Author Archives: Pete Davison

About Pete Davison

News Editor for Gamer Network's USgamer.net, #oneaday blogger, and a founder member of the Squadron of Shame. I am also English, and feel a brotherly bond towards Miles Edgeworth.

1687: A Jack Too Far

One of our local radio stations is called Jack FM. Jack FM has two “unique selling points” as a radio station: firstly, the fact that they “play what they want” — in practice meaning that they have a playlist just as repetitive as the fetid crap played on more pop-centric radio stations every day, only it consists of actually good songs from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s — and secondly, the fact that, outside of a couple of special shows, there don’t appear to be any DJs — just regular, prerecorded voiceovers from actor Paul Darrow of Blake’s 7 fame.

This is Paul Darrow, if you’re unfamiliar:

(No, he is not the same person as the narrator from The Stanley Parable, if you were wondering. That is Kevan Brighting.)

This latter aspect marks one of Jack FM’s strangest characteristics — the fact that it appears to be trying as hard as possible to be deliberately shit, at least between the songs which, as previously mentioned, tend to err on the side of “actually pretty good”.

The reason I say this is that Darrow, bless him, is forced to read some of the absolute worst “comedy” material that has ever been broadcast via any medium — seemingly every few minutes.

The trouble isn’t necessarily with the jokes themselves — some of them, particularly those which poke fun at notoriously shit town Basingstoke, will elicit a genuine chuckle — but rather the fact that they tend to go too far. Not from a taste perspective, but from a “you should have stopped talking a sentence ago” perspective.

Mostly this happens in a futile attempt to make something mundane appear more funny than it is, or indeed at all. I’ll give you an example.

“Jack FM news with [company name I can't remember -- great advertising, guys!] bus services. Forget about parking and travel costs, travel by bus! The wheels on the bus go round and round!”

Every time I hear this I find myself wondering who signed off on that last sentence. It serves no purpose. It’s not funny because it doesn’t make a joke. It’s little more than a reference to a well-known children’s song that’s been shoehorned in for no apparent reason other than to say… something. Darrow’s voice stands by itself — a distinct, rich, fruity voice that is like caramel melting in your ears — and thus there’s really no need to add anything more than the simple marketing copy prior to that stupid last sentence. But no.

Here’s another.

“Jack FM travel with Happy Hot Tubs. New hot tubs now in stock. Stock! As in gravy!”

This one suffers a similar problem, albeit to an even greater degree. The “gravy” comment really does have nothing to do with the words that came immediately before it, leaving it dangling there like a stubborn… well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Not all of Darrow’s contributions to Jack FM’s distinctive sound are that awful — as noted previously, some of them are genuinely amusing, particularly when he decides to turn on the sarcasm, as he frequently does. (“Our buses have wi-fi. And seats. And poles. And buttons that ding!”) I can’t help but think that he might be taking the piss a bit, having been given some utterly lifeless marketing copy from one of the numerous sponsors of the station and choosing to spice it up a bit with a bit of thinly-masked disdain. His contempt for Basingstoke also seems remarkably genuine — and anyone who has ever visited Basingstoke will happily back him up on that.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Jack FM’s jingles could be something genuinely special if they actually employed someone who knew how to write proper jokes. As it stands, Darrow’s delicious voice makes for a distinctive identity of the station — but his talents are somewhat wasted on material that regularly falls flat on its face.

1686: Sunday Night

Back to work tomorrow, and after a rather gentle start last week I’m actually hoping I’ll be able to get stuck in and make myself useful a bit more this week. I have a full-day company induction on Tuesday, I believe, but all being well the remainder of the week will see me actually doing my job, which will be nice.

Yes, that’s right, I said “nice”. I know in modern life it’s fashionable to be cynical about your job and to merely tolerate it rather than enjoy it, but for the moment I’m actually relishing the prospect of having something to do each day — and that something being part of something bigger.

I’ve had this to a lesser extent when working on websites, of course, but when working remotely from a different timezone to the rest of your colleagues, it’s easy to feel somewhat justifiably isolated at times. The advantage of what is effectively working “solo” alongside a bunch of other people who are also working “solo” on the same thing is that you can turn things around pretty quickly — more often than not, I’d have an idea for a feature on a website and be able to research, write and publish it within a space of a day. (Obviously things that require longer to research — by playing a whole game through for a review or walkthrough, for example — take a bit longer, but these can be worked on alongside other things.)

