Posts Tagged ‘Pioneers’

Pioneers: The Hostess With The Mostest


Pioneers is a column that focuses on discussions surrounding digital culture, including  news, reviews and features of games and other webby things that are going on that are interesting. If you have something you’d like featured or think is worth exploring get in contact –, or sound off in the comments below.

The biggest news story from the last week or so in the gadget world – and from the buzz some prominent online communities – was the end and death of  Twinkies. That's right, Hostess is to close; the company responsible for not only the twinky (not sure of the singular of twinkies) but also other equally sexually repressed names that your gran would be accustomed to including Ding Dongs, Sno Balls and Ho Hos. RIP, Hostess.

The fact that this has become such staggering news, particularly online, can be accounted by a number of factors. First up, by far the most prevalent strata of the population who find themselves online are geeks and stoners – almost exactly twinkies' main audience. The second reason that it has become mainstream news, is that it emerges within a wider economic and political narrative that can suit both ends of the political spectrum.

The background to the closure of Hostess is bankruptcy – but reasons for the baker conglomerates demise still remain contested. For those on the right, the force of worker unions have been suggested as pushing the company to breaking point, with demands leading to strikes ending in the loss of 18000 US jobs as the company has to close its doors. For those on the left, the process of bankruptcy has focused attention on other economically dubious practices with an unhealthy culture of mismanagement seeing bonuses and compensation reaching near astronomical levels. Frankly, if a business can't afford to pay it's staff a living wage, then it should not be considered as an economically viable business. But this is neither here nor there for a discussion on pioneers.

The reasons for spending a week to discuss the biggest news in tech are various. The reaction to the news has been one of horror. People have thrown themselves into shops to stock up on the baked goods, for fear of their complete destruction. Many have opined that the brand has such value that this, along with other asserts, will be bought up in the vulturous capital practices that follow the end of such a business – this despite Twinkies already existing in a business that industrialised the production to its limits, streamlining costs to such the extent of not actually being commercially viable. I'm sure some other company will take – but will they ever be able to

This is a meme of a man who has filled his office cubicle with twinkies

This man is either a fucking idiot or a fucking genius. Either we ask “Where is he supposed to work?” or he asks his boss “Now where am I supposed to work” and gets sectioned, with full pay, and his future guaranteed with an investment in Twinkies

On ebay, twinkies have already been auctioned off at extortionate prices – with one lot of a ten pack including a Wii-U, the recently launched nintendo games console, thrown in for free to sweeten the deal selling for a cool $4,499.99  – with many desperately hoping that they can bag a supply to last them beyond their desires. Worse than this – these lots are selling. People are willing to fork over money for some cheaply made, snacks. The people of America have articulated in huge volumes, an hysterical devotion that goes beyond our wildest imaginings.

And yet despite this no one, as far as I have seen, has mentioned that twinkies are just golden sponge-cake with a creamy filling – the hysteria has consistently revolved around the apocalyptic sign of destruction and death. But you can make them themselves. Not only can they be made, by human hand, but they can be made fucking easily. In Wal-marts and shopping malls across America you probably wouldn't even need to venture that far from the Twinkies' aisle to pick up a sponge-cake mix and a Twinkie cream mix. You could even, dare I say it, bake them from scratch using eggs and the like.

“But no!”, people will respond, “it's not the same… It doesn't equate – baking your own will never match the god like quality of Hostess' delicacy”.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the twinkies' factories are not magical workshops run by elves, but mechanized arms of capital that barely employed people, real flesh and blood, to keep the machines oiled. It makes them convenient, sure – it's a hell of a lot easier to pop along to a shop. It may even be cheaper too. A company that is built around the manufacture of these goods has probably worked out the perfect cost-efficient recipe (not necessarily the tastiest mind) that makes the production as profitable as possible. But don't let yourself  confuse convenience, efficiency and cost with prestige.

