Thursday, November 23, 2006

["Wii" pun goes here]

“You’re not bringing that Nintendo or whatever to the party, are you?”

The lady is not pleased; that damp look of disapproval is stereotypically familiar to the attached male gamer – to the attached male, period – and no matter how many episodes we blubber or bully or “c’mon baby” our way through, it doesn’t get easier to take. Because part of us knows we’re doing wrong; part of us knows our girls are right to roll their eyes at our escapist toy fetish, part of us understands that bringing a videogame system to a house party – a party whose partial purpose is for your girl to meet most of your friends for the first time – is just not cool.

“But, baby,” I whine, “It’s for work! The Wii is the biggest videogame event in five years, and I need to test it out in field conditions!”

I’d actually started speaking that way; the manner in which Nintendo’s PR people shipped me my demo unit lent itself to military metaphors – white delicacy of Wii and accessories foam-fitted into 20 pounds of indestructible aluminum gun case. This kit’s meant to travel, and travel hard. The image Nintendo’s marketing presents is one of wholesome partytimes, ecstatic toothy shrieks of joy... and if a jubilant, affluent, multiracial crowd of sexy people won’t come to Wii than Wii is sure as shit going to go to them.

Pre-party is cocktails and dinner with my girl, her sister and her sister’s friend, this massive Miami Vice drug-money metal suitcase making an odd fifth at our table. Even with the Wii boxed and inert, the ladies – hardcore nongamers from the old school, all – are warming up to it, saying its adorable name over and over and giggling, making it a bit of a mascot. Sis snaps pictures with the expressed purpose of making her children jealous. Wii’re off to a good start.

At the party I tried to keep things organically focused for a while, bullshitting, beer-cracking, making haphazard introductions in the narrow-halled, small-kitchened maze of my buddy’s house… but the Wii would not be denied. Most every boy in the place knew where it was and what it was, returning to its case to sort of gaze and paw and sniff. The air soon filled with this kind of ultrasonic whine, as in that moment when a dog’s been waiting too long for treats it knows are there and lets the frequency of its impatience drop into the range of human hearing. Thirty seconds of painless setup later and old-fashioned partying was over: Wii Sports had begun.

A smashing success! As in, as soon as we fired that baby up, shit was getting smashed -- as, I suppose, were we. The very first swing I took with the Wii’s motion-sensing controller, a big-balled aggressive macho bastard of a serve to open my first round of tennis, and I knocked over a totally full bottle of Heineken. A minute later someone kicked over a wine glass. Spectating knees were clocked hard by virtual bowlers; wild home-run attempts nearly knocked noses out of the park; tee-shot backswings came shriekingly close to unsuspecting chins; solid right hooks sent improperly secured controllers flying.

So, yeah: important safety tip, eh? In addition to Nintendo’s standard epilepsy warnings, displayed prominently in all their products since a bunch of Japanese kids kicked it seizure-style during a particularly flashy episode of Pokemon in '98, the Wii has added constant onscreen reminders to tether the Wiimote to your wrist with the provided strap. Nannyish ass-covering advice, I know, but ignore it at your own peril: the gaming blogs are filling up with shot after blurry, overexposed, cellphone-camera shot of the butterfingered carnage – spiderwebbed televisions, shattered lamps, spilt lips. Also – and this is personal experience talking – be very careful when Wiiing in an 8x8 room filled with drunks, especially if said room features a four-foot segment of tree-trunk rather than a coffee table.

Safety issues aside, here’s Wii in a nutshell: my fiancée’s sister’s friend (is there a one-word term for this relation?) picked the Wiimote up off the stump to try her hand at tennis. As a woman a shade over fifty, she’s about as far to the shallow outside of the traditional videogaming demographic as one can be without being blind, armless and Amish… but she is a tennis player, and she immediately got into the game, her old skills taking her into a fierce, foul-mouthed forecourt rally with the computer opponent. Three minutes later, she was handing the controller off to a hipster half her age, giving tips on swing and timing.

That’s the kind of scenario that had Nintendo execs and idea-men hard in the pants when they conceived the Wii – a zero-curve, zero-barrier, intuitive game experience that would just sit there on the coffeetable inviting play by anyone, turning nongamers into happy fans.

I’ve got a tough customer on my hands, though, the Mikey of videogames, a sensitive creature of crossed arms and zero interest, her anti-game defenses still strong; we’ll see if Wii can recruit her. Updates as they happen, fellow arcade-raised man-children; if I can get my girl playing, anything is possible.

(PS: Don’t get your hopes up.)

Stormtrooper Mii by Fish

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Highway games

Blank fields and familiar towns, foothills and mountains out the left-hand window fading with the daylight... the same trucks in their same truckstops... boring burn through Calgary, Red Deer, past the treadmill dude, into the commercial hellscape of Gateway Boulevard… how many of you are as totally bored with Highway 2 as I am? We’ve been riding that deadly, and deadly dull, ribbon of road since before that bloated sea monkey Cosmo was a glimmer in some commercial illustrator’s lifeless eye, since Calgary was surrounded by heart-stirring dun hillsides rather than soulless boomtown favelas, since forever. A busride up and down this divided cart-track is not only “time to kill”… it’s time that deserves to die.

Having made the Edmonton-to-Vulcan round trip (to answer your question, yes; I have marveled at the concrete Enterprise) three times in the last two months, it’s weird I haven’t done more to murder its six-hour (incl. heel-cooling hours in the cleaner-reeking grimness of the Calgary station) duration with the poison of videogames. I always bring my DS along, but there’s something about the Greyhound that usually makes me too restless and distracted to play; turns out, I’m mostly into the standard travel pastimes of books, magazines, and constant fiddling with the cord of my cheap headphones to keep the sweet sound of pirated MP3s coming to both ears simultaneously.

But there are games being played all around me. Three rows up on the left side, a milk-fed young lady in an unfortunate-pink BUM sweatshirt is playing an exhibition match of Telephone Mindgame on her cel: “What? What? Nothing! I’m on the bus. I’m not mad. I’m on the bus! I’m not. I'm not. What the fuck? Nothing. What’s your problem? Nothing! (etc.).” And back behind me a couple of rows, two girls – an early teen and an eightish-year-old by the sound of it – are deeply engaged in “Guess the Animal”, in their outside voices.

“Is it small?”


“Is it large?”


“So, what is it?”

“It’s meeedium!”

Since the laughing dude beside me has things well in hand on the movie front, enjoying the in-drive presentation of Freaky Friday more than enough for both of us, I decide to give videogaming another try. I have a copy of Clubhouse Games for my DS, and somewhere in its 42-game arsenal of classroom and card-table classics I figure there must be something that’ll shut out the motorcoach soundscape, distract me from the sciatic twinge aching down my left leg, and make the last, longest leg of the run – the slo-mo nightmare eternity of Red Deer to Leduc – pass by relatively painlessly.

Playing cards is fun; playing cards against depersonalized computer opponents on a pair of tiny screens in your lap is futile and depressing. I like the variety Clubhouse Games presents, but something about the way it lays out its virtual felt makes following the play kind of impossible, and few of its non-card games have much single-player appeal… and once again, the fun-capacity of wireless multiplayer remains for me theoretical. After about thirty seconds each of Blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em and a Battleship knockoff, I settle on that reliable old procrastinator’s standby, Solitaire, and the minutes and miles melt away.

Vaguely, through the hypnotic haze of mindless reflexive card-matching, I detect that another player, a teenaged boy with the faggiest lisp I’ve heard in a long time, has hijacked “Guess the Animal”; now, the kids are playing the second-most-dangerous (after “Truth or Dare”) childhood basement game, “Would You Rather?” The youngest girl’s a little at sea, but trying to show her grown-up maturity:

“Would you rather… kiss a boy, or be gay?”

“They’re the thame thing, thtupid!”

“OK, then, ummmm… would you rather kiss your mom, or—“

“Eww! My mom is your mom, you little perv!”

“OK, would you rather kiss our mom, or—“

“No, it’th my turn. Would you rather have both your armth cut off, or be a hermaphrodite?”

“What’s a hemafronite?”

And so on; you know how it goes. I finally find the Escherian knot that allows my headphones’ hair-thin strand of fractured copper wire to make contact with itself, and as the treadmill dude comes into view Slayer drowns out the kids’ creepy erotic naivety. By the time “Raining Blood” comes up, we’ll be pulling into the station. Next time, I swear, I’m bringing industrial hearing protection and kicking it childhood style with a stack of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books…

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

10-31-2006 – Halloween night

"My greatest trouble and my wife’s is our family, mighty out of order by this fellow Will’s corrupting the mayds by his idle talke and carriage, which we are going to remove by hastening him out of the house, which his uncle Blackburne is upon doing, and I am to give him 20l. per annum toward his maintenance. The Queene continues lightheaded, but in hopes to recover. The plague is much in Amsterdam, and we in fears of it here, which God defend.”
– Samuel Pepys, 31 October, 1663 (

So… this is how Halloween’s gonna be, huh? Cozied up on a quilt-piled couch, candles burning on the coffeetable as much for chill-chasing as illumination, a couple pounds of greasy chow-mein leftovers congealing in the refrigerator… catching up on the day-to-day doings of a London diarist who’s been dead for 303 years. Party.

