Going Green (not with envy or rage, but in a good way)

Going Green (not with envy or rage, but in a good way)

It has been about two months since my last confession blog post, so it seems appropriate to do another one. For the relatively small gaggle of people interested in whether I’m still alive and well, yes, yes I am.

In the past two months I fulfilled one lifetime dream in travelling to Japan, spending about a week in Tokyo. I was there for work, as Flyhigh Works had a rather awesome booth at Tokyo Game Show; it sure was a work trip! The days were long, but fulfilling, and my feet… my poor, poor feet. I have terrible feet, and standing on them in a roasting hot expo hall for entire days was difficult, and then every evening we’d make our way to Akihabara (a place of blinding lights and lots of places to eat) which would take an hour or more. Each day was wonderful, and then I’d get back to the hotel and be unconscious the moment my head hit the pillow. One night I was actually lying down and about to call my family, only to wake up at 3am with the phone in my hand, the number half dialled.

The highlights of the trip? Plenty of them, really. One was meeting the wider team. You see, the vast majority of our team are in Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, so I met the group for the first time. Everyone was great, though language was a barrier, but I was genuinely touched in a final team meal when we all introduced ourselves and said lovely things to each other. It was a very pure moment.

I was, of course, drinking in as much culture as I could, but the combination of work duties and appalling weather on my off day limited the potential to be a proper tourist. That said, the trip allowed me to spend more time with my employers and I think it strengthened our relationship. During TGS itself I did a mix of media / business chats, but also helped a lot with the nitty gritty of the booth. One highlight for me was when a mother and young girl started playing one of our games in which you craft recipes. It’s a very colourful game, and something about the way they both engaged with and enjoyed it, and most importantly shared the experience, was truly memorable.

Oh, and Japanese food is the best.

So that was that. Work is very busy otherwise, but is going well. On a more personal level I’m stepping up my own personal efforts to ‘go green’. I already eat less meat and watch power consumption, but I’m also looking into getting an electric car. I’m sticking at it, but they won’t go mainstream unless big changes happen, which hopefully will be the case in the next 3-5 years. Not only are electric cars expensive compared to petrol equivalents, but buying one is a pain in the arse.

As I live in a flat / apartment, I’m still trying to find out if I can get a charging point for my assigned parking spot; I hope I can, but have a backup plan if not. Beyond that, figuring out how to actually get on the ladder and run the thing is a little overly complicated right now, but I’m persistent. It’s enough of a nuisance, though, that I can imagine anyone looking at the idea casually would give up quite quickly. A lot needs to change to make electric cars accessible, affordable (and I mean actually affordable, for those looking to spend $15,000, not $30,000+) and easy to buy. Hopefully, though, positive steps will keep being taken to make that possible, and I have to say there’s impressive support at a public sector level in Scotland (mostly driven by the Scottish, not UK, government).

I’ve been aiming to go green for years, doing so slowly and, frankly, in ways I can actually afford. It seems more critical now, of course, that the window for preventing environmental catastrophe is getting smaller, potentially just 12 years. It’s easy – and justifiable – to feel pessimistic about our chances, but the only thing we can do is be positive and to get off the fence. Beyond doing my own thing in being more green I’m looking into options for activism. One thing will be potentially joining the Scottish Green Party, once I’ve researched the manifesto, but I’ll also be looking at other things. We also need businesses to be motivated to go green, and they’ll only do that if it’s profitable. Corporations are selfish bastards, so legislation needs to tap into that for a positive end goal – if politicians can find some courage, naturally.

Everyone that cares about the topic should do what they can, at least. Whether that’s political affiliations, activist groups, petitions, or just talking about being green. Everyone can do something.

Anyway, here ends the soapbox. Have a lovely day!

Until next time…

Truth is Definitely Stranger Than Fiction

Truth is Definitely Stranger Than Fiction

As is the norm it’s been a while since I’ve written anything, so I figured I’d give a little update and share a few of my current musings / perspectives / confusions.

In terms of what’s going on with me, quite a lot at the moment. July was relatively quiet all told, but work is now very busy and I’ve got a fair bit of traveling through August and September (the pic is a not-very-subtle clue). I’m excited about that, though know full well I’ll be exhausted by October; it’s fine, I’ll just sleep for a weekend. I’m very lucky that my job involves opportunities to see the world, so I’ll sure make the most of it. In fact this year is ticking multiple things off my ‘bucket list’, so I’m a fortunate person.

I also signed up to a 10K run in November, which is foolish, but the positive side is that my good friend Anthony Dickens will be travelling up to Edinburgh and running it with me. The big loss of leaving Nintendo Life was the day to day chat with the friends I had the fortune of working with. I don’t miss the actual job, to be completely honest, but I miss the daily jokes and silly chat. Luckily I get on very well with my CIRCLE / Flyhigh Works colleagues, but various members of the NL team are among my best friends, and of course I now speak to them a lot less. Such is life.

On a personal level all is good. I have fun stuff ahead of me, but there have also been challenges and tough moments in the past month. As always my family sticks together and the principle of KBO (keep buggering on) is still important. I’ve also been thinking about some changes I want to make, such as getting a bit more politically active, looking to catch up with friends more often and to meet more new people. Living alone is a blessing and a curse. I get to work in my pyjamas and do as I please, but sometimes the silence is deafening and it’s easy to think about the noise my life is missing. But hey, it’s up to me to sort that out, as always!

