Tags: culturish

Venus transit

Perplex City in context: pervasive games as a genre

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Just a quick note to anyone who remembers the end of Perplex City and my role in it.

A while back I was contacted by some researchers in Finland and Sweden who were working on a book about what they dubbed ‘pervasive games’ – ARGs and suchlike.

I agreed to let them use some of my photos from the climax of PXC, and I’ve just had an email from them to say the book’s now out. With photos, apparently.

You can read about it here – sounds interesting. Here’s one of the supporting quotes they’ve gathered for the marketing blurb:

“This book is the definitive guide to the past, present, and future of stories and games that jump out of their cages and into your real life. Whether it’s characters that call you on the phone or game play that happens on the bus on your way to work, this kind of immersive entertainment will define the culture of the next century as surely as the movies dominated the last one.” – Sean Stewart, Chief Creative, Fourth Wall Studios, and author of the cross-media international bestseller, Cathy’s Book

I don’t know if that’s true or not – it takes so much work, time and money to set up a game like PXC, the Beast or the one Nine Inch Nails ran for their fans, and that leaves me not at all convinced they’ll ever go mainstream.

If there isn’t a viable economic model for this sort of game – and if there is I can’t see it – then the best they’ll ever be is a marketing exercise or an underground fan-run experience. Never a dominant form of mass culture.

But that’s OK – they can be our little secret.

Like the best geocaches (by which I mean the cunning and the sneaky and the not-for-children ones), a good ARG, or pervasive game, or piece of chaotic fiction, or whatever you want to call it, is inherently subversive.

The day an ARG clue is buried in a McDonald’s tray insert, as I seem to recall Mind Candy hoped to do as part of its now-abandoned model for developing future seasons of Perplex City, is the day these games stop being worth playing for the people who enjoy them now.

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Venus transit

Chalk another one up for the bastards

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Here, look. I’m writing an actual post, rather than filling this with digests of Twitter posts. Well blow me down.

It’s motivated by anger, of course. The smug bastards at The Times are crowing about how they’ve been big and brave and public interesty by forcing the naming of Nightjack, the CID blogger who recently won the Orwell Prize for being bloody brilliant.

I’d link to his site, but he’s taken it down in self defence. Any quiet ‘we know it’s you but we’ll keep schtumm so long as you don’t go too far’ policy that his bosses might have had is right out of the window now.

Nightjack was someone I disagreed with quite often, but also someone whose honesty (fuelled by anonymity, of course) and insightful analysis was frequently spot-on – and whose craft with words allowed him to make his points with brutal, poetic precision.

And now he’s been permanently silenced by the Thunderer, which farted in the face of freedom of expression and dressed it up with a pompous public interest rationale based on how, if you assigned a journalist full time to the job, you might possibly be able to identify what colour his underpants were.

Incidentally, I see no reason to use the poor sod’s real name just because he’s been outed. So far as I’m concerned, he’s Nightjack – just as the sex blogger outed by the sister paper in an equally underhand way a couple of years back is still The Girl, Abby Lee, to me.

I was going to leave a comment on their site telling them what I thought of them, but you’re only allowed 300 characters – so I dusted off this not-at-all anonymous blog of my own instead. Below is what I was going to write. I’ll send ‘em a link instead.

(And, like Alix Mortimer and Iain Dale, I aintn’t linking back.)

Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself – another low blow by the dead tree press as it thrashes around in its death throes. It was your sister paper that named The Girl against her wishes, wasn’t it?

Having twice, quite separately from this, seen friends on the receiving end of your determination to stand up for your precious rights to screw over their lives, I can truly say that I look forward with eager anticipation to your demise.

And I say that despite having trained and worked as a newspaper journalist myself, where I spent more years than I care to remember spouting the same sort of self-serving rubbish that you’re serving up in your justification here.

Smarter minds than yours are trying and failing to find a business model to support print media into the internet age, and when they finally concede defeat and you collapse, you’ll all be dusting off your CVs and sending them to the likes of us.

