There are three items in front of me, on this faux-wooden table. A battered watch, a replacement music player, and a tin of mints. Hardly the inventory of anyone of note, I know. Of course, there are stories behind each one, but you don’t want to hear that; that would be too personal, too unwarranted, too inane.
I find trains are the only place for true revelation. Let me elaborate; these are the places where you’re disconnected in such a way that you have very few options; lose yourself in another’s mind, or delve into your own. I’ve got a few books in my bag, filled with ideas and stories that will easily keep me occupied, if not inspire and excite me. There’s philosophy a foot away, but I can’t be arsed to unzip and allow myself to be enveloped. It’s an effort that, at this exact moment, is beyond my means.
So I’ve found the most strained, desperate, muted music I can find, (Mark Hollis), and I’m writing this. Perhaps it’ll just be for me, a medium to vent frustrations, ideas, conceptual toxins so that when I next press finger to key I’m that much more fresh and interesting for the people that matter. I’m not a person that matters, at least not to me.
Hey, I could link this to a game, or some sort of gaming experience, and perhaps it’ll be linked to, become of interest to the wider public, but a moment of self-analysis puts paid to that idea. It’d be too much, too sycophantic, too… mundane. I live the double-life of a games writer, but that doesn’t mean all writing has to be about games. Or maybe it does, I’m still a rookie.
Back to the train; the easiest of metaphors, always there when you need to look back, or forward, and can’t adequately explain yourself. It’s an awkward pause between jaded lovers, just an ellipsis in your life when you can take a look around, admire the scenery behind you with a sort of melancholy frustration that comes from the paths not taken, left behind to be remote possibilities made more remote as time passes. Would I be here if I’d done something, anything differently? Probably not, and so I relinquish power, control, with ever moment that passes, each decision I make or leave.
Man, living is hard.
Or, I can flip that around onto the other side; I brought myself here, through my own choices, and because of that I am the one in control; subjectivity upon subjectivity, the ultimate opinion. You bring yourself somewhere, and then try and figure out whether you brought yourself there, or just didn’t bring yourself to anwhere else. Funny, really.
And now I stop because I’ve arrived.
And now I start again because I’ve done the same.
Boredom is my greatest ally. Wait, scratch that, boredom is anyone’s greatest ally. In a world of negative emotions, boredom is perhaps the only one which actually does any good; boredom is what drives us to try new things, or actually get on with whatever you’ve been procrastinating about for a dozen years/months/days. I know it’s the driving force behind almost all of my writing, if only because I can abstract it to an almost absurd degree. Bored of being poor. Bored of having so-and-so editor on my back. Bored of having whatever piece it is hanging over my head, occupying a space I would rather stayed empty in my mind.
When I was 16, I went on holiday with my family to the Lake District. We stayed in a large house with a garden that was lakeside, and it was all very lovely and pretty and there was fuck all to do. To the extent where the only thing I could think of to escape the monotony was to create my own chunk of escapism. I bought a pad of paper and a pen, and I began to write what would turn out to be forty pages of a novel over the course of a week or so, perhaps less. You could say that was a precursor, but I’m not so sure.
I mean, if I was now a novelist, and had a novel published or hell, even finished, then you might be able to throw around the blame in that particular direction, but all it allowed me to do was harness my boredom into something productive.
So, trains and coffee shops, the commas and semi-colons of travel. When travelling, you don’t really exist, in the concrete sense of the world. You’re not at one destination or another, you’re just In Transit. You’ll be there when you arrive, and you’ll be there before you set off, but in those hours and minutes in between, no one knows you, you’re just another face occupying one of the table seats like some presumptuous drifter, stealing the good spots because you had the cunning to get there early. Coffee shops are worse; no one’s moving, but no one’s really there.
And so, I resent travel writers. Without a fixed location, they can write whenever, wherever, without the distractions of a house and all the possessions that comes with it. Petty, yes, but it’s there. You have to appreciate, savour, petty sometimes.
Which, in an incredibly round-about way, brings me onto the other. I’m a games writer, but not a Games Writer. As in, I’ll write about games, but I don’t define myself by it, even though I’m perhaps most deserving of that title. Recently, Lewis Denby asked me for my opinion on a piece he was writing about an encounter he’d had outside a club in Leeds upon informing a fellow queuer about his profession.
After reading the piece, I told him that it came across badly. As in, I thought ‘gamers’ wouldn’t like it because it makes of the guy in the queue someone they can relate to and appreciate; as in, he enjoys Halo, so isn’t that enough for us to embrace him? I can’t embrace him because that would be far too self-effacing; to assume that the responsibility is upon myself to forgive and welcome? Presumption isn’t the word. I’d dislike myself just as much as I disliked him.
Ok, step back, reassess, refocus, refrain. A little exposition never hurt, right?
I’ve got a Thing. I guess it’s a neuroses, but it probably has a far more specific name that I’m not aware of. Basically, I deplore… damn, I can’t think of a suitable term for it. I wanted this to be all catchy and precise, but it’s going to be a rambler. I don’t like it when people are happy with what they’ve got, to put it in a ill-fitting and broad sense.
Perhaps an example will help.
So someone likes a big pop band. They’ll go see them live, and enjoy the music, and really, I’ve not got a problem with that. But they’ll stop at that. Once they’ve got the albums, know the lyrics, that’s it, they’ve ticked the big box in their mind that reads ‘Music’. To me, that’s worse than ignoring music all together.
Because music is huge, it’s broad, and interesting, and wonderful, and it has so, so many different forms and modes of expression to the extent that I am never going to be satisfied with what I’ve heard. If music were food, I want someone to find me at seventy the size of a house still munching on the newest flavours and culinary techniques.
The same applies for games, and, in my personally jaded eyes, even more so, because I spend so much time occupying the space that games takes up.
So what if that guy never plays the Path. I don’t really care. I don’t even care if he hears about it and decides it wasn’t for him. But man, don’t just settle for Halo. You enjoyed it, right? Move on, consume and advance, like a gaming Galactus, leaving the hollow shell of Halo behind, all goodness devoured behind you. There are other worlds, man, that need to be experience.
I’ve seen a few critics complain about the attention span of the newest generation, stating that, In Their Day, people could be occupied with one film/book/game for days on end, never wanting anything else. But they don’t understand.
Motion is Life, Immobility is Death.
Let’s take one of those rules that has absolutely no scientific backing, but is widely accepted to be true; 90% of everything is pretty shite. 10% is utter brilliance. In the last ten or twenty years, that 100% has grown so quickly, and exponentially, that the 10% is so vast, so incomprehensibly huge, that anyone dwelling in the 90% is a fucking idiot. And anyone dwelling on any miniscule facet of the 10% is almost worse.
You can live in the 10% and never, ever, even experience 1% of it. There’s no excuse, absolutely none, not to go for the very best.
And the beauty of the modern mediums of expression is that, for the most part, they’re so standardised that the brilliant costs just as much as the crap. Talk Talk’s ‘Spirit of Eden’ costs just as much (probably less, because we all know the older something is, the less it’s worth… right?) as the latest McFly album. Seeing A Scanner Darkly in the cinema costs just as much as Sex And the City. And in gaming, where, for games, time is death, you can get Planescape Torment for as much as Pippa Funnel’s Equine Adventures (not actual title).
So you’ve got no excuse. The only limit is your appetite for more, and really, that should come naturally.