And the world is still crazy; right now the truth is stranger than fiction. In the UK we have Brexit, which is a colossal fuck-up in-waiting even by the standards of the biggest pessimists. Then there’s the madness of Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and all sorts of cartoonish villains. Just recently I attended an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival in which journalist Luke Harding spoke about his book Collusion. It’s all about Trump and Russia, and some of the facts are mind-bending to the point you’d wish they were false.

And not only are facts stranger than fiction, but for some this is a post-truth age in which they create their own facts, and anything contradicting that obtuse view is ‘fake news’. This is a world where the phrase ‘alternative facts’ exists, after all. It feels like the next decade will be vital, as the icecaps continue to melt, economies are strained and stupid shit happens. We must always insist that opinions can be debated, but facts cannot. The truth and objective facts are not up for negotiation. We should therefore all fight for the truth against those that would prefer to live in denial, ignorance or fear.

And… that all got rather serious! It’s hard not to think about serious topics in a world that’s in constant flux. It’s important not to run from the great crisis points of our era, albeit the right arguments need to be made the right way – with solid facts and, when possible, a smile. We have more in common than not, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

Random Musings After a Long Break

Random Musings After a Long Break

Ah yes, that plan to write regularly worked well.

I haven’t posted anything to this blog or written anything of note for a few months, and the reason for that is simple – I didn’t really feel like it. After 6-7 years where it was my job to write every day I’ve had a spell where, frankly, I felt no desire to write. There’s another reason, and that’s wondering whether there’s anything worth saying.

The answer to the latter is yes, there’s always something worth saying, but I’ve tended to check out of debates and arguments recently. The world makes enough of a noise on its own, and through the internet many millions shout their opinions daily in any case, often so loudly that they can’t hear the other side.

I’ve been doing something I typically like to do in any case, which is people watching. I’m always looking around when out and about, observing what people do, don’t do, and what they may want to do. It’s not because I’m some kind of enlightened individual, but because I’m always curious. With billions of people in the world there’ll be lots that behave similarly to each other, we’re a tribal species after all, so there’ll be billions of other people watchers as well. You can ‘watch’ people online too, a place where lots of rhyme and reason is lost; it’s still interesting.

I have quiet times, also, where for a spell I shrink into myself a little. Like billions of others I try to think about my own hopes and dreams, I dwell on difficult themes or feelings, or I try to make sense of the absurdities of the world.

I’ve seen people say the world is crazier than ever; I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s people’s instinct to think their time is more dramatic than what came before. I think the world has probably always been this batshit crazy, history proves that, but now some decide to magnify and amplify it online, through clickbait, social media, shouting into cameras, filming everything on their phone and in the process probably missing half of what happens. Mankind, peoplekind, humanity, whatever, has always been insane, now we just see more of it if we choose to.

I’ve also thought more on what I want to achieve. I’m learning that my ambition is typically linked to being able to cover my bills, and beyond that I want to be the sort of person that people trust, or feel they can work with. My current job satisfies that urge, as I work with generally lovely people trying to do the same – creating games that are very ‘Indie’, but big in honesty. Business realities matter of course, games need to sell, but my efforts to help that are in the hope that enough money is made for everyone to pay their bills. I’ll never be a rich man because I don’t have the talent or the ruthlessness; even if I did by some surprising turn of events earn lots of money, I’d keep enough to afford a decent life and try to find a meaningful use for the rest.

Because when people watching, or world watching as anyone with the internet and connected devices does, you can see lots of good and lots of bad. At times I marvel at the incredible talents of the human race, the acts of kindness, the gorgeous art and the potentially world changing technological discoveries. Then on the other side there’s the negatives – the selfishness, stupidity and dangerous parts of humanity. The balance between the positive and negative is rarely stable – it swings back and forth. Maybe we’re sitting a bit more on the negative right now, but given time it’ll swing back for a positive period. And then back again.

So we keep buggering on, I guess. I’ll keep working, enjoying downtime, having sunny optimistic days and more quiet, morose ones too. I’ll write when I want, keep working on my fiction that I may or may not share, keep reading, keep playing video games. Keep people watching, too, and getting out of my home to do so.

Because it’s no good being insulated, or viewing the world through screens and screaming tweets and Facebook statuses. At times the phone needs to go away and reality sink back in. Recently I went to a place called the Explorer’s Garden in Pitlochry, a town a little north of Perth in Scotland. You weave your way up and, at the top, it rewards you with a beautiful view. It’s a place that relies on volunteers to stay open, but is hugely valuable – it’s the sort of place that gives a lot, most of all a useful bit of context.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling.

Until next time.

 

Thoughts on BBC News – Big Buzzfeed Clone (Occasionally)

Thoughts on BBC News – Big Buzzfeed Clone (Occasionally)

A little while ago I posted a slightly despairing Tweet about BBC News, in particular the state of its ‘Most Popular’ tab and the nature of the articles. About half of the time this section is ‘ok’ in terms of quality and actual relevance of news, restoring a bit of faith in the corporation and – indeed – its audience. The other half of the time it’s full of buzz-worthy nonsense, with articles about selfie addicts, photogenic couples getting engaged (I’m not even referring to the ‘Royal Wedding’!) and collections of old toys getting more hits than, well, actual news.