If I was feeling a little less logy, I might let holiday-guilt kick my square ass out into the streets to find something, anything that remotely resembles a party, just to say I’d done my duty. Halloween is a hoser High Holy Day, and this is the first time ever, ever, ever in my life that I haven’t at least smeared some dollar-store “zombie” makeup on my face or whipped up a weak-ass sheet-ghost costume and gone out to ogle all the tarted-up chicks. I feel like a loser – a warm, comfortable, relaxed, sober loser, but a loser still.

Honestly, though… a Tuesday? What am I supposed to do with a Tuesday, since I find myself in a day-job situation? Come into the office reeking of tequila, pumpkin seeds, greasepaint and duct tape, bits of cobwebbing still clinging to my curls? Maybe I could have done it and been OK, but my energy reserves are critically low; after the boozy Brewtals revival Friday night, a ridiculous birthday party/séance-planning meeting in a rockin’ retail basement Sunday night, and a shot-filled evening that ended in the company of partymaster Carson Cole last night, I have more than done my share this weekend.

Ah, but none of those were proper Halloween parties... and so, my duty remains undischarged. No last-minute group costume workshops, no freezing my ass off in stupidly climate-inappropriate gear like my Sub-Mariner outfit (fish-scale swim trunks, only) of a few years back, no piles of cash blown on cab after cab hitting houseparty after houseparty, no kitchen grabass with soused fetish angels, no desperate maintenance of rapidly deteriorating costumes, no hotboxing a rubber mask.

Excuse number two: the weather. Snow on Halloween is one thing, but this froze-ass December shit really puts the clamps to the party impulse. Basically, it’s like we followed (as we are meant to) the lead of our ads and retail store displays and skipped over Halloween to get right down to the business of Christmas. These pagan festivals are supposed to be in touch with nature, right? Well, the druid inside me took one step outside, felt the Wendigo blowing ball-shrinking ice up his hempen robe, saw the late-late-late-blooming poppy in my flowerbed frozen so quick its bulb snapped right off when I shoveled my sidewalk, and said “fukke ye the Samhain fires… yon Solftice of Wintre be nowe ‘pon ye lande!” Our tribal duty has shifted from partyhopping and dressing up as robots to Making This Giving Season Special.

Still… spacey and dreaming in the MSG-whirl of the Combo For Three, Willie Nelson’s Stardust tootling on the hi-fi, Pepys complain/bragging (as always) about how much his doublets, cloakes, collares and pantaloons are costing him…? There are worse ways to spend this Night of Nights. Next year, though… next year... it’s going to be freakin’ massive!

“But thus everything lessens, which I have and am like to have, and therefore I must look about me to get something more than just my salary, or else I may resolve to live well and die a beggar.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

10-15-2006 -- Highway 1, generally eastbound

The mountaintops are in cloud, the road’s damp, the light’s grey… a Rocky Mountain afternoon in September, the woods wet with childhood memory.

As an Edmonite family we were basically Jasper people – even in the early Eighties we sour-graped that Banff was “too commercial," “overrun” – but the terrain, the trees, the air, the olive-and-mustard signs and glyphs are the same, and I’m back in the Alpine Bungalows, shooting plastic giftshop bow-and-arrow sets, chucking rocks into the Athabasca, hiking up to Old Fort Point with Uncle Rick bellowing nonstop foolery to warn off the bears.

I really ought not to let my mind wander too far in time and space; I might need it at a moment’s notice to, you know, make driving decisions. That’s how it works, isn’t it? I’m pretty new to this – this is my first solo highway drive, the mass (1767kg gross vehicle weight) and speed (90km/h) of my girl’s Cavalier combining for the most physical energy I’ve ever had at my command… unless you count the time in Air Cadets when I had my hands on the yoke of a Hercules for like five seconds (I don’t). I’m actually not as nervous as I thought I’d be, my only concern the growing ache down my left leg – how did it happen that I’m a first-time driver at an age when my problems include sciatica?

Console clock ticks to 4:20 as I roll through Canmore, park and town and the hillside citadel of the Banff Centre for the Arts behind me. A strange space and place… a brief two days of rambling distractedly through its paths and pavilions as a WordFest entourageur. Mountain air opens my psychic receptors wide, and as my poet and I went from reading to reading to panel to bar to hotelish dorm room, I caught years of echoes from every corner -- cycle after cycle of residency having laid down layers of pocket cultures, private dramas, brief epics, temporary autonomous zones… how many novelists kissed how many printmakers under that tree? Erato and Calliope smokin’ up and making plans back behind the actors’ shacks…

John Ralston Saul spoke – well… was spoken to, and then responded, talk-show style – last night, one of the flagship moments of the festival, and it was OK… which was disappointing. Was I wrong to expect more than okayness from the Smartest Man in Canada? Chatty and informal, a sermon to the organist, glib, a bold call for the gathered literary lefties to continue in their established Alberta views… none of the rigor and conceptual chasedown that makes the man’s mind exciting... JRS-Lite. Or, maybe, I was unreceptive because I’d had my bullshit detector tripped prematurely by this passage from his fawning introduction:

“…he argues that we as humans are not adjusting intelligently to reality…”

…at which point my partner-in-crime and I turn to each other and simultaneously whisper "…fuckin’ stop the press…”, and after that it was all church-giggles and eye-rolls. We ditched out on the Q & A, knowing how those things go; there’s only so much one’s eyes can roll before you run the risk of serious nerve damage. Your face can and will freeze that way.

And that’s a problem, if the CanLitPubCult world is one in which you want to move – eye-rolls, derisive snorts, under-the-breath “fuck you”s are unwelcome among the tweedy book-fetishists, gentle sensitives, earnest thinkers and displaced 19th Centurians that’ll be moving with you. Even the iconoclastic drunks will only countenance so much obvious guttersniping, and the ways of barroom and bush-party are ape-ugly in buildings named after millionaires… rightly so, I guess…

Rainclouds over Calgary; I get a little fishy in my lane trying to figure out the windshield wipers. Cowtown traffic’s ahead, and my nerves give a panicked little tingle at the thought before a calm comes, radiating out into my body from an invisible zone at the base of my left ring finger, and I can handle anything. Mountains and magic, books and bullshit… hello, future; what took you so long?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

FunStation One

There’s a feel to cheapass knockoff plastic that’s somehow delicious. Brittle, light, flimsy... bird bones or insect chitin – the grey delicacy of the “FunStation One” was a stick-insect in my hand, an arthritic old cat, something requiring more care in handling than the fifteen dollars (tax included) I’d handed over to the disinterested old Chinese dude at the Spadina hole-in-the-wall import warehouse would otherwise call for. I wanted to protect the FunStation One; I wanted to tell it everything was going to be OK.

All the FunStation One wanted to tell me back was that it’d been assembled somewhere standards for electrical-equipment manufacture were lax to the point of triviality, a regulatory regime wholly alien to my CSA-coddled way of thinking. The electrical system in my buddy’s Bloor street apartment shrieked as the unisolated, off-frequency transformer made itself known – the TV spazzed into frenzied houndstooth snow, the stereo set up an ear-splitting goat-bleat of feedback, and the satellite receiver simply slipped into NO SIGNAL and waited testily to resume its orbital conversation.

I slapped the FunStation One off the powerbar in a panic; wrecking a pal’s AV setup was one thing – it was all pawnshop-replaceable, and he could probably do without Galaxie Classic County for a day or two – but at that moment I knew FunStation One had enough malice within it to reach outside the apartment, to work its mysterious sweatshop sabotage throughout the building. An image of the eager young Vietnamese who’d just opened their noodle shop downstairs (“Pho’Ever”; clever) weeping over piles of spoiled banh xeo in a defunct cooler flashed through my mind, and I knew I could never live with that on my hands; their girlfriends were too adorable.

This was the latest of the videogaming disappointments in my Toronto excursion, a string of gamey fuckups that began with remembering my DS and PSP but leaving behind the bag of brand-new games I’d meant to review in transit – and then picking up Deep Dungeon in a shabby Queen St. game store, thereby discovering the shittiest portable game I’d played since Mortal Kombat Advance. I was, I thought, fucked for material – I suppose I could have attended the Sony event to which I’d been invited, but… well. You know how it goes; I got sidetracked by the Henry Moore exhibition at the art gallery, and the day just went by. By the time I’d have got up to the distant club where the thing was going down, my vultrous colleagues would have long since snarfled up the last crumbs of Sony’s canapés.

It wasn’t til just this afternoon, as I was despairing for an angle – was I going to have to write about web games again? How worn can that dodge get before editors and audience see through it? – that the reality of the week clarified for me: games-playing, video or otherwise, is as much a part of human life as breathing, eating, shitting and/or making love, and without even trying – well, trying but being falsely frustrated – I’d spent part of every damn day gaming on reflex, in natural flow.

Start with Sunday’s street hockey, the away opener for my time in TO. A grinning gang of Edmonton expats playing on the concrete patch beside a park rink – too few people, in too poor shape, to use the full-sized surface without hearts exploding – dodging light-poles, dirt-piles, mud-puddles and broken glass in pursuit of… mere fun, simple exercise; these are office-sitting and floor-standing people, and a few hours of hardfought road-shinney ass-hockey beat (I’m told) any whirring, clanking machine in some TV-encrusted gym any day. So what if I had to double-dose on Motrin for the rest of my trip, my unconditioned legs stiff as sticks as I hobbled around town? I scored two goals and got two assists! I heartily recommend goals and assists as mood elevators; ask your doctor.

