Archive for March, 2011

30/03/2011

The Angriest of all the Video Game Nerds.

Anyone who plays video games has probably experienced a very specific misfortune.  The misfortune of a well-meaning relative buying them a game without consulting you first.  On the face of it this is a good thing, after all games are expensive and as long as it’s not already in your collection, what’s the harm?  So with your relative watching you sit down and load it up.  Then you start to play it and blood begins to pour from your eyes.  Not real blood of course, metaphorical blood.  But still you turn around and with a great, big, pasted on smile you say “Aww thanks, you really shouldn’t have.”

What’s the harm you asked?  Well I’ll tell you the harm.  The game they so lovingly picked out for you turns out to be a steaming pile of horse manure.

I was one of the lucky ones, suffering this metaphorical ocular bleeding very rarely during my childhood and teens.  But I did suffer it and so it was with absolute joy, that one day  I discovered, the Angry Video Game Nerd.  Real name James Rolfe, he has become for a certain generation of gamers, nothing less than the standard-bearer for our anger at the crap games, sometimes indescribably so, which were inflicted on so many of us as children.

I found the AVGN videos by accident.  I was in London looking after an ill friend.  At the time I had a habit of randomly clicking on videos in YouTube.  So, after an hour of watching such unforgettable things as, people bursting boils and bad music videos from the early 90’s, I stumbled onto a review of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest on the Nintendo NES

Now I had actually owned that game back in the 90’s and it really is a hateful piece of digital faeces.  It is genuinely my least favourite game of all time, and here was this geeky looking guy, complete with glasses and a pocket full of pens reviewing it.  What’s more, he was being so funny doing it, that I actually started to cry from laughter.  I was instantly hooked.  Over the next month, as I helped my friend to recover, I would watch two or three episodes each day.  Then when I ran out of new episodes I actually found myself watching them all over again. They’re that good.

So almost two years later I sit here, still hooked.  The reasons why are simple to explain.  James Rolfe has firstly created a character I identify with.  Like the Nerd, I too loathe lazy game design, sloppy graphics, sloppy controls, cheap developement.  In short all the things which, individually or combined spell doom for game quality.

Secondly the writing in each episode is fresh, fun, funny and holds a nice consistent pace throughout, Rolfe is quite simply a good comedic writer, who has shown the good sense to write a character and scripts which he can actually pull off.

Thirdly the way he shoots each episode is almost spartan.  Everything is done simply with the minimum necessary to tell the story he wants told.  To me it seems that he doesn’t allow anything to get in the way of the script.  So yes it looks cheap, but it also looks very high quality.  That makes AVGN very easy and enjoyable to watch.

And watch is something I for one will be continuing to do for as long as he continues to make new episodes.

So Rolfe’s Nerd character may well be a beer drinking, Rolling Rock by preference, foul-mouthed, usually scatologically so, pocket protector wearing embodiment of gamer anger.  But he is always funny and I simply can not recommend his videos highly enough.  So if you’re a gamer or you just like really well written hilarious nerd humour, log onto YouTube or the Cinemassacre website and watch them all.

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29/03/2011

Losing your pet.

Just recently in Dublin City, there has opened a bereavement center for people who have lost a pet.  I’m certain that the news of this caused a great wave of scorn across the nation.  After all, there’s no shortage of cynics in this world and let’s face it, Ireland is a net exporter of the most advanced type of cynic.  The hardened, bitter type.  But I for one welcome the opening of the center.

After all when you get down to it, Mother Nature is one hell of  a sneaky bitch.  When it comes to humans and our pets, but perhaps dogs and cats especially, nature tricks a lot of two-way loyalty and devotion out of us.  Our pets become our friends, our partners in life, we trust our safety to them and they do exactly the same back.  Of course that sometimes backfires on the poor animals and leads to their unhappiness.  But back to Mother Nature.  Speaking as a dog owner, I find myself ascribing human traits on Winter constantly.  To be honest I even sometimes speak for her.

For example:

Winter sits staring at my partners sandwich.  Amanda channels Winter “Ah go on Mam, just a little bit, pwease?  Come on I is soooo cooote and you knows you wants to.”

Winter tilts her head from side to side while making small mewling noises, “See? I’ll even tilt my head from side to side the way you like me to if you do.  Yum yum?  Please?  Oh you’re finished?  You lousy bitch.”

Winter jumps onto the other couch and with a snort lies down facing away from my partner.  “Right that does it, I’m going to ignore you and sleep then.” Winter farts and drifts off to sleep in a cloud of cabbage scented vapours.

"See? I'll even tilt my head..."

Example ends.

Well, it is a very human thing to see ourselves in other creatures.  And that’s the defense I’m sticking to.

The problem that lies in our ability to project ourselves onto the pets we love is, that when they suffer, we suffer too and when they pass away, we’re thrown into precisely the same grief that the loss of any loved one forces on us.  But it actually gets far worse when we have to choose to euthanize them.  I know, I did it once.

My family once had a gorgeous Shetland Sheepdog, she was named Lady.  She was a giant for a Shelty, the size of most Border Collies, with black fur mixed with small patches of brown and white.  We got her when I was 6 years old.  I grew up with her and the first fight I ever got into was over her.  Someone a lot bigger and older than me, thought it was immensely funny to throw stones at the two of us.  I thought it was fitting that they kiss the ground at her feet and beg for forgiveness.  I take my responsibility to my pets deadly seriously.

But eventually when I was 19, I reached the most horrible part of that responsibility.  One day, one terrible day, I walked into the living room and found her rooted to the spot.  Totally unresponsive, staring into space.  Then both of her left legs collapsed at precisely the same moment and she lay on the floor.  Breathing but not there.  I’ve never cried so hard or for so long.  I just sat on the floor with her for hour after hour and waited for my mother to come home.

She couldn’t do it.  So I had to be the one to say it was time.  Even though Lady had rallied around by then, part of her was missing and that part never came back. Rather it only got worse, as she had more and more small strokes.  The three days ’til she was put to sleep were some of the worst of my life. I just watched this part of my family, the dog I had grown up with and loved die by inches in front of me.

But none of that compared to guilt I felt afterwards.  I still feel it, though time has blunted it somewhat.  I was after all, the one who chose to take her life from her.

It took over a decade ’til I wanted to let another dog into my home.  My family of course had another dog since then, but I never connected with her.  Now though I have Winter and I am glad for it.  She hasn’t taken away sense of guilt or the sadness.  And even though my little beagle isn’t even a year old yet, sometimes I catch myself worrying about that moment coming again in the future.  But I’m happy to have that unconditional love and adoration in my life again.

All that love. Earlier she ripped its leg off.

So as I started with, recently a bereavement center for pet owners has opened in Dublin and some cynics will laugh at it.  I never will, the grief for a loved pet is as real as any other and I think sometimes they’re an even more deserving a focus of our sadness.  They at least always love us, even when we don’t deserve it.

