Thursday, November 18, 2010


....Why take a picture when your mind's eye can see so much.

Imagine the scene, it's the near future, and thanks to some extraordinary exploits by the boffins at NASA, man is finally going to visit Planet Mars, and by some quirk of fate you're going! You're brought to NASA headquarters and undergo an intense training routine in preparation for your historic journey, constant briefings about the dangers you may face become part of your daily life, and by the end of astronaut school you are a well drilled space pilot ready for anything the outer limits can throw at you. The night before take off you stay in a sealed environment, lest anything or anyone derail this brave new step for humanity, and after sleeping soundly, with dreams of little green men surprisingly absent, you are awoken by the commander in chief with the news that the president is on the line and would like to speak with you before your journey begins. Having moved Obama to tears with your promise to 'do Planet Earth proud', you undergo the final preparations before being escorted to the space shuttle through throngs of adoring crowds, feeling every bit the hero. Nervous glances are exchanged amongst the dozen or so brave souls who will be accompanying you on your voyage, but all in all the mood is one of hope and anticipation as the enormity of what you are all about to undertake finally hits home. You enter the shuttle, waving goodbye to your loved ones and winking at the tearful young blonde in the front row, before the hatch shuts behind you, the final checks are undergone and you get strapped into your seat. Good luck messages, handshakes and hugs are exchanged between the crew members as you wait for the countdown to begin........TEN........Oh no, fuck no.............NINE......................I can't believe I forgot it...............EIGHT..............What's the point in going if I don't have it...................SEVEN.........................I won't be able to show all the lads on facebook what I got up to................................SIX.........................................I'm gonna have to press the abort take off button........................FIVE.......................MMEEEEEEEEEEE CAMERAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!

As the dust settles and you are brought before the previously rapt President to explain why you singlehandedly wrecked one of the most important events in the history of mankind, you are anything but sheepish and feel totally vindicated despite the look of utter disgust and dismay on Obama's face. As you are cuffed and manacled, before being sent down to spend the rest of your miserable existence in solitary confinement, the baying mob hurl abuse and various projectiles at your bowed head. But when the steady stream of missiles slows for a moment you look up, only to see not faces contorted with rage as you'd expected, but scores upon scores of giddy onlookers frantically shoving and barging their way to the front in the hope of getting a picture of the shamed villain who curtailed the dreams of an entire civilisation. The irony of the situation is not lost on you.

There was a time when showing someone your photos meant rummaging away in the most unkempt cupboard in the house, before finally emerging covered in dust, but proudly displaying a handful of enormous cobweb ridden photo albums containing the entire history of your life up to that point. Relatives would coo, chortle and sometimes cry as they looked back on times of yore, whether it be Christmas, Christenings, Communions or family holidays to the Canaries, each photo held within it a captured moment in time which meant something to everyone who viewed it. Angelic faced children that turned out to be the devil incarnate, smiling lost ones that will forever be lionised, random people that no one could ever quite place and countless others, all contributed to the charm and appeal of the family album which upon being taken out for a 'quick look' would still have a captive audience hours and gallons of tea later. Back then you were lucky if more than a dozen photos of you in a guise resembling anything like yourself currently existed, and should disaster strike and you found yourself in the local newspaper for any reason, chances are that the picture provided would be one of you proudly posing upon receipt of your less than stellar Leaving Cert results. For all but the most vain, this state of affairs suited us just fine, true it'd be nice to have a few pictures of that horrifically drunken New Years Eve where your best mate embarrassed himself to such a degree that photographic evidence would surely result in him leaving the country never to return, some adventures were captured on film, others weren't, but all took residence in our minds and that's what mattered most.

Digital photography has been one of the best inventions of the 21stwinkie or not, then the vicarious effect of seeing an exciting event witnessed through the lens of someone elses camera begins to lessen somewhat. There is of course the exceedingly rare occasions when you're perusing someones photos and you just have to take a breath, doff your non existent cap and proclaim yourself suitably impressed by the panaromic vista, the hilarious carnage of the previous Saturday night or the ever so cute bambino that fills your screen, these are the things that the digital camera was invented for, but as with everything in this day and age you can always have too much of a good thing and there's countless folks out there only too happy to prove this theory.

The whole 'I was there' mentality of the current day internet generation is something that we all possess in some form or another, even the most cynical of people like myself will readily admit to triple checking my pocket to ensure my camera is firmly ensconced within before setting off for something that may or not prove itself to be worthy of being remembered with scores upon scores of all too similar images. But one thing that I have found through this irrepressible desire to ensure that I capture this oh so important moment in time is that it somehow takes away from the feeling of excitement and joy that you would ordinarily associate with such an occasion, it's almost like we've all at once become freelance photographers as we patiently wait for the perfect photo opportunities almost to the detriment of everything else, take a look at your photos from the last big event you were at, whether it be something as mundane as a family Christening or a gig that you'd waited patiently for, chances are your overriding memory of this moment in time will be the panic and fear you felt that the pictures you were taking wouldn't quite cut the mustard and would therefore lessen the impact of the event when viewed by all in sundry on whatever social networking site you chose to display them on. Now compare this to a similar occasion ten years ago, okay so the memories are pretty hazy and the day itself probably went by in a flash, but I'd wager that the few wisps of recollection that still linger in your grey matter are ones of carefree enthusiasm only marred by the mundanity of the church or the sub standard fare offered up by the band, whichever the case may be. By choosing to document our lives to such an extreme level we have somehow stopped living them in the manner in which we ordinarily would, rather than enjoy ourselves and be caught in the moment, the moment has to be caught and we have to be seen to be enjoying ourselves.

I for one thoroughly embrace the age of digital photography and all that comes with it, the fact that so many people choose to embrace it to the point where suffocation is a very real threat is neither here nor there as their actions don't really impinge on my life. But I can't help feeling as I watch this youtube clip of Michael Owen's last minute winner against Manchester city, that although the person filming the action may have a tangible memento which has not only been enjoyed by himself but by thousands of others, he has lost a moment in time which, thanks to his insistence on capturing the moment, is gone forever.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


This is a woman's world, this is a woman's world, but it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without Philip Schofield or some other grey haired buffoon....

 As a rule I am loath to mention the recession/credit crunch/downturn in the economy or whatever other miserable monicker our current state of affairs is receiving, but now that we are mired in this wholly depressing state of affairs I feel it only necessary that the real issues with the recession be addressed. A by-product of this downturn in fortunes is that the traditional family dynamic of the man going out to work whilst the woman stays at home to mind the children has been completely blown apart, (although in truth this is a fairly prehistoric way of viewing things but I felt it necessary to use it to illustrate my point, so bear with me!) nowadays the idea of a 'house husband' is not the cause for derision that it once was, and the amount of men dutifully bringing their children to school or pushing a buggy round the local park is a testament to this. Along with these brave souls, who are doing everything in their power to keep their fragile family unit in working order, there are countless other fit and able men of all ages and with various unutilised abilities, who are finding it difficult to fill the hours in the day on an all too regular basis. Now I for one, do in no way condone spending your life wasting away in front of the television, *adopts the tone of a gnarled old war veteran* “ When you should be out there earning a living for yourself”, but it's simply impossible to spend every waking minute in the fruitless pursuit of the slightest tendril of a job opportunity. So on occasion that leaves even the most assiduous of fellows finding comfort in the familiar weight of the remote control and his favourite easy chair, but for any man to enter the quite frankly hostile environs of daytime tv is to risk not only losing his entire afternoon but quite possibly his sanity aswell.

Of course there was a time way back in the advent of television when programming began at six o clock with the evening news, and the thought of anyone even pausing from their daily grind to sit down and stare at the goggle box was fanciful at best. But as times became less austere and the previous generation allowed themselves to get down off the cross for a few minutes during the day, so broadcasters plucked up the courage to fill those dead hours between the children heading off for school and the long suffering husband getting home from work, with shows aimed at sating the inquisitive nature of the stay at home mum. These shows initially concerned themselves with the pressing concerns of the day such as cooking, fashion, child care and health, but as time went by day time television began to morph into a living, breathing entity full with it's own unique character, dubious charm and all too depressing boundaries which are all too strictly adhered to. From Derek Davis, Oprah Winfrey and Carol Vorderman right through to their modern day counterparts, daytime television has spawned countless careers which in all honesty it had no right to, and it is now seen as a gateway to better things by the various pondlife that blight our lives on a daily basis.

