I’ve been meaning to write up a post about guilt and the feeling that you should (could) always be doing something, but I am getting around to it now because I read this article last night about people who try and turn every moment into a productive one by always having an audiobook, podcast, or some other edifying material on the go in their headphones. I was going to write it up last night, but I started playing Football Manager, and then I played some Hearthstone, and I didn’t get any writing done. Which, oddly enough, is the crux of this post.
I am very, very fond of doing nothing. However, I live in the 21st century, and that means that I could always be doing something, even when I should be doing nothing. I always have my phone on me, and at the very least, I could always be reading on my phone. I wrote about this, about using your phone as a way of taking a library of classics with you everywhere, and that’s perfectly valid, but I’ve come to the point where if I have a bus journey I spend quietly thinking to myself, I feel like it was time wasted. I could have been reading.
Or at home. I just quietly watch some YouTube videos. I listen to an album. I stare out the window. I could have been writing. And any time I am not writing, or not thinking about writing, I feel guilty.
This is partly a trap of my own making. I work for myself and I work from home. There is the odd external motivation, but largely my motivation has to come from myself, and I have to motivate myself to work within the same context that I relax. There is no work/life balance because there is no fulcrum. I could always be working.
It would be easy to fix, of course. Get off my arse and write, ideally early in the day. Not necessarily with a set target, but just motivate myself over that first hump, and get some work done. Then if I spend the rest of the day playing Football Manager, at least I got some work done.
But there are days I find that difficult, and it seeps into every activity. I can’t fully enjoy playing Football Manager, because I could be writing. If I do write, it wasn’t enough, or it was enough, but it wasn’t of sufficient quality.
Basically I’m saying that you should ideally think about having a real job.
It occurred to me a while ago that a solution to this problem might be to write about videogames. I do like to write about videogames sometimes, but it’s not the meat of my work. It’s a reasonable idea, it would allow my play to have some kind of productive outcome, but there are some problems with it.
The first problem is that it continues to mix work and fun. I’d start only playing games I wanted to write about. I’d continue to feel guilt if I didn’t balance it right.
The second problem is that my audience is largely uninterested in videogames.
The third problem is that I often write fiction, and apart from maybe Ender’s Game (which has its own problems) I can’t think of much good fiction about videogames.
I am reminded of something Picasso said, that painting and fucking do not go together.
To write well, you have to read. To read, you have to, first of all, not be playing videogames (unless it’s Planescape Torment). You also need quiet, contemplative time in which the more subconscious aspects of creativity can work. Videogames fill that quiet time with static.
Basically I advise you to get a real job and a primary hobby that isn’t videogames.
None of this is that big a problem. I am just good at overthinking and treating minor inconveniences as major problems. I still get work done. I still enjoy myself with my hobbies. There are no clear distinctions, but I know plenty of people with real jobs whose personal lives have been messily encroached upon. The 21st century is weird. And that’s not even taking into account that as someone working in a creative field, social media is both necessary and a huge fucking detriment to my work, but I’ll talk about that some other time.
I have never played the Mega Man games before. A gap in my knowledge. They just weren’t that popular in Europe, partly because the NES wasn’t I think. I certainly can’t recall ever coming across many copies of them. The first Mega Man game I remember seeing around a lot was the first Battle Network. The Mega Man Legacy Collection was on sale on Steam the other day so I figured I’d give it a go.
You see, I suck at videogames. I love them, I spend an inordinate amount of time playing them (Time you should spend writing – Ed.), and yet, I suck at them. I think the only game I was ever really good at was League of Legends, and at that briefly, because of the sheer amount of time I spent playing that game and playing solely Ezreal. I use guides, I use savestates, and I play on easy mode.
That first skeleton in Dark Souls that throws bombs at you fucked me right up.
So I started with the first Mega Man. I picked a stage at random, I think it was Gutsman’s stage? I lost half my health on the little helmet guys and then couldn’t get past the platforms. Gravity is fucked up in that game. As is inertia.
Ok, I decided to try Mega Man 2. That’s the best one, right?
I got past the first screen at least. I still really suck at it, but I’m gonna try (on normal mode). At least the soundtrack is excellent. And looking up the soundtrack, I came across this:
Man, it must be fucking awesome to say you’re in a rock band and get asked what you play.
“Oh, me? The NES.”
