“Let’s Play” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

In a tiny window inside a tiny window, GialloBlade81 leant closer to the camera and put on an ominous voice: ‘Happy Halloween everyone! We’ve got a real treat for you tonight.’ Under the bright studio lights, his dark hair stood out like a tarantula above the pale zombie make-up.

Beside him, Elvirus23 tugged on one corner of her plush slime monster hat and gave the camera a wonky stare: ‘Oh god, it isn’t a horror game is it?’

GialloBlade81 looked shocked: ‘Why, no. It’s the beloved SNES classic Super Mario World. Bringer of cheerful childhood nostalgia and innocent fun to millions of gamers.’

Elvirus23 let out a conspicuous sigh of relief: ‘Whew! I was worried that you’d dug up some scary indie game or something like that. Can we just play the first couple of levels? The ghost house level used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. That spooky music!’

GialloBlade81 cackled: ‘Oooonly joking! Of course it’s a scary indie game!’ He leant forward and pressed a button. On the screen behind him, a start menu with the words EMPTY HOUSE: REQUIEM dripped ominously. The howling laughs of hidden clowns skittered through the air. A CGI cockroach scuttled across the bottom of the screen.

Elvirus23 flinched and glowered: ‘You fiend! You know that horror games give me nightmares for..’ She corpsed. Once her hissing laughter had subsided, she said: ‘Better cut that from the episode, Norman.’

GialloBlade81 flashed a puzzled glance at the camera. ‘Really, it’ll be funnier if we leave it in. I mean, it’s not like any of our viewers don’t know that I’m the one putting on the brave face and you’re the one who only acts scared. It’s ironic. Postmodern, even.’

Elvirus23 shrieked with laughter. Finally, she took a deep breath and put her slime monster hat back on. She fixed the camera with wobbly eyes: ‘B…But, you said we were playing Mario.’

‘One of the cannibal clowns inside the Empty House is called Mario. The developers were kind enough to share that intriguing fact with me when they sent us the game key.’

‘S…Spoiler alert! Wait, did you say clowns?‘ Elvirus23’s eyes widened.

‘Oh yes!’ Another cackle. ‘It’s a real funhouse, I’m told!’

Elvirus23 made a show of covering her eyes and shivering. GialloBlade81 reached for the controller. Keeping his trembling fingers below frame, he pressed another button. The screen behind the presenters dissolved into the dilapidated hallway of a photo-realistic abandoned mansion. Lightning flickered through the gloom, illuminating dried stains on the flaking walls.

Keeping his voice under control, GialloBlade81 said: ‘Well, I’m giving this hotel a bad review on HolidayAdvisor when we get home.’

Elvrius23 opened her fingers and peeked out: ‘It had to be a haunted mansion, didn’t it? I can’t even go round National Trust museums thanks to those.’

‘Aren’t they usually only open during the day? Oh god, that would make a brilliant horror game. Just think of the number of restless spirits who roam the..’

Elvirus23 quivered theatrically: ‘No, don’t! Just get on with the game.’

He got on with the game. The first-person camera took slow, crunching steps through the swaying hallway. As it passed a locked door, loud banging and squeaking suddenly filled the air. GialloBlade81 barely managed to keep his composure. Beside him, Elvirus23 made a big show of screaming and falling off of her chair. As she climbed back onto the chair, GialloBlade81 ignored the furious pounding in his chest and kept playing.

He paused in front of the stairs. The only other place to go was a dark corridor. As he turned towards it, two red eyes glowed back at him. He nearly dropped the controller. Elvirus23 let out a piercing scream, worthy of any late-night movie. He took the stairs. Like the loading screens in the original Resident Evil, every creaking step seemed to take an age. He kept moving.

Neither of them heard the silent tread of oversized shoes behind them. It was only when the smell of greasepaint reached GialloBlade81’s nostrils that he dropped the controller and turned around. A giant motley clown towered above him, the smudged red smile on its face wider than ever before. GialloBlade81 tried to scream. Instead, his eyes widened. He clutched his chest and slumped forwards. His head hit the desk with a loud bang.