To the uninitiated, daytime television can seem like a scary place, one second you've got the ample charms of Holly Willoughby to soothe your bleary eyes but in the next instance you're faced with an Eamonn Holmes sized dilemma, as the increasingly rotund Northern Irish windbag waddles his sorry way onto the screen and threatens to ruin your day even before it's started. This is a typical problem with these early morning shows as you carefully try to negotiate your way through them without having to spend too much time looking at whomever the resident 'silver fox' is, all the while hoping against hope that Mylene Klass may choose today to have a particularly revealing wardrobe malfunction. The content of these early morning shows is at best mildly distracting but at it's worst it can display a level of morbidity and full on misery rarely seen outside of your local A&E. Various light hearted segments discussing the latest news in the soap operas are all well and good, but once they've lulled you into a false sense of security you'll suddenly be confronted with a grim faced lady of indistinguishable age who's been to hell and back with various physical ailments and has no problem whatsoever in sharing her macabre tales with the nation, as such it's important to learn the tell tale signs that things are about to get serious. As the camera pans back to the studio having just been full of the outdoor reporter (usually someone deemed wacky by someone who wishes they were wacky, FYI: being wacky = being a tosser) and their 'alternative' story we are solemnly informed by the now all too serious hosts that the guest seated across from them was once a happy, young thing in the.............QUICK CHANGE CHANNELS!! IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT TO, JUST SWITCH IT, FAST!!!!! Thankfully even amidst this well of emotional outpourings there is the safehaven of Sky Sports News with it's warm, loving embrace and repeated punchlines hour after hour, and you can breathe a sigh of relief safe in the knowledge that that's one less disease you ever have to worry about getting. On a lucky day you may even be fortunate enough to stumble across the majestic, wondrous televisual experience that is Aerobics Oz Style, but diamonds in the rough like this are all to rare and as the day progresses things only get worse.

No, what's needed in any society is a viable alternative to the thing which has for so long brainwashed the masses, rather than force people to do something just give them a choice instead, such is the way the best revolutions begin. This alternative will come in the face of a new, male orientated daytime tv show entitled 'Blokey Blokes'. The Blokey Blokes will take up residence from 12pm (the time that in all honesty most of it's viewers will rise from their slumber) and be in situ until 4pm, or until such time that they feel they've spoken to their audience sufficiently and dealt with whatever issues have arisen, they're blokes you see so they don't need to adhere to schedules. The presenters of BB (I've just realised that Blokey Blokes shares an acronym with Big Brother but seeing as that's just ended I am entitled to use it as I wish) will come from all walks of life with not all of them being necessarily famous, rather than have the token people who do all in their power to portray themselves as 'one of the lads' on a nauseatingly regular basis, we shall scour the world for suitable candidates, here are a few of the blokes who I believe may just be up to the task. Kriss Akabusi, enthusiastic nutjob would enliven things when the conversation inevitably begins to falter, Sean Ryder, they say every face tells a story, if that's the case then Sean needn't open his mouth as his mug says it all, Mel Gibson, say what you like about Mel but you cannot deny that the man is a riveting combination of genius and lunatic, Michael Carroll, made famous for winning the lotto and blowing the lot on sports cars and drugs, Carroll would be marvellous entertainment and probably really needs a steady income right now, and Sean Lock, having two Seans on the show may become a problem, particularly given the frazzled state of Ryder's brain, but Lock deserves a wider audience and speaks to the grumpy old man in us all. Every show needs at least one relatively straight man to keep thing ticking over and that honourable position would go to the legend that is Bill Murray, he would at once both egg on the more deranged of guests while at the same time plead for a modicum of peace, all the while smirking mischievously at the camera as things went postal all around him. Other guests would pop in and out as they felt like it and local tramps, vagrants and winos would be invited in for a dram of whiskey and chided into telling a tale or two about their exploits whilst they warmed their feet by the fire. There would be no strict itinerary as such, although obviously guidelines would need to be adhered to to prevent things descending into anarchy, phonelines would be open all day as would the bar, and callers brave enough to speak to the presenters would run the risk of ridicule, any risk would be more than worth it though given the wealth of real life experience available to the rapt audience. The best thing about BB would be it's organic nature, no man has any need for a sterilised, by the numbers form of entertainment anymore, which is typified by arguably the most popular male orientated show on television, Soccer Saturday, which is basically a load of blokes sitting in a room watching football and shouting their heads off, BB would be like that but instead of limiting itself to football it would encompass all the things that we as men love and cherish above all else, just imagine Mel Gibson sitting down watching hardcore pornography and telling you the viewer about it's merits or lack of as the case may be, the possibilities are endless.

All this may seem a bit churlish and unrealistic, but as more and more men find themselves at home and at a loose end on a daily basis it's only going to be a matter of time before someone snaps and says enough is enough, women constantly like to harp on about equal opportunities across all sectors so let's see how they like it when men invade their last bastion and claim it for themselves. Let it be known that this is not a tirade aimed at inflaming a battle of the sexes, more an observation regarding the lopsided nature of daytime television and the need for change, we live in an age which will be reflected upon as the most startling in terms of the progression made by mankind, so when you see Blokey Blokes appear on your TV guide please don't get all haughty and pen a strongly worded letter to the powers that be, instead just console yourself with the fact that we will no longer be privy to all your most intimate secrets via the medium of the Loose Women, as we will instead be rolling in the aisles as a one eyed drunkard from Wales regales us with tale after tale of his debauched and decadent life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pitiful punditry points to pressing problems

...............just who will replace the doyens of the game when they hang up their mic's?

A recurring theme amongst the footballing media today is the concern about the lack of young talent coming through in the English game, journalists decry the dearth of homegrown players lining up for the top Premier league clubs on a weekly basis, and in the process fret about the knock on effect to their national team. Such is the level of disquiet through all avenues of association football, that Sepp Blatter and his wise cronies have implemented a new 25 man squad system which nobody really understands, but it's purpose appears to enforce and encourage managers to promote young players to the first team squad, in favour of splashing the cash on Eastern European misfits with a penchant for late night revelry and a dubious notion of what being 'loyal to the cause'entails. This is all well and good and I for one welcome this new ruling despite it's obvious flaws, but in my opinion there is a far more worrying issue affecting football today and it's one that can't be rectified by Blatter, Platini or any of the bigwigs in the halls of the governing bodies, forget about the young footballers for a second, of far more pressing concern is the gradual degradation in the quality of football punditry and this is an issue which will I believe will be much harder to resolve.

Now that football saturates our screens, airwaves, monitors and newspapers on an almost unrelenting basis it's become easier and easier to become an 'expert' on the game, no matter that your career consisted of a little less than one hundred top flight games at some mediocre clubs where you were the most mediocre of players (yes Jason Cundy I am talking about you) matters not, the only qualification you need to make it as pundit nowadays is to be besotted with the sound of your own voice and to spout opinions which contradict themselves almost before they've left your mouth. Of course characters like Cundy are only a minor source of irritation as they reside firmly in the Championship level of punditry, despite their continual striving for promotion to the big leagues alongside such luminaries like Andy Gray, Alan Hansen and our own quite inimitable Eamon Dunphy. The aforementioned trio are probably the most viewed exponents of this most dubious of talents, and with that airtime comes a presumed gravitas which is all too apparent in their lyrical waxings, but as the mainstay at each of their respective broadcasters they have, somewhat begrudgingly on my part anyway, earned whatever kudos they think they have and are the lesser of many evils in the world of the pundit.