And we’ll remember this, and laugh in your faces.

There – I feel better with that off my chest.

Perhaps I’ll actually sleep tonight for once.

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Venus transit

Hardcore pawn action

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Back in the days, I used to play a bit of chess - not to any great standard, but I entered a few tournaments and didn’t come last. Nearly last, yes, but not actually last.

But that was something like 25 years ago and I’ve barely touched a chess piece in anger since then, until recently when I was persuaded to have another go.

Happily, this coincided with the Kramnik-Anand world championship match and then the chess Olympiad in Dresden that finished just a couple of days ago, so I found myself getting sucked back in.

And, on chess.com I’ve found somewhere to play real live people online.

I’m still no better than respectable, I’ve forgotten almost all the opening theory I ever knew, and I’m prone to horrendous blunders - lost my queen through carelessness in a game against someone in Latvia - but I’ve won a few games, to my surprise and satisfaction.

This game, below, was the tie-breaker in a series of three I played with a chap in Portugal last night. It was genuinely thrilling stuff as the opposite-side castling allowed us both to launch attacks - and I got into serious time trouble at the end, forcing me to play without fully analysing the consequences.

I don’t claim it was a terribly good game and the play is probably riddled with errors on both sides, but it was enormous fun - so much so that I really wouldn’t have minded losing it.

I could get quite into this, you know…

[Event "Chess.com live chess"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "28 November, 2008"] [Round "1"] [White "Andy Darley, GBR"] [Black "Joao Ferreira, POR"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "1267"] [BlackElo "1224"] [TimeControl "10 minutes each"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 {The Petroff Defence. Supposed to be drawish. Used to play it myself but can’t remember how it goes after so long has passed.} 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d3 {Symmetrical positions are supposed to favour the person to move next, so let’s provoke one.} Nf6 6. Bg5 Nc6 7. Qe2+ {To inconvenience him, and force him to clog up his position.} Be7 8. Nc3 O-O {Unpins his bishop.} 9. O-O-O {Opposite-side castling - let the fireworks begin!} Be6 10. b3 {Prevents Bxa2, at the cost of making the castled position somewhat draughty} d5 11. d4 Re8 12. Qd2 {With the idea of Bh6 gxh6 Qxh6, but there’s nothing to back up the queen at the moment - and if the black bishop gets on the diagonal and pins the white queen to the king it’s all over.} Ba3+ 13. Kb1 Nb4 {Black threatens, but can’t force an attack without disrupting the pawns first - I decided it was safe to ignore all this and build my attack instead.} 14. Bb5 c6 15. Bd3 {Another diagonal threatening the black king is occupied - but I now have less than a minute on the clock and my opponent has plenty of time.} h6 16. Be3 {I should have launched the attack now, but lacked the time to calculate the complications or the confidence to just get stuck in.} b5 17. Bxh6 {What the hell - I have maybe 40 seconds left, I’m under attack on the queen’s side - best to just go for it.} g6 {Obviously doesn’t fancy gxh6 Qxh6.} 18. Ne5 Qa5 19. Nxg6 {Hoping for fxg6 Bxg6, but I have no idea what to do after that.} Nxd3 {Probably the move that lost him the game.} 20. Qxd3 {A much better square for the queen!} Bb4 21. Ne7+ {Making room for the queen to invade - the check means black has no opportunity to take preventative measures.} Rxe7 22. Qg3+ Kh7 23. Qg7# {Checkmate, with just 25 seconds left on my clock.} 1-0
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Venus transit

Stiff upper lips 1, Americans 0

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

How perfectly splendid - it appears that an RAF fighter pilot on secondment to an American squadron has been able to wave the Queen’s Regulations in the face of US officers who were trying to get him to shave off his handlebar moustache.