Then there was the little “let’s just have one more pint” pub that happened to have one of those plug-n-play Atari decks up on the bar, where I did a quick level-one speedrun through Adventure, showed off my insane Yar’s Revenge skills and got confused and annoyed (as I always, always have been) by Haunted House before the brick-breaking castle-to-castle combat of Warlords turned one more pint into two more pints, two more pints into two more pints and a round of Jack-n-soda, two pints and a Jack into “Fuck! Fucking Warlords! Why would they put this game on a deck with no fucking paddle controller?!”

And so on, gaming through a long, expensive, boozy, brilliant, laugh-a-minute rumble through Hogtown. When you’re a gamer, you’re a gamer whether your DS is charged or not, whether or not you’ve got electricity and wherever you are – and if you’re human, you’re a gamer. Crib on the bus, I Spy in the dentist’s waiting room, Hangman (clue: “ Awesome record”; C_ec_ _o_r _ea_) in the back seat of the car… even the little, life-changing daily games of people and people… we’re gaming always, everywhere, forever.

(POSTSCRIPT: I guess my electrical system is better than my friend’s, ‘cause I just got the FunStation One to work without assassinating my XBox. Turns out the 9,999,999 advertised games are Super Mario Bros., the ten events of Track & Field counted individually, and what I’m guessing is a Columns knockoff [it doesn’t run] repeated 833,333 times. Caveat emptor.)

photo: D. Martineau

Monday, October 09, 2006


10-03-2006 -- Toronto

An exquisite young lady on Yonge street, eyes bright: "Are you guys from Toronto?"

Hands and minds full of overloaded Polish sausage, we answer no, that we are in fact from Edmonton. Her face falls.

"No! I've been looking for you all day!" She glances over at her camera-toting companion with a look of frustration: "Why isn't anybody from here!?"

Seems they were some kind of journalism students -- students of a very lite school, apparently -- working on a fashion streeter, and no natives were rocking the look they were after. So there's your tip for the day, cool hunters; "cleaned-up prairie hoser" is the new black. Load our rural thrift-store racks into cube vans and send them back East, make a killing.

The time is right for Western style to echo back into this grid of gloss and polish; certainly, we've got enough money now to earn the respect of these bottomliners. Toronto is ripe for a renaissance of Albertan bush-party chic... and it'd better happen soon, before Alberta's great pillow of cash smothers our style in the crib -- have you heard, Calgary's getting a motherfuckin' Tiffany's? -- and there's no place left for us but Winnipeg.

It really is a transcanada cosmopolity out here. I never feel more Canadian than when I'm in Toronto. I mean, what could possibly reek more of maple (and other aromas) than playing pickup street hockey in the shadow of the CN Tower with a bunch of Edmonton exiles, passing water-break time discussing the Oilers with a guy who's going to TV comdey-writng college? And also, your goalie's an Indian? All that's missing is the haunting flute theme from Hinterland Who's Who, and maybe a picturesquely beached dory.

The best part about being an Albertan out here is telling Ontarians about what's happeneing back home; they really don't get much in the way of Western news in their crummy papers, so it's fun to watch their faces when you give them the rundown. We were having a toke with a friend outside the Victory Lounge -- some killer weed out here, by the way; that's something we ought not to be smug about -- when we let her have it:

"Yeah, Fort Mac Murray? It's literally being destroyed by money. Housing's so precious, people are paying like five hundred bucks a month for a half-share of a couch to sleep on, or for a driveway spot where they can sleep in their car."


"Oh, yeah! And they're having to close down coffee shops and shit because there's no staff; it's impossible to pay enough. Guys shop at the Wal-Mart in shifts, one guy shopping while the other guys stands in line, because there's only one till open and the lineup goes all the way around the store."


Et cetera; by the time we mentioned about the thousand-dollar hiring bonuses at McDonalds, and got through a brief sketch of our one-party state where even River City lefties and toughass unionists are buying Tory memberships just to have a voice in who's running the show, the pot was kicking in and she was pretty freaked out.

And, to be honest, so were we; saying that shit out loud, even with only two days and a comfortable westjetting of distance between ourselves and home, makes it sound just as crazy and gross and money-sick as it actually is. Buzzed on Quebequois biker weed and drunk on unfamiliar draughts, Devo (by way of Nirvana) started running through my head:

Take a step outside the city
And turn around
Take a look at what you are
It is revolting
photo: D. Martineau

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

In the last of the arcades...

Shuma-Gorath is kicking Spider-Man’s ass all over the hellscape of his home dimension. I guess it makes sense, that a primordial nightmare evil that was ancient when the gods themselves were young might stomp all over an irradiated nerd from Queens; but this? Pathetic, like some geriatric lucha libre washout pulled on Spidey’s tights and bluffed his way through interdimensional security for a shot at the cosmic title. He doesn’t seem to have web-shooters, some kind of joint ailment is keeping him from ducking under Shuma’s tentacular blows, and the cheap throw that got him past Iron Man doesn’t seem to work on amorphous blobs. Looks like the dream dies here, El Arana.

Wow… good to see my capacity for conjuring bright-side narratives from broken toys is undiminished from the days when the jagged flange of metal jutting from my GI Joe’s wrist became an awesome cybernetic knife-hand. But, really, what else am I going to with a fucked-up joystick that won’t register a downward push? Scream and beat the shit out of the cabinet like the frustrated skid at the Bubble Bobble machine next to me? There’s more than enough negativity in the Calgary Greyhound terminal without me adding to (subtracting from?) it.

With all the petrodollars swirling around – every second overheard bus-station conversation is about wealth: "Hey, remember that bumper sticker? ‘Please Lord, let me have another oil boom and I won’t piss it away’?" – you’d think we could keep our goddamned arcade cabinets in working order. Where are our priorities? Are we that quick to abandon the fundamentals of our culture? How many Lethal Enforcers units with a frayed length of cable where one gun (usually the pink one) used to be can we walk past without acknowledging the problem?

The racing games seem to have it worst of all. Player One on Calgary’s Winding Heat sit-down might be OK, but something’s seriously gibbled in Player Two’s RGB situation. One of the channels has dropped out or something, leaving all the cars with these nauseous paintjobs and the road looking like a mud track, a Hershey highway. It’s motorsports in the Land of Dairy Queen: "There’s a nasty chicane just past the giant pineapple! Watch for falling chunks of fudge!" Meanwhile, back in Edmonton, a Cruisin’ USA upright offers a harrowing simulation of the optical experience of a night-vision soldier overdosed on Viagra. What is it about racers that makes their visuals go blooie? Is the action just too hot to handle?

Not all the games in these places are broken. Edmonton’s Revolution X machine, for example, appears to be in perfect working order for those who might enjoy an hour or two of machine-gunning the police-state thugs who’ve kidnapped Aerosmith while they wait for the midnight run to Peace River. And in Calgary, there’s a Wonder Boy in Monster Land cabinet (mislabeled in dot-matrix as Wonder Boy III) that’s functioning beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that this one dude happily continued away at it for the entire hour and a half I spent waiting for my connection, the bastard. God, to be near that wonderful game and unable to adventure within it! I pretended to play the nearby Demolition Man and The Shadow pinball tables (all the hits of ’94, here) for a while, just so I could listen to the Wonder Boy theme music, but I think the dude was on to me; even distracted by Wonder Boy’s epic quest, he must have realized that nobody could honestly play The Shadow more than once. And, besides, who am I to impose poorly-compressed Alec Baldwin samples on another guy’s time in Monster Land?

These places are the last of the arcades, final reverves of that particular atmosphere, and we’re letting them go to shit. Can we, like, start some kind of fund or preservation society, or something? All this money around, and we can’t be bothered to preserve a key part of our hoser heritage… it’s sad. Every Simpsons unit with the logo burned into the screen; every 1943 that glitches out so bad it can’t be played; every Operation Wolf with the aiming sensor so fucked it’s like you’re playing Parkinson’s Patrol is another knife in the belly of arcade culture.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

09-16-2006 – party season in a garrison town

Nighttime ride on the Number Eight, north through the dark and damp… a route ripe for further investigation in the drier, warmer days ahead -- a serpentine transit pubcrawl in the inevitable Indian summer. For now, though, it’s just me and my reflection in the window, familiar phantom face, hands leafing through a book of jotted notes…

The faceful of blazing vapor blasts me back, hottest of hot toddies: shots of Royal Reserve dropped onto a hot skillet. A Proud Canadian.

Cozy in here, warm and tight against the three-day rain outside. Ancient imperatives hard-coded in my hoser cells send the message: it’s house-party season. Old memories of the month-or-so between first week of classes and Halloween, feeling just like this; the coming in from cold to a roomful of laughter, liquor and bad ideas.

No people party here, tonight… just the spirit; we’re priming up for an ill-advised ramble out to Whyte, the crashing of a stagette. So we rock out to Maiden and argue about “Back in the Village,” check out the new Slayer (it rocks) and play Battleship while we wait for our Man.

And somewhere out there, frat boys are motoring around on a go-cart couch, sorority pledges stand sentry in bridesmaid dresses, and the hares have started on their white winter Mohawks…

CITY TANKS, the headlines tell me, are SET TO ROLL OUT. I’ve played enough Civilization that the message has my hand automatically twitching to click on the City Window, head off the inevitable disaster: under democracy, mobilizing the hometown boys can mean civil unrest, unless steps are taken. You’ve got to turn your Einsteins into Elvises, make with the bread and circuses…

… or, hey; pump in enough bread and the circus takes care of itself. It’s fucking insane on Whyte tonight, as crazy as I’ve ever seen it in non-sports-related circumstances… and everybody's so fucking rich! Limos and bling, racing bikes and riceburners, the glowing and gleaming tchotchkes of mass affluence, everything reeking of money, everything in the best of bad taste.