Here in Ireland we are fortunate, or misfortunate whatever way you wish to look at it, to have the bolshie trio of Giles, Brady and Dunphy (with the occasional appearance from pugnacious channel hopping Scot, Graeme Souness) polluting and in the same instance, enlightening our minds, with a brand of football punditry which is as far removed from the fare offered across the water as is humanely possible. But just as we worry about who will replace the likes of Dunne, Given and Keane when they finally call it a day on the field, the same applies to those who offer insight and drama before, during and after the real action takes place. Giles has begun to resemble a mummified corpse and can barely string more than a couple of sentences together these days without losing his train of thought and seeking help from the ever patronising Brady, if Eamon Dunphy were to slip into full on dementia it's debatable as to whether the viewers would notice the difference, but love him or loathe him it'll be a sad day when he's finally carted off the screen kicking and screaming to anyone in earshot that 'Ronaldo is nothing only a tramp'. Of the mainstays Brady is the only one who's not of a pensionable age, but I can't imagine him being there without the other two as in truth his main role is to act as peacemaker and play devil's advocate whenever possible. Then you have the enigma that is Bill O'Herlihy who's plays a role similar to a holding midfield player, prodding and probing and doing the dirty work whilst going almost unnoticed, like many of the greats his loss would only be felt after he'd gone.

So who does that leave? Waiting patiently in the sidelines for the chance to get promoted to the big stage are the likes of Ronnie 'Am I a scouser or am I a Dub' Whelan, Kenny 'Eyebrows' Cunningham, Ray 'I was an incredibly chirpy player but I'm the most miserable pundit known to man' Houghton and Trevor 'I'm clearly bald but at least I can grow a goatee' Steven. This is far from a stellar cast and it's clear that if football punditry is a squad game then RTE will struggle once the season hits the hard winter months. Whelan is fairly amicable and talks a lot without really saying anything, but it's nigh on impossible to listen to him without marvelling at the wonder that is his accent, from Dublin to Liverpool and back again all in the space of a few seconds, great stuff. Cunningham is clearly deranged and looks like someone who's attended one media seminar too many, next time he's on, mute the tv and watch him, it looks for all the world like he's threatening to eviscerate the person he's speaking to as his eyebrows dance merrily around his forehead, lunatic. Houghton should come with a health warning for depressed people as he can manage to turn even the most exciting of games into something akin to the most torturous of ordeals, it's unproven as to whether suicide rates go up during Houghton's air time but I believe it to be true. Trevor Steven's appointment was a misguided attempt to bring a bit of panache to the panel, the bigwigs at RTE must have looked at his CV and seen his time spent with Marseille as a clear sign of a cultured man who would bring an air of calm, authority to proceedings. What we've got instead is a mosquito brained imbecile who rarely, if ever, says anything of note. However, hope is not completely lost, as amidst this gaggle of misfits is a ray of light which comes in the guise of Richie Sadlier. Aged just 31, and having being forced to quit the game at a young age due to injury, Sadlier has gone on to form an embryonic career in the media which has culminated in him making occasional appearances on some of RTE's football presentations. From the off it's been clear that Sadlier is not your ordinary retired footballer, and it's a joy to watch his insightful and in depth analysis on the game, and all done without the need to resort to the insincere tones of rapture favoured by his English equivalent Jamie Redknapp. Sadly the talents of this young man are made all the more evident by their rarity, and to look at the current crop of Irish players on the cusp of retirement and therefore potential candidates for the world of punditry, doesn't leave you feeling too confident. You'll notice that I have chosen to completely overlook the artisans plying their trade on second rate broadcasters TV3 and Setanta, this is mainly due to the fact that anybody willing to pay the likes of Trevor Welch and Pat Dolan to ruin our lives is worthy of nothing but utter disdain and apathy.

In England however, there is a more competitive nature to the battle of the broadcasters, even though Sky quite clearly are the biggest draw, although this is more due to them flexing their financial muscles than anything to do with the quality of their coverage. Sky's head honcho is of course the detestable Andy Gray. Such is this man's high regard for himself, he is quite happy to host a Sunday evening show called 'The Last Word', which as the title suggests is the last and therefore presumably the definitive word on all the weekends action. The fact that Gray hosts this show with his sycophantic sidekick Richard Keyes means that he has free rein to spout his theories unchallenged and will in essence always get the last word, clever thinking it has to be said. He has also seized the opportunity to bore us even more with the return of Sky's Monday Night Football, which consists of Gray playing with his modernised subbuteo set while Keyes oohs and aahs in the background. Gray firmly believes that each and everyone of his opinions is pure, unrefined ambrosia and we, the viewers, should consider ourselves grateful for the chance to hear them, if there was an award for smuggest, patronising buffoon on TV, then Andy Gray would win it year in year out. Sadly it's debatable as to whether he's even the worst pundit on Sky, yes step forward Jamie 'Skinny tie, shiny suit' Redknapp, never has a man spoke so much and said so little. Redknapp is the equivalent of a tiny, yapping dog that never shuts up and constantly nips at your ankles without ever actually biting you, his opinions veer from left to right as he babbles incessantly on and by the time he runs out of steam he's left with a blank expression on his face as he, and we both, wonder what the fuck he's just been on about. Sky have a large coterie of pundits whom they can call on, depending on whichever game they're screening, but aside from an occasional Phil Thompson rant on Soccer Satruday, the chances of ever witnessing a heated debate on the channel are as remote as Andy Gray admitting he's wrong about something.

The poor relations of broadcasting in England are the once mighty BBC and it's gimmicky, quirky rival ITV. The BBC was once a byword for all things quality but in terms of their football coverage at least, this mantle is gradually slipping away. Old experienced heads Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson have become so complacent in their position on the sofa opposite Gary Lineker that they may aswell be reading from an autocue, it's as if they're still patrolling the back line for the all conquering Liverpool 80's side, as they just go through the motions on a weekly basis barely breaking sweat. When the third cog in the wheel is the monosyllabic, dullard Alan Shearer then it's easy to see why Hansen and Lawro give off an air of total disinterest and boredom. But just as Richie Sadlier offer a shimmer of hope on RTE, so the BBC have their own bright, young talent willing to shake things up a bit. Robbie Savage was, and still is in fact, one of the most regularly goaded and taunted players to grace the modern era, his shock of blonde flowing hair makes him instantly recognisable on the field and his reckless, and often feckless, nature only add to his notoriety. But get him in the studio and suddenly this headless chicken of a football player is transformed into an eloquent and strong willed individual, who's about as shy in giving his opinions as he is in going into tackles, whether he'll manage to maintain this manner of punditry without upsetting someone higher up is debatable, but if he does fall foul to his paymasters at the BBC then it'll only be a matter of time before someone else picks him up given his unique talents in front of the camera. ITV are, and always have been, something of a joke when it comes to football punditry, given the fact that they spend the majority of their air time taking breaks it's a wonder why they bother even having anyone in the studio to be honest, they've recently taken to doing pitchside analysis which is quite a clever cost cutting exercise from their point of view. When their pundits do get a couple of minutes to hurriedly run through the events of the game it's usually Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate who are charged with the task, is it really necessary to give an opinion on the respective merits of these two hapless oafs?

So now you can understand it's quite clear to see that while we're all worrying about the future of the game and the influx of foreigners ruining the opportunites of young homegrown players, the real problem that we should all be pondering is where the new, bright, articulate pundits are going to come from? Watch any post match interview after a Premier League game and you're likely to be swimming in a pool of 'Y'know's', 'likes', 'the lads', 'sort ofs', and various other catchphrases which will consist of 98% of the actual words spoken by the interviewee, rendering the whole process pointless. The recent interview with Danny Murphy where he aired his views without fear of censure or remit was a breath of fresh air and reminded us that not all footballers are semi literate, unschooled mercenaries without an original opinion to call their own. But as the game continues to grow to an almost sickening level of media coverage worldwide, it's clear that more and more ex-pro's are going to jump on the gravy train and give their tuppence worth regardless of whether they're qualified to do so or whether we want to hear them or not. I for one, can't wait.

Monday, September 27, 2010


When going for a walk becomes a trial of the soul.....

As the evenings draw in, and the those long, hot summers nights become nothing more than just a distant memory, we find that those merry jaunts amongst other upbeat evening strollers enjoying the balmy late sunshine, have been replaced by a whole new mysterious type of experience where each and every person you encounter is shrouded in mystery, and paranoia is at an all time high. Evening stroll etiquette at this time of year is something that we all have our ideas on but unfortunately some people do not adhere to it as strictly as others.