A few people seemed to agree with my sentiment, but one reply did stick with me as an odd defence – “they don’t control what gets read the most”. Well, that’s the thing, they do. They control what they publish, therefore they have complete control over whether they’re a news business or a hits business.

I’ve complained about the state of current media privately and a bit in public (occasionally on this blog), but I’ve often added the proviso that we get the media we deserve. Very few of us pay for media any more, and I’m in that number. I pay for a Kindle New York Times subscription (that counts as five points on my Hipster card, ten during double points promotions) but browse The Guardian for free. I let The Guardian get a tiny amount of money from me by serving ads (I never ad-block, as ads paid my bills for four years), partly because I think it’s getting worse with each passing year. That’s a vicious cycle, but I feel the Grauniad will keep getting more clickbaity regardless of how many pay to ‘support’ it, because it’ll want to keep the ad money high while cashing in real money contributions. So I accept it’ll make me roll my eyes on a daily basis, but it’s better than most of its rivals.

So that’s two of my news sources, and lower down the list is the BBC. What should make BBC News different is that, actually, it shouldn’t – theoretically – be trying to stay financially viable. Until recently I worked in video games media, and when I wrote about that recently I suggested “I was increasingly feeling like a relic”, as the kind of content I wanted to do didn’t always make the most sense for a business. I would bang on about ‘tone’, and quietly seethe when it dipped under my watch. I think most of the time our balance was fine, but as the months drifted by I felt like I was becoming bad for business, not willing to change fast enough to drive the traffic that keeps the lights on. Traffic was always good, but was I holding it back because I wouldn’t modernise fast enough? Potentially.

But that was a business, as are The Guardian and The New York Times; the latter maintains its credibility more successfully in my eyes, so I pay for it. The BBC, though, is funded by the TV License and is a public body. It shouldn’t have to chase the hits and ratings; in theory it should just try to do its job well.

There are reasons for BBC News going a bit Buzzfeed, online and in terms of some of its TV and radio output. One of these is undoubtedly political pressure. It seems over the past decade in particular, since the Tories came into government, that any renewal of TV License terms has come fraught with coded threats to the BBC about its performance and its content. Because the BBC is effectively reliant on a mix of public money and extras made through the ‘Worldwide’ service and sales of content, it’s caught between behaving as a public broadcaster and commercial enterprise.

So it pays big for some stars (infamously, especially male stars), while having to slash budgets elsewhere due to pressure and restrictions with the license fee. When you watch BBC News or view the website now and compare it to five years ago I think there must have been a real talent drain, especially in day-to-day journalism. I think there are still a few big journalistic beasts that produce fantastic work occasionally, and we still have the likes of Newsnight and Andrew Marr, but the broader levels and standards have (in my opinion) dropped.

As the BBC tries to justify its public funding it seems to fall into the same trap as commercial rivals – grab cheap hits to hold up the real content that performs more modestly. So we see buzz-worthy nonsense blending with real news, and BBC News does far less detailed and investigative work than in the past; after all, longform content costs time and money, two things given no quarter on the internet. Quantity and speed matter more than quality and care when it comes to online reporting. The BBC, sadly, is trying to operate within the echo chamber of the internet, rather than stand apart in an effort to inform, educate and inspire.

It’s not all bad, the BBC as a whole still does many good things and undoubtedly has some great people working hard. I’ll always be a strong defender of the need to have the BBC too, as British culture would suffer major damage if it was lost. I still marvel at all the BBC does for good drama on TV, the music events it organises, the incredible fundraising through its support for Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need etc. We need the British Broadcast Corporation.

I just wish its News department could back itself to get back to its first duty – to report the news to the highest possible standards. Don’t chase hits, don’t play the online journalism game. Just say “we are the BBC, we work differently”.

Then it’d be even more worthy of our appreciation.

A Week In The Life… Being Late But With The Best Intentions, GDC and More

A Week In The Life… Being Late But With The Best Intentions, GDC and More

Hey! It’s the weekly blog that hasn’t been weekly recently! Admittedly it’s a small group that cares but I am sorry for being a bit sloppy with this series, with it now being around two weeks since the last one. I would promise to be more prompt in future but… I’ll just promise to try.

So, the last two weeks have been pretty good. I’ve had an intense period with work, culminating in the recent release of Mercenaries Saga Chronicles on the Nintendo Switch. I think it went ok, I learned some lessons and can do some things better, but all told I think I also did some things relatively well. Ultimately my employers seem quite happy with the results to date, which frankly is the main thing when you’re six weeks into a new job.

We’re in a busy time overall, and I’m learning the art of patience. I don’t have control over the speed and tempo of everything that affects my plans, and I’m beginning to handle that better rather than let it frustrate me (which it did a week ago). I’m adoring the fact I’m in this position, learning about publishing on the eShop and working with cool people, and it’s giving me a lot of perspective I never had on the other side of the fence as a games writer.

Another thing that I can say is that I’m going to GDC (Game Developers Conference) in San Francisco in March, hopefully the first of multiple events this year. Based on the picture at the top, however, I’m nowhere near young or trendy enough to fit in!

