA games are a technical marvel and GTA V‘s release next month is no doubt the biggest event on the entertainment calendar, of that there can be no doubt. They are fun, mindless and riotously entertaining, but up to a point where the mayhem batters me into submission after a couple of hours and I just end up turning it off and never playing it again. Is it because I’m getting older and just losing interest in AAA titles? Not at all, Battlefield 4 is my most anticipated game this year and that is truly mindless. The difference is that BF4 isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t. It’s a game about getting an enormous bolt action sniper rifle and shooting the pilot out from the cockpit of an attack helicopter from half a mile away. It has no pretensions of being anything more. GTA V does, and as much as I’m in a tiny minority, for me it fails to deliver on its promise and has seemingly done so again with this latest version, and undermines its raison d’être. My worry is that Rockstar will be content to simply rinse the gaming public for their money and not truly innovate like they are clearly capable. The talent is there no question. It’s their refusal to take creative risks that is not only stifling this once superb series, but the gaming industry as a whole. After the disappointment of GTA IV I’d really hoped this time that Rockstar would deliver. Unfortunately, they have seemingly settled for more of the same.

Like the needless spliffs in their imminent release, my respect for Rockstar and their once pioneering franchise, is up in smoke.

Raoul Boat

20 Apr

Hello. This will probably be a short one as it’s late, my mood isn’t much better than it was a couple of days ago and I’m a tad sleepy. We’ll see how we go.

As I write this, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19 year old, suspected bomber of Boston’s marathon on Monday has been captured by the authorities after being surrounded having taken to hiding in a boat. Firstly, and on a serious note, I must express my most sincere and heartfelt relief that the Boston Police and FBI were able to do this at all. I had honestly feared the worst, given what happened at MIT on Thursday night. It is an amazing feat that they were able to (I assume) talk Tsarnaev into giving himself up at all. The questions I have left though, are about the amount of evidence that they have with which they could charge him with – how much do they have? And will Tsarnaev get a fair trial if charged? What part did he play in proceedings? Was it his older brother who carried out Monday’s atrocity or was he more than an accomplice? Was anyone else involved? Questions that will hopefully be answered soon as well the most important one of all – why? We shall now have to wait and see what unfolds.

What is of concern, is how this has been covered in the media. As a Brit who has been going through something of an insomnia-esque phase recently, I have had time to sit and watch rolling news coverage of this rather dull event. Rolling news channels, particularly when covering a big story such as this, are just dreadful. Sure, the news reader on duty at the time has to fill the air with something. Just don’t keep asking people how many fucking vehicles they can see. It’s television. We can see that. In fact, the whole thing was reminiscent of the ending of The Blues Brothers. It was almost farcical.

But what really twanged a nerve was one BBC News reporter who sounded like the “Gap Yah” man. You know, the guy who just…chundered everywhere! I knew that he was taking the piss with those videos, but I never thought these subjects of our ridicule could actually get a job at the Beeb. The mind boggles.

What was also rather irksome was the blanket coverage given to overweight men with their 1980’s moustaches, huge machine guns (or assault weapons – I can’t remember how US lawmakers categorise these instruments of death) simply standing around looking bored. At first when the cheers erupted in celebration of Tsarnaev’s arrest, I thought the Krispy Kreme delivery man had arrived. Nothing was going on whatsoever. You’d have been hard pressed to believe there had actually been an earthquake in China.  It was just stultifying, yet seemingly the only thing that mattered. I mean come on! Three Americans died on Monday, who cares about all the people who died in Iraq on Monday when 20 different explosions killed over 30 people? And fuck the Chinese, they’re commies. BOO!

The sheer ignorance purveyed by American media has been alarming. Whether it was a Fox News anchor saying over the course of the evening, before the suspect’s capture:

“All sorts of people running in the Marathon will now be running in the wheelchair marathon.”

Or the rather more common running theme over the last 12 hours, that of associating these brothers with Russia as much as possible, despite the fact they’re Chechnyan. CNN referred to them at one point as being from the Czech Republic I think. Ignorance on such a large scale is frightening, especially when it’s being beamed into the thick skulls of those kids who didn’t pay attention to Teacher at school. And perhaps what riled me up even more, was the labelling of the Tsarnaev brothers as terrorists.