This is the first time I’ve been an adult during a real boom; last time the black and sticky moneywave rolled hard over Alberta, all it meant to me was that my oilpatch-orphan buddies got videogames, Honda trikes, and Mom’s New Friend hanging around the house. Now… I don’t know; it’s alien and alienating; it isn’t my place.

Hard-eyed little Hiltons and their catchphrase-hooting sportscar suitors…

… and a yellow ribbon on the bumper of a bass-pumpin’ Hummer. A ballcap leans out the passenger side: “FAGGGGOTTTS!

I should know better than to wear tweed down here.

Autumn rains, preview chill… you have to pick your parties. Whyte on a Saturday is for the rich, young consumers; not-so-rich, not-so-young creators belong in their own places, their snuggly hobbit-holes filled with friends: art parties, laughing against the cold.

But, yeah, I’ll admit it: my idea to hand-carve Dungeons & Dragons maps into plywood panels for display as objets d’art was a bad one.

Moody times. It’s days later, and the misty rain (great nom du porn!) has only once been sunshined away long enough to make it to the used-record store and back. Good thing we’re pretty stocked up, here: there’s enough rice and canned soup in the cupboards to make at least a week’s worth of curried Poverty Glop. Wine’s gonna be a problem, though…

Too early to think about that! I have to wait at least long enough for last night’s taste test – that sprightly red that comes in a screwtop Tetra Pak, perfect for thoughtful wine-walking – to work its black way through the guts.

Autumn morning, warm computer, hot coffee… Willie Nelson singing “Stardust” off a turntable that’s needed a new stylus for about three years. Clear mind, clear eyes.

It’s the dawn of another party season… but the Big Black – for everybody, everywhere – feels closer than ever. How many more years of privilege and pleasure can we expect before nightfall?

So party on, people. Stay warm, cuddle close, smile bright, laugh at your own jokes. Hug in the entryway, smell dinner cooking. Open that Yellow Label, pass that pinner… tomorrow’s headlines have yet to be printed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Here’s a little bodyshot of deep-time perspective for you: when Ralph Klein was sworn in as Premier of Alberta in 1992, Mortal Kombat was a brand-new video game.

Capcom’s Street Fighter II: World Heroes had kicked (and punched) off the one-on-one fighting game craze the year before, but MK took it over the top with levels of blood and mayhem never before seen in an arcade game. It was, of course, an instant hit, and while we were all happily cackling our way through the game’s ridiculously gory Fatality maneuvers, Ralph was beginning the inputs for his very own finishing move: ripping out the spine of parliamentary democracy in Alberta and holding it aloft, still writhing spasmodically, to the cheers of millions.

Fouteen years! Since before 3D graphics accelerators and MMORPGs, since before Playstation. Have really been dealing with this guy – sorry, has this guy really been dealing with us – for that long? I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a Calgarian, having had Klein smarming overhead since the very dawn of videogaming. Did our southern brothers and sisters make sly jokes about Tapper and Burgertime? Did they pin the Great Videogame Crash of 1983, not on the asinine marketing and quality-control policies of the Atari corporation, but on “eastern creeps and bums”?

In 1993, the second year of Ralph’s reign and the first year he led his horde to a general-election victory, two all-caps milestones of gaming apper. The first is Broderbund’s MYST, the megahit that briefly reestablished the puzzle/adventure game genre. The second is DOOM.

The shareware masterpiece Wolfenstein 3D had created the first-person-shooter genre in '92, while Ralph and his crony machine were busy hijacking the Tory party, but DOOM blew the whole thing open. Released on December 10 DOOM, like Mortal Kombat, featured unprecedented amounts of graphic violence along with an unprecedented sense of immersion. Four days after DOOM’s release, Ralph’s wife Colleen – does anybody but me remember this? -- received a sweetheart pay-later bundle of shares in tech firm Multi-Corp, an outfit which was included in the stable of Alberta companies Ralph had just finished pimping in Hong Kong. By the fourth week of January, when the Premier saw fit to disclose this transaction to the ethics commissioner, the shares had doubled in price.

The advent of Mortal Kombat and DOOM triggered a what-about-the-children moral panic similar to the panics that had earlier in the century lashed out against rock n’ roll music (which survived) and comic books (which went into a 30-year coma). Seeing the rising probability of ruinously censorious legislation from the American Congress, the video-game industry in 1994 – while Alberta Treasury Branches superintendent Elmer Leahy, at the command of economic development minister Ken Kowalski, by the will of Ralph, was busy approving hundreds of millions of dollars of cherry loans and loan guarantees to Triple-Five corporation to keep the subs of West Edmonton Mall afloat – established the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self-regulatory body that applied film-style ratings to games. DOOM has the honor of receiving the ESRB’s first “M” rating.

In Alberta, with our own oversight organization – an elected Legislature – crippled by constant invocation of debate closure and rendered increasingly irrelevant by an expanding network of industry-stacked review panels, dog-and-pony “stakeholder consultations” and outright government by edict, we had to wait until 1995 for the protests of one of Calgary’s last squeaky wheels, Liberal MLA Frank Buesker (Calgary North-West), to provoke the lapdog ethics commissioner into making a few phone calls before assuring Albertans that there was no conflict of interest involved in Colleen Klein’s profiting mightily off an outfit hustled by her autocrat husband. Whew! Case closed!

Fast-forward through two years of nightmare to 1997, the release of the Nintendo 64 console and Super Mario 64’s singlehanded creation of the 3D platform genre. As we jumped and bopped our way around, gathering stars and coins, Ralph was leading his…

…OK. You know what? Fuck this. Every year – every month – of Ralph’s tenure reveals some new outrage against democracy, some new act of arrogance and bullying, some new step toward furthering the Klein Revolution’s autocratic objectives… and every time I correlate videogame timelines with the last fourteen years’ provincial history of scandal after unpunished scandal, the deeper our hole appears. We’ve gone from 2D sprite animation to bump-mapped dynamic lighting and fractal fog volumetrics during Ralph’s reign – and democracy in Alberta is all but destroyed.

The Alberta Legislature, the duties and traditions of which Klein – a machine-style civic cronyist with neither interest in nor respect for representative democracy – loathed and took every opportunity to insult, curtail or eliminate outright, is finished as a place of governance. We’re not a one-party state, here… we’re a no-party state; political parties, as institutions of the parliamentary system, have no place in Klein’s boardroom-backroom-barroom model of governance, a model under which Alberta will continue to operate for at least another fifteen years…

…or until Duke Nukem Forever is released, whichever comes first.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

The 3-Day Novel Contest

Hello, friends. As you may know, I am one of the contestants in BookTelevision's 3-Day Novel Contest, running this weekend. Starting at midnight tonight, myself and 12 other writers will have 72 hours to crank out a novel (novella, really) while cameras roll and reality-TV-style challenges dick with us.

The thing is going down at Chapters South Point, if you're interested in stopping by to point and stare at a bunch of writers corralled into a pen in the back of a bookstore/cavern. There is a short-bus shuttle that runs from Southgate transit centre to the big-box wasteland where the store is found. It's the 307 or 370 or some shit like that.

Here is the schedule for the weekend (a "hit" is a live feed to BookTelevision, in case you're a subscriber):

Friday, September 1st

11.55 PM Launch

Saturday, September 2nd

8.00 AM Judge Hit – Minister Faust
10.05 AM First Challenge
12.00 PM Character Hit – Mar’ce Merrell
2.00 PM Update Hit
2.05 PM Second Challenge
4.00 PM Character Hit – Timothy Anderson
6.00 PM Update Hit
8.00 PM Character Hit - Catherine Ford
8.05 PM Third Challenge – Performance Reading
10.00 PM Character Hit – Mark John Hiemstra

Sunday, September 3rd

12.30 AM The 14th Machine
2.00 AM Character Hit – Laura Kjolby
8.00 AM Judge Hit – Jenn Farrell
10.00 AM Update Hit
10.05 AM Fourth Challenge
12.00 PM Character Hit – Tyler Morency
2.00 PM Update Hit
2.05 PM Fifth Challenge
4.00 PM Character Hit – Jill Battson
6.00 PM Update Hit
6.05 PM Sixth Challenge
8.00 PM Character Hit – Ali Riley
10.00 PM Update Hit

Monday, September 4th

12.00 AM Character hit – Darren Zenko
2.00 AM Update Hit
8.00 AM Judge Hit – Todd Babiak
10.00 AM Update Hit
10.05 AM Seventh Challenge
12.00 PM Character Hit – Ron Yamauchi
2.00 PM Update Hit
2.05 PM Eighth Challenge
4.00 PM Character Hit – Felicia Pacentrilli
6.00 PM Update Hit
8.00 PM Character Hit – Wayne Arthurson
8.05 PM Final Challenge
10.00 PM Update Hit
11.55 PM Final Hit
12.05 AM Final Interviews, collecting the novels, put the novelists to bed.

I have no idea what the challenges will involve. All is mystery. See you all later. Have I mentioned that I'm not actually a novelist, and have no idea what I'm doing?

13 casual hours

Aching wrists and a spine like split timber, eyes fogged and belly rumbling with the vicious chemistry of instant decaf and windfallen sour apples from the tree outside my window, a thick mat of emoticon-download and online-casino popunders carpeting my desktop… welcome to my 2 a.m., the finish line of 13 hours of immersion in what the voice of ‘net marketing calls “the casual game space.”