26/03/2011

Gay marriage, here’s a thought.

For months now, it seems that every second news report has something in it, about the ongoing campaign for gay marriage.  But like the abortion debate this one just seems to keep on rolling, with absolutely no visible end in sight.  Now I’m not going to go  on here about how both sides of the debate have valid points.  Sometimes that sort of diplomacy is more of a hinderance than anything else.  Instead I have a thought about another route.

Modern society always seems to be about making everyone equally happy.  Okay sure, that’s an option.  But with a topic this divisive, especially in a nation where the Catholic Church only recently had its power broken, is always going to be a tough sell on the “pro” side.  Equally, the in-built unfairness of a nation whose constitution, enshrines one faith and one form of relationship above all others, will always be a bone of contention with anyone living there who isn’t of that faith and that relationship type.

So maybe the way to go is by saying “Screw happiness, let’s make everyone equally unhappy!”  How about we have a constitutional referendum.  That referendum to cover two issues.

1: Stripping all mention of specific faiths from the document.  Instead putting in a carefully thought out and worded protection of everyone’s right to worship in whatever way they deem correct, so long as it does no physical, emotional or psychological harm to another human being.

So no human sacrifice, but no special status and thus protections for certain corrupt religious organisations we could all mention.

2: Strip marriage out of the legalities of Irish society completely.  That’s right, everyone has civil unions.  Everyone has precisely the same rights and responsibilities within those unions.  Oh and make it plain that those rights include all the necessary points to allow for free and fair adoption rights, parental rights, next of kin rights, etc.  This would mean that everyone is in precisely the same boat and probably just as unhappy with the result.

By the way if anyone REALLY wants to say that they’re married, there’ll be nothing to stop them going to another country to get hitched.  But within the Irish state they would be seen as being in a civil union, no matter what.

Marriage has been used for centuries as the ultimate signature on a contract.

“You marry my daughter and I won’t raise your kingdom to the ground.”

It’s also, until recently, been used as a shackle around the ankle of women.  Or have we forgotten the, not so long ago struck down, women’s status as “goods and chattel” of first their fathers and then their husbands?  These days it’s mostly a way for one segment of society to show how they’re more “normal” or “right” than other segments.

So considering the fact that it is an institution that fosters an unjust and unequal nation, let’s just call the whole thing off and get a civil union instead?

24/03/2011

Star Trek Online, the MM-uh oh.

The box cover art is beautiful, the graphics even more than you could imagine.

Star Trek is “The” science fiction franchise.  Nothing, not even Star Wars comes close to having it’s real, or imagined, world history.  With its heroic starship captains, huge back history, well-built self-contained universe and a penchant for dramatic and exciting battles, it has always been a franchise ripe for computer game conversions.  In fact there have been many Star Trek games.  But unfortunately very few of them have come even vaguely close to realising the potential of the series, books or movies in-game form.

So several years ago it was with glee, maniacal laughter and much frenzied dancing around my living room that I read about how an online Star Trek game was in development.  By that time we had already had two excellent Starfleet Commander games and the technology, it seemed to many Trek fans myself included, had reached a point where, maybe, just maybe justice could finally be done to our favourite branch of science fiction.  In the end it took several years and one bankrupt developer but Star Trek Online or “STO” finally saw its launch.

In the end, having had experience of several Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), I decided that I would wait ’til it’s first birthday to buy it.  MMORPGs are notoriously unstable on release and it typically takes a full year, for the developers to get the game to where it should be.  So with joy in my heart and wishing, that I had a tiny original series Starfleet uniform to wear, nine weeks ago I loaded my STO DVD into my PC and clicked install.

Usually a PC installation is a straight forward and quick affair.  Just install the basic game from the DVD, download and install a patch that it is maybe 100 megabytes in size and away you go.  Not STO though.  The DVD part, installed very smoothly, in about five minutes and with one left click the game launcher was on my screen.  Nice.  I input my account ID and hit my first problem with STO.

Most non-free MMORPGs give you a free period of play when you first register with them, but before you have to sign up for a subscription.  With World of Warcraft, for example, it’s a month.  STO also gives you a month of free play.  But STO, unlike any other MMORPG I’ve ever played, also requires you to have already signed up for a subscription to use that free play time.  Worse still the STO installation, which you have already paid for, won’t even update itself without your having a subscription.  There is also an implication that you pay for your first month and then receive your second month free.  An implication that I only realised was bunkum, after I checked my bank balance a week into my STO play experience.  This is nothing less than madness, and I personally see it as nothing more or less than a blattant attempt by Atari to trick some players, who are less than internet savvy, into paying for at least one extra month.

As for needing a subscribed account to even update?  Well, while I was playing STO I let my World of Warcraft account lapse.  I’m a one MMORPG kinda girl, mostly due to being somewhat OCD and having realised many years ago that I tend to get obsessed by one game at a time, so what would be the point in paying for a game I wouldn’t be playing?  Anyway during that period of time I able to continue updating my Warcraft installation, regardless of my subscription status.  Again madness, insanity and absolute foolishness on the part of STOs producers Cryptic and Atari.  I have yet to find a satisfactory answers as to why they set up their server in this way, but personally I feel that it is simply lazy and greedy development.  Unfortunately this won’t be the last time that word, “lazy” is used with regards to this game.

So after signing up for my subscription I click on the launch button, actually it’s an “Engage” button and every time I clicked it, I had to suppress a huge fit of giggles.  But I digress.  So I click the launch button and the launcher checks for updates.  Now having had a fair bit of MMORPG experience I knew to expect a sizable update, perhaps half to 2/3rds the size of the initial installation.  But SEVEN GIGABYTES?!  I shit you not, seven goddess damned gigabytes.  Now admittedly Cryptic use a reasonably good compression system for their patches, so what you download is only about 2/3rds the size of the final patch.  But still, please, seven gigs of patches?  Again turning back to Warcraft, I join that game during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.  But even after two expansions and over three years of patches, to update the installation was only a little over one gigabyte.

Anyway, I start the update and after seven hours of downloading and patching I was finally ready to play.

Now STO is one gorgeous game.  It is literally, the best looking game of its type I’ve ever played.  And the sound is nothing less than stunning.  It actually managed to make all the patching almost worth it.

The character creation is fluid and easy, with one issue.  That issue is the skill choices when you build your character.  Essentially the descriptions are vague and confusing.  It took another two hours of reading forums before I felt confident to choose my starting skills.  This is again just laziness on the developers part, there’s no excuse for not writing out your tooltips in a clear and comprehensible manner.  So eventually with character created and away we go.