Elvirus23 couldn’t stop laughing. Within seconds, the clown joined in, his spiky green hair quivering and swaying wildly. Finally, Elvirus23 caught her breath and said: ‘Oh my god, Fred. That was too funny! Brilliant!’

Fred chuckled: ‘I wish I could have seen the look on his face. Oh well, there will be plenty of time for that during editing.’ He glanced at the slumped man: ‘Sorry about that, Norm. It was Sophie’s idea.’

Norm said nothing. Fred’s voice trembled: ‘Norm?’

Sophie frowned: ‘Come on, Norm. That’s the oldest joke in the…’ She leant closer. A single droplet of blood dripped from the edge of the desk. This time, there was nothing fake about her screams.

Today’s Art (28th October 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the seventh page of “Nocturnal” – this year’s Halloween comic. You can check out previous Halloween comics here: 2015, 2016, 2017.

If you’ve missed any of this comic, you can catch up here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five, Page Six,

You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters here too. Stay tuned for the next page of this comic tomorrow 🙂

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Nocturnal – Page 7” By C. A. Brown

The Joy Of … The “Hedonism” Genre

A while before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of my favourite genres of film/television/fiction. I am, of course, talking about the hedonism genre. And, yes, I would argue that it is actually a genre (even though it can include other genres like comedy or horror).

But, before I talk about some examples and strengths of the genre, I should probably define the genre first. As the name suggests, this is a genre that revolves around fun and wild excess. It can either be a celebration of these things, a satire of these things and/or something that evokes similar emotions to these in the audience. The heyday of this genre was probably during the 1980s and 1990s.

This genre is so awesome because of the sense of freedom and/or nostalgia that it evokes in the audience. It’s a form of escapism that not only allows the audience to vicariously enjoy a rebellious life of wild hedonistic excess in a safe way, but it also makes the audience think about their worldview and attitude towards life too. One of the central features of this genre is that it focuses on characters who enjoy life, or believe that life should actually be enjoyed.

And, in this day and age, this is always an incredibly refreshing thing to see. Anything which places narrative importance on actually having fun is like an oasis in a desert.

The hedonism genre is also perhaps the only genre where having an “immortal” main character can actually work in dramatic terms. Usually, in hedonistic stories, the main character will either survive things that many people wouldn’t or get away with things many people wouldn’t. This turns these characters from ordinary fictional characters into more archetypical figures, like the ancient Roman god Bacchus. These characters become symbols of a life lived for the fun of it. And, again, in a dour age such as the one we live in these days, our popular mythology desperately needs characters like this (if only for the sake of balance).

Anyway, the thing that reminded me of this genre is the fact that I’ve started re-watching an absolutely amazing sitcom from the 1990s/2000s called “Absolutely Fabulous” which focuses on the hilariously chaotic lives of two middle-aged fashionistas called Edina and Patsy.

This is a screenshot from series 1, episode 1 (1992) of “Absolutely Fabulous” showing Edina and Patsy attending a fashion show after-party.

Although the show is clearly meant to be a vicious satire of trendy people from London (and it’s eerily timeless in this respect), the hedonistic “world” of the show is absolutely fascinating. Although the show’s hedonism is carried to comedic excess and laced with layer upon layer of satire, it’s still oddly refreshing to see a TV show about two main characters whose main goal in life is to enjoy it (and look fabulous whilst doing so).

Another awesome example of fun hedonistic storytelling is probably Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s “Tank Girl” comics. These are classic 1980s/90s punk comics about the bizarre adventures of a hard-partying army deserter called Tank Girl and her boyfriend Booga (a giant mutant kangaroo) in a bizarre version of post-apocalyptic Australia which is, culturally, more like 1990s Britian than anything else.

This is an excerpt from “Tank Girl 2” (1996) by Hewlett & Martin.

This comic series is utterly brilliant, because it revels in silliness, rebellion and chaos. It isn’t some gritty story about saving the world or anything like that. It’s the kind of comic that will make you laugh and feel like a punk when you read it. And in an age where controversies about comics are still a thing, seeing a comic that just doesn’t give a damn is extremely refreshing in creative terms.