Whether it’s one of the teeming millions of colour-matching crystal games, a cutesy little cartoon puzzler, some kind of Lemmings knockoff, a retro-arcade joint, a piece of pretentious “interactive fiction” or an abstract block of braintwisting logic exams for the Mensa set, a small game, browser-based, is meant to be quick-playing, a pick-up and put-down coffeebreaker. And so they are, most of them; design quality and play value are such that the addiction factor on any single web diverson is pretty low. But in aggregate, as a steady stream, when moving from game to game to game is itself the addiction? Shit.

Most clicktrancing office drones and bored housepersons have at least a rough sketch of a social structure around them, setting limits on how many glasseyed minutes can be indulged. Today, here, it was just me, my electric kettle, my apple basket, my coffee-spattered iBook and gamelet after gamelet semi-randomly clicked up from the bottomless archives of casual-games blog Timewasting becomes research -- becoming painful timewasting again when the time-to-fee calculations put me down below five bucks and hour. The genre’s target market, however, is all on the clock.

This is the future of gaming, in two (maybe three) ways. First, it’s where the money is; after a brief post-bubble bust, online ad revenues have been taking off like a motherfuck, and game pages, places where eyeballs rest for long periods of time, are prime real estate.

Second, it’s consumer development. Unlike all but the most esoteric movies and music, videogames require a complex core of fundamental skills and vocabulary in order to be consumed and appreciated, a core that needs to be learned. For the games market to grow there need to be more gamers, and Mom-simple casual games are the recruiting office, the training centre… the “first one’s free” schoolyard gateway drug that’ll lead (so the hope goes) to Bev from HR becoming a hardboiled (poached firm, at least) gamer on her own time and dime.

But for a lifetime gamer, the trivial shit that clogs the casual pipe doesn’t hold much in the way of appeal; I played Columns on Sega Game Gear and Sokoban on a PC with a CGA card, and I don’t really need ten-score different ways of matching gems or shoving boxes now. What got me snagged this morning, afternoon, evening and night – god damnit! – was a constant parade of point-and click adventures.

I still can’t believe it; is there a style of gameplay more predictable and formal? From how many rooms did I escape this afternoon? How many spooky mansion murder-mysteries did I unravel, methodically mousing over static scenes with an eye on the pointer, watching for it to change into the little hand that indicates something clickable? How many safes did I find behind paintings… and how many combinations did I find scrawled in the likeliest of unlikely places? How many machines did I repair, how many oddly-shaped stones did I slot into oddly-shaped depressions? Answer: lots. The genre is ancient, its mechanics worn and familiar, its conventions calcified… what kept me playing for hours, through dozens?

Ironically, it was the variety. Not in the fundamentals – most point-and-clicks that attempt genre-defiance come out unplayably obscure – but in the production, the aesthetics; from atmospherically photorealistic horror riffs with grade-A spooky soundtracks through clunky “tongue-in-cheek” adventures drawn in MS Paint and written by nerds for whom the word “wombat” is the distilled essence of comedy, the point-and-click form comprises the whole of human artistic inclination and abilty. It’s been inspirational, really.

And that’s the third way in which casual games are the future of gaming: they’re the segment that can be participated in directly by independent creators, the last refuge of the one-man development shop. Slick commercial releases aside, the bulk of little games are the products of individuals or small groups working with little or no funding, and the variety on display puts the mainstream mass-market to shame. Casual games are the industry’s experimental laboratory, the punk underground. Could I design a MMORPG better than World of Warcraft? No. But could I design an hourlong point-and-click adventure scarier than Exmortis or funnier than The Goat in the Grey Fedora…?

Probably not; indy game creation may be within common reach, but it’s pretty far out of my grasp. Making an adventure game – like making music, making pictures, making movies – still takes shitloads of work… and don’t think I haven’t half-assedly begun and abandoned my own projects. Like most people, I’m content with – worse than content; hypnotized, /sedated/ by – grazing on this huge field of work, filling otherwise productive hours with the endless diversions of others’ imaginations… casually.

Monday, August 28, 2006

08-20-2006 -- the silver Fringe

As inadvisable as it may be to dose up with hallucinogens for a stroll through the Fringe – there are rabbit holes you might never again climb out of, and a tunnel packed stroller-to-fannypack with the sunburned faces of Edmonton’s mass-affluent might be one of them – I can yet imagine how literally awesome a holistic, transcendent, mushroomy view of this scene might be. The Fringe as vast machine, cosmic clockwork, wheels within networked wheels grinding out Festivity: the intricate gearing of administration and volunteer politics; the mechanisms of management; the hundreds of ticking backstage production dramadies behind every show in every venue, and the apparati of the plays themselves… an infinite, whirring, whirling mandala… the Mind of the Eternal…

…whoa. See? Even wide-eyed and arrow-straight, my mind’s bent by this scene, the surface of the Machine, the street sensorium of the milling midway that is the beginning and the end of the Fringe experience for many or most. Searing solar radiation and the smell of salves that stop it; close-pressed bodytides against (or with) which we waddle awkwardly, familiar streets and sidewalks forgotten; scent of samosa and sausage, fried whatnots, sharp B.O., hair conditioner; the grotesque and the gorgeous, heads and tails of the same ugly coin; idiot commentary and bratty mewling passing in half-heard snatches, drowned by drumming and – worst of all, wosre than the shrieking of the PAID IN FULL sticker-hawking girls -- the endless patter of street performers.

I’m not quite ready – or, my curmudgeon quotient is not yet high enough – to say “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Charitably, I offer that if you’ve seen some, you’ve seen many. Most. The majority. Magical busking is an ancient art; I don’t doubt that medieval groundlings and the spectacle-loving citizens of Rome before them would be instantly (after translation and localization) familiar with “Anybody here from Calgary? You, sir? OK… I’ll… speak… very… slowwwly!” Hyuk. The same jokes, the same tricks, the same rhythm and “ladiesngennlemin” cadence in every circle, on every stage. Get all voodoo about the holiness of street performance: the Sacred Fool speaks with the voice of the god. True… but the god needs new material.

Very rarely, he gets some. I didn’t know what to make of Montreal’s Raphael at first – other than thinking he was kind of an asshole – but by the time his routine wrapped with some of the most direct, pointed, no-nonsense money-guilting I’d seen on site I was as much a fan as I could be. First, his look: weightlifter build, Medusa inked on tanned skin, square jaw and swept blond hair, prop-filled toolbelt over dark jeans – about as far from the shabby pseudo-vaudeville of the linking-circlet circuit as you can go, and light-years away from the insufferable motley of the Wacky Fellow ghetto. His tricks n’ gimmicks weren’t all that special, off-the-shelf Ye Olde Magick Shoppe illusions, but his delivery… well. If there’s one place that needs a menacing magical macho-man telling mouthy brats to shut up and humiliating ringside celphone chatters, it’s the Fringe. Bravo.

Elsewhere, the same old story – scraggly strummers and Doug “Push-Up Man” Pruden, hippie bongo beaters and still more Wacky Fellows, not one but two purveyors of the mystical pan-flute. You’ve been down there, right? The height of entertainment, for me, was seeing a trio of space-age dancing girls, head-to-toe in silver lame and bodypaint, freaking the hell out of some dude’s Boxer. Moving slowly in time, swaying like metallic Venusian foliage, alien and inhuman, that poor dog didn’t know what to make of them, barking and growling, scared and confused and frantically questioning the very nature of human form and movement. I imagine that, theoretically, that’s the reaction their art is meant to cause in the souls of their human audience. Instead, they got bemused frowns, and little kids waving hands in front of their faces. We’re all Philistines, space ladies… next year, put Captain Kangaroo noisemakers in your mouths and do the Funky Robot.

Image: Self Portrait As A Pathetic Clown
© Arthur Davis Broughton 2000, used without permission

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Baby That's the Bleeps

The sweet spot at the Sidetrack seems like the sort of space one would avoid at a live show. But that stout square pillar at stage right casts a nice big crowd-shadow, an open area of air and freedom amid the multitudes jostling and tippy-toeing for sightlines, and if you don’t mind not actually seeing the band – you can peek around the corner now and then if you need to, make sure they haven’t been replaced by karaoke ringers – the sound is fantastic. You’re more or less at the mirror coordinates of the sound guy, and the mass of the pillar cuts out the nasty white clash of raw loudness so you get a full, nuanced sound you can really let your ears wander around in. That’s where I am now, zoning out and nodding as Carla Bozulich wails through “Baby That’s the Creeps”, thinking about Pokemon.

Pokemon? It happens, sometimes. I’ll catch a glimpse of a faded Bulbasaur or Tentacool sticker on a ratty old binder in a pile of end-of-the-month dumpsterside junk and it all comes back to me – the long walks through the tall grass on the outskirts of Pallet Town, scaring up wild Pidgey and Kakuna; the strategic intensity of the gym battles; the raw fever of Gotta Catch ‘em All! But why now, and why here?