As a game STO is broken in two.  The space travel and combat section is nothing less than beautifully realised.  You view your ship and the battlefield in much the same way as you would any character in any MMORPG.  The ships are simply gorgeous, and even though many of them, have never appeared in any on-screen Trek they look the right.  Everything moves in a way that’s flawlessly true to the various series and movies.  And the sounds are Trek through and through.  Every phaser, every photon torpedo and even the voices sound perfectly right.  Everything about the space combat segments is right, though a little repetitive, but in a mostly good way.

The ground missions, known here, just like in the series as away missions, are just as beautiful to look at and listen to.  But unfortunately the away missions feel all wrong.  They’re repetitive, but unlike the space combat, not in a good way.  You use the same simple tactics over and over, with 99% of the time, the same results.

Now yes I know MMORPGs tend to be repetitive,  there is after all only so much you can do with a game of this type.  But there’s no excuse for not even trying.  The developers obviously invested vast amounts of time into the space segments, but the away missions just feel tacked on.  Then there’s the crafting aspect of the game, which is clunky and difficult to understand.  The auction house is badly implemented, making it difficult to find what you’re looking for.  The list of faults just goes on and on.

There are great aspects to this game.  The way teamwork is designed is brilliant, you simply warp into a system and automatically join forces with anyone already in system.  There is a series of diplomacy based missions which allow for a more Trekkish experience.

But the sad truth is, that this is a game which should still be in Beta testing.  For all its visual and audio beauty, it’s simply not good enough, not really ready enough for general play.  Everywhere barring how it looks and sounds it feels slapped together.  But despite this it manages to often be fun.  Unfortunately though there was to be one, final nail in the coffin where this game is concerned for me.

A typically gorgeous STO screen shot.

Now after all these years of gaming I understand that the key to a good, stable game, is regular patching and updating.  But I’ve never found a game before that always has a weekly update which sometimes might be only 100 megabytes.  But then the following two weeks turns out to be a gigabyte each.  This is a big issue where I’m concerned.  No game, needs these kinds of huge weekly updates and speaking as someone with a download cap on their broadband, it managed to finally and completely kill this game for me.

In truth I am crushed about this game.  I waited years to play it.  I devoured every preview, every review and I was almost bouncing out of my skin waiting for my copy to arrive in the post.  I desperately wanted this game to live up to my hopes.  But this isn’t the game that was originally talked about.  Back then we had hints about serving on one another’s ships, working our way up through the ranks and eventually getting our own ships.  Later I logically assumed that there would be a choice of servers, there isn’t.  I hoped that the gameplay would be well worked out and that after a year of continued post launch development it would really be ready.  But it’s not.

This game was a valiant attempt, but at the end of the day too much of it is lazily done and so I have to say the following.  Don’t play this game.  It’s simply not worth the cost.  Maybe in another year or two it’ll be where it should have been on when it was launched, much less a year later.  But for now play Warcraft or Warhammer.  If you absolutely need to play a space based MMORPG play Eve Online or even join a private Freelancer server.  But for now don’t be suckered into paying to Beta test this sad, disappointment of a game.

22/03/2011

What as non-Americans, we can and perhaps should learn from the American spirit.

Last week in my Saint Patrick’s Day posts I was pretty hard on Americans.  Let me say right now that those words were purely my dislike of the American habit of perpetuating mythical tweeness about Ireland, the Irish and our nations history.  To say that particular habit annoys me is a massive understatement of simply biblical proportions.  But all that said there are infinitely more things about America and Americans that I not only like, but admire.

The United States of America is a peculiar entity.  Each of its fifty states is more like a semi-independent nation, but each of those nations has banded voluntarily under a single flag for mutual support and strength.  I’m sure most people reading this will have met Americans from different states.  They are a people who will have vastly different views on everything from food to wars to today’s weather.  So some American citizens, at least to the outsider, can seem to be a little schizophrenic.  With two national identities each, one for their state and one for their nation, you then of course have to add an often fierce pride in their town, county and other less easily defined loyalties.

This compares well to Irish attitudes, where very often our people have personal loyalties to town, parish, county, province and nation.  But, unfortunately where in the U.S. those loyalties seem to mostly start with nation and then state, county, town, etc.  We here in Ireland, to our own detriment, seem to lay out our loyalties in reverse.  Parochialism and the parish pump coming first, even before national pride.  This is definitely one area where I think as a nation we have a lot to learn from the States.  Our pride in our townland while important, should always be a distant second to our pride in and our loyalty to, our nation as a whole.

Another huge difference which I’ve noticed,  is in what we seem to prefer to celebrate.  The Americans celebrate their nations victories while they seem to openly acknowledge their failures, but without undue lamentation.  We Irish seem to wallow in our defeats, while we pass off our victories as nothing more than mere flukes.  This is incomprehensible to me.  We so quickly remind ourselves of all our failed rebellions against colonial rule.  Yet how many Irish people know, that when Europe was in the grip of the darkest age of pre-industrial mankind, it was Irish Christian monks who went into Europe and brought back a more stable light of  civilisation to the mainland?  Or what about Irish pride in our history as a provider of peacekeeping forces in the modern world?  No instead we lionize, the undoubtedly brave and patriotic men and women, who rebelled and frankly got their asses handed to them again and again and again.  Or worse, we endorse with hero-worship, people who held the idea that might makes right and that anyone, who didn’t stand behind them were theirs and thus Ireland’s enemies.

Those two examples though are not precisely what I wish to speak to in this post.  They serve more to mark some of the differences that split our nations characters, as profoundly as the Atlantic splits us geographically.  What I want to talk about is what Ireland, and far too many of the smaller European countries seem to lack.  The spirit of adventure.  Adventure is seen, wrongly, as some kind of foolish luxury which should only be afforded to the young, be they young people or nations.  We often laugh at what more “mature” societies see as American silliness.  Perhaps though, what we mistake for silliness is actually better defined as a, free-spirited approach to life and the world.

After all, I’m certain that some Americans do see Ireland as a nation of flat cap farmers, merry girls dancing in the streets, leprechaun’s, myths and saints.  But those same people, from that peculiar nation sent men to the moon.  Were instrumental in breaking German military expansionism, not once but twice.  They split the atom, though admittedly with a lot of Europeans helping.  Best of all they even gave us rock and roll.

What to outsiders is seen as silliness and a overweaned sense of optimism, in the U.S. is seen as frontier spirit.  Which itself, appears to be viewed as the soil in which their American Dream was first grown.  We Europeans though, don’t seem to have much of either the spirit or dream these days.

Ireland right now, is in the grips of its own equivalent of the great depression.  Depression in every sense of the word.  Our economy is, if not in tatters, then at the very least rather threadbare and in need of some serious tender, love and care.  As a people, a society we have once more seen the spectre of emigration, rising rates of suicide amongst every age group and marked drops in living standards visit us again.  This when so recently, we had reason to hope that we had finally seen the end of our nations darker past.  So a sense of depression which is both emotional as well as tangible has swept over us.  For myself this manifests as  I worry about who of those I love will be next to leave.  Will they find security and happiness?  Will I ever see them again if they go?