It’s exciting but I’m not going to be a tourist, I feel the pressure (in a good way) to make it worthwhile and really get the CIRCLE / Flyhigh Works name out there. I’m not exactly a natural PR rep, but that’s not really my role at these events. I’m hoping my passion for gaming and comfort in the ‘industry’ will matter more than the fact I’m a short and shy bearded man! In any case, anyone that reads this that wants to say hello / talk games and publishing just reach out and let me know! (Twitter is best, @ThomasBW84)

Outside of work I bought a PS4 Pro, basically because I wanted to play a version of Monster Hunter World that wasn’t running like bum. I adore the series, it’s up there with the likes of 3D Mario and The Legend of Zelda in terms of IPs I must play. So far I’m enjoying it, albeit my progress – due to limited time – has been slow. It streamlines some areas a bit too heavily for my taste, but it’s also evolved in some very positive and impressive ways. So far it’s one of the best games in the series that I’ve played, I haven’t yet decided if it’s my personal number one.

I did a deal with my brother for my original PS4 to take the edge off the price, and I’m quite happy with the purchase of a Pro. It occasionally does some daft things (at one point it randomly forgot how to output to my 4K TV, it took me 40 minutes to troubleshoot and sort it out), but it’s a decent machine. I’m also enjoying faux-K (I’m just being honest, because not much is real 4K) with a few games, and I also like the flexibility to play some games in 1080p with better performance. With the likes of MLB The Show and MH World I choose performance, but I’m enjoying the higher resolution in Resident Evil 7, and I’m revisiting the amazing Last of Us in the 1800p / 60FPS mode. When I’m done with MH World I’ll also get Shadow of the Colossus, which by all accounts is an incredible game (I’ll probably opt for 1080p / 60FPS with that, too).

Overall life has been normal but pleasant over the past two weeks. I enjoy spending time with family for things like Six Nations rugby, and six weeks in I’m very happy I made the right choice in taking on a new career challenge. It’s been busy and a tad exhausting at times as I have so much to learn (I’m still dozing off on the sofa quite often in the evenings), but it’s worth it.

So, that’s the last two weeks.

Until next time,

Tom

A Week in the Life… Dozing on the Sofa and Cheering On a Former Home Town

A Week in the Life… Dozing on the Sofa and Cheering On a Former Home Town

I’m a day late with this post, so my ‘once a week’ pledge is already on iffy ground. Well, never mind…

In any case, after the events of the first post in this series the past week had a different kind of buzz. I had a big week in my job, but the nature of that work (and my own instinctive discretion) means it’s mostly stuff I won’t happily blog about. It was a productive week, at least, and one fun thing that is easy to share is that I got business cards printed. I was given a rather cool double-sided design that portrays both CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works – pretty neat, and the printer liked them to the point he kept a sample to show off the black print. Hey, whatever does it for you Mr Printer man (it was a little company in Linlithgow full of very nice people).

Linlithgow is a lovely town, by the way, well worth a visit for anyone that’s in the area. It’s old fashioned even in its approach roads, with all routes in seemingly involving narrow lanes and one-way bridge crossings. When I went for the cards my mum came along, giving us a chance to grab lunch at a favourite cafe that’s been in business for over 10 years (at least). Linlithgow is a town where brands don’t exist for the most part, it’s mainly independent stores – as a result it’s a comforting throwback.

Aside from that it was a quieter week. In gaming I alternated between Enter the Gungeon and Rocket League for quick fixes, and also played a bit of VOEZ to test the new controls that went live last week. Over the weekend I got quite close to finishing Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition on Switch, and I also did a few more cases in L.A. Noire. Both of those are almost done now, and I also need to get back to Resident Evil 7 (I loved the opening hour, but I have to be in the right mood for games that intense).

I also did the stereotypical thing of working stiffs – dozing off on the sofa on multiple evenings. Oh dear…

At the weekend I had a gaming afternoon with my brother that was nice, and I also went to my parents’ house to watch Newport County vs Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup. I was born in South Wales and lived in nearby Cwmbran until I was about 7; that’s when we moved to Scotland. Most of our extended family lives in Newport, so the town (technically a city, but it’s not really a city) was a big part of my life. To be blunt it was never my favourite place in the world, but in recent years I have admired the football club from a distance. Renting a stadium, no decent training facilities, it’s survived against the odds and is now run by the supporters. Under the current manager they’ve not only survived but started to thrive; it’s a great underdog story.

The cup run had already been lucrative (the club hopes to build a training ground, apparently), but in drawing 1-1 at home against Spurs they now get a replay at Wembley that will be worth even more money. Remarkable stuff, and it was great watching the game with my parents who were both big fans of the club and used to go to games back in the day.

And that was the week. Some breakthrough moments in work, dozing, games and watching football in spare time. I ignored the Trump / Piers Morgan interview that everyone seemed to tweet about on Sunday night, too, I had better things to do. Someone has to watch that paint dry.

