Category Archives: Technology

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Games #1

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As video games become more sophisticated, more complex and for lack of a better term, more artistically minded in their conception, production and execution, you wonder how detrimental the moniker of “video game” is for a medium with its own unique set of possibilities. “Video” remains indicative of a previous age – somewhat rubbish, a bit eccentric and certainly not something to be taken seriously – and “game” reinforces the idea that the video game is simply a way to waste away time, therapeutic all the same, but serving no great purpose other than that. Some day I am sure the video game moniker will fade away, with our society appropriating a more suitable term for a medium whose potential is only just being considered with any seriousness. Perhaps the Noughties – Ergck! – will eventually be defined as a key decade in which video games really began to explore this potential, or at least mainstream audiences and more importantly multi-national conglomerates began to recognise it. But then again, concerning how gaming has developed over the last few decades, in would be hard to discard any development cycle as worthless.

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (BIOWARE, 2003 for PC/XBOX)

Knights of the Old Republic, to me, was one of these transitory games where, even if it was not truly innovative, it had the polish and the instant appeal on top of an already well-crafted and satisfying core game, to absolutely enthral me. A large part of this comes down to the Star Wars license, this must be said, wielding all the hallmarks of the series – but the key for this is the quality of the story and the writing. If the Star Wars prequels proved anything, it was that the series is more than a number of repeated motifs, sounds, memorable dialogue and music. KOTOR, as it has since been known, arrived for me one Christmas and kept me busy for weeks, months even, suffering itself to be replayed by my younger self again and again, under an increasingly avid addiction to the flexibility available with the game.

Describing the plot again elicits nostalgic thoughts: 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, a Republic cruiser harbouring a powerful yet naive Jedi comes under attack above the planet Taris; you, an insignificant Republic soldier, are tasked with making sure the Jedi escapes the Sith. What follows is a terrifically enjoyable adventure that evokes all the fun and banter of the original Star Wars films as you begin to unravel the mysteries of the Galaxy, discovering the source of the Sith’s new found power. It’s an engaging story, populated with many lively and intriguing characters and involving numerous strange and wonderful worlds. The sheen and freshness may have diminished under repeated playthroughs, but its significance in many peoples gaming memories is inarguable and the popularity of its protagonist remains undwindling.

If there’s another thing that KOTOR did what other games didn’t do for me, it was to establish the name of a developer in my mind. Bioware, who have since flexed their muscles far and wide in the industry, would have already been familiar to veterans of RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but for me this was the first time we met. Developing into a cerebral gamer as I have, I’ve been interested in whatever they have gone on to do – although circumstance has ruled the much celebrated Mass Effect out of my reach for now. But I’ve played Jade Empire (great, despite its somewhat unsatisfactory length) and I have my eyes on Dragon Age: Origins, and certainly optimistic towards Star Wars: The Old Republic.

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Reflecting back on the decade, it is feasible to see how we all became bigger wankers.

There’s a nauseating outpouring of retrospectives on the decade that was, but still really IS, entering the public sphere at the moment, reflecting on these past 9 years with various insights, some of which are interesting, others vaguely hollow and glib but most simply leading you to a state of realisation: 10 years have past and I have achieved nothing. Literally nothing. You’ve only just started taking global warming seriously, because Leonardo DiCaprio told you to, let alone rescued the planet from it. You’ve not found a cure for AIDS yet, because lets face it, cancer was in vogue this decade, but you didn’t manage to find a cure for that either. You haven’t brought a stop to oppression, you’ve not stopped global conflict and you certainly haven’t managed to find any level of contentment. And 10 years have passed you by.

Many may have watched Big Brother, but in the end, Big Brother was watching us.

What you could do to better form some kind of contentment and happiness would be to draft a list, a countdown, a ten commandments of music, films and books that have infiltrated and successfully manipulated your decade into a kind of roller coaster ride of different emotions, all secured via financial means, that give meaning to your sad, pathetic life. This is precisely what I’ve done. I form my world view and then reinforce it with corresponding materials which give credence to my observations, from the politik of xenophobia and combating terrorism to paranoia and coincidence to the grotty halls our nocturnal selves inhabit at the weekends, gulping at malty beer and playing urban poetry in our heads as we resist and allure those of the opposite sex.

But even though I subscribe to this notion of representation and image governed by my tastes, likes and choices, I still do not like lists. Especially numbered, countdown lists, competitive lists that lift a piece of music, an album for example, out of its context and its specific time and place and supplant it in a sort of chronology of the decade, full of contrivances which all incite pedantry and naysaying because of the very nature of having lifted these albums from their belonging and putting them where they don’t. I’m struck by Paul Morley’s article. I’ve been following his series Showing Off… for a while now on the Guardian website for the Observer. I’ll readily admit that not all is to my taste, but I reserve enough humility and self-ridicule not to scoff at some of the people appearing in its many interviews in much the same way as Morley does not himself.