Now as far as I know, terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation in order to create an environment and feeling of fear, and most importantly, to further a political agenda. These are two brothers who have apparently been “radicalised” (which no doubt meant they wanted to make things go BOOM! and for people to go SPLAT! That’s what brown people do, right?) based on speculation by those who populate Twitter and the mainstream media & press. And people have lapped it up. As a modern culture and people, the staunch anti-Islamic sentiments that are broadcast as if fact, is problematic to say the least. As for labelling someone a terrorist? Not without evidence please. George W Bush and Tony Blair fall under this umbrella term with far more certainty in my eyes than the Tsarnaev brothers. We knew Bush & Blair’s agenda, and they then went to great lengths to fabricate the evidence (which ironically goes to corroborate my point) in order to justify their murdering of over one million innocent people. Terrorists in my eyes, or to use a less technical term – cunts.

The sad truth is we are becoming more divided as a species, more barriers are being erected between people of different faiths, races and ideologies, and the internet is perpetuating it by giving everyone a soapbox from which to spout their views. As technology progresses, so human thought regresses. The machines we invent, whilst freeing us in some ways, can surely only serve to metamorphose into something far more sinister. What that is I don’t know, but it sounds like something from Adam Curtis’ three-part documentary series All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you check it out. It is truly excellent.

Now, my brain is slowly turning into pâté and I should cease my rata-tat-tatting at this ungodly hour. This has not been the most brilliantly structred piece of writing I’ve ever published that’s for sure. The sooner I stop with this drivel the better. Sleep well, especially those of you in Boston. My heart goes out to you all and I hope you never have to go through another week like the one you have now.

Peace, love and I’ll see you anon.

My depression, and the view from down here.

18 Apr

I should be fast asleep as I write this. It is hideously late (or early in the morning) and I am utterly wired. No, I haven’t been at the caffeine or the sweet jar. I have recently ceased drinking coffee after 6pm, and whilst I may occasionally sneak in a cup of tea after said deadline, it rarely happens. Cutting out this pointless but strangely vital stimulant from my evening routine has made me rather grumpy, but I’m aware of it and can manage those feelings no problem. I simply smoke more cigarettes and drink more water, and it seems to work.

No, the problem I have is something which has been the bane of my teens and all eleven years of my adult life so far. It has taken me to places so dark I never thought I’d escape, and perhaps on a couple of handful of occasions, I considered staying there permanently, where no one would ever see me again. Making all the pain go away by submitting. Giving myself over to it. Millions of others are afflicted with this and it is, quite frankly – from a personal point of view – a curse.

I am referring to my “depression”, a word thrown around with such wild abandon today that it has almost become meaningless. Now, I can almost hear thoughts of “No wonder you’re unhappy. Get some sleep!” but unfortunately it is not as simple as just resting your head on a pillow and hoping you drift off into a lazy and beautiful slumber. I am one of those individuals who when feeling low, simply cannot shut down. My mind races like a runaway freight train, transporting my negative thoughts to places I cannot see coming until it is too late. I sometimes envisage acting out horribly twisted scenarios either on myself or on others as a form of catharthis; and then, when my mind comes back to reality, I begin to panic and wonder if I’m actually far more unwell than I initially think I am. It has happened for so many years now that when what I have just described began occuring on a reasonably regular basis (say… 3-4 times a week, but I should add this was when I was younger), what would follow was me breaking down and sobbing. I was weak, mad, a failure. Not worth knowing. My way of dealing with this back then, and very rarely nowadays, was not to eat.

This is one facet of my depression that I and many men, women and young children struggle with – low self-esteem – and mine manifests itself in what I described above. At the age of 29, I am now far more able to manage these thoughts than when I was 19. Now don’t worry I have no intention of pinning it on media, women, my parents, my siblings, bad relationships, being bullied in school or any other example you may hazard a guess at. I wouldn’t express my triggers on such a public forum anyway. It would be very self-serving, but more importantly, doing so would only hurt those that know me. It is also not the reason I am writing this.

2013 is a landmark year for me because it has been roughly a decade since one of the darkest chapters in my life unfolded. Overcoming it (or most of it) mainly serves to remind me as to just how strong I can be. Whilst some may say that’s a great thing, the reality is that when you live with depression, it can act as a reminder of how weak one has been. This last part is what many people don’t seem to relate to and as negative as it reads, I mention it with good reason. It is hard to articulate precisely what I mean, but I hope there are people reading this who know what I’m trying to express. My history is a huge part of how I perceive not only myself but the way others see me, too. We are forever judged by our actions, to put it simply. Does that even make sense?

Anyway, I need to know how weak I can be. As clichéd as this may sound, my “weaknesses” – so to speak – now give me great inner strength with regard to certain aspects of my daily living. I know where the road will lead me if I don’t take stock of them. But, as with all things related to our mental health, it never goes away, and can strike back with a vengeance. It can leave me in bed all day with the curtains drawn, and I lay there crying when I should be working. My mind never rests, and it is an eternal annoyance. It is an itch I simply cannot scratch.