Until next time,

Tom

A Week in the Life… New Beginnings and the Theatre of Dreams

A Week in the Life… New Beginnings and the Theatre of Dreams

I last posted on this blog way back in June 2017, so it’s fair to say I drifted away from it! Things have changed, though, and going forward I’ll be posting on here at least once a week, mainly with this ‘A Week in the Life’ series. That’s because this is now my only real outlet for writing and I want to keep those muscles active. This debut entry is more like three weeks in the life, as 2018 has brought big changes for me.

2017 was crazy, all told. I edited a Nintendo site when the Switch explosion happened, and more importantly I bought a flat / apartment, which is now also my office. At the end of the year, as some reading this will know, I then left my role as editor of Nintendo Life and now work as Product Manager for CIRCLE Entertainment and Flyhigh Works. I’m really excited about the change in direction, not least because I’ve been able to join a company that’s still modest in size but is doing really cool things. I get to be a part of that, and it means I also get to learn and experience the other side of the video game industry, in this case the publishing, development and PR side.

Though I wasn’t actively job-seeking in 2017, I always had my ear to the ground and was making a small number of enquiries. I’d been contributing to Nintendo Life for nearly seven years when I left, with about 4-5 of those years being quite intense. I’m proud of a lot I achieved at NL, along with the team, but I was increasingly feeling like a relic, with attitudes and ideas that didn’t suit the cut-throat tempo and demands of the news content-driven internet. In the past couple of years trends have changed a huge amount, especially with the continued rise of social media and YouTube. People not only want their news extremely quickly, but they’re sometimes unbelieving of it anyway.

I feel like quality and accuracy have become less valuable – and, indeed, valued – over the past couple of years, right across the board in online journalism and reporting. We live in a world where errors, corrections and retractions aren’t an irregular occurrence over which people lose sleep, but occur almost daily. I’ve seen it happen not only in gaming journalism, but frankly all journalism. Media organisations I used to admire and trust, like BBC and The Guardian, are shadows of their former selves, chasing traffic more than the truth and quality work.

I’m not necessarily criticising, to be honest – it’s business. If the big WE don’t pay for our journalism by buying newspapers or paying subscriptions, it’ll get worse. When volume is the only way to make a living, quality will drop. As a result the journalism industry evolves and becomes (in some ways) more of an entertainment industry. I don’t have to like it, but that’s life. On top of that there are still many writers and journalists doing amazing work, and we should back them and support them when they do.

Nintendo Life will be fine without me. In fact, with fresh minds more in tune to what people want from their gaming news / content it’ll likely grow even more. On the plus side I think some of my philosophies on work suit my new job well. I want to get details right, I don’t like unnecessary errors, and I like to have a plan; hopefully that’ll all be a good fit as I work to spread the word about our games.

So far I’m enjoying my new job a lot. I’m still working from home here in Scotland, but now my colleagues are in the Far East rather than England and North America. I can’t emphasize how impressive the team is, especially with the huge workloads they manage. I’ve been welcomed with open arms, and already I feel like a real part of the group that’s contributing something useful. I’ve been blown away by how on point and professional the CIRCLE / Flyhigh Works group is in action.

So, I have my new job, and am extremely busy with it. The past week was special for something else, however. As a farewell gift the Nintendo Life directors bought me two hospitality tickets to Manchester United vs. Stoke. My parents then pitched in on a room at Hotel Football, and the picture at the top is the view from the hotel room – right onto the stadium!

My brother and I went down on the train on the day, for a Monday night kick-off. We got to the stadium to get the name and number on my jersey (a gift from my brother), which was done in honour of my NL login. The weather was abysmal, typical Manchester rain, but we walked to a local Indian restaurant for a gorgeous dinner. Then it was into the match, a memorable experience to see United’s strongest line-up win 3-0. It wasn’t a classic match, but it was special for me.

The quirky part came after the game. We had the ‘post-match’ meal, which we assumed would be ‘supper’ food like sandwiches or pies, but instead got served massive rib-eye steaks. Eating a big meal at 10:30pm isn’t really advised, but who were we to argue? We got a great table in the place (it was a trip where everything turned out well), and enjoyed the somewhat quirky ‘entertainment’. If you’ve seen Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, it felt a bit like a high-end version of that.

Even coming home everything turned out for the best. Scotland was a wintry landscape of heavy snow and ice and the fear was our trains would let us down. We just made it back, with the train after ours apparently then cancelled.

It was a great trip and a lovely way to sign off on my Nintendo Life era. I owe the site and everyone who’s contributed to it so much; it was a life changing experience (I wrote a bit about it here). A special thanks naturally goes to the directors and my friends – Anthony Dickens, Damien McFerran and Darren Calvert. They’re friends for life, and they gave me an opportunity and saw the best in me when a lot of other employers had no interest. When they hired me full time I was a quirky writer with a peculiarly mixed CV and a couple of seemingly meaningless university degrees; not exactly in-demand assets in the UK jobs market. Yet NL gave me a home and brought me into the gaming industry, which has now led me to the publishing / PR side.

And so 2018 will be fascinating for me. I’ll share some of its notable and memorable parts here on Literary Gamer, along with a few ranting opinion pieces here and there.

Until next time,

Tom

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Tomorrow brings the snap General Election in the UK. I’ll be voting Labour, and felt like sharing some perspectives on why before the ballots close on Thursday night.