Flight Lieutenant Chris Ball is normally based in Scotland but is currently in Afghansitan on an exchange with a US Air Force unit - and he seems to have chosen to while away the hours not spent in the air by cultivating a truly impressive example of the traditional fliers’ facial decoration.

Photos on BBC Online show his transformation from the very picture of dour Sam Tyleresque modern professionalism to a grinning throwback to the chaps who scrambled from Duxford and Tangmere and Biggin Hill, and who grew moustaches to disguise the fact that they were so horribly, painfully young to be dying.

Is anyone really surprised that his temporary American superiors took offence? No reason has been given, of course - perhaps they feared terrorists were hiding in all that undergrowth, or maybe his commanding officer couldn’t get past the memory of Village People videos.

Whatever the reason, the decree came down from on high - the moustache must go. Goodbye Biggles, hello Top Gun.

Except Flt Lt Ball was having none of it. Perhaps inspired by the Ministry of Defence’s obvious approval of a Royal Marines moustache-growing competition in Afghanistan last Christmas, he reached for his rulebook and fought back.

And the USAF backed down, beaten off by a combination of Queen’s Regulation 209, which dictates that moustaches are fine so long as they confine themselves to the upper lip and no further, and a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries banning local commanders from instructing exchange officers to breach their own dress regulations.

A small victory in the fight-back against creeping cultural imperialism - but an important one.

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Venus transit

A Christmas rant

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

And straight in at number one in the ‘brain-numbingly stupid decisions of 2007′ chart is BBC Radio 1, for censoring one of the only decent Christmas songs ever written to avoid offence to listeners.

The essence of a stupid decision is that it achieves exactly the opposite effect to the one intended - and that can certainly be said of this bowdlerisation of the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, where any offence prevented by censorship is surely dwarfed by the offence caused by butchering the soaring vocals of the doomed Kirsty MacColl.

The BBC reportedly said: “We are playing an edited version because some members of the audience might find it offensive.”

Well, bollocks to the BBC.

It’s all a matter of context. Stick a fist under someone’s nose and call them a faggot or a slut and it’s offensive. Script a scene between two characters, one a self-deluding alcoholic and the other a dying junkie, and it can be art.

Doesn’t have to be, of course. Could still be offensive. But not in this case.

The Pogues are said to be amused. MacColl’s mother Jean thinks it’s ridiculous. And, according to BBC Online, Pogues fan Kevin Caswell said: “The lyrics are what make the song and if I were Mr McGowan I would ensure you were never allowed to play this poetic, touching and classic song.”

It’s not a corporation-wide ban. Radio 2, which during my youth was what you found when you looked in the dictionary under ‘bland’ and ‘inoffensive’, is playing the song in full.

And so is everyone else.

For it is a well-known fact that only five Christmas songs have ever been written which aren’t so toe-curlingly awful that the songwriters should have been taken aside as schoolchildren and advised to go into accountancy.

Of course, not everyone agrees on which five. But here, courtesy of YouTube, are my choices. Plus one bonus winter song from the movies that’s a delight to watch.

Number five

I was tempted to say John Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over) here, but let’s face it - as a song, it’s a bit of a dirge. Very worthy, but in the ‘anti war Xmas song’ stakes I’ll pick Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie any year.

Number four

I’m not big with the Christmas carols, but the vocals on this duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie are to die for. Little Drummer Boy, of course.

Number three

The perfect antidote to over-sentimental Christmas tosh - from 1981, Things Fall Apart, by Cristina.

Number two

A bit more jingly, but still from the early-80s school of sardonic seasonal slices of life, comes Christmas Wrapping by the Waitresses.

Number one

Kirsty and the Pogues, naturally. What else? See it here live in all its uncensored glory.

Special winter bonus

Finally, from the movie Neptune’s Daughter, here are Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams performing Baby it’s cold outside. How about that choreography?

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Venus transit


Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

The Red Anthology cover

If I type this really fast it may just sneak under the wire and count as a March post, thus keeping up my new average of a post a month in 2007. Pretty grim stuff, compared with the several a day I used to manage when writing this thing was fresh and new in late 2002.