During the summer 'the rules of the path' aren't as in depth or circuitous as when the darker seasons creep their way unrelentingly into our lives, jovial walkers will greet each other with the same enthusiasm on their nineteenth way round as they did on their first, and will endeavour to fill those few seconds when they cross each other paths with any inane commment that may come to mind, such is the feel good factor during the heady seasons. They may start off with a cursory nod which will have progressed to a 'lovely evening now' by the third time round, and once the evenings walk has been completed they've managed to cram in enough conversation in those bite sized chats to consider each other walking buddies for life. Dogs will happily sniff each others nether regions without fear of reprisal, children will run wild and free, groups of baying youths will be dismissed as 'lovable scamps' and all in all there is an almost bohemian spirit to proceedings with the general consensus being, it doesn't get better than this. However once the darkness claims us, things change in an almost inexplicable manner.

To even motivate yourself to get up off the couch on a chilly wintry evening is an achievement in itself it has to be said, cosy living room, a piping hot plate of carb heavy dinner slowly digesting away, Champions League football back on the telly, why on earth would you want to leave this safe haven and venture out into a world of misery and danger where the only hope of salvation is the fruitless pursuit of one of those natural highs that you've been reading so much about. Staying indoors and protecting yourself from frostbite seems all the high that anyone could ever need, but yet you somehow find yourself getting your winter uniform and preparing yourself military style for the unseen threat that lurks at the other side of your front door. But once you've become attired in wooly garments from head to toe and braved the initial blast of the vindictive wind which permeates your entire body and actually stops your heart in it's tracks for a nanosecond, you begin to quite enjoy yourself as you head to the walkway of your choice determined to stock up on enough endorphins to see you through the night.

The first problem that you'll invariably encounter on a winters stroll is just how deserted things are, long gone are the scores of merry marchers and in their place are a few hardy souls interspersed with remarkably unbeat rotund types, who seem to have been walking these same paths for eternity and if anything have put on weight rather than lost it. A lone walker in this environment will always be quite conspicuous and regardless of how well mannered a person you are, you are essentially a menace to society and will be viewed and treated as such. Having found myself in this scenario on many an occasion, and considering myself a valuable addition to all society and certainly not a menacing presence in any shape or form, it's quite alarming how my own paranoia allows to me to begin to believe that I may indeed be someone to be feared and avoided at all costs. The lengths and measures that I will go to to ensure that I don't have to encounter other walkers and run the risk of being pepper sprayed for saying hello, are in retrospect quite bizarre but until you've run the gauntlet of an evening solo stroll then you can't really begin to understand the inner turmoil that goes with it.

The most annoying thing is when you get stuck walking behind someone who's going at a similar pace to yourself, the first option available is to continue at your normal walking speed and risk the person ahead you imagining themselves in a low budget horror film as you steadily keep pace with them, all the while fretting that you're scaring the shit out of them and that they're suddenly going to break into a sprint not stopping until they reach the nearest police station. Alternatively you can choose to slow right down allowing them to get a reasonable distance ahead before you resume walking at your normal speed, the problem with this though is it leaves you open to being overtaken by someone else and then you're right back to square one again. Another option, and the one I usually choose, is to put the pedal to the metal and attempt to overtake the person ahead. This can be difficult though as sometimes you can underestimate the pace of the walker ahead, you can find yourself running out of gas as you approach them resulting in you walking alongside your foe until you finally manage to forge ahead sweat pissing out of you and your heart ready to explode with the strain of it all.

This may seem like extreme and somewhat unnecessary behaviour, but how many times have you been out for a walk and suddenly become aware of some heavy footsteps trudging incessantly behind you? You're immediate thought is to think of all the bad things you've done in your life and quickly ask God for forgiveness, throwing in a helpless plea for salvation from this homicidal lunatic who any second now is going to enact an execution of unspeakable violence on your tortured soul. Then the rational part of your psyche kicks in and you laugh at yourself for being so foolish, dismissing your would be assailant as just another soldier out facing the harsh conditions to get his endorphin fix. To reassure yourself you chance a rapid glance backwards to see just what kind of monstrosity is now not only making as much noise with his feet as a herd of restless buffalo, but can now be heard breathing like an asthmatic pensioner at a swingers party. But instead of reassurance you're met with ever more blind panic as a dark, sullen figure that seemingly doesn't possess a face or any redeemable human features, is stalking you down with a bloodlust that can only be sated by the ritual mutilation of a 31 year old male weighing in at 12 ½ stone and a height of just over 6 foot. However salvation is afoot with the almost oasis like presence of a glowing orange neon light which for all intents and purposes could be the gates of heaven, with God willingly urging to come hither and take refuge in his kitchen. As you reach the radius of the light and bask in it's glow, you find the strength to turn to face your attacker only to find that he's no longer there. Chances are he realised that he was slowly but surely freaking out the demented idiot walking in front of him so took the safe option and turned for home at an earlier junction, chuckling to himself at the thoughts of telling his wife about the 'fuckin eejit' he saw out on his walk that evening.

So you see going for a walk at this time of year is fraught with danger, real or otherwise, and it takes great inner strength to emerge unscathed, both physically and psychologically, from an evenings carousel. I'd imagine most sane people can go out for a walk at night and not give a seconds thought to stuff like this but there's surely a few that share these same nightly neuroses as I. If you're ever misfortunate enough to encounter me on a night out walking please be aware that I mean you no harm and for God's sake if I try to pass you out just leave me fuckin do it will you!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


A revoultionary way of presenting news that will most likely never happen...

At a time when suicide rates are on the increase and more and more people are succumbing to the stresses and strains of modern day life, it's surely about time that we looked at how we receive news from the various media forms available to us now.

Regardless of whether we keep up to date via newspapers, websites, radio or TV the headlines invariably consist of abject misery and despair, with a unhealthy mix of scandal and corruption thrown in for good measure. Why do we allow ourselves to be subjected to this trauma on a daily basis? We already know that unemployment levels are at an all time high, we're fully aware of the fact that babies are dying of starvation and illness in Third World countries, we've heard so many tales about the extra curricular activites of Catholic priests in this country that it's almost impossible to be outraged anymore, granted the latest natural disasters occurring throughout the world do offer a limited macabre shock value, and the sordid exploits of whomever has been caught with their hand in their own peculiar brand of cookie jar do titillate somewhat, but surely we deseve better from the people charged with informing us of events worldwide on an daily, nay hourly basis.

At the end of any hourly news bulletin, or sometimes shoehorned into the 24 hours stations, is what the newsreaders like to tell us is the 'feel good' story of the day. This righteous tale usually documents the plucky antics of a local hero who's come good against all odds, or perhaps a miracle birth from a species considered on it's last legs, with requisite shots of the miracle ball of fluff for extra aaahh factor, or even a humourous parable involving a botched crime replete with youtube video and sheepish perpetrator. But why should this all too brief nugget of joy be something that's only added as an afterthought, in an attempt to make us forgot about the 52 minutes of misery that came beforehand and leave us chuckling softly into our mug of tea, why can't we have that warm feeling resident in our bellies for the duration of the news? It's the same when you open a newspaper, with hard hitting headlines coming at you a dizzying pace until you reach the dark recesses of page 27, and there all of a sudden lies a story of a cat that weighs almost as much as it's owner, tee hee. The way internet users access their news is so diverse across all levels that it's almost unfair to criticise how it's presented to us on that particular outlet, but a quick scan of any of the major news corporation websites tells you that the trend continues unabated online.

Of course for some people, and maybe in fact most people, the way the news is delivered to us is pitch tone perfect and they quite frankly wouldn't have it any other way. These are the kind of people who talk exclusively about the aforementioned misery and despair, whether it's happening to poor Mrs Maguire down the road of thousands of helpless children in Pakistan, and have no interest in hearing about anything that may in any way lighten their mood, as that could lead to them being cheerful for a second ot two which would be anathema to their way of living. These people can be left to their own devices and are welcome to swim in a pit of negativity for the rest of their days so long as they keep it to themselves. But what about the rest of us, those of us who turn on the news, get thirty seconds in and think 'Ah fuck this, not more talk about the recession' and swiftly change over to The Simpsons, or those of us who open a newspaper and think ' I don't care who Rooney's rattling, for Christ sakes', what are we to do?