Of course, the genre can also be used as a brilliant source of horror too. A great example of this is probably the brilliant 1990s film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas“. If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s a story about the misadventures of a drug-addled journalist and his equally drug-addled attorney during a trip to Las Vegas in the 1970s.

Although it isn’t explicitly a horror story (it’s more of a dark comedy and a lament for the death of the 1960s counterculture), it uses hedonism as a brilliant source of horror. As the film progresses, everything gradually becomes more surreal and paranoia-filled as the main characters’ drug binge increases in intensity – with the set design in the film gradually turning into a demented “Alice In Wonderland”-like alternate world, as the main characters gradually lose their grip on reality.

This is a screenshot from “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas” (1998), showing some of the film’s more surreal and chaotic set design.

Whilst many films in the (similar, but different) stoner genre use this sort of thing as a brilliant source of feel-good comedy, this film turns it up to eleven and it becomes a source of nightmarish, paranoid horror instead. It’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of being too hedonistic, but it isn’t judgmental or preachy about it and – as such- it fills it’s role far more effectively than any kind of stern lecture ever could.

So, whether they are allowing the audience to vicariously revel in a life of wild hedonistic excess (without the dangers of doing this for real), making the case that life should be enjoyed or offering a gentle non-judgemental warning to keep real life hedonism within vaguely sensible limits, the hedonism genre is one of the best genres out there.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Void” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Reza raised the scanner and swept it over the churned ground. On the screen, a thousand tiny fragments glittered like stars. He tapped a couple of buttons and waited. Five seconds later, a pop-up appeared: RECONSTRUCTION ALGORITHM COULD NOT RESOLVE DATA.

Muttering under his breath, he brought up a menu and set it to reconstruct multiple objects. A memory allocation error appeared. Reza twiddled with the amplification dial on the side of the scanner, hoping that getting rid of the smaller fragments would free up some memory for the processor. But, just after he started the process again, the air around him cooled by several degrees.

Without even thinking, he reached back and flipped up the hood of his anorak before returning to the screen. It was still processing. Curses and prayers competed for his attention. The air got colder. The little spinning thing on the screen moved slightly faster. Come on!

A reassuring ping echoed through the air. As Reza raised his head to the grey sky with relief, the rain fell. There was no small pattering of drizzle to give him a moment’s grace. One second, the air was cold and heavy. The next, it was a solid sheet of rain. Without even thinking, he hunched over the scanner and ran.

His feet squelched and slopped. He almost slipped. He kept running. Keep the scanner dry. He didn’t look up. He knew the route.

At least, he thought he did. As his shoulder slammed into the scorched trunk of an old tree, Reza realised that he was lost. The bare branches gave him little shelter. He ignored the ache in his shoulder and stayed crouched over the scanner. Worst case scenario, the rain will pass in six hours.

Luckily for him, he didn’t have to wait six hours. Above the furious pounding of the rain, Reza heard an intermittent slopping sound. Turning his head sideways, he saw a bright orange shape moving through the rain. A smile crossed his face. He kept crouching. Two minutes later, a hand touched his shoulder.

Beside him, Suzy shouted: ‘Come on! Follow me.’ She fumbled through her anorak and pulled out a plastic bag: ‘Cover it with this.’

As soon as Reza had got the scanner covered, they ran. It was only when the half-buried tube of the site station began to appear that Reza realised where he’d gone wrong. With all of the chaos of trying to get a reading before the day’s rains hit, he’d wandered into the neighbouring field. It was easy enough to do when your eyes were glued to a screen for hours.

Suzy held the door open as Reza rushed into the corrugated tube. Seconds later, she clanged it shut. Above their heavy breathing, rain pinged off of the roof like machine gun fire. The piercing smell of petrichor hung in the air. Reza fumbled with the bag and handed it back to Suzy. She placed it on the pitted wooden table before staring at the scanner screen. It was still working.