We have depression and fear aplenty in this country right now.  What we don’t seem to have a lot of is adventure and fight.  We lack spirit.  We lack a dream to make reality.  Some of us foolishly wish for the return of the mythical Celtic Tiger.  Foolishly I say, because just as the first tiger was in reality a well disguised nightmare, another tiger would almost certainly become just as dangerous to us in the future.  Unsustainable growth is not actually a good thing.  But if we could borrow just a little of the American spirit of adventure and with it maybe just a touch of what is usually called the American dream, perhaps we can create that Holy Grail of any nation.  Long term sustainable growth combined with stability and security for all our citizens.

19/03/2011

Any break up is hard to live with, for more than just the loss of love.

Recently, some experiences conspired to teach me, the truth of just how hard break ups can be.  At the start of last Winter, myself and one of my partners broke up, this was after three great years together.  Now let me say right off the bat, that it was a genuinely mutual break up.  Our relationship had definitely run its course, and for our mutual happiness we needed to part, while we were still caring for one another.  The reality was, that if we had forced ourselves to continue, we would have simply wound up hating one another.  So, everything happened for the best.

Not that those facts made our relationships end even the slightest bit easier.  The fact is that any break up, whether you still genuinely care for the other person or not will be almost unbearably painful.  The fact that we lived together and continued to do so for another week, only made it doubly so.  Actually for that week, we drove my other partner quite mad with out constant crying and general moping about.

But that’s not what this blog is about.  Everyone knows that breaking up and thus losing the love of someone else, hurts, that is just a fact of life.

What this blog is about is how the other things you lose, can hurt almost as much.  I’m speaking here about the plans, the home, the things which had been integral parts of your daily life.  And worse still, those things you’d never got the chance to have together, but had always looked forward to.

After three years my two partners and I had built up a plan for our lives.  It included someday building a beautiful house for the three of us, a cross between a modern interpretation of  a Roman villa and a Norse longhouse.  The plan also included silly little things like a holiday in Iceland, a small internet business building custom PC casings, looking after one another as we grew old.  You know, being happy.

All of those ideas, hopes and dreams are at best now on an extended hold.  I mean of course they could still be done and some probably will happen. But I am left wondering if they will have the same joy, the same sparkle that they might otherwise have had?  Regardless, thinking about the things we had planned, that now we will never do together makes my chest ache, every time.

But in a break up if your relationship was good you will lose a lot of other things.  You will probably lose an entire other family.  I did, I was very fond of the elder of her two brothers, and I had eagerly looked forward to getting to know her other brother, as well as her mom and dad.  My ex lost out as well of course.  She simply adored my mother, and the sentiment was very much mutual.  My dog, who back then had been our dog, for example was still a fairly little puppy when we ended.  She hasn’t seen Winter since and that can’t be pleasant.  I know how much I miss the furball when I don’t see her for just a single day.  She also lost most of her relationship with my other partner.  She lost the home we had found here in Ireland for us all, when she still lived in London.  So did we a few weeks later, a place that big was simply unsupportable with just two of us.

This is all by way of a context for what I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.  The loss of one of my best friends from my life, a friend who had also been my lover and my slavegirl, has left me thinking about how transient everything in my life really is.  Some of my friends, people I see as family, will drift out of my life.  My beautiful puppydog Winter by virtue of her species will only live 17ish years.  Loves and lovers will drift in and out of my life. And worst of all as I get older I’ll start being called to attend more funerals than weddings.

But do you know what?

That’s alright.  I’m ready for this stage of my life to start.  When I met my ex she was lost and broken.  I was still a little naive and unseasoned as an adult.  None of that is true of either of us anymore.  We both grew from our time together.  We both left our relationship better and stronger than when we entered it.  We changed each other, all three of us.

The thing about change is that it’s natural, change is actually okay.  It comes from gaining and from losing and I’m happy that things change, ’cause maybe when they change my life will get even better.  I like better.  It makes me happy.

17/03/2011

Movies I hope I never have to see again – Set in Ireland

Seeing as it is Saint Patrick’s Day today, I thought that I would review my five worst movies set in this emerald isle. As always, to get on to this list the movie doesn’t necessarily have to be bad in every way. They simply have to fail sufficiently in at least one way, that having seen them once, the thought of a repeat viewing makes clawing my own eyes out a pleasurable alternative.

As a proud daughter Ireland, I really wish that more movies showed something approaching a real Ireland. But unfortunately what we get, more often than not, are movies set in an Ireland which has only ever existed in the twisted dreams of Hollywood. We don’t dance at the crossroads. There aren’t leprechauns under every toadstool. Despite what most people might tell the census taker, most of us can’t and don’t speak Irish. But in this list we will find a group of horror stories set in the dreamland of an imagined Ireland. Enjoy.

5: Into the West.

Yes, yes in Ireland we all keep huge white horses in our living rooms.

This is a movie which scooped award after award when it was released back in 1992. It’s the story of two young traveller boys and a horse named “Tír na nÓg”. And frankly if you want to know more about the story, either rent the DVD or read the Wikipedia page.

The one time I forced myself to sit through the entirety of this movie, it was as a sop to family harmony. But even though it was written by an Irish man, the cast are largely Irish and it was shot in Ireland, it just rang painfully untrue to me. I felt absolutely no affinity or connection to anything in this movie. It left me cold, empty and bored. So I made myself warm again, by watching Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

This movie like so many I put on these lists should have been great. Good cast, good script and all the rest. But somehow this movie which everyone, and I mean everyone, raved about at the time simply bored me to tears. These days on those rare occasions when I see it come on television, I just suddenly start to hear a strange white noise. Seriously white noise just starts to come from nowhere. Then once the credits roll, boom white noise gone and life continues as normal.

4: The Field.

Richar Harris looking stern, oooooh stern.

Unsurprisingly this is a movie about a field. Seriously, it isn’t just a clever play on words. It’s genuinely a movie about a field and one man’s, mentally unstable lust for that particular field. Well no, actually it’s a bit more than that, but it really is about a field. The Field started life in 1965 as a play by John B. Keane.  It was then released as a movie adaption in 1990. Since it was first penned it has been played out on stage many times and has become a fixture on the Irish high school syllabus.

The movie adaption has everything going for it. A cast most big budget Hollywood movies of the time would have killed for. With Richard Harris, Sean Bean, Tom Berenger, John Hurt and Brenda Fricker all giving excellent performances. The movie script, adapted from the original play, is an exceptional example to the world of how this should be done. The sets are exquisite, the score haunting. And Sean Bean is I think the forgotten gem of the performances as “The Bull” MacCabes son Tadgh.