I have never voted for the Tories, but I’m further away than ever from even being close to doing so. Their campaign has been typified by aloofness, bone-headed policies, naked and cynical opportunism and, worst of all, lies. The party that has governed this country for about a decade tries to shift the conversation from its record and does so through the worst kind of politics – insults, untruths and deception.

There’s a reason the Tories don’t want to focus on their record. They claim to be the party for workers, but that’s an extraordinarily bold-faced lie. They’re the party for wealthier workers and business owners, but think that lifting the minimum tax threshold compensates for everything else they take away. I benefit from some Tory policies like tax, but I despise them, because choosing your vote shouldn’t be about which party boosts your coffers, it should be about what you believe is right.

In years of austerity, which hasn’t done enough to alleviate the UK’s deficit despite that being the apparent goal, the Tories have targeted those that will never give them a vote anyway, and those with the least ability to fight back. Single parents (especially women), low income workers and most disgracefully the disabled have been hit with painful cuts. We’re a country that wastes money on missiles and all sorts of extraneous policies without a second thought, yet will slash and restructure benefits to the most needy to squeeze out modest savings in the budget.

A society is defined by how it treats those in the most need, how it cares for its poor and disadvantaged. Under the Tories those with disabilities have suffered terribly, especially those medically unable to work or struggling to find employment even if they can. The long term unemployed are treated like criminals, becoming numbers in the system of cuts when their stories need to be understood. We have people in full time jobs using food banks because our economy is designed to not give a shit about anyone but the comfortable middle class and above. If you don’t ‘get on and do well’ in a specific way, you have no place in a Conservative Britain.

The Tories know this, so how do they try to win the votes of those they continually fuck over year after year? Fear. They play on anxieties over immigration, paint other parties as ‘imposters’ that want to ruin the UK in EU Brexit talks, and they even politicise terror attacks. The most recent terrorist attack in London came right as the polls showed Labour closing in, so what does May do? Does she remain dignified and Prime Ministerial? No, she politicises terror. Despite being in power she talks like a right-wing opposition, playing into the terrorist’s hands by talking of scrapping human rights if it allows for ‘tougher’ laws.

The Tory’s behaviour this week has been a disgrace, and they weaken us in the face of terror. The reason terrorists use homemade bombs or, if they can’t even do that, drive a car into pedestrians and then attack them with knives, is that they’re weak. They’re laughably weak, but terror is powerful, so they act spontaneously and indiscriminately in order to turn us against our values. Principles of equality, compassion, kindness, justice, art, culture; courage, too, which so many have shown when confronting and resisting their attackers. Terrorists want us to forget those things because they’re pathetic, and they’re envious. May, in a desperate bid to avert an electoral shock, has embraced the fear and, in the process, given the terrorists a win.

Never mind that it’s the Tories that cut police numbers and stretch our defensive and intelligence capabilities. They don’t want to talk about how their failures make police men and women work against tougher odds. When senior police officers call our current PM, former Home Secretary and her government blatant liars, then we have a problem.

So that’s why I won’t vote Tory, but why Labour? Well, the Lib Dems are an irrelevance (and Farron does little to impress me), and under our electoral system the Greens have no chance. Though I live in Scotland I cannot vote for the SNP, as they focus on Independence yet do little governing – all talk and hardly any action.

As for Labour, my feelings towards Corbyn have been all over the place. When he became party leader I was excited, but all the resultant in-fighting in the party was problematic and he handled it poorly. He threw out dissenters and put together a cabinet that (in the early days) was amateurish. McDonnell is a bit baffling and inconsistent, and though I hope she gets well soon Diane Abbott is often a bit of a disaster.

And yet, with the focus of an election and in the face of the Tories, Corbyn and his team (which has improved) has fought the good fight. Rather than a cautious manifesto he produced an outline for a fairer country, thinking to hell with the cynics that wouldn’t vote for him anyway. He puts those in need first, and while not all of the policies are top-draw, the principles behind them and the alternative they offer is enticing.

Corbyn asks us to look forward with hope, not fear. He asks us to have empathy for others, to consider how the country can help everyone rather than how it can help us as individuals. He offers a genuine alternative.

Ultimately, I think the reality is that the polls will be a false dawn, and that the Tories will win their majority. I’ll be devastated if that happens, but it’s what my gut tells me is coming. All I can do, though, is play my part and vote.

Whatever your allegiance, I encourage you to do the same. Vote, as it’s a decision that matters more than ever this year.

The Hammersmith Stranger

The Hammersmith Stranger

Not too long ago I was in London for work, and by ‘work’ I mean playing some video games. Now, to be fair, it was a bit of a gruelling day.

Before the London trip I worked 8am until about 8pm, slept for a few hours, and was then awake from 11pm through the night. Covering a live stream out of Tokyo from 3am, I then had a 6.20am flight out of Edinburgh, made my way from Gatwick to London Victoria, and then from there to Hammersmith. Being in a crowded and loud space on so little sleep was both fun (because of the company and gaming) but tiring. I was most definitely rather stretched, sweaty and weary by mid-afternoon as I headed to Hammersmith Underground to make my way to Heathrow – British Airways had cancelled a flight, hence the different airports.