Already news is broken down into segments, I'll have the sports section please, with your Sunday newspaper resembling an intricate puzzle game where the challenge is to find something, anything which may be of interest, Business sections, Culture sections (are the film reviews in that? I dunno, sure check it and see), Media sections (surely the reviews will be in this bit then), World news sections, Property sections (who plans on buying a house on a Sunday?!?) and various other needless, superflous sections which are discarded within seconds of discovery. Woe betide anyone who turns on the news looking for details on a specific story, said story will appear in the headlines and you'll sit there patiently waiting to be informed by the nice lady whom you'd give anything to see away from her desk, as you suspect the posterior she sits upon to be pertness personified. Ten minutes in and still no sign of her attempting to enlighten you, but she's just promised you that as soon as you endure four minutes of adverts you've seen umpteen times she'll tell you all you need to know, we return from the break and it's not even her talking, it's her smarmy smug faced sidekick with his tie that matches her dress, telling you more about the story that they bored you with ten minutes ago! So if the newsgroups are willing to compartmentalise every titbit of info into the most tenuous of categories, why can't they do us a favour and break it down into two solitary types, the good news and the bad news?

How it would work is thus, you turn on the six o clock news and are faced with the customary stern faced newsreaders who announce with deathly intonations 'And here's todays bad news', at which point they inform all the bloodthirsty, doom mongers of the stories which will form the basis of all their conversations until whatever time they feel their despair lightening and come back for more. Once all the trauma and horror has been dished out in a manner similar to that of a public flogging, it's time for us more upbeat folk to tune in as it's time for the good news! The good news is immediately differentiated from it's morose predecessor, due to the funky intro music and the sight of it's two presenters casually draped over a couch, dressed in whatever clothes they found on the floor of their bedroom that morning. They announce the feel good stories of the day with an air of people who know they're amongst friends, and the symbiance between presenter and viewer is palpable throughout. This style of reporting could even be applied to staple sections like the sports news and the weather, if your team lost or your star striker has slapped in a transfer request then bah you don't need to hear about it, but if your parasitic owners have finally admitted defeat and are selling up then bring it on baby! Similarly for the weather, if it's due to rain all week then there will be a short announcement at the end of the good news, simply stating 'Unfortunately there will be no weather this week, have a nice day', ignorance would indeed be bliss. Even a trip to your local newsagents would be a different experience as you browse the newstands, guiltily tempted to read all about the escaped prisoner with a penchant for eating mutilated body parts, but instead plumping for the daily edition of your good newspaper of choice, swayed by the front cover consisting of a smiling baby and a remarkably cheerful looking orangutan.

We can all accept that there's terrible atrocities being commited all day long, every day of the year, as it's always been thus, but personally I don't feel the need to be forcefed pictures of terrified people enduring what is effectively hell on earth, and similarly I care not for tales of woe concerning some 'tortured soul' who's only sin was to be human, spare me the details I don't want to hear about it. How often in your daily routine do you hear something that genuinely lightens your mood and makes you marvel at the magnificence of man, a life affirming moment if you will, I'd wager that it's not half enough so just think how marvellous it would be if you could sit down to a solid half an hour of stories of that very nature on a daily basis. Scoff all you like, but personally I shan't be watching the news again until I'm guaranteed something that will lighten the load and restore my faith in humanity.

Friday, September 10, 2010





...................................You know it's a slow news week when you see headlines like this appear in some of the more kneejerk media outlets that we're misfortunate enough to be exposed to, is it really any wonder that parents are left wondering about the effects of modern day games on their children when it's reported on in such a manner. For some unknown reason there still appears to be a large proportion of the British media that seem intent on continually deriding the industry and no amount of balanced arguments and logical debates will sway them. As far as they're concerned any game with even a smidgen of violence is likely to turn the most mild mannered, pleasant child into a raging homicidal lunatic within minutes of playing it.

The worst thing about this outright hostility towards the gaming industry is that it's by no means a new thing, it seems that every couple of years the powers that be get together and decide to condemn whichever forthcoming title that they deem to be in bad taste and on more than one occasion this condemnation has resulted in games being banned in some countries most notably with the 'highly controversial' Manhunt in 2004. And yet countless films with some of the most jaw dropping, gory, gratuitous violence commited to celluloid have been released in this time frame with barely a whimper of complaint to be heard from anyone.

So why is it that games seem to bear the brunt of the media outrage time and time again? One obvious factor is that to the uninitiated, gaming is still seen as a child's hobby, so when games are released with objective content the outcry can be heard far and wide. What a lot of people don't realise is that these games are not intended for their eleven year old son and the 18 certificate on the corner of the box is supposed to be adhered to by responsible parents. But one foray into the mosh pit that is GTA IV online will tell you that the majority of people that reside there are anything but 18. Surely it is up to the parents of the children playing these games to monitor what their beloved is getting up to on a nightly basis rather than the developers being forced to tone down their content for fear of corrupting the minds of the little people expected to run things in the years to come.

It's almost like parenting by proxy as time and time again developers find themselves being stifled by regulations that in essence shouldn't really exist. For example when a film with an 18 certificate is released you'll never see a parent visiting their local cinema with two pre-pubescent children in tow, and even if they did there's no way they would be permitted to view said film. Yet the same parents will happily purchase a copy of the latest console release with barely a cursory glance at the rating certificate, somebody needs to be told a few home truths and it's certainly not the people making the games that's for sure.

Even if we take into account the slipshod parenting skills of these uneducated folk, is it not selling our children short by assuming that they don't possess the intelligence to decipher whether their actions in a video game would be most likely frowned upon were they to repeat them in a real life scenario? The kids of today are more street wise and worldly than any of the generations that came before them and are exposed to life's harsher elements at an age when most of us were still playing kiss chase round the school playground. You could argue that video games should be included in these harsher elements which I refer to but leaving that aside for a moment the sheer volume of questionable media sources that children have access to these days means that whether we like it or not they're growing up a helluva lot faster than their predecessors.

If you were to dig even further into the myriad of problematic issues facing children today it wouldn't be long before you were pondering the dual threats of drugs and underage sex with more and more cases of addicted youths and underage mums being reported on a daily basis, and yet despite all this damning evidence the media would still have us believe that gaming is responsible for all the worlds ails. It all begs the question, was Jack the Ripper a gamer? I think not. What I mean by that is that the world has always spawned maniacal killers from as far back as one would care to remember and even the most civilised societies will produce wrong uns' no matter how sanitised the world they inhabit is. The question of nature versus nurture is one for another day but there's a strong case for the argument that the likes of mass murderers, sadistic torturers and all those other charming folk are born, rather than created by the enviroment they reside in.

Moving away from the whole violence in video games debate another major concern amongst the patrons of the non gaming community is that by gaming all day our children are not only allowing their bodies to rot but also their minds. Now when it comes to the argument that sitting in all day gaming is detrimental to a childs physical health then I couldn't agree more. As I write this article the time is approximately 7.30pm on a fine summers evening and all I can hear coming through my window is the occasional burst of song from a bird and the steady hum of traffic from afar, but what I can't hear no matter how hard I strain my ears is the familiar thwack of a football or the excited screams of children engaging in one of the various games that involve running at full pelt in whatever direction they like. Obesity amongst children is increasing at an alarming rate and there can be no doubt that gaming, whilst not entirely to blame, has to shoulder some of the responsibilty. 

But once more I'm afraid that it has to come back to the parents, I appreciate that it's a lot easier for a concerned mother to have her pride and joy cooped up indoors where she knows he or she is safe from the all to real dangers that confront kids on a daily basis and I can also understand just how hard it must be to practically force an apathetic teen to 'go out and play' when all they want to do is continue their killstreak on Halo, but allowing a child to game for hours on end day in day out is in the long run going to have a serious impact on that childs health as any spell of inactivity is prone to do. Despite the fact that the Nintendo Wii is generally derided by any serious gamer the Japanese giant has to be commended for attempting to address this problem by introducing games where the focus is on staying active whilst still retaining the fun element of gaming, the fact that this is a marketing ploy that is manna from heaven is, in this case, beside the point.