‘Did you get anything?’ Suzy sat down and reached for the scratched biscuit tin.

Reza pressed a few buttons on the scanner ‘Yeah. Hmmm…. Nothing in the database about it. Hold on, I’ll try a date extrapolation. Might be a few minutes.’

Pulling two misshapen biscuits from the tin, Suzy leaned over the scanner. On the flickering screen, a flat black ingot encased in shattered glass sat beside a loading bar. It made no sense whatsover. The glass couldn’t be there to protect whatever was inside it. Maybe it was some kind of emergency item, like the old fire alarms back at HQ? Suzy shook her head. Who would need a portable fire alarm?

She handed a biscuit to Reza. They ate in silence. The loading bar crawled forwards. Suzy smiled: ‘Have you got any idea what it is?’

‘My best guess is that it’s some kind of currency. The latest message from the London site mentioned finding thousands of items like this one amongst the bone fragments. The glass casing is a new touch, though. Maybe it was more valuable than the London specimens or something like that?’

The scanner pinged. They both stared at the screen. The number 2018 stared back at them. Reza laughed. ‘Typical.’

Suzy sighed ‘We got drenched for that? Another bloody void item.’

‘Don’t worry, we’ll piece it together eventually. I mean, we know it’s an early void item. So, it’s another clue.’

Suzy reached for another biscuit ‘Yes, but I was hoping for some real history. Some pre-2007 thing that actually told us something. It makes no sense! People before then had everything – recreational buildings, detailed machine-printed writings, tiny mechanical clocks and even reels of sequential images. Then, one year, they all just suddenly decide to start a two-century dark age. It makes no sense.’

Reza grinned and pointed at the plastic bag on the table: ‘I don’t know, they certainly knew how to make bags back then.’

Today’s Art (27th October 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the sixth page of “Nocturnal” – this year’s Halloween comic. You can check out previous Halloween comics here: 2015, 2016, 2017.

If you’ve missed any of this comic, you can catch up here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four, Page Five,

You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters here too. Stay tuned for the next page of this comic tomorrow 🙂

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Nocturnal – Page 6” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Time Stands Still” By Unleash The Archers (Album)

A few months ago, I was watching random heavy metal music videos on Youtube when I happened to stumble across one for a song called “Test Your Metal” by a band that I’d never even heard of before called Unleash The Archers. I was astonished. This song was proper old-school 1980s-style metal from a modern band 🙂

Fast forward a few months and, eventually, I got round to ordering a copy of the band’s third album “Time Stands Still” (2015) after noticing that it was only about a fiver or so on Amazon. Because if the rest of it was even half as good as the music videos I’d seen, then it was worth getting.

So, let’s take a look at “Time Stands Still” by Unleash The Archers:

And, yes, this album cover is EPIC! It could almost be an Iron Maiden album cover 🙂

The best way to describe the overall sound of this album is that it is a really interesting blend of old-school NWOBHM-style heavy metal and classic European-style power metal, with some more modern Scandinavian-style elements too.

Seriously, some parts of the album sound like they could have come from an old Iron Maiden, Helloween, Judas Priest or Saxon album and some parts of it sound like they could have come from a Wintersun, Ensiferum or Hammerfall album.

One of the early lines in the album’s fifth track, “Test Your Metal”, is ‘You’ve been around town/ with an original sound‘ and this sums up the band’s style perfectly.

Although it’s easy to see who they have been inspired by, they don’t sound exactly like any one specific band. Like all great metal bands, they’ve come up with their own uniquely distinctive sound that is both instantly recognisable as heavy metal, yet also intriguingly different from everything else.

Even though the album isn’t a concept album, most of it has an “epic fantasy/sci-fi” type of atmosphere that wouldn’t be totally out of place on an Iron Maiden, Hammerfall or Helloween album.

But, the album also includes a fair amount of variety too, from the vaguely Iron Maiden/DORO/Saxon-like “Test Your Metal” to the subliminally more gothic/horror-like “Crypt” (which contains some hints of death metal/black metal in some parts) to the opening instrumental “Northern Passage” – which wouldn’t be totally out of place on a Nightwish, Lacuna Coil or Wintersun album.