Walter Benjamin wrote about mechanical reproduction in his seminal text “The Work of art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility”  in 1936. He was referring to the work of art moving away, say from the painted to the photographed, from the stage to the screen. Although the reality depicted is expressed precisely with more size, speed, and clarity, this move towards the mechanical reproduction lost something of the presence that made art, in some sense, magical. Something happened which meant artwork moved from being of the cult (a religious object) to being an exhibit (in a museum or cinema) – losing it's presence and “aura” to become something “authentic”, an idea of aesthetic quality that emerged as part of the move to these technologies. As techniques modernise and grow in efficiency, something is lost of the personal, the spiritual, the magic of the artist as opposed to the accuracy of the scientist.

In the modern world however, it would appear that something else has changed. As the production of things have become industrialised, the gap of “aura” and authenticity has still emerged, but we have grown to become more alienated from the processes of production in may sphere

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s of life – from the food we eat, the clothes we where and even the work that we do. In this gap where “aura” might be said to have used to be – objects created by these mechanized, and now digitized, processes have found a different mana been created which mystifies these objects.

One of my favourite films of all time is Wall-E. I will argue to the end that it is the finest film that Pixar has created, and potentially the finest film that will ever be made (and yes, I even find a certain charm with the last half hour that most seem not to enjoy). It constantly explores the dissonance between the mechanical and the natural, between the artifice and life. I bring this up here for a number of reasons – as if I need any at all. In Wall-E's world, nothing is used as it should. In his trailer, he keeps an archive of interesting things – without knowing much about what they do. Rubik's Cubes and Lighters are stored in lots, unknown to Wall-E as having purpose beyond mere curiosities. He even keeps a VHS in a toaster, and plays it through an ipod, shelved in an abandoned fridge – then magnifies that image to the size of a television to watch back kitsch musicals that themselves explore the manufacture of love, and longs for this human touch. It is not only mis-use that is explored, but finding charm in the mundane – in one moment, he finds a spork, and does not know whether to put it with his collection of spoons, or collection of folks, so places it safetly in the middle.

On that wall display, there is the Twinkie – or the Buy N' Large equivalent “Kremies” –  which Wall-E takes down and places for the sustenance of his hapless friend, a nameless cockroach. This is both a hilarious reference to the myth that the twinkie and the cockroach will both survive in a post-apocalyptic situation, but also touching as the robot seems to care and have bonded with something that even we have no connection. The cockroach itself is often considered to be of nature, but appears to be programmed to respond to conditions of warmth, light, and dampness – and even programmable with science – that confuses our notion of the natural.

Wall-E Twinkies/Kremies

I refuse to leave a funny caption below these stills of Wall-E, and apologise to the film-makers for manipulating the colours to make things clearer.

Within the film itself, film makers made efforts to replicate cinematic techniques that are often lost in modern digital production. The opening sequence, an homage to the silent cinema of Chaplin in particular, struck everyone as being fresh and original despite clearly being borrowed – an idea overtly referenced by the film-makers. Similarly, much of the cinematography was aided by Roger Deakins, with digital animators hoping to replicate the use of lens that is no longer required, manufacturing poor quality digital reproduction to use effects like lens focus and so on. This attempt to mirror the analogue over the digital is an attempt to locate the film as part of a canon of film – throughout harking back to so many other films of science-fiction that it would be foolish to try and name them all.

All this ties in heavily with Benjamin's notion of aura despite trying to emulate an older, inefficient form of mechanical process. To what extent that . But we hold dear a notion of nostalgia attached to past technologies. Think about Instagram for a second. The app uses modern technology, cameras in smartphones, and renders them through filters to appear to be of a different age. Through algorhythms, Instagram pulls at the heart strings, and manipulates an image to become something which could have been made in years gone by – but only on the surface. These new images appeal to our sentimentality, even for those who did not have any original, authentic or personal attachment to the technology itself. That the aesthetics of an image can be changed is one thing, but the method, and even the subject matter, the dispensability by which we take photos without analogue restrictions

Understanding the difference between what a thing is and what a thing is worth is now an important, and even radical, process for many. Hidden beneath layers of processes to create the appearance of something lies a reality that has to be remembered and known. Unlike the material world of capitalism however, much of the digital world does not hide its processes in the same way. Vast swathes of the internet are given over to teaching how to produce and create websites, how to programme and code, and much of the internet is open and accessible to all to simply view what is working behind the scenes at the click of a button (for those of you who've never bothered, right-click this page and “view source”).