Dwelling on negativity is pretty inherent in those living with depressive/self-esteem/body dysmorphic etc, related issues. I have discovered, however, over the last 18 months I have spent attempting to rebuild myself from the ground up, that my outlook on not just myself, but life too, ascends on a more positive incline. I have addressed matters I spent nine years hiding from, rebuilt bridges I once thought long demolished and abandoned, and it has served to make me, on most days, a far happier man than I was two years ago. But when others choose not to reciprocate, it really hurts. It reminds me of who I was, those aforementioned actions I carried out, and who I could still be. It’s a puzzle that’s for sure.

If anything I suppose I’m now getting to the crux (if there even is one) of what I’m attempting to challenge here. I am a more positive person all round, but only because I’ve taken stock of the things about myself that I loathe. It is the reprehensible behaviours I have acted out whilst ill, particularly towards loved ones (especially family), that resonate strongest. I cannot for the life of me remember who said it, but (and I am paraphrasing greatly here) I feel like we don’t go through life discovering our inner nature, but we uncover it, because it’s already there. Maybe I’ve actually recently uncovered my inner nature (or as much as I can do) and I really don’t like it. Maybe this is the part of me that is finally growing up and coming to terms with who I am. I don’t know. It’s all a bit of a muddle if I’m honest.

What all of the above pertains to is a mystery that I need to unravel. It reminds me that if anything, I need to not be so hot-headed, emphatic with my views (particularly on subjects such as this when discussing it with those not as familiar) and to just relax, and smile a bit more.

What is clear is that this has become rather self-absorbed and introspective when I said it wouldn’t (but then what blog isn’t?), so I should really bring this stream of consciousness to its conclusion.

As you might have deduced, I am low as I write this. It is my awful mood I currently find myself in that is what precipitated it. I need to write in order to try and help understand myself a bit better. It is through expelling these thoughts that I can inform myself of what is really afoot, and make plans to deal with whatever “it” is. If I have informed just one person of what depression can be and how it sometimes chooses to represent itself in those affected by it, then great, but that was not my intention. I actually just needed to clear my head.

Maybe my weaknesses are just strengths waiting to happen. That would be nice.

Till next time.

Contact me

Twitter: @_Heisenbird_

E-mail: heisenbird@hotmail.com

The Microsoft saga continues; Mission accomplished, seven years later…

12 Apr

Afternoon to you all. The sun was out earlier and is now shrouded in grey, but you get the impression it’s doing its damndest to try and force its way out. By the time I’m finished later, it will hopefully have succeeded and I can take a leisurely stroll to greener areas of my ‘burb, notably the park. But this is England. I am deluding myself.

From green pastures of Bristol to the troubled lands of Microsoft. On Wednesday I wrote about Microsoft and how their PR could be best be described as “a tad up the shitter”. I touched upon how they’ve not been helped by their creative director Adam Orth’s rather foolish comments over Twitter defending “always online” technology. Well, you can now make that ex-creative director. Late that night news broke that Orth has now left the company. No other information is available currently as to whether he left or was – as appears rather more likely – told to “just sign here” and then clear his desk.

Well, colour me not in the least bit surprised. If you take to Twitter, start spouting absolute guff about why DRM is apparently a good thing and how we should all “#dealwithit”, then you are quite frankly asking for trouble. Damaging your employer’s image in any way is usually grounds for serious disciplinary action. To do so in a way that makes you and your employer look like a giant herd of bastards (which Orth has succeeded in doing) could mean only one thing: damage control. Microsoft have no choice but to send Orth on his way and one wonders what their next step might be.

Saying nothing probably.

_________________

In other news, I am finally off to see my beloved Arsenal at the futuristic alien spacecraft that is the Emirates Stadium. To say I am excited is putting it mildly. It’s the game against Wigan and is the last home match of the season. It’s only taken me seven years to get there but now I can finally watch my team at their new(ish) home. I cannot wait. I will be back tomorrow with a look at the match against Norwich tomorrow, so apologies for the brisk nature of this post. Busy, busy at the moment.

Have a cracking day and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Is Microsoft’s silence regarding NextBox damaging its chances of success?

10 Apr

One cannot fail to notice the recent influx of rumours surrounding Microsoft’s follow-up to the Xbox 360, codenamed ‘Durango’. Unlike the rumours surrounding Sony’s PlayStation 4 before they officially announced it back in February – rumours which were generally quite positive and then exceeded (particularly with regard to RAM) – Microsoft are going through something of a PR shitstorm.  In light of Sony’s relative openness regarding PS4, Microsoft’s perpetual silence has left fans feeling frustrated, and perhaps worst of all, ignored.