When it comes to the issue of whether excessive gaming can have a detrimental effect on a childs mental wellbeing then the waters become slightly more muddied. As I've stated already marathon gaming sessions spent slumped in a chair will always greatly increase the chances of a child obtaining a physique far removed from the characters they usually contorl on the screen but what kind of effects does this prolonged exposure to gaming have on someones mind. It's been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that gaming greatly improves a persons hand eye coordination and that much can never be disputed but what effect does staring at a screen full of vivid colours and flashing lights for hours on end really have on the brain.

David James famously blamed gaming for his inept performances in Liverpool's goal during the 90's but given the fact that he's continued to make goalkeeping howlers throughout his career I think we can safely say that his regular cock ups have little or nothing to do with his extra curricular activities. We're forever being forewarned about the dangers of photosensitive epilepsy and due to the amount of cases of this condition being linked to videogames all developers are now legally bound to include a warning of the dangers of PSE in every release. But PSE apart I don't think there is any great risk of long term damage from partaking in epic nights of gaming from time to time, in fact I'd say that the difference between staring at a PC screen and a console game is negligible. Yet if you complained about your child being subjected to hours of staring at a PC in their school you'd be quickly dismissed with the retort 'Yes but that's educational'!! Which brings me to my next point.

For so long games have been dismissed as the most shallow of the arts with little or nothing to be gleaned from them. However as major advances have been made in the industry so the subject matter has strayed from the usual derivative type of game and onto more dare I say it educational topics. Games like Assassin's Creed 2 give the player a chance to immerse themselves in 15th century Italy and whether they realise it or not learn all about the buildings and architecture of that time not to mention getting the chance to befriend Leonardo de Vinci (wherein you discover his 'tendencies' which I for one was hitherto unaware of). Then of course there is the spate of games which focus on brain training and increasing your mental agility in one way or another, as things stand these type of games have limited appeal given their quite basic structure and despite tentative efforts to incorporate this type of element into more visceral titles it still in my opinion remains an untapped market. 

The ideal scenario would be to somehow make a game which enables you to merge the physical and mental stimulation hinted at by some current gen titles and produce a title which in essence gave the player ample opportunity to exercise their body and mind whilst somehow retaining a level of complexity and depth which would assuage the hardcore gamer. When you consider this almost impossible balancing act faced by games developers these days is it really too much to ask for that they not be blamed for turning children into bloodthirsty savages aswell.


You know the feeling, we all get it. You've had a particularly stressful day at work, your head is absolutely pounding, your feet are aching and all you want to do is tune in, turn on and drop out. So you order a takeaway crack open the first beer of the night and flop down in your favourite chair. But as a dedicated gamer how do you amuse yourself when in this vegatative state of mind, something mentally taxing is clearly out of the question and and anything that involves hair trigger reflexes and uber competitiveness is only gonna add to that headache of yours. So what's the solution? Ideally you want a game that's easily accessible and low on complexity whilst still retaining a modicum of fun and addictive gameplay. Well the solution is here ladies and gentlemen and it goes by the name of Crackdown 2.

Ruffiansp to one of the surprise hits of the first wave of 360 games begins with the most perfunctory of tutorials before you're plunged straight into the sprawling metropolis that is Pacific City. Your mission there is almost secondary as the plotline in Crackdown 2 is shallow to say the least, as a member of the Agency you're tasked with stopping the dual threats of The Cell and the Freaks. The Cell are a rebel group of civilians who's main purpose in life seems to be making your life as difficult as possible at every available opportunity, the Freaks on the other hand seem to have an aversion to sunlight and a blatant disregard for their curfew as they only come out after midnight and generally make a nuisance of themselves by roaming the streets and wailing incoherently at anyone stupid enough to make nice with them. The main thrust of the plot is to get the Agency generators, which power Project Suburst, back online. Project Sunburst is a huge solar powered bomb which the Agency have concocted in an attempt to elimate the Freaks who while away their days in their underground lairs completely oblivious to the heinous fate which awaits them. Unfortunately these generators are defended by members of The Cell and before getting them back online you must eliminate these most stubborn of foes, for each three generators that you revive there is an underground beacon which must also be reactivated and doing this involves holding off an ever increasing volume of Freaks as the beacon fully charges before detonating and destroying everything in its path, yourself excluded obviously. Aside from the increasingly annoying Agent guardian who insists on commentating on your every move,and the occasional audio log which fills in parts of the ten years between this title and it's predecessor,there is little involvement in what you're doing and like I said previously the plot is in many ways secondary when it comes to Crackdown 2.

Once you have landed in Pacific City you are free to do as you wish and in much the manner of a child let loose in Disneyland the results are predictably chaotic. There's no such thing as gradually allowing the player to familiarise themelves with their environment as from the off you are bombarded by all in sundry and find yourself running for cover just to catch your breath. But catching your breath is,I'm afraid,not really an option as the pace of the game is unrelenting and after a while you get used to being in a state of perpetual motion. Whether it be malicious Cell members unnecessarily making your day a misery,or ambling Freaks throwing haymakers at you,there's never even a momentary respite and for those with borderline attention deficit disorder this will make for the gaming experience which you've always dreamed of. Aside from getting the aformentioned Agency generators back online there is a variety of other tasks and travails for you to get your teeth into, both The Cell and the Freaks have strongholds dotted around the city and if you so wish you can make it your business to reclaim these strongholds by calling in an aerial assault and holding off the irked incumbents whilst you wait for support. These missions are rather basic and seeing as they have no real effect on the outcome of the main storyline it's entirely optional as to whether you pursue them. There is also races of either the four wheeled or the two footed type available which can be entered by simply waiting at the start line and going on the b of the bang.

Of course one of the main selling points of the Crackdown series is that the character you control is no ordinary man, in a world where carnage is king it would be grossly unfair to go in outgunned as well as being outnumbered so thankfully you have a few extra abilities to help you on your way. In the beginning, as with most things in life, you are in essence a puny weakling and you can expect to have the bitter taste of defeat in your mouth quite often during the earlier stage of your time in Pacific City. But,as I'm sure most of you are aware, your time as the schoolyard victim doesn't last all that long due to the fact that during each and every second of your existence your Agent is gradually becoming more powerful and proficient in each of the key elements needed to survive in Crackdown 2, these being Agility, Driving, Firearms, Strength and Explosives. You can level up these abilites either by engaging in the relevant activities or by the collecting the many, many, many, many orbs dotted around the city. There is so many orbs and collectibles of all shapes and sizes that it will mean that only the most die hard of gamers will manage to accrue them all, new to Crackdown 2 are the Renegade Orbs which, like true renegades, will attempt to escape your clutches at every opportunity and need to be chased down whether by foot or in a vehicle. As you progress through the game you also unlock more vehicles and weaponry allowing you to create more and more elaborate scenes of mayhem and destruction if you so wish. In a funny way Ruffian have created a game where at first sight it seems like the world is your oyster and you can as you wish,when in reality the true depths and excellence of Pacific City can only be fully experienced with an Agent who has served his time and is ready to hand out some serious payback.

A big factor in any modern day game is it's online play and in particular the co-op modes available to players, co-op is becoming more and more important when deciding what games to purchase and Ruffian have come up trumps with Crackdown 2. Four player co-op mode allows you to play through the campaign mode as normal although only the host player will see his mission progress, but the inclusion of Online Orbs means that there's still motivation to play cooperatively even if you're not furthering your own cause.

This titlethout it's flaws and one issue that began to grate on an all too regular basis was the difficulty in negotiating your way through some of the enviroments late at night, when basked in the midday sun Pacific City is a joy to behold but once the stars come out it becomes a place full of mysterious stubborn walls and confusing layouts, this can also be said of the Freaks lairs and woe betide anyone who falls to the bottom of one of these lairs as getting back to the top requires the patience and navigating skills of General Patton! The repetitive nature of the missions is something which can't go unmentioned also and you can't help thinking that with a bit more creativity and thought the world which Ruffian have created could have been utitilised to much greater effect.