The downside of this I’ve already mentioned: you feel like you’re kind of going it alone, even when the people you work with make an effort to get together online in some form or another and swap ideas.

Conversely, having switched work environments from working solo at home to part of a team in a big office, I’ve noticed two things related to the shift: firstly, things take a whole lot longer than if I was doing everything myself as in the past, and secondly, you’re a lot more reliant on other people.

These things are a mixed blessing at best; it can be frustrating to be waiting on an important piece of information from a specific person and they simply don’t get back to you for weeks at a time. On the other hand, it means that things are — theoretically, anyway — a whole lot less stressful, since the workload of getting something done is spread between several people, each of whom can concentrate on their own specialisms rather than having to dip their toes into unfamiliar waters on occasion. It also kind of means you can work on a lot more things at the same time — do your bit, pass it on to the relevant person or people, then get started on something else, only returning to the original thing if you have to go back and fix something.

None of this is news to any of you who have been happily chugging along in office jobs for years now, I’m sure, but this is still quite a new experience to me. Those who have known me a while will remember that my past lives have included being a teacher, a salesman, a software trainer and a video games journalist — all jobs that tend to involve you dealing with things by yourself, whether or not you’re part of an overall “team”. It’s actually kind of nice to know that now, for the first time, I can share out some of the responsibilities a bit more as well as helping other people out when I can. I foresee it being a much more pleasant way to work — let’s just hope I keep feeling that way after the initial “honeymoon period” is over!

Anyway. In line with my new responsibilities as a cog in the corporate machine, it is time for me to disappear in a bedwards direction. I hope you have a pleasant week.

1685: Murder on the Mystery Express

Today’s afternoon and evening was spent playing board games, beginning with a go at Lords of Waterdeep with both components of the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion — an essential addition for anyone who likes the base game — then following up with some Love Letter, Boss Monster and finally a Days of Wonder game I’ve had on my shelf for nearly 5 years now and never played a complete game of: Mystery Express.

Mystery Express is a “whodunnit” game with unsubtle Murder on the Orient Express influences. Thematically, you’re attempting to solve a murder on the train before it arrives in Istanbul; mechanically, you’re using various means of acquiring and sharing information to make deductions about the perpetrator, their motive, their modus operandi, the location of the crime and the time it took place.

Each turn in the game represents a leg of the journey from Paris to Istanbul, and permits players a certain number of in-game hours to perform various actions, represented by the different carriages of the train. In one car, you all pass cards around the table in a big circle; in another, you ask everyone to publicly reveal a card of a particular type; in another still, you’re able to gamble on a 50/50 chance — your opponent hiding a little miniature bag in one of their hands — in order to outright take one of their cards.

The cards each include the pieces of information necessary to solve the crime, with the exception of the time. The twist is that there are two copies of each card, so rather than just attempting to figure out which one is completely absent, you’re attempting to figure out which one there’s only one of. This can be extremely tricky due to the fact that cards get passed around the table throughout each turn, so the only means of reliably guaranteeing that something is definitely not relevant to the crime is seeing two copies of it on the same turn. There is, however, an interesting discard mechanic in place to prevent a player simply showing you the same card over and over again — or indeed you passing a card you just took from a player back to them — but this has the intriguing side-effect of meaning that information becomes more and more scarce as each round progresses.

The time of the crime, meanwhile, is represented by 24 cards, each of which have an analogue clock printed on them. There are three of each of the eight possible times in the deck, and one of them is hidden under the board as the truth, meaning in this case you’re looking for the one time there are two, not three copies of. And, unlike the other types of card, you only get three chances to look at these throughout the game: the first time, one player gets to flip over one card at a time at a rate of their choosing; the second time, another player deals out the whole deck to everyone, then tells them when to pass their part of the deck around at the rate of their choosing; the third and final time, a player reveals the cards one at a time into three stacks at a rate of their choosing. If, as happened tonight, the player in control of the time cards is lucky enough to be absolutely sure of the right time early in the game, they can then whip through the subsequent time phases extremely quickly, thereby giving themselves an advantage while putting those who are still trying to work it out at something of a disadvantage.

I enjoyed the game overall. The instructions are a little overwhelming initially — as is the iconography on the board — but after a little while it all becomes second nature, particularly as each player has a handy reference guide to help them out. I like deduction games a lot — another Days of Wonder favourite is the excellent Mystery of the Abbey – and this provides enough twists on the usual formula to keep things interesting.