It's not like I've been writing nothing at all, though - the anthology with my story in creeps ever closer to becoming reality. That's its cover over there, beside these words. Neat, huh?

Got an email from the publisher today - they've now got a MySpace page, heaven help us all. For those who are into that sort of thing, it's at myspace.com/norecordpress.

In other news there was this, which just felt like one of those things that needed to be done.

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Venus transit


Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

So, well, yes, it's been a while since I last posted. Quite a bit's happened, actually.

For starters, we're probably only a month or so away from the publication by a small San Francisco press of an anthology of short stories that includes one of mine. More on that when I have more, but right now I'm tremendously excited, because it's the first time in a very long time that any of my fiction will have been published.

Also taking a lot of my time is MyBathroomFinder.com, the first step in our fledgling business empire. It's starting to find its feet and generate traffic. Not a lot of income yet, but it's early days.

And the other big thing is Perplex City, the £100,000 / $200,000 treasure hunt and alternative reality game that's been running for the last two-and-a-half years. 50,000 players, 92 countries.

We won it.

If you're used to my usual writing style you're probably waiting for me to qualify it and say something like “well, what I actually mean is that 5000 of us were declared 'winners' but only one person got the prize and it wasn't us”.

Well, as it turned out it was us.

It's been a very weird couple of weeks, with a lot of nice messages of congratulations from people (including some of the ones who came closest to winning it themselves) and some emails and phone calls from friends I'd lost touch with and who saw it in the news.

There's an awful lot to say about it, so I built a small website with the story and a link to my Flickr photos. Go explore, Digg it or stick it on del.icio.us or whatever if that's your sort of thing - I'll still be here when you come back. And believe me, no matter how surprised you are at the news it's nothing to how stunned I am, as I look back at it.

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Venus transit

Here we go round the bloody mulberry bush

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

Isn't it completely predictable? Having knocked down CK, Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes (not exactly difficult tasks, admittedly) it's now time for for the guns to be turned on Ming. It starts here, with an utterly unsourced story in the Guardian (unsourced unless you count that obscure amoeba Ben Ramm, who makes the pre-Big Brother Chantelle Houghton look high-profile). I daresay it won't stop until he's been forced into making his last oncology test results public. If I were Chris Huhne, I'd be looking in the mirror right now, searching for the little red dot of the laser sight on my forehead.

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It never rains but it pours

Originally published at And Then He Said.... Please leave any comments there.

I'm no fan of Mark Oaten, as I think I've made clear, but this is rather a shame. The thing I'm saddest to see is him apologising to his family - immediately revealing the furtive sordidness of it all. No-one hires a rent boy for that length of time for cash, surely? Which would imply that it was a relationship that meant something to them both rather than a mere cash transaction. Or am I just being naively optimistic? Probably.

But I can't help remembering when I was a reporter on the Surrey Comet and the local Tory MEP Tom Spencer got busted, how incredibly maturely he and his family handled the whole thing.

Spencer was caught by customs coming back from Europe with gay porn movies and drugs in his bag. The porn turned out to be a gift from his occasional lover, the star of the movies. With his career in ruins around him, he very frankly told reporters that his wife knew he was bisexual when she married him and was quite happy for him to have the occasional weekend off to explore that side of his character. The wife was equally frank and even the kids couldn't see a problem with the arrangement.

To be honest, I couldn't see what he'd done wrong (apart from the derisory amount of drugs he was found with) and I'm pretty sure I remember making that obvious to him when I interviewed him. The story I wrote wasn't exactly scathing, either.

Maybe - hopefully - what happened with Mark Oaten will turn out to be something not too dissimilar.

Having said all that, Oaten was a berk for standing in the leadership election with that hanging over his head. He would have been asked 'why not' if he didn't stand, but he was talking about unity candidates within moments of Kennedy's resignation so could have got away with it.

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