The best song to sum up the overall atmosphere and style of this album is probably the third track, “Hail Of The Tide”.

The early parts of this song sound vaguely like a mixture of a song like Ensiferum’s “Into Battle” and an epic sci-fi themed Iron Maiden song like “Caught Somewhere In Time” or “If Eternity Should Fail” (but is thematically closer to Iron Maiden’s “The Talisman” or “Ghost Of The Navigator”). Soon, the song goes in a very slightly more Helloween-like direction with a more sustained vocal segment, before returning to classic-style fast paced metal vocals. After this, there’s an utterly epic growled backing vocal segment that wouldn’t be out of place in a Wintersun or Amon Amarth song. And this is only the first half of the song……

The vocals on this album are absolutely outstanding. Lead singer Brittany Slayes’ vocal style is very much in the tradition of singers like Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden), Rob Halford (Judas Priest) and Michael Kiske (Helloween), but she also adds many original flourishes to this traditional style.

Mostly notably, she seems to be an absolute expert at sustaining a single note for long periods of time, which adds an extra sense of epicness to the songs. But, she’s also an incredibly versatile singer, who can sing more ordinary classic rock/ metal vocals (eg: in “Test Your Metal”) and vaguely Nightwish-like vocals (eg: in the early parts of “Dreamcrusher”).

In addition to this, backing singer Andrew Kingsley adds more modern-style growled vocals in some songs (with his vocals in “Hail Of The Tide” reminding me a lot of Wintersun’s first album). Not only that, the song “Time Stands Still” features some absolutely epic Viking-style clean backing vocals/chants, which reminded me of a band like Ensiferum or TYR.

Instrumentally, this album is wonderfully sumptuous. It is a beautifully complex feast of different sounds and styles, that all blend together perfectly.

Not only are there lots of awesome 1980s-style guitar segments, but the album’s atmospheric opening instrumental “Northern Passage” also contains a wonderful mixture of gothic piano/violin music and electronic elements. Likewise, the guitar segments in other parts of the album also have a crunchier and more modern sound too.

Plus, the longer version of the song “Tonight We Ride” even features a brief bass solo at one point (4:17-4:27, if anyone is curious) too. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a metal band do this before, but it works!

Another interesting thing about the longer version of “Tonight We Ride” is that it ends with a brief audio segment which imitates flicking through several radio stations (a bit like the beginning of “Starlight” by Helloween), which culminates with a single tone rising in volume. This segues absolutely perfectly with the beginning of the next track “Test Your Metal”.

And, yes, there are actually two versions of “Tonight We Ride” on the album (eg: a longer album version and the shorter version used in the song’s “Mad Max”-style music video).

All in all, this is a heavy metal album! If some of my favourite metal bands got together and made an album, it would sound a bit like this one! It is an absolutely brilliant blend of both old and new style metal, whilst also being totally unique at the same time.

If you love bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Saxon, Wintersun, Hammerfall etc… then you’ll find something to love about this album. If you’re unsure, then go onto Youtube and look up both “Test Your Metal” and “Hail Of The Tide”. You won’t be disappointed.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

“Limelight” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

‘It’s like Christmas, but better.’ Jane grinned. ‘Think about it. There are horror movies in the cinema, there’s cool-looking stuff in the shops and there are even horror movies on the telly too.’

Rachel sipped her coffee: ‘It’s better than nothing, I guess. But, look, it’s a ghost.’

‘A ghost?’ Jane glanced around the coffee shop. Her eyes fixed on a bearded man wearing an ironic Scooby Doo T-shirt. He tapped away at a smartphone, oblivious to the world around him. ‘I’d have thought zombies, or maybe robots? I don’t know what ghosts have to do with it.’

‘Think about it. When we were teenagers, a new remake of a Japanese horror movie would come out every few months. Then, in 2004, there were the “Saw” movies. Every Halloween, there would be a new one.’

Jane’s eyes widened: ‘Oh god, I remember those. Did you know, some people actually fainted during the third one?’