Sound triggers, man; the melody, as they say, haunts my reverie. It was almost eight years ago, in the deep autumn of 1998, that I began – improbably, almost impossibly – my career as a videogame writer with a right-place-right-time pitch: working as a proofreading drone at the Journal, I saw the Pokemon press kit neglected on the edge of the then-Entertainment editor’s desk and, having a friend recently come back from Japan with wide-eyed tales of Pokemania, insisted the thing was going to be huge and that I should knock out a preview feature. That turned into a weekly thing, the sweetest and easiest money a hack could ever hope to pull… and throughout that bright and golden time I was listening a lot to Butch, the second album from Carla’s band the Geraldine Fibbers. The music’s different, but the built-in codes of her voice – that feral twang – are taking me back, displaying the years.

Those were exciting days, and tough to leave behind; musically, spiritually, emotionally, morally, financially and professionally I’ve never really escaped from that ’98 basement suite. And why escape? Along with Butch, there’s the Zoobombs’ Welcome Back, Zoobombs!, Cibo Matto’s Viva! La Woman (already a year or two old) and Beck’s Mutations soundtracking Oddworld, Ocarina of Time, Legend of Legaia (don’t laugh) and Bushido Blade. There’s Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid and R.L. Burnside’s Come On In. There’s the sweet rush of that first no-roommate pot-smokin’ bachelor living… and all it takes to return is the sight of an old grey PlayStation, a whiff of Nag Champa, a single second of a certain quaver in Carla’s voice.

Eight years! Eight years. A lot of water under a lot of bridges, thousands of hours of videogaming for rent money. Plenty of time for a network of audio associations to build up, wrap themselves around my memory core and send their tendrils deep. Some are less subtle than Carla Bozulich sending me back to Pokemon Red on my old Game Boy Pocket… to this day, I can’t hear an Offspring song – any Offspring song – without having my head shoved back to a blissful Y2K and the power-brat “Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah!” that kicked off every sweet Dreamcast Crazy Taxi run. Damn… there was a videogame! Crazy drifting through traffic with a screeching harpy in the backseat, giving you shit because you couldn’t get her to the KFC in less than twenty goddamn seconds. Look, lady… the place is only 800m away! What're you taking a taxi – let alone a crazy taxi – for, anyway? YAH-YAH-YAH-YAH-YAH!

It works the other way as well, when there’s a phrase in a game’s music that’s similar enough to the melody of a pop single that you can’t play the game without getting that song stuck in your head. The GameCube cleaning-robot adventure Chibi Robo, for example, had something in it, somewhere, that lodged Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” deep in me for weeks. And I seem to recall an old Japanese RPG – I think it might have been Star Ocean – that so aggressively re-introduced the Scorpions’ glasnost anthem “Wind of Change” into my psyche that I had to quit playing. Currently, playing Oblivion, there’s this one bit that nags me, a snippet of '80s pop in the score I can’t quite nail down and it’s driving me crazy. I’d turn off the in-game tunes and slap in some Danzig... but Oblivion’s music -- which changes to Battle Theme whenever trolls and skeletons and shit want to kick your ass -- provides an indispensable danger sense.

Up on stage, Carla’s into the title track from her awesome new record, Evangelista. Pokemon thoughts fading, coming back up into this moment behind my pillar, I’m kind of glad my friend and I didn’t follow through on our supernerd plan to bring our Nintendo DSes to the show: do I really want to spend the next eight years hearing a haunted, wavery organ drone every time I fire up PictoChat?

Friday, August 11, 2006

08-06-2006 -- Big Valley Jamboree

Driving on booze,
Natural thrill;
How can anyone deny a kick?
-The Molestics, “The Pleasures of Drunk Driving”
Kids, don’t try this at home – you won’t have nearly enough room, for starters. For a good golf-cart joyride you’ll need acre upon gleaming white acre of RV parking and the miles of rain-rutted mud roads that run through them. Plus, you’ll need a cart borrowed from a buddy who borrowed it from a buddy, and a brave buzz that leaves instinct and reflex unblurred. You’ll need a will to cut things close, as that’s the only way to build a sensation of speed in a vehicle that’s been governed down to top out at about the rate of a rickety retiree huffing to catch a bus. Even then, you’ll want a copilot who’ll keep you honest, who’ll harangue you for letting up on the gas, who’ll stomp the pedal down for you if you get too chickenshit. These are necessary elements; it’s a big responsibility, being this irresponsible.

It’s that kind of paradox that powers the Big Valley Jamboree, just like it powers any good-sized festival of institutional fun and frolic – the paradox of party in chains. Here is a central core of old-time country nostalgia and new-time country hoserdom wrapped in intricate layers of gates, places, wristbands, zones, passes, rules, rigidity and enforcement; its musical accompaniment a slick aping of forgotten folk forms brought to us packed and backed with millions of dollars of Machine Money. This isn’t just a slag on Hot Country – all mainstream music rips and repackages the real – and it’s not really a condemnation of BVJ’s ironfisted organization, either; without this twenty-to-one redneck-to-redshirt security ratio, something this big would rip itself apart. It’s just, you know… it's not my scene.

So, why am I here? Good question; it’s pretty much a combination of a friend having access to an RV and me having access to a free weekend. Sometimes you just want to get out of town, and the destination is seconday… or tertiary. In this case – one wild motor-tour of the T&A-filled wonders of the campground aside – it’s been so far a weekend of lounging around our out-of-the-way parking spot, sipping drinks, playing scrotoss and catching my breath. No phone, no pool, no pets, no tent to set up, nothing but sweet, sunshiny (after Friday night) sloth. I suppose I could have done the same thing somewhere else, somewhere much less Camrose… but then there wouldn’t be an RV, and the RV is key.

With gas prices likely guzzling their way up to a buck-twenty and beyond, these monsters – even a baby monster, a gremlin like this one – make no financial sense except as compared to hotel rates, and make no conservation sense except as compared to travelling in a cart powered by a waterwheel turned by a steady stream of Super Unleaded pouring out onto the highway. But, fuck me running… what blessed luxury! Three bunks, table, toilet, tanked water, and a propane-powered fridge keeping eggs, steaks, bacon, franks and two flats of Pil icy cold. A roof you can listen to rain falling on, without cringing away from nylon walls. I’ll never roll quite like this, myself – no plausible future scenario gives me the kind of bank I’d need – but every minute of hard-sided, upholstered motorhome occupancy makes my old hippie-wagon fantasies knock a little rougher against the walls of my soul.

My alarm clock this morning was the delicious PSSHT of a roommate cracking a cold one; in lieu of toothbrushing, I had one myself. Breakfast was deep-fried bacon, with eggs poached in the grease. Desert was a camping-cup of Toscano Rosso from a 4l box and a neuron-baking blast from a ‘70s-era “power hitter”, a solid column of opaque white smoke sniffed nasally rather than sucked, in the interest of Science. Thus fortified, there is water enough for a cold shower and a room-temperature Consul (like a Caesar but with gin; you make do with what you’ve got) before grabbing a luncheon joint and an orphaned Kokanee tallboy for a little early-morning scrotossin’.

I can’t hear the sounds of the day's Bulls For Breakfast event – bullriding with a side of sausage n’ pancakes – so I’m guessing it’s not yet ten. On a normal camping trip, I’d be worried about starting so early; here at Big Valley Jamboree, with a cushy sheltered bed waiting for me, falling back asleep as soon as possible is just about the best Sunday I can imagine.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Go-anywhere gaming

“How long must we fight these same battles?”– Arngrim, Valkyrie Profile
A string of numbers on the status screen, an accusation: 17:23:45. Seventeen hours and counting over the course of five days; 17 hours of wrist-aching PSP time, 17 hours of thumbing my way through the bullshit of Valkyrie Profile. Calendar full of deadlines, notebooks full of unrealized projects, sink full of dishes, room full of laundry… it’s a full life. What would you do with 17 spare hours in high summer?

These ridiculous gaming jags are getting fewer and farther between, but with infrequency the shame gets sharper. Play like this all the time and it’s a lifestyle… but burn a critical weekend on a six-year-old role-playing game that you’re not even really enjoying – VP went cold at about hour six – and it starts looking a lot like depression. Then again… seventeen hours over five days? That’s just your average drone’s television diet – probably even a little lighter than most folks’. So why does it seem worse, more embarrassing, when it’s a videogame?

‘Cause gaming is nerdy, I guess; as much as the videogame subculture is growing and establishing itself as one of our main streams, its population is still tiny compared to the markets for television and movies and such… when someone decides to lay on the couch for four or five hours eating stale chips and guiding magical fantasy warriors through a bunch of monster battles, he’s wasting time with useless garbage; if the same dude, on the same couch with the same chips, watches magical fantasy warriors fight a bunch of monster battles, he’s spending quality time with Peter Jackson’s swords-n-sorcery masterpiece.

Ah, who am I kidding? Seventeen hours is seventeen hours, and Valkyrie Profile is to Lord of the Rings what a vinyl Zellers Halloween poncho-and-mask combo is to Spider-Man’s costume. I’m not feeling guilty and depressed because our culture isn’t ready to accept gaming as a legitimate pastime… I’m feeling guilty and depressed because I’ve got ten million things to do and I’ve just spent the equivalent of two work days doing sweet fuck all, knowing I was doing wrong, hating nearly every minute of it, and doing it anyway.

Non-gamers… do you know what it’s like, the terror in this? To be grinding, grinding, grinding away at a game for hours, hypnotized by repetition – role-playing games, with their unending series of “just one more” milestones are worst – and all the while there’s a remnant of your consciousness screaming “Fucking stop this nonsense! You’re on a goddamned deadline!”… and you won’t make yourself stop. You’ll make little deals -- I’ll just level up this one guy; I’ll quit at the next save point; after I beat this boss, I’m done – and you’ll screw yourself over on each one. There’s no joy in playing like this, only stress, regret and self-loathing.