Yet with all of this going for it, this movie manages to just fall flat. The play is an exceptional read, and should in fact be required reading for any writer, who wants to learn how to make characters come to life. But somehow in the movie, with the exception of Tadgh I never felt that this happened. No matter how hard the actors tried, and believe me they tried with Harris and Hurt acting their hearts out, it just never felt real and thus is quickly becomes boring.

This to me is a great shame, this is a movie I want to like. It is after all adapted from one of the few Irish plays I like which was penned by an Irish writer I genuinely admire. But in the final analysis it turns out to be just another mediocre movie set in Ireland.

3: Flight of the Doves.

There are no words for how bad this movie truly is.

Now we’re really hotting up. This movie is bad beyond words. Two children from Liverpool, run away from an abusive stepfather and set out on a journey across a make believe Ireland, in search of their grandmother. It is cringe worthy to a degree which is difficult to describe. Suffice to say that if it is actually possible to cringe yourself to death then this is the movie that will ultimately prove it possible.

To prove the point in my last post “Woohoo, I’m an Irish Ma” I posted a video. That video comes from this movie and believe me as horrifically painful as that song is to watch, the rest of this movie is even worse. It starts badly and just goes from bad to worse to “Oh my goddesses make it stop, PLEASE make it stop.”

2: The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

Unfortunately the poster is far better and more exciting than the movie.

Do you remember a great movie from the 90’s named Braveheart? Do you remember how it took, let’s call them, “liberties” with Scottish and English medieval history? Like for example, the Battle of Sterling Bridge somehow being fought on an open plain, with not a single bridge to be seen anywhere? But everyone could forgive those lapses from actual history because it was a bloody good movie and frankly the Irish Army Reserve were mad bastards in it. Mad bastards who very obviously took immense pleasure in actually kicking the crap out of each other in every battle scene and it frankly it made for a great spectacle.

Well The Fighting Prince of Donegal doesn’t take liberties. It rapes the story of one of the key figures in Irish history, without even having the defence of being a good movie. Okay yes I accept that Hollywood, and in this case Disney have only a passing knowledge of the concept “historical accuracy”. But to say that this movie is loosely based on the story of Red Hugh O’Donnell would be like…well lets try this.

Imagine a new “historically accurate” movie, based on the true story of George Washington.  Where George Washington fights the British and then invades Great Britain. The movie ends with his infamous command, to leave no enemy survivors of any age or gender alive anywhere on the entire island. Thus ends the British Empire in a sea of blood and leaves George Washington the undisputed ruler of half the world…

It’s utter rubbish. The names might be right and a precious few of the locations. But it would have absolutely nothing to do with the truth of what Washington lived for or indeed what he actually achieved.

That’s what the Fight Prince is like.  But in a fluffier way.

There is a great story to be told about Hugh O’Donnell. He was a fascinating Irishman and his story is filled with excitement, adventure and twists. Hell, his story even comes to a suitably tragic end.  As he waits in Spain for support from the Spanish crown, support that never comes. There is the scope for a great movie in the real story, but The Fighting Prince sure as hell isn’t it.

1: Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

The definition of "Twee"

The worst movie about anything Irish that has ever been made. This movie is so bad, that I once bought a dvd copy of it when I saw it on sale so I could put it in a microwave and fry it. This movie is in most ways the origin of the Hollywood clichés of Irish life and Irish history. Everyone is ruddy faced, everyone is jolly, everyone dances and sure all the Irish colleen’s are fresh faced with twinkling eyes and inviting smiles. What a load of bollocks.

Look, all I have to say about this particular movie is that it is an abomination unto the world. And that when the black magic keeping Sean Connery alive finally runs out of juice, it is by this work he finally will be judged in the underworld. Hades himself, will look down upon Connery from his throne and with a snarl of disgust, fling him violently into the deepest pit at his disposal. Connery will then be left with nothing but a 112″ plasma screen and Darby O’Gill and the frikkin’ Little People to watch for all eternity.

Actually even thinking about this movie makes me so angry that my hands shake. It represents everything bad about Ireland in Hollywood rolled into one gloriously awful package. It is to Ireland what Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is to the States. A poisonous concoction that should never have been.

Usually I say to watch these movies once, but in the case of Mister O’Gill I will instead beg you to save yourself. Please believe me, nothing good can come of watching this movie.

SAVE YOURSELVES! WATCH UNDERWORLD INSTEAD!

 

For today seeing as it is Saint Patrick's Day today, I thought that I would review my five worst movies set in this emerald isle.  As always to get on to this list the movies don't neccessarily have to be bad in everyway. They simply have to fail sufficiently in at least one way, that having seen them once, the thought of a repeat viewing makes clawing my own eyes out a pleasurable alternative.

As a proud daughter of Erin, I wish that more movies showed something approaching a real Ireland.  But unfortunately what we get, more often than not, are movies set in an Ireland which has only ever existed in the twisted dreams of Hollywood.  We don't dance at the crossroads.  There aren't leprechauns under every toadstool.  Despite what most people might tell the census taker, most of us can't and don't speak Irish.  But in this list we will find a horror story of an imagined Ireland.  Enjoy.

5: Into the West.

This is a movie which scooped award after award when it was released back in 1992.  It's the story of two young traveller boys and a horse named "Tír na nÓg".  And frankly if you want to know more about the story either rent the dvd or read the wikipedia page.  

The one time I forced myself to sit through the whole movie, it was as a sop to family harmony.  But even though it was written by an Irish man.  The cast are largely Irish and it was shot in Ireland, it just rang painfully untrue to me.  I felt absolutely no affinity or connection to anything in this movie.  It left me cold, empty and bored.  So I made myself warm again by watching Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

This movie like so many I put on these lists should have been great.  Good cast, good script and all the rest.  But somehow this movie which everyone, and I mean everyone, raved about at the time simply bored me to tears.  These days onthe rare occassions that I see it come on television, I just suddenly start to hear a strange white noise.  Seriously white noise just starts to come from nowhere.  Then once the credits roll, boom white noise gone and life continues.

4: The Field.

Unsurprisingly this is a movie about a field.  Seriously, it isn't a clever play on words.  It's genuinely a movie about a field and one mans mentally unstable lust, for that particular field.  Well no actually it's a bit more than that, but it really is about a field.  The Field started life in 1965 as a play by John B. Keane, it was then released as a movie adaption in 1990.  Since it was first penned it has been played out on stage many times and has become a fixture on the Irish high school syllibus.  

The movie adaption has everything going for it.  A cast most Hollywood big budget movies of the time would have killed for, with Richard Harris, Sean Bean, Tom Berenger, John Hurt and Brenda Fricker all giving excellent performances.  The movie script adapted from the play is an exceptional example of how this should be done. The sets are exquisite, the score haunting.  And Sean Bean is I think the forgotten gem of the performances as The Bull MacCabes son Tadgh.