Now, London is a strange place. It’s where the action is, frankly, but I’ve never been a fan. I’ve been to a range of interesting cities at different points in my life – Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Hamburg, plus pretty much all the major cities in the UK – and London is easily my least favourite. I’m sorry Londoners, but that’s how it is for me.

For one thing, it’s a place where many of its residents seem downright miserable, and I don’t blame them. Life happens at 100mph there, and few seem to take the time to breathe and count to ten. It’s expensive while also feeling cheap, and I once had a woman actually look at me in horror when I asked for directions a few years ago – much to my colleague’s amusement. They told me you can’t just ask a stranger for directions in London. Well, that’s just rather sad, and it’s something I’ve done in every other city with better results. To be fair, on this most recent trip I asked someone in a shop for directions and they helped me, so there are exceptions to the rule.

In any case, back to the tube station. I was standing and minding my own business, dressed smartly while also no doubt looking a bit scruffy with wind bedraggled hair and a barely groomed beard, when a man appeared next to me and just started talking.

I would guess he was in his late 60s, but perhaps younger and worn down by life. Shorter than me (which is rare) at about 5 foot 5, his clothes were a little worse for wear and he was clutching a travel bag and a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. He had thinning hair and yellowing teeth, while his hands were blackened at the finger tips – the reason for that would become clear.

He had a strong Irish accent (Northern I think) and initially he was talking about Southampton train station; I’m not sure why and I struggled to get that context out of him. He quickly moved on and explained that he’d had a charity volunteer asking him for money, but that he needed the pound more than them as his flat had burned down.

For my part, I mainly just listened, occasionally pitching in with sympathetic comments. From what he told me he’d woken up to discover a fire in his flat, so he grabbed what he could and got out while waiting for the Fire Brigade. He explained that he’d lost everything, and multiple times talked about ‘gardening stuff’ he’d collected for thousands of pounds; he’d seemingly built up this equipment to do some work as a handyman on people’s gardens and property.

I’m giving you the short version, as over the course of five minutes he often repeated points over and over. He then said the police had held him for 24 hours on suspicion of starting the fire himself. They’d let him go but he was still a ‘suspect’, though he was bemused as to why he’d burn down his flat and leave himself broke and homeless; this is only his side of the story, of course.

Now he was trying to figure out where to sleep, and that was the crux of it. He didn’t want anything from me, this wasn’t a build-up to asking for money, he just wanted someone to talk to. In addition to losing his home and being broke in London, I think a big problem he had was loneliness. A lifechanging event had happened and he didn’t seem to have anyone to share it with. All I did was stand there, engage and listen to him.

It was an encounter that I found saddening, of course, empathetic of the plight this man seemed to be in, and not having much to offer him but a sympathetic ear. Yet looking around the station most were visibly trying to avoid him, as if his poverty and desperation was infectious. A nearby woman actually looked at him and visibly gestured that he was unhygienic, an act so childish and callous that I had no idea how to react.

My train arrived, I wished him the best and he returned the favour, smiling as I departed – “Remember, money isn’t everything” were his final words to me. I was just a random guy, but in a world that is sometimes incredibly cruel and shitty he was grateful to have simply had a conversation.

I hope he’s alright, though I worry he won’t get far without help from someone, somewhere. I’m not sure if I could have done much for him. Should I have offered a bit of money, would that have offended him? Too late to say.

Why did I write this? I guess I wanted to recount the tale because we all fear loneliness, having nothing or no-one and finding little sympathy from others. I worry sometimes about my future life, like everyone does. I’m the youngest in my family and I’m single, and have lost touch with so many of my friends – I have time to try and fix these things, of course, but don’t want to end up a 70 year-old on my own.

I also wrote this to highlight that, as a species, we do show some signs of drifting away from each other, losing the ability to help and support those weaker or less fortunate than ourselves. It’s easy to get sucked into our lives and ambitions, while being ‘winners’ is highlighted by some as the biggest priority in life. I happen to think that the greatest reflection of a society is how they treat those that need the most help. A lot of the time people do show incredible humanity, and demonstrate heartening acts of kindness to help others. Yet there are aspects of current life that show the opposite – vulnerable people are pushed out, shunned and isolated.

I think people can be amazing, generous and thoughtful. I just hope those instincts win through, and that we don’t descend into being a society where those out of luck and with nothing to their name are left to wander alone, desperate for even the simplest human connection or show of empathy.

The Commuter

The Commuter

This is a rough and unfinished early draft / excerpt from a planned novel. The bulk of the novel will take place at a later point in the protagonist’s lifetime, but in short interceding chapters he’ll be unnamed and characterised by key actions in his old life. In this case he’s a city worker going on his daily commute.

He knew that sleep wouldn’t come when the radio clock switched to 04:37, meaning he had just 1 hour and 53 minutes before the alarm would go off. If he fell under now he’d miss the alarm, would be late for work and, quite possibly, go further down a path ending in unemployment. That wouldn’t be particularly helpful with two sets of bills to pay.

First came the phone, perfect for an absent minded flick through the news, though he wasn’t truly taking it in. It was all a hot mess, in any case. The famine worsening in Africa, increased flooding in the Far East, and food prices were set to rise again as supplies became constrained by spoiled crop yields. Still, that didn’t matter as much as a celebrity on trial for assaulting their partner, apparently.