Their problems began when Kotaku ran a story last Thursday in which they claimed that two ‘sources’ – who allegedly have access to early development kits – reported that:

“Unless something has changed recently, Durango consumer units must have an active internet connection to be used. If there isn’t a connection, no games or apps can be started. If the connection is interrupted then after a period of time – currently three minutes, if I remember correctly – the game/app is suspended and the network troubleshooter started.”

The report goes on to say, however, that other developers familiar with the hardware have claimed they are not aware of such plans. Incidentally, the claims of these two sources seem to corroborate a report from Edge back in February that this was indeed Microsoft’s plan for the NextBox.

Then the following day, things took a turn for the worse. Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth took to Twitter and staunchly defended ‘always online’ technology.

By now many of you have already ready seen the exchange he took part in with Manveer Heir, a designer at BioWare, so I will not recount it. If you haven’t, a Redditor was smart enough to get a screenshot of it which you can view here. Following outcry from his followers Orth’s account is now protected, for his own benefit no doubt.

Needless to say, comparing an internet connection to one’s electricity supply was perhaps jumping the shark. Not surprisingly, Microsoft were very quick to distance themselves from Orth’s remarks. What they subsequently didn’t do was give us anything resembling a bone on which to gnaw.

But whilst Orth is not a spokesperson for the company (and thus his comments should be taken with a pinch of salt) these comments only add to people’s understandable worries about an ‘always online’ console. As Heir pointed out, it makes one wonder as to whether Microsoft have learned a thing from the woes of both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts. It also raises the question, “Do Microsoft listen to their fans?”

So far, so not very good. Monday brought yet more rumours, one being a possible reveal date of 21st May. The second was regarding the cost of the machine. According to respected technology journalist Paul Thurriot (known to have sources within Microsoft) the machine is going to be “expensive” and will cost somewhere in the region of $500 or $300 with a subscription. You can see his interview here.

It is important to remember, that despite another report backing up these claims, all of the above is rumour, conjecture and no doubt some of it is complete twaddle. In 99% of circumstances I would say ignore it. However, after being pleasantly surprised at how accurate the playground gossip about PS4 turned out to be, I would not be shocked if most of what we have read over the last week was actually correct.

And this is my concern – that all of this is true. We live in an age where we now applaud Ubisoft for keeping titles such as Watch Dogs and Far Cry 3 expansion Blood Dragon secret (although that hasn’t stopped hackers from tricking Ubisoft’s uPlay store into allowing free downloads of their games, Blood Dragon included). The video game industry is basically one almighty sieve through which info constantly seeps. Usually the downside of this is that it leaves developers and publishers with nothing to surprise us with. In Microsoft’s case, the ramifications of these recent steady drips of ‘info’ could be of huge cost to the Washington giant’s Xbox division.

The simple reason for this – if true – is their apparent and quite astonishing arrogance with regard to pricing. Seven years ago Sony were severely criticised for what was considered hubris on a grand scale when they announced their pricing for PS3, and the public voted with their wallets resulting in a poor first year or two for Sony. It is difficult for one not to draw similar conclusions this time around.

Microsoft are a business and their purpose is to make money, something they are rather good at. But when you weigh up the cost of $500 for a console, $60 for an Xbox Live subscription and at least $60 for one game? You’re looking at a sizeable outlay come launch. Is it any wonder that most people across forums all over the internet are saying they’ve already decided that PS4 is their console of choice (not mentioning PS4’s apparent technical superiority)? With no doubt huge amounts of money already spent on R&D, production, software development, and yet more to be spent on marketing, if they’ve been paying attention to gamers’ reactions recently Microsoft should be very worried about recouping it.

Whilst we admittedly know nothing about the new Xbox, that itself is also a huge problem. Microsoft are obviously trying to keep us on the edge of our seats, but by not reacting to Sony’s unveiling event and giving us nothing to go on, it reeks of an arrogance that Sony have learned all too well will only serve to come back and bite you on the arse.

If the event allegedly taking place next month does indeed materialise, Microsoft will have to wow us in order to woo us. There is every chance Microsoft could do that, but Sony have done a pretty excellent job of getting not only gamers on side, but developers and press. Their coverage has been extremely positive and if they can keep surfing this wave into E3 – where heavy-hitters like Uncharted and Gran Turismo surely await – then Microsoft could face an uphill battle to keep some of their loyal customers.Their lack of communication to try and keep some of them is also concerning.

Unless Microsoft can blow us all away unexpectedly and prove us all wrong, their aloof behaviour and failure to learn from others’ mistakes, could see Microsoft sailing into troubled waters.

On the other hand, we know nothing about it and should all stop being so negative. Bring on May 21st!