‘That’s exactly the point!’ Rachel took another sip of coffee. ‘People talked about them. They were popular. Horror movies were alive in those days. These days, it’s all superhero movies. And, every Halloween, they’ll trot out a remake of an old horror classic, a couple of horror-themed kids movies or a slightly edgier superhero movie. It’s like cinemas are haunted by the ghost of what horror movies once were.’

‘I never really thought of it that way before. I didn’t even notice. I mean, there are still horror movies.’

Rachel shook her head: ‘Yeah, but they’re like horror novels or heavy metal music. I mean, they’re there if you look for them. But, if you go back to the ’80s, they used to be mainstream. From everything I’ve heard, people who didn’t understand them used to moan about them all the time.’

Jane sipped her tea: ‘Well, at least people are moaning about other stuff these days. Although, does that mean no-one cares about the horror genre any more? Is it even still rebellious?

Rachel shrugged: ‘It used to be with comics. I mean, did you know that horror comics used to be a thing?’

‘Horror comics?‘ Jane laughed.

Rachel finished her coffee ‘Yeah, read some history. Back in the forties and fifties, they were the most popular type of comics. You know, Tales From The Crypt and all that.’

‘No, I don’t. Hey, wasn’t that a movie?’

‘Anyway, there was a big fuss about it back then. People howled about how they were corrupting the youth and all that nonsense. In the mid-fifties, the American comics industry introduced strict censorship rules. There were actual laws passed about it over here. And, of course, the only popular genre of comics that could survive were superhero comics.’ Rachel’s expression darkened. ‘They’ve been gloating about it ever since.’

Jane said nothing. Finally, she stuttered: ‘That’s… terrible.’

Rachel laughed: ‘You were right about Christmas though. Halloween is just like Christmas. A collection of mindless rituals that people go through just because something used to be more popular in the past.’

‘You mean, we’re like those miserable people who write to the papers every year moaning about how people have forgotten the traditional meaning of Christmas?’

‘Pretty much.’

Jane’s eyes widened. An icy chill shot down her spine. A silent scream died on her lips. Around her, no-one looked away from their smartphones.

Today’s Art (26th October 2018)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fifth page of “Nocturnal” – this year’s Halloween comic. You can check out previous Halloween comics here: 2015, 2016, 2017.

If you’ve missed any of this comic, you can catch up here: Cover, Page One, Page Two, Page Three, Page Four

You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters here too. Stay tuned for the next page of this comic tomorrow 🙂

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Nocturnal – Page 5” By C. A. Brown

Are Games Art? – A Ramble

First of all, the answer is clearly “yes!“. But, I recently happened to read some online articles about this tired old debate and felt like giving my opinions about why games are art – in addition to giving some of my thoughts about the medium in general. And, yes, today was something of an uninspired day.

Leaving aside the obvious point about how games contain visual design, music and things like that, I’d argue that games are art because of the role they play. Whilst things are often only seen as “Art” when they are placed in galleries (as if they are sacred relics of some kind), this goes against the whole point of art. Art is there to enrich everyday life. Art is there to make us imagine. Art is there to contribute to the shared cultures that we all live in.

Art is, in the best possible way, the background to all of our lives. It’s like the bass line in a rock, punk or heavy metal song. Most of the time you don’t even hear it, but if it wasn’t there, then it would probably be very noticeable. So, yes, art is something that surrounds us all.

That song in the background? That’s art. That poster on the wall? That’s art. The design on that T-shirt? That’s art. The desktop background on your computer? That’s art. I could go on, but art is something that travels alongside us as we go through life, making the world seem more interesting, allowing us to make more sense of the world and providing material for our imaginations, thoughts and daydreams.

Whether you make it and/or are a part of the audience, art is an essential part of being human. It’s why even the earliest humans painted pictures on the walls of their caves.

If, like me, you’ve grown up with games, then you’ll know that they clearly fit that description.