Crackdown 2 is one of those games that it's impossible to dislike but at the same one you could never truly love with all your heart, a bit like the ever willing girl down at your local it's a lot of fun to be with but once you're away from it it rarely occupies your mind. There's an inordinate amount of enjoyment to be had in just visiting Pacific City and I lost count of the amount of occasions whereby I sat down 'just for a half an hour' and found myself still there two hours later having totally deviated from, and nigh on completely forgotten about, my original intentions. But as I progressed through the game I found myself becoming less and less interested in what was unfolding before and I fear that the absence of any real storyline and character development may make this a soulless experience for some, like someone once said 'it's not what's happening that's important but who it's happening to'. It's one real saving grace is the cooperative mode and that alone makes this a title worth purchasing if you can convince three friends to do the same, the level of pure unadulterated fun to be had in co-op is such that I can virtually every sandbox game including it in future releases for fear of being shunned by gamers eager to tear things up with their mates. I think many of us are going to be left feeling slightly disappointed by Crackdown 2 as, for a sequel, it hasn't really pushed the boat out that far and seems to be a risk free venture, but thoughts of that nature were the last thing on my mind as I unashamedly rampaged from one end of Pacific City to the other all the while cackling like a manical loon. The perfect way to forget about the misery of your 9 to 5 I'm sure you'd all agree.  7/10

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Endless hours of frustration broken up only by screaming fits, trips to the local church to offer up a prayer to the gods and fruitless phone calls to friends suffering the same problems. The only chance of salvation coming in the hope that the geeky kid from the year below you at school had all the answers and would be willing to offer them up in that smug manner of his. Failing all that the latest editions of the scant array of gaming magazines would be pored over the minute they entered the newsagents in the vain hope of something, anything to help you past the bit that you were 'stuck' on in your current game of choice.

Does anyone remember what it was like to be stuck on a game? And I mean properly stuck, as in tears of rage and anguish rolling down your face with no hope of a quick fix in the guise of countless cheats sites or walkthroughs via youtube. So stuck that three weeks later you still haven't negotiated your way past whatever it is that's in effect ruining your life and giving you sleepness nights not to mention the bruised knuckles attained from punching walls in frustration. This, for me anyway, was the gaming world that I grew up in where to be a gamer was still seen as slightly nerdy and something to be sneered upon. However on the plus side because we were seen as a niche audience we were treated as such by games developers eager to test and strain our young, fertile little minds with ever more complex and maddeningly difficult games in each and every genre. Leading to symptoms akin to a crack addict being experienced every day as we shuffled our way through school with sunken, hollow eyes which reflected the horrors of the night before and scared all the but the hardiest of classmates.

The latest generation of gaming consoles has finally seen the explosion in popularity of gaming that many have been predicted for years. With these new consoles the steps taken in terms of sensual pleasures has been staggering with our eyes and ears left reeling by the wondrous delights unfolding before us, how long will it be before we can taste, smell and maybe even touch the games that we play?!? That may seem a little far fetched but the levels of interaction available in this most personal of media pastimes far outstrips that of film, music or any of the other arts. But with this increase in technology and by proxy, costs, has come an added pressure to sell these shiny consoles to a wider audience so that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo can recoup the massive outlay required to manufacture these high end machines. So as a CEO at a huge congolomorate company how do you go about increasing your sales? By targetting an untapped market of course, and we have seen Nintendo do this to devastating effect with the Wii. Unfortunately the knock on effect of this has seen Microsoft and Sony prick up their ears inquisitvely and quickly follow suit eager not to miss out on providing this new uninitiated type of gamer with the kind of fare which they seem to delight in, leaving them whiling the day away with the likes of Ant and Dec and other such luminaries.

Initially this new brand of game seemed to be only manifesting itself in throwaway titles the likes of which serious gamers wouldn't waste their time with but in the last couple of years a worrying trend has emerged with hitherto untouched genres bearing all the hallmarks of a serious dumbing down. At first it was barely noticeable with an odd Real Time Event or an occasional hint appearing when you'd lost your way but gradually it's begun to spread like a cancer and now it seems that almost every game released will gently hold your hand as you negotitiate your way through proceedings. The obvious retort to a complaint of this nature is 'well why not just play it on a harder difficulty then?' and in some cases this is a pertinent response. In FPS titles and games where the main obstacle to finishing the game is enemy AI then yes cranking up the difficulty will obviously make things much harder and result in a more wholesome gaming experience. But what of other genre's? When was the last time an action/adventure title presented a puzzle to you that was actually puzzling? The newer iterations in the Tomb Raider series are a far cry from the original trilogy and the simplicity and ease of the so called puzzles made for a tame experience despite the so called 'return to form' of Lara Croft. And what of one of the biggest hits of last year, Arkham Asylum? True it was quite an enjoyable game and is arguably the finest superhero title ever released, but did anyone else feel slightly mollycoddled whilst playing it? When I die at the hands of an end of level boss I don't expect to be told how to defeat it on the loading screen whilst I prepare for my next go but the creators of Arkham Asylum deemed this a necessary feature, again you can point to the upping of the difficulty level as a case for the defence but how many people actually buy a new game and proceed to play it on the hardest difficulty from the off? It's something I personally have never done but there may come a time when this will be the normal course of action for anyone who considers themselves a time served gamer regardless of their skill level.

Perhaps the thorniest issue in the continual dumbing down of games has been the dreaded rewind function in racing titles. I first encountered this feature in Codemasters GRID and while I found the novelty factor of it quite pleasing I never imagined that it would find itself incorporated in any of the serious racing titles. Lo and behold Forza Motorsport 3 comes out and there it is hidden beneath the multitude of official licensed cars and countless customisable options peering sneakily out from each and every apex, the bloody rewind function!! Again the argument will go something like 'well if you don't like it then just don't use it' but that's akin to offering a dying man a cure for his ails and him refusing it, if it there's you're going to use it because we gamers as a species are inherently lazy and any quick fix will always be pounced upon. I just worry about where the rewind function will end up next, it's already been seen in Prince of Persia titles and made fleeting appearances in some FPS's but what if EA decide they like the look of it and include it in their yearly sports updates. Just imagine lining up a penalty in the last minute of the league decider in FIFA 11, you misjudge your shot and it ends up crashing against the bar....not to worry just press the rewind function and go again! You need never lose a game again, oh the joy! There may be a touch of sarcasm going on here but would anybody really be that shocked if something like that did become reality, I know I wouldn't.

It's funny really when you think about how far gaming has travelled in the last twenty years and in a way people like us have almost come full circle. From being a minority group when we began gaming when it wasn't fashionable, to now finding ourselves as an impoverished class once more with developers focussing on providing Mr & Mrs Smith and their 2.4 children with something to entertain them and less and less releases pandering to gamers seeking a real challenge. Every now and again however a title will come out that reaffirms your faith in one of your favourite pastimes and we can only hope and pray that salvation will come from the few developers out there who are interested in creating a fulfilling experience rather than just filling their pockets.

We are on the cusp of yet another new era in gaming with the imminent arrival of Project Natal and Sony's Motion Sensing Controller and whilst some of us are sceptical towards ideas like this we will invariably find ourselves purchasing said products out of a morbid curiosity. Whether these or any of the other various ideas to take gaming to the next level prove to be successful remains to be seen but what can't be denied is that with each and every passing year games will be continued to be dumbed down with developers focussing on providing bite sized amiable single player modes for casual gamers and placating the young up and coming hardcore gamers with immense online modes. Where that leaves the rest of us remains to be seen.

20 of gaming's biggest cliches

20 Gaming Cliches

Oil Barrels

Surely the most obvious gaming cliche of them all, but with good reason as even in this day and age developers resort to the old tried and trusted explodable oil barrels to help the gamer negotiate their way through a particularly enemy laden area. What's in these barrels is anybodies guess but I can only assume it's oil, and given the price of that these days it really is setting a bad example to any future entrepeneur by treating such a valuable commodity with this level of disdain.