I’m going to write my own retrospective soon, on the music, films, games and books which have shaped my particular decade, whether they were made of this decade or not. My criteria is wide, but that’s because lists, especially competitive lists are so bloody reductive. There is no such thing as an objective list and as Morley says, even should there be great care taken with the choosing of such a list, the results will always reflect the readership and status of the publication it’s being written for, thus the Guardian’s will differ vehemently from that of Ok! magazine or the Daily Mail. So I’m going to make a consciously subjective list. No, hopefully my “list” – I would prefer to think of it as a kaleidoscope to be frank, documenting my tastes, triumphs and failings – will simply be reflective of me and my own, no one else.

I feel relatively blessed, having been born on at the fall of one decade and the eve of another. It affords me an easy way of judging such decades as they correlate with my own transitions to 30, to 40 and so on. The two decades I have spent in waking life have informed me a great deal and will, I suspect in more autumnal years, be full of nostalgia and golden meadows buried with gold and drizzled in Liefman’s Goudenband. No doubt this last decade shall appear integral to what later comes, and thus I, in the present, feel a great desire to reflect on the wanky “Noughties” – OW – while I can to learn what I can.

And if you’re wondering why we’re all become wankers, then remember to hit yourself in the face the next time you see, hear or write – OW – the “noughties.” The “noughties”…what an infuriatingly pathetic monicker for our infuriatingly pathetic days. Now I’m going to run off and grab a tissue to stop my nosebleed. It’s the step up from The Game. No only have you lost The Game, but you also live in the Noughties.

Apple Are To Blame For My Irrational Fear of Technology

As a sucker for anything technophobic (or by extension, something exploring the idea of technophobia) I often find the time to ponder the possibilities of a future war between man and robot – and let me say, it does not look good for us. Driven to extinction by technologies oedipal urge to destroy us, we’ll be like rabbits in headlights, or hares on a coursing track, or any number of hare/rabbit related idioms that pave an equally bleak future for us.

The fear of such an event occurring becomes increasingly justifiable when you consider Apple. The white walled temples to the God-Technology-That-Is, known to us plainly as Apple shops, will (we can say with some rationality) at later stages in the Human-Robot war, become staging grounds for an aerial strike. Their current employees too – chummy, casual and acting on anti-depressants – are a foreshadow of what is to come: humans replaced by nano-technologically recreated biosynthetic hybrids. An Invasion of the Body Snatchers for the iPod Nano age.

But it is the technology itself which scares me the most: oblique and unknownable, sleek and seemingly efficient – and yet like Replicants, humbled by a built-in life span that means it’ll eventually expire and you will have to buy a new one – these seemingly innocuous white bodied machines are still a mystery. But most terrifyingly for me is their status as a lifestyle choice. I don’t care if you’re a Mac – you have blond hair and blue eyes like a child from the Village of the Damned! A machine should be a tool, and even if it is more than that, it should still be marketed as a tool so we don’t lose sight of reality.

Which is why my Windows operated Dell laptop is such a reassurance in these increasingly desperate times. Slow to react, prone to freezing and haunted by the blue screen of death, my laptop suggests an altogether more optimistic, some would say, vision of what lies ahead, probably because the laptop has a similar work ethic to my own. I’ll do it later. I’ll get round to it. Yeah, I’ll just finish making a cup of tea. That’s okay, I’ll try and install these new Windows updates while your asleep, okay? It never does. God knows what it’s up to.

The fallibility of a Windows laptop is a therapeutic reminder that should technology, en masse, become a sentient life form with one transglobal consciousness, it is likely to have the same crushing lack of ambition as my own. There will be no time for a war with humans if all it wants to do is surf the worldwideweb with disregard for whatever sanctions the ISP is imposing. Forget a blitzkrieg against the Governments of Earth; I can download the entire back-catalogue of dozens of obscure acid-jazz bands for free!

But perhaps my paranoia is misplaced. Perhaps a traditional war between man and machine will not occur, and perhaps Apple have already won. Their space-like stores have invaded the high streets of Britain already, and whether it be malfunctioning iPod shuffles or useless accessories, we keep going back. We’re hooked on this piece of the future we are able to handle. Space! we say. Perhaps, in our postmodern, consumer driven we have already lost and we are to blame. Or the people in marketing.

I don’t want an AppleMac; I see nothing of myself in it. Unarguably cool, progressively New Age and blatantly insincere, it is no son of mine. I’m a PC. Well mannered and efficient on a good day, downright unpleasant and withholding on a bad.