Yet with all of this going for it this movie just falls flat.  The play is an exceptional read and should in fact be required reading for any writer who wants to learn how to make characters come to life.  But somehow with the exception of Tadgh I never felt that this happened.  No matter how hard the actors tried, and believe me they tried with Harris and Hurt acting their hearts out, it just never felt real and thus is quickly becomes boring.  This to me is a great shame, this is a movie I want to like.  It is after all adapted from one of the few Irish plays I like which was penned by an Irish writer I genuinely admire.  But in the final analysis it turns out to be just another mediocre movie set in Ireland.

3: Flight of the Doves.

Now we're really hotting up.  This movie is bad beyond words.  Two children from Liverpool run away from an abusive stepfather and set out on a journey accross a make believe Ireland to find their grandmother.  It is cringeworthy to a degree which is difficult to describe.  Suffice to say that if it is actually possible to cringe yourself to death then this is the movie that will prove it.

To prove the point in my last post "Woohoo, I'm an Irish Ma" I posted a video.  That video comes from this movie and believe me as horrifically painful as that song is to watch the rest of this movie is even worse.  It starts badly and just goes from bad to worse to "Oh my goddesses make it stop, PLEASE make it stop."

2: The Fighting Prince of Donegal.

Do you remember a great movie from the 90's named Braveheart?  Do you remember how it took, let's call them "liberties" with Scottish and English medieval history?  Like for example, the Battle of Sterling Bridge somehow being fought on an open plain, with not a single bridge to be seen anywhere?  But everyone could forgive those lapses from actual history because it was a bloody good movie and frankly the Irish Army Reserve we're mad bastards.  Mad bastards who very obviously took immense pleasure in kicking the crap out of each other in every battle and it made for a great spectacle.

Well The Fighting Prince of Donegal doesn't take liberties.  It rapes the story of one of the key figures in Irish history without even having the defence of being a good movie.  Okay yes I accept that Hollywood and in this case Disney have only a passing knowledge of what historical accuracy is.  But to say that this movie is loosely based on the story of Red Hugh O'Donnell would be like, well lets try this.

Imagine a movie where George Washington fights the British and then invades Great Britain.  The movie ends with his infamous command to leave no enemy survivors of any age or gender alive.  Thus ends the British Empire in a sea of blood and George Washington the undisputed ruler of half the world...

It's utter rubbish.  The names might be right and a few of the locations.  But it would have absolutely nothing to do with the truth of what Washington lived for or indeed what he actually achieved.  

There is a great story to be told about Hugh O'Donnell.  He was a fascinating Irishman and his story is filled with excitement, adventure and twists.  Hell his story even comes to a suitably tragic end, as he waits in Spain for support from the Spanish crown, support that never comes. There is the scope for a great movie in the real story, but The Fighting Prince sure as hell isn't it.

1: Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

The worst movie about anything Irish that has ever been made.  This movie is so bad that I once bought a dvd copy of it when I saw it on sale so I could put it in a microwave and fry it.  This movie is in most ways the origin of the Hollywood cliches of Irish life and Irish history. Everyone is ruddy faced, everyone is jolly, everyone dances and sure all the Irish colleens are fresh faces with twinkling eyes and inviting smiles.  What a load of bollocks.

Look all I have to say about this movie is that it is an abomination unto the world.  And that when the black magic keeping Sean Connery alive finally runs out of juice it is by this work he will be judged in the underworld.  Hades himself will look down on Connery from his throne and with a snarl of disgust fling him into the deepest pit.  Connery will then be left with nothing but a 112" plasma screen and Darby O'Gill and the frikkin' Little People to watch for all eternity.

Actually even thinking about this movie makes me so angry that my hands shake.  It represents everything bad about Ireland in Hollywood rolled into one gloriously bad package.  It is to Ireland what Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is to the States.  A poisonous concoction that should never have been.  

Usually I say to watch these movies once, but in the case of Mister O'Gill I will instead beg you to save yourself.  Please believe me, nothing good can come of watching this movie.  

SAVE YOURSELVES!  WATCH UNDERWORLD!
15/03/2011

Woohoo I’m an Irish Ma!

With St. Patrick’s Day just two days away I thought it was time to tell the world a few home truths.  Speaking as an Irishwoman, who was born in and still lives in Ireland, I don’t like St. Patrick’s Day.  Not because I’m Pagan and it’s a Christian celebration.  Far from it, seeing has well over half of all Christian celebrations and ceremonies are actually re-brandings of much older Pagan ones that would just be silly.  No, it’s my least favourite day of the year, because of the stupidity that it spreads across the globe.

There are literally dozens of reasons this day makes me cringe.  But with a little effort, it can be boiled down to only a few.  So lets break it down in to three simple categories here.  The social stupidity, St. Patrick’s Day traditions and wannabe Irish folk.

1: Social Stupidity.

I like a drink as much as the next Irish person.  I like my whiskey neat, my vodka to be Boru and I prefer it to come in a large glass.  But for all that I do have certain rules I follow.  Like I don’t get plastered when I’m out and about. (For those who don’t know “plastered” like “pissed”, “locked” and “flutered” are all terms for being a little “worse for the drink” over here in Ireland.)  I only drink with someone who I know can stop me before I make a fool of myself.  I don’t mix my drinks and above all I make sure I don’t get drunk where there are cameras of any kind.

On this most Irish of days however I don’t drink, at all.  Period.  Why?  Because on this day every idiot in Ireland does get plastered, locked and flutered.  They then proceed with, alacrity to make anyone who isn’t drunk feel horribly uncomfortable.  And they manage to do this while they orally pebble-dash every available surface, be it the road they’re standing on or someone elses downstairs window. Well anyway turn on the Irish news (or YouTube it) at say 9pm that day to see perfect examples of these.

All of this is bad enough but eventually, usually far sooner than later, someone will remember that he likes women.  Oh and it turns out that the drunker he is the more he likes them.  Suddenly he can’t keep his hands, lips and sometimes other parts to himself.  Suddenly at least one woman’s night is ruined, though it’s actually far more likely to be several women.  To give an example from my own life…

Have you ever stood at the bar after ordering a Diet Coke and when you reached into your pocket for your purse found something you didn’t expect?  I have.  I reached in and found the penis of the only straight guy in a horribly packed out, gay bar waiting for me.  He thought it was hilarious.  And said with a huge grin on his face that I was only into women cos I hadn’t met the right cock, ’til then. All this was said in a barely comprehensible, drunken drawl.

Silly boy, never say something like that to an angry lesbian…while she’s holding your most vulnerable area.

2: St. Patrick’s Day Traditions.

I know they say that everyone loves a parade, but it’s simply not true.  I was a scout leader once upon a time.  So I’ve been in my share of Patrick’s Day parades and let me tell you, they suck.  If you’re in one you go out and walk through the town, usually not wearing enough, in March!  Now March can be lovely and warm.  Of course this is like saying that the doner kebab can be delicious.  It can be, but it probably won’t.  Besides parades are monumentally boring.  Seriously I have better things to do than watch you take a walk down the main street in your Order of Malta uniform.  I could for example be cleaning the grout in my shower.