He popped the TV on, jumping into some streaming to avoid the TV shopping that fills the overnight hours. He put on a film he’d already seen a few times and watched it play out. The TV flickered away for about an hour and 40 minutes, and when the alarm made its noise he sat up, gathered his thoughts and headed for a shower.

It’s an odd feeling, insomnia, rather like being drunk but without the fun, freewheeling spirit that a full session can bring. His head felt twice as heavy as it should, and his thoughts lacked cohesion. Muscle memory and routine served him well, as he wasn’t actually aware of his actions – showering, brushing teeth, making coffee. It was this absent-mindedness that would often cause a panic later in the day, as he struggled to remember whether he locked the door or turned off the relatively fancy coffee maker.

Driving to the station felt similarly laborious, until he reached the bridge. A small one along the road, at this time of year on a sunny day it would wake him up – the sun would strike autumnal trees quite brilliantly, creating a 500 yard stretch of other-worldly colour. The sky a brilliant blue, it was the red and brown leaves that set the scene, a stark contrast to the dull confines of his flat and the muddy exterior of his affordable car. For a moment he would be wide awake, his mind would buzz with energy and thoughts and plans, and he would be grateful for another day.

The colour would fade when he got to the train station.

***

He took the early train in order to nab a parking space, giving an extra 30 minutes to the cause of his work. Grateful to have a job he took the tedium as a sacrifice to be endured; after all, everyone complains about their jobs.

He stood on the platform, crowded with people adorned in various shades of grey. He always hoped to see an extravagant worker stroll onto the platform in a rainbow coloured trench coat, singing and smiling like an extra from a ‘50s musical. Instead there were the massed ranks of employees in ‘formal’ attire, eyes glued to phones.

The crowd was bigger than normal, and rather than squint at the screens he closed his eyes and waited for the low voices of commentary. Tuts and “fuck’s sake” were the script, apart from one man on his phone engaged in a bizarre argument with a doctor’s secretary, or so it seemed. Strains on the health service meant surgeries often opened at 7am, and the man was demanding an explanation for something or other. As he listened the commuter felt sorry for the secretary.

With a train already cancelled the only hope for a seat was for extra carriages to be added to his own service, but it wasn’t to be. The rails clanked and whined, the train came into view and there weren’t enough carriages. The tuts resumed, and he positioned himself in a spot for the third door, calculating who to let ahead and who to barge in front of. His squared his left shoulder in front of the loud health service complainant.

The crush began and he found himself in the open space between carriages; with a slight twist of the hips and oddly splayed feet he got a spot, swivelling his bag to rest at a jaunty angle, occupying a tiny space of air between him and a rather portly fellow. He got one arm on a pole, and realised he was hemmed in for the next 30 minutes.

Initially, he closed his eyes, letting his weary mind enjoy its weight and semi-delirious state; sleep deprivation makes these moments important. To his left, a few bodies away, two young-ish men started up a loud conversation, eschewing the smartphone gazing of everyone else. Man A was talking over his woes at work; Man B was sympathising.

***

Man A: I spoke to Jill, right, and she said I hadn’t been chosen for the grade 5 job, that it had gone to Maria. I was fuckin’ pissed off mate, I could do the job in my sleep. I’d been grade 5 before, but went to grade 4 when I wanted a change, but I’m really a grade 5.

Man B: Yeah man, that sucks. 

Man A: I mean, I was a team leader before. I can do that shit with my eyes closed, and team leaders are on grade 5.

Man B: Aye, but when you go back a grade it’s not easy to climb back up.

Man A: Some of these team leaders don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. I might keep an eye out, look for grade 5 elsewhere.

***

The commuter, who didn’t know where his salary fell in the ‘grade’ stakes, opened his eyes, distracted by what was becoming an increasingly repetitive conversation. Apparently grade 6 managers are the fucking worst.

About 15 people were crammed in the door area, and the commuter looked hopefully for someone more interesting, someone that wouldn’t self-consciously talk banalities about their job as loudly as possible. Candidate number one was a slightly overweight man dressed less formally than the rest, but well enough to still pass in an office. He was stuck with his right arm up as he held onto a grip, and the commuter realised he was looking right into a visibly sweaty armpit.

They exchanged looks, and sweaty armpit man gave a knowingly apologetic look. “Fun way to start the day”, said the commuter. Not exactly a witty remark, but the best he could manage in the circumstances. The two exchanged half laughs, but both felt better.

The commuter looked around for more faces, and locked eyes with a woman that wasn’t looking at her phone. Probably in her late 20s and with no notable sweat under her armpits, she was joining in the brief exchange, albeit without saying a word. She flashed a kind smile; like sweaty armpit man, there was a sincere and genuine sweetness to the exchange. Perhaps conscious of standing out among grumpy screen dwellers, both the commuter and the woman cut off the look with a second smile, shifting their eyes to a neutral spot. For the commuter the visual blank spot was a poster advising against being violent towards train staff.

The train approached the commuter’s station, and he knew a mini-crush and barrier queue was coming. Yet his mind, weary and heavy and slow, did lift slightly. All it took was a smile and eye contact to give him a brighter outlook, some faith in a good day. He stored the feeling, knowing he’d need it for the next 9 hours.