As of this writing, I smoked my last cigarette 15 days, 3 hours, 46 minutes, and 22 seconds ago. I normally smoke rollies, but someone else who was quitting gave me most of a pack of Pall Mall and I determined that it would be my last pack, too.
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Before I smoked my last cigarette, I ate a huge lump of beef that was difficult to cook reasonably. It was the bloodiest steak I’ve ever eaten, and the combination of burnt black/brown and the vivid red revealed by the knife had the same visual effect as the picture of lung surgery on the (hopefully) last pack of cigarettes I will ever smoke. The steak was delicious. It was a fitting dinner to have before very deliberately having my Last Ever Cigarette.
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The first cigarette I ever smoked came from a pack that I’d found. I couldn’t have been older than twelve. I was out with a friend, which meant we were walking around South Bretton looking for something to do. There wasn’t anything to do. South Bretton is an area loaded with hedgerows and bushes that we explored through as kids. In a hedgerow on the edge of where South Bretton becomes Netherton, where the hospital is, we found a gold box. The gold box turned out to be a ten pack of Benson & Hedges Gold. We were excited. Both our parents smoked. We’d thought about trying it. You’ve seen the stats on the children of smokers. Where we found those cigarettes, there now stands an oncology unit. The hedgerow is still there, behind it. Go figure.
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It’s now been about a month and a half. I could check exactly how long it’s been, but I’m not as bothered now. Every second meant something and I was looking for any excuse to have a cigarette. I had some good excuses but none of them were good enough.
– – –
My friend and I had found a lighter somewhere, too. We went in to the woods (it was always a hedgerow, or a bush, or the woods) and decided to share a cigarette. Neither of us knew how to smoke a cigarette, that is, how to first pull the smoke into your mouth and then inhale it with some air. It was bitter tasting smoke that had no effect. We couldn’t see why people did it.
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I have always found the smell of cigarette smoke comforting. I still like the smell of cigarette smoke, six weeks on. I have always had an oral fixation. Put it down to not being breast fed. I still want a cigarette. Not as badly, not as often, but still, I would very much like a cigarette. I can feel the difference in my nose, throat, and chest though. If I had a cigarette now, I would probably cough up a storm.
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I remember the first time I inhaled. I was leaning out of a ground floor window smoking a Djarum Black. I read about them on Everything2 (I was on Everything2 and Something Awful a lot before I discovered the *chans). I am glad it was a ground floor window because when I figured out I could get the smoke in to my lungs I nearly fell out of it in a rush of vertigo and nausea. And then a tingling and an intenseness of sight and touch. However do people get addicted to it, I wondered (and still do), when the first experience is that of intense nausea?
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Horses for courses. I don’t understand how people enjoy whiskey. It is peaty water and it burns. But people do like it.
– – –
I got addicted to smoking. I didn’t think I would. It crept up on me. Well, I would have noticed but I was more preoccupied with my girlfriend breaking up with me. I spent the day playing No More Heroes, smoking Bensons & Hedges Gold, and feeling sullen. I was miserable and smoked a lot and that is how I got addicted. I came to associate those cigarettes with negative feelings, until I smoked them with someone else I was in a much more adult relationship with and the association changed. I say more adult, my part in that first relationship when I was seventeen certainly wasn’t, I can’t speak for her. I don’t blame her and I’m not proud.
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I spent a lot of my teens playing videogames, smoking, and feeling sullen.
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There was a brief period where I was old enough to buy cigarettes, because I was sixteen, and that was the legal age. Then they upped it to eighteen, and damnit, I turned seventeen, didn’t I? I had to try different places to see where I could still buy cigarettes. The local shops, no. WHSMith, no (yes, they sell cigarettes, I am as confused as you). The train station… yes? For a while it was the only place I didn’t get IDed. I smoked about a pack a week, going back to the train station on weekends to re-up. I remember those solitary expeditions being some of my happiest hours as a teenager. I have no idea why, but I think it’s that secret frisson you get when no one knows where you are, and no one knows what you’re doing.
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Whenever I browse the smoking cessation aisle in the pharmacy, I am reminded of a Bill Hicks skit, the one that says “it’s you people dying of nothing that are screwed”. I first started listening to Bill Hicks around the time I started smoking. It was nice to have a fellow traveller.
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Oral sprays, nasal sprays, lozenges, gum, mint strips, patches, inhalators, vaporisers. There’s a whole toybox waiting for you if you quit smoking.