Air Vents

I can honestly say that I don't know one person that has ever attempted something as downright reckless as travelling through a building via it's air ventilation system, and I know some fairly shady characters by the way. Surely if it's such an easy way to get to your destination undetected and unhindered then companies should be looking at making them narrower so that humans can no longer fit in them and thus render the likes of Solid Snake, and various others, useless.

JRPG casts

Moody lead with a dark secret, check. Wisecracking sidekick with a penchant for the ladies, check. Wistful female lead with a heart of gold, check. Sassy female with heaving bosoms and tattoos aplenty, check. Gentle giant more loyal than a labrador, check. Whiny, annoying, nauseating, teeth clenchingly irritating kid that you hope and pray gets killed off but never does, check.

Short term memory loss

You've commited a crime, quick run for the hills, steal a car, hide behind a bush...just do whatever it takes to get the law enforcement officers off your back and do it fast. Phew, panic over I seem to have lost them, oh no there's one over there! But wait, despite the fact that I just ran over a granny and toppled a school bus over a bridge killing all in sundry, this friendly policeman doesn't seem to be paying me any attention whatsoever, sure I may aswell steal this car from the parking lot and go on another rampage.

Buxom Babes

Let's face it lads, we all like to leer at the awesome cleavage and ever so tight buns of the female forms represented in games today and we've always been that way. Anyway that says otherwise is a liar simple as that. Yes we all know they're not real, and that we're incredibly sad for even admiring what is essentially a few pixallated images, but nontheless when Lara Croft is shimmying her way across a dangerous ravine, or Chun Li is pulling off yet another perfect Lightning Kick, we can't help but sit and stare and wish real women were like this.

He's dead.......oh wait

So you've battled your way through score of enemies and traversed terrain in various inclement weathers to face the big bad boss and the pinnacle of the game. But just two minutes later he's face down on the floor and you're left thinking 'Is this it? Surely this ca....' Don't be so stupid!!! Now the real battle commences and the slight tinge of disappointment you felt in ending the game so easily is replaced by sheer terror as you realise just how unprepared you are for the terror about to be reigned upon you. This style of ending works well first time around but when you're attempting it for the umpteenth time the effect tends to be lessened somewhat.

Back of the grid

Maybe more of a bug bear than a cliche but why must we always start at the back of the grid in every racing title ever?!? Are we to automatically assume that because the AI of the other drivers is so poor we'll have no problem charging through the field anyway and therefore that will be the only enjoyment we will garner from the race? As far as I'm concerned pre race qualifying should be introduced for all but the most arcadey of racers so that I don't have to suffer the indignity of viewing nothing but other car's exhaust pipes at the start of every race.

Main characters with crap names

If the world was ending today and someone told you that a fellow by the name of Gordon Freeman was coming to save the day would you be sufficiently placated? Obviously seeing as we're gamers we would rest easy as we know that Gordon Freeman is amazing and would get us out of any pickle but what of the rest of humanity? It's hardly a name that conjures up images of an alpha male riding in on horseback with an army of tanks behind him is it, the same goes for Marcus Fenix or Isaac Clarke or even Chris Redfield for that matter. Now Sam Fisher on the other hand, that's a president's name in my opinion.

Unquestioning grunts

In a world where freedom of choice is everything and the anti war machine is in full swing on a constant basis is it not odd that there hasn't been at least one occasion during a big budger shooter where some of the enemy soldiers have just paused for a second and thought 'Y'know what lads, what are we actually doing here? I ain't got no quarrel with no US of A', and with that just down tools, leaving you with a free and easy route to the next level. This needs to happen to maintain a level of authenticity in gaming.

Guns never weigh you down

Now I'm no military expert, but I do know enough about weaponry to know that's it not light and that coupled with extensive armour, not to mention rations and ammo, it's gonna be quite heavy and weigh down even the most war hardened soldier. These rules don't apply in the gaming world however as guns are exchanged and equipped without a care in the world and even rocket launchers have been known to pop out of pockets, decimating a enemy stronghold before being placed carefully into a lunchbox for later use.

Weak points in boss fights

When you've finally gotten over the shock of the boss reviving from the dead and becoming more powerful than you could ever have imagined it's time to figure out how to take him down. Hmmm perhaps I should aim for that shiny yellow part which is protuding from his undercarriage, ah yes that seems to be doing the job, how nice of him to earmark it in such a fashion for me. If real people were to be built like this then we'd all have our genitalia permanently on display with a big red marker proclaiming 'Hit Me' daubed across that general area.


I have never, ever, ever........ever pulled a lever in my whole life. And if I did do so I doubt very much that a drawbridge would lower itself down when I did so.

Everyone can swim/drive/pilot

Before being considered for a role as the lead character in an action adventure type game do all potential candidates go on a crash course wherby they learn how to drive cars, lorries, tanks, speedboats and fire engines and then how to pilot helicopters and aeroplanes before being tasked with swimming the Hudson River in approximately 20 minutes? Some of they may claim to have a background in the Navy/Army/Marines or whatever but what of the average Joe Smoke who becomes thrust into the role of unlikely hero? They must all be ex Krypten Factor Champions or something.


Okay so I've worked in a few factories in my time and I have seen crates in various store rooms, but I've never attempted to try and manouevre one around the room with my bare hands because that'd be just silly. Sure there's a pallet truck right over there isn't there.

Friendly npc's are never ever anything other than a hindrance

After you. Ok I'll go first. I'll just squeeze through here. Sorry don't mind me. Now I'm starting to get a teeny bit annoyed. Get out of my way......Get out of my f**kin way. What is your problem you stupid w****r can you not understand that when I hold RT and press B it means that you go on ahead, are you f**kin retarded? Ok now I'm just gonna shoot ya............Grrrr I can't even kill you..........My name is Simon Bourke and I hate friendly NPC's.

God's animals have just been put on this earth as target practice for you

Aw will you look at the deer isn't he lovely. BANG. Nice bit of deer meat that'll come in handy later. Whether it's rats in sewers or strangely aggressive birds it appears that each and everyone of God's creatures is fair game in the gaming world, this maybe isn't so much of a cliche given man's total lack of regard for the animal kingdom but just once in my life I'd like to play a game where I get to befriend a bear and no, Kung Fu Panda doesn't count.

Fumbling keepers

One of the first things any aspiring goalkeeper will be taught is to make sure that when parrying the ball, he gets it as far away from his goal area as possible to prevent any onrushing strikers from capatilising on his error. This is not applicable to football simulators however as even the most solid and experienced keepers will happily shovel the most tame of shots right into the path of the greedy strikers allowing them to gobble up the chance and you to cry bitter tears of frustration.

*Please note that this observation is one obtained from playing PES and only PES as I refuse to countenance the possibility of ever playing a FIFA game.*

Well behaved football audiences

I know in the sanitised age of Premier League football that football hooliganism has almost become obselete but you'd still expect the odd chant of 'Does she take it up the a**e' or failing that a drunken interloper bravely venturing onto the pitch to tell Ashley Cole exactly what he thinks about him. But no, they all just file quietly into their seats perhaps stopping to buy a hot dog, before singing a few tired old songs completely out of tune and cheering at the most inopportune of times.

Movie tie ins are dreadful

They just are and they probably always will be. The developers can't be completely blamed when they're usually not given nearly enough time to create these abhorrent monstrosities so all we can do is try and warn children about the dangers of these games. The fact that your child may start to cause a scene in your local games store because he wants the new Toy Story game and not Mass Effect 2 which you've been heartily recommending to him for the last half an hour is besides the point, the kids are just gonna have to learn and we've got to be the ones to teach them.

Everyone speaks English but in a foreign accent

Wouldn't it be great if you went on your holidays to Russia or France or Egypt or Mexico or anywhere for that matter and everyone spoke fluent English. But not only that, they all spoke it in the most generic local accent possible, you'd point and laugh at them as they struggled with words such as insouciant or salubrious before politely tapping them on the shoulder and asking them where the nearest bar was. Ahh bliss.