Mostly, though, I’m just glad I finally got to play a game of it to completion. Turns out it’s pretty good; hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play it again at some point in the near future.

1684: Honest Living

If you’ve been paying attention and/or know me, you’re probably curious about how my first week at my new job went, right? If not, well, tough, I’m going to tell you anyway.

I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, though there have been frustrating hiccups, chief among which is I’ve spent a significant part of the week unable to actually, you know, do any work due to the fact that my access to the company’s network wasn’t, umm, working.

As of close of business today, my email still wasn’t working, though I at least finally had sufficient access to be able to get a proper taste of what I’ll be doing on a daily basis. Turns out I can do the job I was hired for, which is always good to know.

Over my first couple of days, I had the opportunity to sit down with the members of my immediate team and the related people with whom I’ll most frequently be working. Without exception, they were all really nice folks, and I didn’t get the impression any of them were putting on their “best face” for the new guy; they all seemed to be genuinely nice people.

I haven’t found myself freezing up with social anxiety, either, which is something I was terrified of. Rather, I’ve found myself able to chat with my colleagues — including using their names without feeling weird — and generally relax about interpersonal reactions; no-one seems to think I’m a wanker, at least, which is nice, and my immediate team even seemed to be genuinely interested in actually getting to know me properly, which was nice.

The other interesting thing I found was that pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to over the course of the last few days has been with the company for numerous years, with many having moved around quite a bit during their time there. This suggests two welcome pieces of news to me: firstly, that it’s a good place to work, and secondly that there’s plenty of opportunity for development, advancement and sideways movement. (It may also suggest that people wanted to hold on to a stable job during the economic downturn, but I’m not one to judge; I took this job because I wanted financial stability.)

The lady who serves coffee on our floor is very nice, too. She’s writing a book and a screenplay and decided to tell me all about it while she was brewing my latte this morning. We bonded somewhat; I confessed that I’ve had a book in my head for at least the last ten years or so and still haven’t quite managed to tease it out in a finished form. Maybe one day.

So in summary then, it’s been a good week. Now it’s the weekend, I can simply switch off and forget about work until Monday morning. I won’t lie, it’s a good feeling. Whether or not it will last remains to be seen, but for now I’ll take it.

Living a normal life, eh. Who’d have thought it.

1683: Peace and Quiet

At my new job, I don’t have full Internet access yet — I only just got access to the office network — and thus I can’t spend all day gazing at Twitter. Fiddling around with mobile phones during working time is also somewhat frowned upon — not that this stops some people around my area doing it — and so I haven’t been tempted to sit there pulling-to-refresh all day. In fact, my phone spent most of today locked in my desk drawer.

My God, how pleasant it is to be free of social media, and in a three-dimensional environment filled with real people who are nice and pleasant and have senses of humour and don’t spent every waking hour filled with an all-consuming rage about something, anything, everything. (My manager claimed to be “in a rage” with the IT department when I arrived at work this morning and my login credentials still weren’t working, but it was one of the most mild-mannered rages I’ve ever seen, particularly compared to the worst the Internet has to offer.) I can feel an improvement to my mental health already, which is confirming something that I’ve suspected for a while:

While social media is great, I also think it has great potential to be harmful.

I’m not just talking about the “everyone, even hateful idiots, being given a voice to broadcast their opinions” thing here. I’m also talking about, from my own personal perspective, the frustration, annoyance, anger and feeling of impotent helplessness that stems from seeing other people being so utterly, wilfully stupid and being unable to convince them that yes, they are, in fact, being a bit of a dick.

This is my own issue, of course; I take a lot of things personally, particularly online, and when someone disagrees with me aggressively — as many people tend to do on the Internet, because respectful disagreements are rapidly becoming a thing of the past — I feel like I’m being attacked. Hell, I’ve seen friends of mine get attacked for something innocuous they’ve said, and, of course, there’s that horrible incident I suffered a while back that actually led to me leaving Twitter altogether for a while.

For people like me, though, this isn’t a healthy mental attitude to take, and it’s here that social media’s biggest benefit — the opportunity to expose yourself (not like that, pervert) to people you otherwise would never have come into contact with in a million years — is also its biggest drawback. The reason you would never have come into contact with those people in a million years without social media is because you move in completely different circles and you are fundamentally incompatible with one another. And, you know, that’s sort of fine, really. If coming into contact with these people leads to nothing but arguments and aggression, that’s not a valuable social interaction. No-one is learning anything from that experience; there’s no “cultural exchange” going on.