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There are drugs that are supposed to stop your cravings to but they’ve been linked to suicides so I shied away.
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I quit smoking largely out of economic concern. The toys cost me about the same as my habit, but my habit (rolling tobacco pretty much exclusively) was cheap compared to people who smoke, say, Marlboro Reds, which I am pretty sure are a tenner a pack now.
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I mostly just chew gum now. It’s cheaper than smoking and won’t kill me.
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I will always be an addict. I will always be a smoker that doesn’t smoke anymore.
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At first it wasn’t the same. Now I look forward to my first piece of gum after waking. The post-dinner gum.
– – –
Post-coital gum still isn’t the same but I’ll get there.
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I wasn’t anticipating that I would so often dream about smoking cigarettes.
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I also didn’t anticipate that the guilt upon waking would feel very real, like after a dream where you murder someone, or sleep with someone who isn’t your partner.
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A great aunt of mine died recently. Smoker. She was 60. Another great aunt died a few years ago. Smoker.
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I don’t smoke any more, and I know I will die too.
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Non-smokers die, every day.
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And I used to not particularly care how long I’d live, but I care now. And I’m poor.
– – –
So I don’t smoke anymore.
– – –
I still want a cigarette.
If you’re not using your local library anyway, which you should be, before it’s gone. If it’s already gone, then this list is just the thing for you.
“When can I get a hard copy?”
A lot of the people I spoke to said they didn’t think they could read ebooks because they didn’t have a Kindle. Even more of them didn’t know that there are lots of books that are completely free on Amazon, and good books, too; all the classics that are in the public domain (as in, you can legally download them for free), all of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontës. I have spoken to an awful lot of people who didn’t know about Project Gutenberg.
I won’t lie, I have a vested interest in expanding my audience and encouraging people to buy my books on more platforms, but thinking about it, I’m also interested in getting people to read full stop. I imagine people thinking they don’t have the time to read, say, Bleak House, and they don’t want to carry the big old tome with them on the bus. I want people to know that they can read Bleak House, at whatever pace they like, and they can do it on their phone or tablet whenever they have a spare minute, and that they can sync their progress between devices and make the print as large as they want.
The Kindle app is available on any phone that has an app store. Or any tablet. Amazon also has a web-based Kindle reader that you can use, if you want to read on a monitor. It is free. You use your Amazon login, and you instantly have access to all the ebooks on your account. Your progress will sync between all these things automatically. Anytime, anywhere. If you have five spare minutes, you can start reading that classic you’ve always wanted to try. I’ll also provide Project Gutenberg links for people who don’t want to patronise Amazon, or for people who just like being able to access multiple formats on any device they want.
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
And there you have it, five classics you can read entirely for free, at any time and on any device you can think of. (I bet some of you even have watches you could read these on.) Free ebooks aren’t always well formatted, and you can’t always find exactly what you want, particularly on Amazon (you can always check Gutenberg). That said, if there’s a book you want to read, and it was published more than, say, 70 years ago, chances are you can (legally!) download it for free and read it on the bus to work.
I have been thinking about Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) a lot lately. Partly just because I’ve found some streamers and YouTubers who play the game, and I like watching people play games, but mostly because, considering that everyone is screaming FAKE NEWS at the moment, its thoughts on information control and filter bubbles have become more and more relevant, even prophetic. I’ve come across some excellent critical material on the game and thought it might be helpful to collate it here.
Definitely the most extensive and well researched look at MGS2. Howell considers MGS2 to be a formal inversion of the first game, and compares MGS1 and 2 to see where they meet, what separates them, and how any thinking about MGS2 has to bear in mind that it very much uses the expectations of the player coming from MGS1 to make its point. Howell comes to MGS2 with formal game design and mechanics in mind, but maintains a perspective acquired from broader studies in the humanities, something I wish more games criticism did. If you’re like me and have both formal training in the humanities and an interest in videogames, this essay will have a lot to interest you.
James Howell’s Big Boss rank run of MGS2
I’ve known about Howell’s essay on MGS2 for a long time, but I never knew about his YouTube channel. On his YouTube channel, you can find a full playthrough of MGS2 on its hardest difficult and that achieves the highest rank, Big Boss. It’s great to get to see the person who wrote the essay above actually play the game, but what really makes this video great is that he went back after a few years and rewatched it himself, adding commentary. He demonstrates his strategies for beating the hardest challenge in the game, but also finds time to talk further about his thoughts on MGS2, further explicating some points from his essay, and raising some new ones. Makes the point that MGS2 is postmodern, but that largely because all videogames are postmodern. If you liked Driving off the Map, you should watch this next.