Worse is that I’ve been playing on my PSP, and its screen is very shiny. If you’re not careful -- if you let your eyes and brain pull your visual focus back from the glowing depths where your attention needs to be, or if you forget to look away when the screen is black – you get a nice, clear closeup, at the worst possible neck-fat angle, of your face. Your desperate face, eyes dead and glassy, sockets bagged, mouth slack and unsmiling. That same face that was reflected in your childhood glasses of kool-aid, the same face you despairingly OxyCleaned for an hour before your first date… but in these moments, in that black mirror, every spoiled dream from every wasted minute from that moment ‘til now is right there to be mourned.

Life During Wartime, August 1, 2006

The last show of this run, and I kinda phoned it in. I'll be back on-air sometime in the fall, and covering shows here and there 'til then... that's CJSR, in case you've forgotten.

Laurie Anderson -- O Superman
Yo la Tengo -- Little Honda
Pain Teens -- Cool Your Power
Black Keys -- Have Love, Will Travel
Ladyhawk -- The Dugout
Califone -- Border Lord
Bob Dylan -- Cold Irons Bound
Monster Movie -- Hope I Find the Moon
Mark Olson & the OHRCD -- Linda Lee
Sun Kil Moon -- Grey Ice Water
Townes van Zandt -- You Are Not Needed Now
The Minders -- Savour All the Days & Jenny
BIZ -- Pork U
Billy Bragg -- Help Save the Youth of America
The Jesus & Mary Chain -- Happy When It Rains
Takako Minekawa -- Cloud Cuckooland
Marc Antoine -- Can You Feel It?
Nostaglia 77 -- 7 Nation Army
Vic Chesnutt -- A Little Vacation
The Doers -- Moment Noticed
Devo -- Midget
Pizzicato 5 -- 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Barbie Dolls
Eric B & Rakim -- Make 'em Clap to This
Johnny Cash -- Five Feet High and Rising
Pere Ubu -- Down By the River pt. 2
Judas Priest -- Painkiller

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

07-21-2006 – Outfall 239

“This one’s got some vengeance!”

My buddy yells over the nasty klank-klank-KLANK-KLANK crescendo of a fist-size rock tumbling at speed down the corrugated trough of the storm-drain outfall, and I look up from the pebbly shore of the North Saskatchewan just in time to dodge the missle as it hops over the stones and bloorps into the river.

“This one, too!”

Klank-klank-KLANK-KLANK-tik-tik-bloorp. This is a fun game, aiming rocks up the slope at the culvert and dodging them as they ricochet unpredictably back down. Really, what would I rather be doing on this glorious summer day, with the sun stooping through the iron web of the High Level bridge, than goofing around on the riverbank, hucking rocks and laughing?

We’re all so very proud of our river valley… but for me, fun times right down at water’s edge have been few and far between since I was a kid skipping rocks (or trying to skip rocks; I really do suck at it), head ringing with motherly forbiddings. The river, I was told, would suck me right under. I wonder if the waving couple out there this afternoon, holding hands and drifting by in their beer-laden innertubes, got that memo. Maybe the Demon Undertow only comes out when he’s got a roof of ice over his grisly head…

I know Mayor Mandel’s river-raising idea is old news, but I can’t help but think about it when I see the kayaker working out around the LRT bridge pilings, and these happy floaters spinning past in a silence that allows a speaking voice to reach the bank. It strikes me, now, that the water level’s plenty high to allow the only kind of boating we need… the quiet kind. Certainly the three dudes that came powerboating by earlier, standing ramrod behind the windscreen in their slacks and polo shirts, were having the kind of fun only appreciated by affluent shitheads and the pleb drones who envy them: the joy of making a deafening racket by igniting gallons of liquid cash.

Man, my arm’s gonna ache tomorrow. This rather dangerous game – only fool’s luck has kept rock and noggin vectors from intersecting; it’s mostly shins that’ve been taking the bullet – is just the latest of the stone-throwing events in today’s Hoser Olympics. Earlier hours were spent in the pursuit of hitting one largish tossed rock with a smaller rock, moving-target practice over the flowing highway. It’s kind of like a stoned simulation of the American missile defense system, with similar rates of success -- and we wouldn’t stop until we all four of us got at least one, preferably two, solid intercepts. Hundreds of launches, with only occasional breaks for fluids and fresh air… and before that was an hour’s worth of plain ol’ hit-the-log for a warmup.

Who needs riverside commercialization? It’s perfectly possible, you know, to have fun that doesn’t involve getting a receipt. I’m just about as happy as I’ve ever been, here and now, and when it comes time to buy food and drink there’s any number of taphouses with deepfryers just up the slope. I agree it’s nice to enjoy a drop of wine with the sun shimmering on the river – and I just did that, without tipping a waiter, without rezoning a park.

Before we leave, we decide to send a message in a bottle, a single slip of paper declaring its truth to some lucky downstream scavenger: OUTFALL 239 RULEZ. Sweetening the pot, we include a delicately dried crab claw found wedged between two little boulders, and a piece of Chinese “hell money” that from two feet away looks exactly like an American hundred. Seeing the glint of greenback in the riverborne flotsam, will somebody let avarice put them in harm’s way? Probably, but… hey; that’s comedy!

The setting sun’s flickering shadows over us, right through the windows of the passing LRT. We set our Gallo Galleon into the river…

… and huck rocks at it, desperately, until it’s out of range and on its way. What else can we do? This evening, hucking rocks is our thing.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Life During Wartime, July 25, 2006

Fun times, and some fresh CanCon karma. This'll be my second-last show; I'm taking off for a while before coming back into a new slot sometime in 6-8 weeks. Tuesday is just not the day I ought to be doing this thing, and it never has been. I'll be covering other shows, though, so there will still be playlists if you care. Life During Wartime is 3-5 pm on Tuesdays on CJSR, for one final week.

Rocket From the Crypt -- Ditch Digger
The Stranglers -- Waltzinblack
Conrad -- Endings 1st
Camera Obscura -- If Looks Could Kill
Grandaddy -- Rear View Mirror
Maps of the Night Sky -- We Were Young
Lake Holiday -- Press Record Then Play
The Slow Break -- Cowboy Crucifixion
Nirvana -- Marijuana
Creatures of the Golden Dawn -- The Face
Interpol -- Slow Hands
The Birthday Party -- Wild World
Black Flag -- My War
Yo la Tengo -- Tom Courtenay
Guided By Voices -- Sister I Need Wine
Kat Burns & Forest City Lovers -- Scared of Time
Beck -- Forcefield
Wood Pigeon -- Hymn for Two Walks
Ladyhawk -- Long 'Til
Pipo Fiasco -- Miss America
Sonic Youth -- Jams Run Free
The Frauds -- The Church of Seduction and the Republic of Business
Nice Cat -- Bottoms Up
D.Rangers -- Watching Her Dance
Mayor Matt Allen -- Bartender

PS -- Yo la Tengo, GBV, Beck, Sonic Youth, Rocket From the Crypt, Black Flag...? Yes. What's your question?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ninja Guidin'

Sometimes I imagine going back in time and giving my younger self (a real piece of work, that kid) a little limited preview of his future life. Like most kids I was pretty mopey, and hearing something like this would have gone a long way:

“Hey, cheer up, punk… through most of your twenties and into your thirties, you’re going to be making a big part of your living writing about videogames! Also, check out these graphics!”
Of course, I don’t tell him all the details of how depressing that cool-sounding life actually is; the nerd-ass little punk will figure that out for himself soon enough. All I need to do is keep him dreaming, gaming and away from acquiring legitimate skills so that he’ll grow up to be me and thus actualize my primary time-stream. Or something. I don’t know how all that shit works; I just keep an eye on my party pictures, and when I see myself starting to fade from the photos I hop in the deLorean.

As much as I enjoy making myself feel good about my life by viewing it through callow teenaged eyes, every now and then I feel things flowing the other way as my more-or-less adult tastes retroactively justify youthful inaction. I’m talking about a cure for the syndrome known as Gamer’s Guilt: that weird, empty ache that lingers as a result of unfinished games. Thanks to the internet’s overstuffed tubes, I can see the ending to pretty much any game I might have played and put down; I can get closure.

Like, fucking Rygar? Man, I’m glad I didn’t finish that shit – a door opens, you get to watch a bird (maybe a dove?) hovering forever, and that’s it. Wizards & Warriors is the same way: “Thou hath rescued the princess. Thy search hath ended. 100,000 points.” Weak. I can see that, appreciate it, and totally forgive my younger self for not bothering to grind his way though the insane impossibility of Rygar, the sword-twiddling tedium of W&W. Somehow, with the canny instincts of the suburban teen, he knew that shit just wasn’t worth it.

Ninja Gaiden, on the other hand… now there’s a Nintendo ending I would have loved to have earned in the day, paid for with blisters and cathode burns rather than broadband bills. First, a dying-dad scene; heart-wrenching, yet brief and manly. Then, a wicked disintegrating evil castle, all earthquakes and crumbling towers and explosions and shit… it looks like it’s going to all come down but it sort of ends up half-disintegrated, and into the silence comes the haunting strains of the immortal Love Theme From Ninja Gaiden. Then, betrayal! Sequel setup! Creepy love! A sunrise!