This isn’t to say you should only ever surround yourself with an echo chamber of people who feel the same way as you, of course. Work somewhere with a large number of people and it’s likely you’ll come into contact with at least a few people you simply don’t get on with, for example — but when dealing with those people face-to-face it’s much easier to just simply either stay out of their way or at least be polite to them; online, meanwhile, there are no filters in place, which means there’s nothing stopping people with fundamentally different ideologies from calling each other every name under the sun. And not stopping until it escalates into full-on abuse and harassment.

I’m still keeping Twitter around for now, since it’s my main means of communicating with a lot of far-flung friends around the globe. But my few days of going “cold turkey” during the daytime have all but broken my habit. And that, I can’t help but think, is a good thing.

I promise I’ll stop writing about this shit tomorrow and write about something more cheerful and/or interesting instead.

1682: The Middle Ground

Stop talking. Sit down. Be quiet. And listen. Listen.

I think we can all agree that the concept of “rational discourse” in video games on social media is rapidly going out of the window with each passing day. But it’s not too late! Everyone can work together to save this. But you’ll all have to do different things. Are you up to the challenge? Let’s take each of you in turn.

Those advocating for social justice

You’re fighting the good fight. You know this. Ultimately, there are plenty of human beings who are decent folk who believe in what you are fighting for. Many of them don’t speak up for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Some of them don’t want to speak up for fear of ostracisation. Some of them believe that, from their personal experience, things are fine the way they are. Some of them simply don’t want to get involved.

Your cause is just, and some weight is lent to it by the unpleasant behaviour others display towards you when you stand up for what you believe in. That does not, however, mean that you need to stoop to their level. Dial back on the “neckbeard” and “virgin” comments — disagree without insulting, otherwise you’re simply doing the exact same thing that those who use “SJW” as a pejorative are doing — and you might find more people taking your points more seriously. Likewise, deliberately poking the fire by posting things like that Beyoncé “Feminist” picture that did the rounds recently and saying how much you’re looking forward to the “nerds” getting angry over it really doesn’t help, and just makes you look rather childish.

Also, stopping this silly behaviour where anyone who doesn’t agree with your viewpoint automatically occupies the diametrically opposed extreme ideology would be a great idea, too. (Someone who disagrees with your progressive views on gender is not automatically a men’s rights activist, pick-up artist or red piller, for example.) By extension, neither your overall ideology nor your interpretation of something is automatically, fundamentally 100% correct. Both are open to criticism, discussion, disagreement and debate. Those who do so are not “wrong”, nor are they necessarily “attacking” you — though some may be. Engage with the discussion and help people understand each other — even if you’re not able to change someone’s mind — rather than escalating arguments.

Those advocating for the growth of feminist criticism of games

As someone — I forget who, I’m afraid — pointed out on Twitter the other day, the growth of feminist criticism of games simply mirrors every other art form out there. It’s not a bad thing.

What is less good is that there’s not a sufficient diversity of voices. Feminist criticism is all very well and good, but we should also take other viewpoints into account. Opinions from different sexualities, positions on the gender spectrum and different socioeconomic backgrounds should be welcomed, sought out, embraced. And that means taking the white, cissexual male viewpoint as seriously as that of anyone else. While it’s easy to argue that this is the “default”, “easy mode” position to write from, given gaming’s history, it doesn’t make it any less valid. We should also take care that a single ideology — most commonly feminism right now — doesn’t start to take over sites intended to cater to a broad, mainstream audience from a variety of backgrounds. Otherwise you get the opposite problem that the feminist critics are, in many cases, fighting for — and that’s when people start to push back.

There’s a place for feminist criticism of games, then, but there’s also a place for people who subscribe to different ideologies and want to read things in different ways. We should embrace all the different, diverse ways of looking at things rather than treating one as the “correct” way.

Those who have expressed anger at the above two groups

I understand where you’re coming from. It’s easy to feel threatened when someone from outside your demographic starts to criticise something you’re passionate about — particularly when they do so in a manner which feels like you’re being personally attacked for the things you love.

The smart thing to do is to write or record a well-considered rebuttal. The smart thing to do is to engage with the discussion. The smart thing to do is to respectfully disagree, outline your beliefs and take things from there. Or, in some cases, the smart thing to do is to walk away and simply continue enjoying that thing you enjoy, safe in the knowledge that you like it and it doesn’t really matter what some stranger somewhere on the Internet thinks about it.