SuperBunnyHop’s critical closeup
A video essay that is part of a series of critical videos on the MGS series. Coming from a humanities perspective much like Howell does, George Weidman situates MGS2 in the canon of modernist/postmodernist culture. Also focuses on the controversy surrounding the game’s release, and the way Kojima played with the player’s expectations not just through formal elements, but marketing and falsification (FAKE NEWS) as well, detailing a history that is crucial to understanding the game’s context, and why appreciation of the game has only grown since it was released to both critical acclaim and fan backlash.
An in-depth look at the ending of the game, in particular the codec conversations Raiden has with the Colonel and Rose. The game uses various formal elements to break the fourth wall and accost the player with it’s videogame-ness, but it’s the ending of the game that turns it from passive aggressive to aggressive aggressive, asking the player to turn off the console, removing the player’s abilities, and constantly breaking up the gameplay with unskippable conversations about the role of Raiden/player as manipulator and manipulated. This is an excellent piece if you to examine those conversations in more depth, as it transcribes those conversations and adds commentary.
A collaboration between Twitch streamers that specialise in MGS challenge runs and marathons. They have played so much MGS2 that not many details escape them, and their YouTube channel has videos which take a close look at the game and go over every little detail, including rare codec conversations and details in cutscenes and dialog that are easy to miss.
That’s it for now. If I come across anything else or find something I missed, I’ll edit the post. Feel free to comment. Do you have any resources on MGS2 that you’ve found useful or enlightening?
I have been reading some fairly heavy stuff recently. Kafka (In the Penal Colony), Hosbawm (The Age of Extremes), and Batuman (The Possessed, which contained lots of info new to me that I had to process). I decided to read something lighter and picked up a copy of Call for the Dead, which was a mistake, but I got a copy recently and was interested to see George Smiley’s first appearance. Ok, it was horrifying and tragic and very bleak. What’s the same kind of thing but much lighter?
I’d first started reading the James Bond stories after finishing university. I read the first six in a row and then stopped after my interest faded (because let’s face it, they are all pretty much the same). The next one on the list is Goldfinger.
It’s very easy to compare and contrast John le Carré and Ian Fleming, considering that they both wrote spy fiction during the Cold War. James Bond is the sexy one, George Smiley the ugly operator. James Bond drives an Aston Martin, and George Smiley drives something so nondescript I can’t remember it. James Bond can have any woman he wants, George Smiley is introduced to us as a man who pines after the wife who left him.
This is all appropriate considering James Bond is largely a male power fantasy and George Smiley is a more realistic construction of the kind of grey, sad man who would have worked in intelligence in real life. But something occurred to me while I was reading the first half of Goldfinger, and that is that the author’s different attitudes towards their creations is evident nowhere more strongly than in the manner in which they eat.
I noticed this because Goldfinger was making me hungry, thirsty, and constantly in need of a cigarette. Bond almost never stops drinking, is always smoking, and when he eats, he eats not because he has to, but because there is something good on and he wants to. George Smiley’s eating is always utilitarian, and even the club he goes to is one he goes to largely because a gentleman ought to have a club. John le Carré’s characters eat as a function of being human. Ian Fleming’s characters eat for pleasure. Bear in mind (particularly with Fleming) that these books were aimed at people who remembered rationing. A fantasy life to someone in that time and place would definitely have included being able to eat as much as you wanted of whatever you wanted.
George Smiley still smokes though. A lot. Call for the Dead made me want a cigarette every other page. Bond smokes too, but his real poison is drink. In the first few pages of Goldfinger, he drinks three double whiskies, shortly afterwards two double martinis, and then some pink champagne. Unless he was an alcoholic with a really high tolerance, he wouldn’t be able to function at all, let alone engage in a game of wits, shoot straight, or have sex. But he is an alcoholic (and is also a fantasy), so there you go.
I haven’t finished Goldfinger yet, but I bet it’s going to keep making me hungry. Call for the Dead, sad as it is, just made me crave nicotine and silence. It says something that one of James Bond’s enduring symbols is the martini just the way he likes it, whereas with George Smiley, it’s the lighter his wife gave him that gets taken by Karla.
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