For example, when a cloud of dust from the Sahara turned the skies above Britain an ominous shade of grey-orange last year, my first thought was ‘Oh my god, this is just like one of the early parts of “Silent Hill 3‘. This is exactly the same sort of thing as when I’ve seen the view from the top of Portsdown Hill at night and thought ‘Cool! This looks just like the opening scene of “Blade Runner‘.

Likewise, if I’ve been playing “point and click” games for a while then, in the few minutes after I stop playing, I’ll sometimes find my thoughts filled with sarcastic descriptions of everything I see (in a similar manner to the main characters in these games) – in exactly the same way that a novel with a distinctive narrative voice will sometimes briefly shape the tone of my thoughts after I finish reading it.

If I get nostalgic about certain times in my life, then the games I was playing at the time will be a part of that nostalgia (in the same way that the music I was listening to at the time will be). I could go on, but games fill the same role as things like music, films, books etc… do. Therefore, they are art.

One of the arguments, made by the art critic Jonathan Jones in 2012, against games being art is that they don’t reflect a single artist’s vision. Or, as Jones puts it: ‘A work of art is one person’s reaction to life. Any definition of art that robs it of this inner response by a human creator is a worthless definition.

However, this argument falls apart when compared to other artforms like film and theatre. Yes, one person might have written the script. But that script is interpreted by a director, and then further interpreted by the cast. There’s no one individual who has absolute control over how a film or a play turns out. Yet, not even the most old-fashioned of critics would deny that film or theatre should be considered part of “the arts”.

But, one area where games do fall down slightly is the topic of easy accessibility. In short, it’s less intuitive for beginners to dabble with game-making.

Unlike picking up a pencil and doodling, picking up a camera and taking some photos or picking up a cheap guitar and following a piece of tablature, it’s more difficult for a beginner to dabble in making games. Even though there are “game maker” programs out there, most of these either have a steep learning curve and/or severely limit what curious novice game developers can do.

I mean, I’d love to make games. But, I’m a visual artist and a writer instead for the simple reason that these artforms have a more intuitive learning curve. Likewise, the tools needed to make drawings/paintings, comics and prose fiction are cheap, open and widely available to all. So, even though I’ve dreamed of making games ever since I started playing them, I’ve gravitated towards these other artforms instead for the simple reason that they were more welcoming to beginners..

In addition to this, games are perhaps one of the only artforms where there are additional barriers to entry for the audience. If you want to watch a film and you don’t have a DVD drive, Blu-ray player, VCR, television or internet connection, there’s always the cinema. If you want to listen to music, then you just need a cheap radio, MP3 player or CD player (or you can go to a concert, or pick up an instrument, or just hum a tune). If you want to read the latest novels, then the hardback editions might cost £15-20 each – but they’ll probably be in libraries (if the government hasn’t under-funded them into oblivion) and/or second-hand bookshops after a while. I could go on…

Games, on the other hand, have system requirements. In order to even play a popular modern game that might cost £40-50, you also need a piece of technology that could cost £300 or much more. And it will probably become “obsolete” within 5-10 years.

Yes, there are obviously retro games and some low-spec modern indie games (eg: the games I play these days). Plus, there are mobile phones (that have games on them). Plus, there are probably a few old arcade machines (anyone remember those?) languishing in a dark corner somewhere.

But, can you imagine not being able to read a novel because you haven’t paid to upgrade to the latest version of the English language? Or not being able to see a film because your television is out-of-date etc…

Games are an artform, and they should damn well act like it! In other words, they should be open to everyone.

Yes, this might mean that games don’t have the latest ultra-realistic graphics. But, this is where the “art” comes in. If a novel can render a vividly realistic scene in the audience’s imaginations using just 26 letters, then games can get by on lo-fi graphics (that will run on even the oldest or cheapest of electronic devices). I mean, the “art” in games doesn’t come from the realism of the graphics – it comes from the story, the visual design/art style, the atmosphere and/or the experience of playing the game (eg: the gameplay).

So, yes, games are art. But, they should really take a few lessons from other artforms about being more open to both potential audience members and to those who are vaguely wishing to dabble with game-making.