The un-smart thing to do is to start yelling, using abusive language and saying that you hope someone you disagree with dies, gets raped or has something otherwise unpleasant happen to them. What happens when you do that is that they then become aggressive, too, start publicly shaming you, calling you a neckbeard virgin and setting their own pack of (dick)wolves on you. From there it escalates, with what was once a simple difference of opinion becoming campaigns of harassment on both sides, the conclusion of which is something along the lines of the whole Zoe Quinn debacle which unfolded recently, in which no-one on either side particularly comes out smelling of roses.

Those who wish we could just get back to enjoying games

I understand completely. However, one thing to note is that the “good old days” you want to return to were a very different time from now in many ways. In 2014, we’re in a situation where it is possible to do an in-depth literary-style analysis of a narrative based game, or to pick apart the artistic influences evident in a more abstract title. That doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to do so, of course, but saying we should just stop trying to take games so seriously isn’t the answer, either.

Rather, much like what I mentioned regarding feminist criticism above, we could do for greater diversity of voices. There’s still a place for light-hearted ’90s style games journalism, in which the sheer joy of being a gamer is expressed. There’s a place for helpful, “objective” buyers’ guides. There’s a place for in-depth, chin-strokey dissections of creative works. And there’s a place for criticism based around a specific ideology — though as noted above, it’s important to ensure we have numerous different ideologies represented, not just those perceived as “the right one”.

The trouble we have at the minute is that the amorphous blob that is “games journalism” clumsily lurches from one thing to another, never quite managing to get that balance perfect. What we need is for outlets to distinguish themselves from one another more strongly, with each ultimately becoming a good home for those who enjoy different types of coverage. At present, however, sites end up with in-depth feminist criticism clumsily rammed up against coverage of the latest DLC for Minecraft and “do you remember?” retrospectives of games from years gone by. Vastly different groups of readers are constantly butting heads with one another, and while there’s value in making people step out of their comfort zone and confront viewpoints that they might not share, this is not the optimal means of doing so.

What’s the answer? Bollocksed if I know, but then I’ve washed my hands of the whole affair. If I had my way, I’d just relaunch PC Zone with its original team, in the ’90s, and exclusively read that until the end of time.

1681: New Start

So it was my first day at my new job today. I can’t really judge a lot about what it’s going to be like as yet, since as a sort of “induction” day coupled with the fact that my company network access isn’t set up yet meant that I’m yet to do any actual work, and it might even be Thursday before I get to really “do” anything.

I’m cool with that though, not because I don’t want to do any work, but rather because this is giving me the time to try and settle in a bit, learn all the rules and regulations (of which there are many — my new employer is very safety-conscious and consequently there are a lot of common-sense rules you have to make sure you follow at all times) and get to know a few people.

I spent most of today with my team, who all seem like thoroughly pleasant people. I felt mildly awkward to be sitting around watching people work over their shoulder, but my teammates all seemed more than happy to allow me to do so while talking to me almost constantly. I was glad that they were so open, helpful and honest with me because it made me feel like I was already welcome in the group rather than excluded as “the new guy”. I realise it’s probably irrational to expect to be excluded from a clique on one’s first day but, well, it’s happened before: one of the schools I worked at in particular very much had a number of established cliques, and I didn’t really fit into any of them for a while — most notably the one that consisted of my head of department and her friend from Maths — until I somehow managed to strike up a friendship with members of the English department in their top-floor hideaway far from the trials, tribulations and, well, bitchiness of the ground floor.

I don’t doubt that there will be cliques and friendship groups at my new employer. It’s sort of unavoidable given that there are several thousand people working there — it’s literally impossible for everyone to know each other. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in an organisation of that size, however; so long at the members of a team all get along with one another and with members of the teams with which they have the most frequent interactions, all will be well. And so far, that appears to be the situation, which is nice.

I’m up early again tomorrow for more training, e-learning and sitting down for some time with the people outside my team with whom I’ll most frequently be collaborating. From there, who knows? Either way, I’m feeling good about it so far; most people I spoke to today had been with the company a good few years and didn’t seem to feel like they were “stuck” — there appears to be plenty of opportunity for training, advancement and even shifting around to completely different departments, so who knows what I’ll end up doing in a few years’ time?

Hopefully it won’t be panicking over where my next paycheque is coming from. I’m hoping those days have been left far behind me.