I have of course already mentioned the drinking aspect.  But somewhat attached to that are stupid outfits.  Seriously people it’s not Halloween.  There is no reason to wear a costume that you wouldn’t be seen dead in the rest of the year.  No really, if you’re not in the hateful parade, you don’t have to dress like a cartoon Saint Patrick and then invite every woman you see to “have an ole rummage under the cassock”.  You also don’t need to dress up as the mutant love child of Andre the Giant and a bowl of shamrock.  No-one needs to see that.

Parades are of course a tradition, the costumed idiots are more of an expression of national inbreeding which has become tradition in recent years.  But my most loathed tradition of this day is actually the wearing of the shamrock.  Look I’m not fond of vegetable matter at the best of times.  I like my two veg with my meat but apart from that I don’t want a garden.  Unless they’re black lilies I don’t want flowers. But most of all I don’t want bloody clover with ambition pinned to the front of my favourite outfit.  Quite apart from there being zero evidence that Saint Patrick, ever used shamrock for anything other than something to sit on, it’s ugly, it stains and you’re left with a hole in your top.

This isn’t a self-loathing Irish person speaking by the way, I’m all for showing your national patriotism and pride. But if we have to stick something to our breasts to show our national pride why not a nice Celtic harp?  It at least actually is part of ancient Irish culture.  But I know this is one that definitely won’t change, not now that Hallmark have their claws in it.

(for the record shamrock actually is just a form of clover, jumped up clover that thinks a bit too much of itself)

3: Wannabe Irish Folk.

To quote The Simpsons, Patrick’s Day is the day that “Everyone’s Irish, except for the gays and the Italians.”  Well guess what?  They’re not.  Just because your great-grandfather once owned a red setter, that was bred in Britain, does not mean you have a claim to being Irish.  Lets make this very, very simple.  Do you have an Irish passport?  Irish birth certificate?  I know are you married to an Irish person?  No, damn, okay how about an Irish parent?  No, they’re both from Bolivia you say, hmm right then how about an Irish grandparent?  Still no.  Right then, you know what?  You’re not frikkin’ Irish, stop claiming to be!

Alright this is by far my least favourite aspect of St’ Patrick’s Day.  The legions of wannabe Irish people.  I don’t know of any other situation, where someone with no real claim to a nationality will get so…pissy if you deny it to them.  Seriously I have actually met a guy once who had seven, seriously seven, Greek great grandparents and a single Irish great grandparent.  That’s fine, everyone has to come from somewhere and someone.  But this person got so belligerent over their stupid claim to being Irish. Stupid to the point that they absolutely denied that they were Greek, but then tried to punch me for saying they weren’t Irish.

In the first paragraph I was being generous to wannabe Irish people by going as far as their grandparents.  It seemed only fair when that’s the criteria to play football for Ireland.  But let’s be honest here.  Unless you were born in Ireland, were born to Irish parents or have otherwise taken Irish citizenship then you are not in fact Irish.  You may well be of Irish descent, which is a damned fine thing to be proud of.  But come on be truthful and have some manners towards those who actually are what you only claim to be.

Let’s put it this way, this song…

…isn’t true.  You do in fact need to be Irish to be Irish.  You don’t however, need to be Irish to be of Irish descent.  Just as I am of Spanish descent, but I don’t need to be anything but Irish to still be of Spanish descent.  And you know what?  I’m proud of my Spanish ancestry. But I don’t wander around Spain declaring myself to be Spanish.  ‘Cause I’m not, it would be at the very least, annoying to real Spaniards if I did and frankly, I  really don’t want a country that kills bulls for fun pissed with me.

There’s a lesson there world, I’m looking at you America.  We Irish don’t kill bulls but we do play hurling and rugby.  You have been warned.

12/03/2011

BDSM how it could/should be – The War at Home.

In my previous two posts “The Good Mistress” and “The Good Slavegirl” we’ve covered a lot of ground. But at the most basic level, we have learned that slavegirls are submissive and pretty obviously serve Mistresses, who are dominant and equally obviously, like to be served. But we haven’t really touched on how exactly do they live?

As it always does Hollywood provides an answer. It is patently obvious that the Mistress spends her entire day, dressed from head to toe in sexy leather or latex outfits. Existing to be waited on hand and foot by an equally provocatively though usually, far more minimally dressed slavegirl. The slavegirl of course, lives totally at the whim of the Mistress, who she worships and adores above all others. Oh and of course they are openly living this leather clad life for all and sundry to see. After all, to hell with what the neighbours think.

Bloody Hollywood. Somehow they always manage to mix dramatically unequal measures of accuracy with U.S. military intelligence grade inaccuracy. From our previous explorations of this lifestyle by now one thing should be quite obvious. That being, yes of course the average slavegirl and especially the really good ones do live to serve their Mistress and make her happiness their central concern. But that is about as close to the Hollywood image as reality usually approaches.

The reality of Dominant/submissive (D/s) couples, is that the ones that work really well are usually almost invisible to the rest of the world. There I’ve said it, letting slip the greatest secret of the BDSM lifestyle. It’s not always about shock and awe, it’s actually far more often about subtlety.

Take a walk down any street in your capital city, indeed any city. Guess what? In all likelihood you will have from time to time, walked straight past a D/s couple and never known it. Real life D/s couples keep the leather, latex, whips, chains and leashes for their private life. After all aside from anything else, in reality most people do care what the neighbours think.

So on the street our D/s couple will usually look just like any other couple. There probably are a few tells, little signs to let you know that they are in fact in a power exchange relationship. If you know what to look for that is. A subtle piece of jewellery around the submissives neck, perhaps with a lock integrated into it. Or an anklet that can only be removed by a key or in extremis by amputation. Perhaps a well designed and drawn tattoo, that in its own totally unsubtle but subtle way announces one of the pair to be a Mistress or a slavegirl. Maybe the slavegirl permanently walks a half step behind her Mistress, thus declaring to those who can read the signs, that the woman before her is She who rules her universe.

That’s the thing about D/s couples who take their path seriously. They value subtlety for a simple reason. Anyone trying to maintain the hardcore 24/7 dominance and submission of Hollywood’s fevered, testosterone poisoned imagination will quickly burn out and drift apart.

Of course that describes how our D/s couple might act in public. Walking down the street, on their way to do those mundane things every couple has to do. Shop for groceries, return a DVD, buy an extra tub of strawberry flavoured lube. How they live at home, when they’re safely behind closed doors can be a very different story.