————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Pop Up” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

Dan stared at the towering ossuary, a vast structure of jumbled bones reaching towards the slate sky like the grasping hands of a thousand undead. The only thing he could think to say was: ‘How the bloody hell did this get planning permission?’

Beside him, Tina laughed: ‘It’s a pop-up, it’ll probably be gone in a couple of weeks. Makes a change from the usual.’ She gestured at the sad-looking rows of shuttered shops surrounding it like gravel around a grave.

‘Yeah, but what is it supposed to be? I mean, you’d think there would be a sign or something.’

‘It’s probably a restaurant. They always are. Best case scenario, it’s an ironic homage to Halloween-themed breakfast cereals from the ’80s. Worst case scenario, it’s something political or, even worse, it’s a work of conceptual art.’ Tina raised her phone and took a photo.

‘I don’t know how they expect anyone to visit it. It isn’t like they’ve rolled out the welcome mat.’ Dan put on a silly voice: ‘Welcome, welcome to the house of bones. All the fun of the graveyard in one easy-to-reach location.

The skies darkened. Tina laughed. She tapped her phone a couple of times: ‘Maybe it’s got a website?’ She tapped a few more times and raised an eyebrow: ‘Apparently not.’

Quelle surprise. It looks like it hasn’t even discovered the telegraph, let alone the internet.’

‘No, it’s modern. It’s some underground thing that’s probably shared by word of mouth. On social media, of course. Do people have actual conversations any more?’

‘Aren’t we?’

Tina shook her head: ‘This is more of a discussion than a conversation, I think.’

Amongst the matchstick sculpture of femurs, tibias and scapulas, a single skull stared down at them. Slowly, its hollow sockets began to glow bright orange. Two rows of weathered teeth chattered eagerly, the noise skittering through the air like crickets in a campsite.

Tina’s laughter howled along the deserted street. Dan was about to make a sarcastic comment when the air rumbled. The sky flashed like a selfie and then the rain started to pour. The kind of heavy, opaque rain that Hollywood film-makers like to think that they invented. Gasping, Tina gestured towards the ossuary’s yawning mouth: ‘Come on, let’s get inside!’

As another lightning flash stabbed the sky, Dan pointed his thumb over his shoulder: ‘The bus shelter is closer.’

‘Fair enough.’ Tina said. They ran towards it. According to the parts of the timetable that poked out from behind the burnt and graffiti-stained glass, the 41 bus would arrive in five minutes. More like ten, Dan thought.

Tina huddled close to Dan on the cold plastic bench. Behind the sheets of rain, the other side of the road wasn’t even visible. Then, a pair of lights appeared in the distance. Tina smiled. It’s on time! For half a second, she thought about getting her phone out and documenting this unprecedented occurrence.

The lights got closer. It was only when they were the size of footballs that something began to feel wrong. Neither Dan nor Tina could place what it was. Perhaps it was because the light was a subtly different hue than standard bus headlights? Perhaps the two orbs were a centimetre off from their remembered models of what a bus looked like? They didn’t know. Both of them just stared.

As the lights got closer, they separated. A silhouette appeared against the rain, like a preliminary sketch. With slopping footsteps, the skeleton stepped out of the rain. It raised a large iron lantern and fixed two hollow sockets on the dumbfounded couple.

Dan regained the power of speech: ‘Nice cos…’ His voice broke off as he realised that the skeleton’s neck was too thin to be a costume. Tina gasped.

Seconds later, another lantern-bearing skeleton appeared. In a voice like teeth on a blackboard, it said: ‘Sorry folks, we don’t usually do outreach but the roof is leaking. Any donations will be very much appreciated.’

The other one rattled its head: ‘Yeah, we’re already on our final warning with the health and safety people. Give us a hand. Or maybe a leg?’

Dan laughed and fumbled for his wallet. The skeletons shook their heads. Tina’s eyes widened. They didn’t want money, they wanted…

But, before she could scream, the skeletons said: ‘We’ve got wi-fi and free coffee. Artisanal cupcakes too.’

Who could argue with that?