Just beautiful, what those 80s Japanese dudes – the “Art Works” are credited to Runmaru, Parco, Uma, Naga, Wild Tagou and Niwakamaru; I love NES credit names – could do with eight bits and some false parallax. The forced economy of the tech specs meant that a game artist who wanted to end a piece with something more satisfying than “100,000 POINTS” had only elegance as an option. I could spend an entire workday poking around the ‘net, watching endings and cutscenes from that era…

… and so, I did. That’s your rat-race of the Year 2006, kid: getting out of bed around ten, making a pot of coffee, going back to bed to read your morning news on a computer you wouldn’t fucking believe, then maybe taking a quick nap before devoting the afternoon to professional nerdism. And did I mention your computer also plays every NES, Atari and Intellivision game ever made? And that it’s also a constant wellspring of crystal-fresh pornography?

Keep it real, kid, and keep on not killing yourself; the future’s totally rad.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Life During Wartime, July 18, 2006

Arrive last minute? You're rushing to be ready, scrambling for tracks. Arrive an hour early? You're rushing to be ready, scrambling for tracks. This is seat-of-the-pants Guessing Radio at its tops-and-tails finest (give or take), and it's Tuesdays 3-5 on CJSR.

Bauhaus -- Telegram Sam
Glaciers -- Kidney Stone
I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness -- Better Strangers
The Creeping Nobodies -- Sense of Belonging
Feist -- Open Season
David Bowie -- I Have Not Been to Oxford Town
Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- Love Is Love
Starlight Mints -- Seventeen Devils
Cracker -- I Need Better Friends
The Ohsees -- Island Raiders
Oakley Hall -- Having Fun Again
The Nymphets -- If I Wake Up Tomorrow
The MC5 -- The American Ruse
Pointed Sticks -- It's OK
the Leather Uppers -- My Baby
Pixies -- Velouria
Juana Molina -- la Verdad
Camera Obscura -- Teenager
Tom Verlaine -- Shingaling
The Von Zippers -- Freedom A430
The Smalls -- Alvarez
Nina Simone -- Little Girl Blue (Postal Service remix)
Iggy Pop -- Nightclubbing

Thursday, July 13, 2006

07-11-2006 – Latenight on another Ave

A warmish night… a little light rain here and there, so gentle even a scraggly exhaust-fed roadside aspen provides a circle of dryness in which to perch on a parking block and wait for a bus. A pleasant enough post-midnight for me, passing time re-re-re-rereading Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness in the orange sodium glow… but not everybody seems to be enjoying the evening so well.

Shiverers and arm-scratchers, glowerers and mutterers… swaggering dudes and pre-exhausted hookers, antsy tracksuiters, little old Chinese ladies (what errands are they on, so late?) and worried student types hustling home with sensible ponytails and their housekeys between their knuckles – 107th Avenue by streetlight. My new neighbourhood.

For the first time since I first hauled my crappy Ikea desk and my Dungeons & Dragons manuals out of my parents’ house – not counting the time I hauled all that shit back in shameful unemployment – I’m living outside of the Whyte/campus patch. It’s great; not only is it much more peaceful – I’ll take the enthusiastic fellow who makes goat noises at the nearby group home over the Whyte Ave WhoooBots any night – but it’s… homier. You know? More honest. Around here, we keep our mall shit safely locked away inside the stout brick walls of Kingsway; the streets belong to independent proprietors, the Moms n’ Pops of two dozen nations.

It’s a bit lonely relative to life off Whyte – the few extra blocks of northerly commute plus the psychological witch-barrier of the river discourage casual visits – but I seem to be getting more done. As fun as it was, the time I spent basically running a hoser drop-in centre really made the whole work-from-home-be-your-own-boss lifestyle hard to swing; deadlines or no deadlines, how can you say “No” to a buddy smiling on your doorstep with a six-pack and a pinner?

Now, though, the party means something; it’s something I have to make happen, rather than something that just happens as a matter of course like seasons or utility disconnection notices. A place like the Black Dog becomes a destination rather than an extension of my living room (or bedroom), and drinking there is an outing I can feel fresh and happy about, rather than the rote wrist-raising it had become.

Jezz… listen to this shit -- a move to the fuckin’ north side constitutes for me a system-clearing break from liquor and dope. Weird? Nah… Whyte’s just a different kind of ghetto, and a couple of decades ago it was a so-called “bad neighbourhood” as well. I wonder if the same forms will flow around here. Will I look back to see myself as part of a gentrification wave, the downmarket edge, arts/hipster/consumerist culture chasing cheap rents…? Or – and, come on, why put a fine point on this – is this district simply too non-white for the twiddly knicknackery and soulless “funkiness” of modern Whyte to take hold?

Man, let’s hope so; like I said, there’s a perfectly good mall right over there that’s full to fire capacity with all that shit. Right now, I just want to enjoy summertime in a new neighbourhood. My schedule of exploration has been dragged back a little by workload and budget; what I need to do is make a weekend of it, three days and nights of mental mapmaking. The food scene alone around here is the work of weeks of dining, every block of the a mystery box of secrets awaiting discovery…

But that’s another day… another day. It’s night now, and 107th is showing its other face, a face of desperation, fatigue, thread-hanging humanity – I’m waiting here because my friend would rather not walk the two blocks to my place alone, and that’s understandable. The rain’s falling harder; the drug dealers have to mutter a bit louder to make their pitches heard. The shirtless guy in flip-flops paces and frets, a steady fount of under-breath curses. The girl on the corner hugs her underdressed self and wonders if I have a cigarette. The light is orange and ugly over sidewalk cracks and trashdrifts.
Where’s that goddamned bus?

Friday, July 07, 2006

An invitation

The Garagecade: Super Dodge Ball

Coming home from a long summertime trudge around the city, I find my upstairs neighbour shirtless and soaking wet in a folding chair, the sparkling comb of the backyard lawn sprinkler oscillating over him, his lady and his buddy.

“Grab a beer! Grab a chair! Get under the sprinkler!”

I kind of didn’t want to. The sun was far off its midday peak, and even at the hottest of hot times I’m not one to enjoy intermittent soakings. But there was something frighteningly insistent in his manner – I knew there was no way I could get away with slinking into the cool, dry downstairs; we have precious few house rules, and NO PARTY-POOPING tops that tiny list. Dutifully, I retrieved a beer and feigned comfort in the least-sprinkled area I could find.

“The fuckin’ arcade at the bus station sucks!” he informed me as icy water washed over us. Just the day before, he was telling me how bus stations had the best pinball tables and videogame cabinets; I guess he’d done some disappointing downtown recon that afternoon. “Fuckin’ Stargate pinball, and it didn’t even fuckin’ work! Everything else was fuckin’ Big Buck Hunter or whatever! Fuckin’ bullshit!

I’d seen him like this before – sunshine, liquor and low blood-sugar working madness together. The glucose-stabilizing salmon steaks looked a long way in the future; he needed to get up and get focused. Also, the shadow of the house was falling over us, and something needed to be done to get him off this sadistic sprinkler kick or the four of us’d all be turning blue with beers in our hands.

“Dude,” I said, “what do you care about the bus station? You’ve got almost the best videogame in the world right there in the garage. Why don’t we plug in Super Dodge Ball?”

“Yeah… yeah…” he muttered, his energy fading; “That’s what it’s there for…”

“You want me to start the babeque?” his girl asked, gently; we were all in this together.

“Yeah… yeah… Gotta get the salmon on…” He wobbled up out of his sodden lawnchair, fumbled the sprinkler off and disappeared into the house. Mission accomplished – with all the ‘80s style arcade dodgeball action we could stand lying ahead.

The pleasures of a home arcade can’t be overstated. There’s just something so totally rad about having an cabinet or two of your very own, something that touches the essence of what it is to be a game nerd. The arcades are long dead and gone; besides the random Galagas and Ms. Pac-Mans scattered in bowling alleys, pizza parlors and Laundromats, collectors’ home galleries are the last remnant of the old days… and the truant schoolkid in everyone still gets a naughty cheater’s thrill flicking the wire for scores of quarterless credits.

This particular three-unit garage arcade isn’t really set up yet – I fear my neighbour’s dreams of some kind of manly man’s lounging lodge are some ways off – but buddy and I managed to shove enough camping equipment out of the way to get Super Dodge Ball up and running. Super Mario Bros. and Top Gunner we’ll leave for another day; Technos’ 1987 masterpiece of volleyball violence is the star of this show.

Barefoot, sunstroked, stoned and giddy we manned the cabinet, starting out awkward but building quickly to that level where the game becomes what it is: the spirit of gym-class viciousness, re-imagined as an international professional sport, projected into videogame reality. Swearing, screaming, button-mashing, controller-slamming, laughing power of pure play. Massacres and routs alternating with narrow at-the-whistle victories decided by a single perfect spike.The distractions of hoser-arcade play – cigarette smoke stinging the eyes, unlocked coin-slot door banging the knees, miscellaneous garage debris potentially painful underfoot – only made things better.

Eventually my neighbour, revivified and de-drunkened by food and fluids, joined us in the garagecade. By the time we’d gone through countless rounds-robin of dodgeballing it was after midnight; I went happily to bed with my first honest case of Gamer’s Wrist in months. You can play Super Dodge Ball – shit, you can play any game ever made – via computer emulation, but you know it’ll never be as good as beating the shit out of three hundred pounds of particleboard and circuitry. The only thing lacking was a sweaty old burnout with a beer belly and a change belt threatening to ban us for whaling on the machine.

He wasn’t missed. Much.