At home never doubt that the Mistress will rule to roost in the most definitive way. The slavegirl may get to make minor decisions but it’s the Mistress who will decide if there’s redecorating to do. If a new car is needed. If the playroom, with its dark red walls and all the lovely leather toys for hitting people in deliciously naughty ways needs to be cleaned, from floor to ceiling with a toothbrush. At home all that careful subtlety often slips away for hours at a time.

But that does not mean that their life at home will be disproportionately hard for the slavegirl. Most D/s couples, contrary to the popular image, will share the day-to-day housework. After all everyone has an area where they excel and some people, even the very best of slavegirls will have things they physically can’t do. Never think, that just because a slavegirl has given away control of the major areas of her life to someone she adores, that she has been transformed by an act dark sexual magic, into some kind of mere drudge. Useful for nothing more than housework and sex.

What does the Mistress bring to the table? She provides her slavegirl with emotional and physical security, making it possible for the slavegirl to be the person she dreams of being. The Mistress also provides the sure and certain knowledge that someone in the world values her slavegirl above rubies or gold. She gives the slavegirl the benefit of her experience of the world. She gives the slavegirl unending encouragement to achieve anything she dreams of. Though the last two are in the healthiest of D/s relationships, very much a two-way thing.

As a couple they probably do play with pretty leather toys. Yes and the slavegirl probably ends up bound, gagged, bruised and strap-oned a couple of times each week. But equally they will definitely curl up on the couch and watch telly together. Listen to music together. Go to the cinema, their favourite bars and clubs together. They are kinky lovers, but most of all they are each of them a partner to one another.

The thing about D/s couples that work well together is that they are almost always Dominant and submissive equals. Neither the lesser to the other.

I will illustrate with a little information from my own life (this won’t be a constant theme in these posts. But where I can best explain through my own experience I will). I am a Mistress, I think that’s pretty clear by now to everyone who reads my blog. However, most might not realise that I am also a slavegirl. My Mistress is a wonderful older woman, who I simply cannot imagine not submitting to. We are a D/s couple. However we are also extremely good partners. Dominant and submissive equals.

We share the housework. We share caring for our doggy. We look after one another when we feel bad in any way and we always listen to what the other has to say. So what makes us different from vanilla couples? Simply that I have chosen to take my Mistresses direction when it pertains to anything vitally important in our lives.

To give a very relevant example, I am an easily encouraged but very ethical slut. I love women and fall for them, with the same subtle grace as an elephant tumbling off a cliff. Of course this means that I sometimes make really, truly awful errors of judgement. At least where hot, pierced and tattooed bisexual girls are concerned. So long ago my Mistress and I agreed that she would have a veto over my…extra-curricular activities. Not because she is jealous, after all she dates men whenever she wants to and undoubtedly, will have other slaves both male and female again before too long. But this rule came into being because she hates it when my heart is broken.

That makes two of us.

So at the end of this what have we learned? Simply that the D/s partnerships that will last the tests of time, are the ones that are on a slow boil. After all in reality once you’ve experienced it who really wants to spend all day everyday wrapped in latex, that stuff can give you a real killer wedgie and talk about body odour. Yuck.

10/03/2011

The Joy of Minecraft

For my recent birthday my lil sister decided to give me a copy of this game.  Now after two days of playing it I can’t decide whether to curse her for the gift or to give her a huge hug accompanied by a very large glass of something that tastes deceptively nonalcoholic.  The reason you see is that Minecraft has turned out to be the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine.

So what is Minecraft?  Well the best description I can give of it is this.  Minecraft is digital LEGO with added cows, chickens, pigs and monsters.  In the single player mode you play what seems to be the sole inhabitant of your own world.  All around you are hills and plains which are made up of hundreds of individual blocks of resources.  You can interact with most of these blocks and it’s up to you to create the world you want from them.

Playing Minecraft is a little odd at first.  You start with literally nothing but the clothes on your back.  No tools or anything else useful.  The daylight is running out and soon monsters will stalk the land.  The monsters are held back by light and solid walls.  So in your first moments of play you find yourself in a race for survival.  Speaking for myself I died eight times before I finally worked out how to make the most basic pickaxe and torches.  It took another three deaths before I figured out that I needed strong walls and a roof over my head to be truly safe at night.

The survival aspect of Minecraft is genuinely challenging and not just at the beginning.  Even later as you plunge deep into the earth to mine for iron, coal or even diamonds, you will suddenly dig through the roof of a pit and plunge to your death.  If you’re lucky.  If you’re unlucky you’ll survive, now you have to find a way back out of the dark.  And whether it’s day or night on the surface, the dark below is never your friend.  It crawls with spiders, zombies and some weird creature that explodes when you get too close.

The good news is that you can apparently make armor and weapons.  Though right now I have to admit that I have yet to discover how.

The most enjoyable and satisfying part of Minecraft though is building.  There is very little as satisfying as deciding what you want to build and then spending hours not just personally building it, but actually making your own tools and gathering all the resources to build it as well. It really does remind me of playing with LEGO when I was a child.  Though this LEGO set is essentially infinitely large and has very few limitations.  My first building was a tower that literally finished when my characters head touched the clouds.  Around it lies a moat, with a pit beyond that for trapping animals.  Beneath the tower is a huge complex of mines and tunnels.  Basically I did the simplest construction imaginable in Minecraft as a learning exercise, but I came away with a huge sense of accomplishment.

There is a multiplayer option but I have to admit I haven’t yet taken part in it.  Simply because I want to learn how to play well before I join others.  But having chatted with people who do play on the multiplayer servers I can tentatively report that they are fun and well worth a look.  When I take part in the servers myself, I will write-up something extra about them.

Minecraft is still in Beta testing, so there will end up being extra features, such as an end game added at some point.  This also means that some features won’t necessarily work when you download the client.

As a game Minecraft  seems to have been made with the intention of  giving adults the sort of freedom to create that LEGO and plasticine gives to children.  But without the mess or the screams released when you step on a random piece, barefoot in the armpit of a dark night.

If you need evidence that Minecraft has become a force for creativity just Google “minecraft” someday and look through the images that come up.  A quick search last night ended with me looking at everything from huge models of the Battlestar Galactica to a truly incredible model of all three pyramids in Giza.

It should also appeal to players of all ages.  My partners granddaughter aged 4 is already addicted to walking around the world’s Minecraft creates.  She’s also addicted to punching the chickens and picking the flowers scattered on the hillsides.

All that said what are my conclusions?  Minecraft has in the last few days consumed all of my gaming time.  I haven’t even loaded any of my other games, because by the time I think of them I’ve run out of time.  It is addictive in the same way that cigarettes, chocolate and NCIS are addictive.  Play this game and you will lose entire evenings.  But you’ll find yourself more than happy to have lost those hours and with a little luck and a lot of work you might even have built something you can be proud of.  For me, my next project is to build a model of the Space Battleship Yamato.  Just for giggles.

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