Hello, you are seeing something that isn't in the text because I've hidden it in the page, well done for clicking view source!

To what extent the aura of production is still present in this world of software – even if seen through the basic technology itself, in the sense that companies can almost animate grains of sand to dance and perform marvels in processing and computation – but the concept of openess, that puts the rational and irrefutable logic of construction at the centre of the internet is an important one that if employed correctly, radically alters the way the world works. And this logic needs to be applied elsewhere.

It is thus remarkable that when these two words collide – the wild consumerism of hostess and the undeniably intelligent and informed culture of informatics, whose own central thread must be the role of the invisible, of the power of intellect above the surface – that the wood can't be seen for the trees. There is nothing special about the twinkie, and I'm sure many knew and discussed this element in sharing this news. But even so, we must protect against the alienation of capital, regardless of where it appears – and know there are soft spots where even intellectuals and professionals lose their rational sense if you press the right buttons.

*I apologise for the rather lax use of Benjamin here. You should definitely have a go at reading him if you get a chance.


Pioneers: Bring Me Sunshine, Or Something Like It

Morecambe and Wise Hologram

Pioneers is a column that focuses on discussions surrounding digital culture, including news, reviews and features of games and other webby things that are going on that are interesting. If you have something you’d like featured or think is worth exploring get in contact –, or sound off in the comments below.

I've written before on death and the internet, and how it will at the very least be problematic within technology. Back in 2006, I contemplated what death would be like for Facebook users, and the difficult, and incredibly messy, grieving period for kin left behind. Since then, I have friends I've known died, and experienced their loss through social networks. Pages memorialised into touching tributes, in a manner of digital presence that still makes the relationship of death and the internet difficult. Where before loss could only be contemplated in a seemingly private imagination, one can now express publicly to a soul that is no longer of this earth.

The fact that I still interact with most of my friends as mere text on a screen anyway, disguises the fact that I am having no personal contact with them whatsoever – it's enough for sustaining friendship, but there's very little to stop them not being there and me not knowing. In my original contemplation, I provoked the notion of a digital will, which could not only give the passwords and protections of your social profile to your estate, passwords and so on, but which could also program into your death certain activities. Your page could create an event on your death, and invite your friends to your favourite haunt. Or else, you might ask that your account tweet your love and support to peers on their birthdays, from beyond the grave. Obviously, people could write whatever they want into their digital afterlife, as complex as their imaginations allow, and even plan to interact automatically with new events. Give it 50 years, and whole websites will linger, themselves abandoned by swathes of users, as corridors for the dead, to mingle, poke and repost in conversations that are never read.

This challenge to the sense of mortality has interesting connotations for the role of the artist. One of the clearest motifs throughout art history is that of the skull, the memento mori, that reminded the viewer, and the artists, that their life was only passing, and that inevitably one day, it would all be over. Against this, the genius was granted a kind of immortality, with enough skill or talent. A similar memorial of life beyond the body was granted to those who paid for prime real estate in church yards, even sponsoring stones and statues within the churches themselves, or even in the form of whole buildings dedicated to them. Reliant on their work, artists slaved themselves to the highest bidder, but ensured their own immortality within enough skill or prominence in history.

Today, even with notoriety – a bastard relative of genius or recognition – one is barely guaranteed an obituary in a newspaper of any significance, and even the newspapers themselves are beginning to contemplate their own life without ink. Great artists, thinkers and figures now breathe their last breath, and cannot guarantee even inches of digital exposure, with the closest thing perhaps having their work manipulated with love into the letters of “Google” on their front page. That or a price hike of their work on iTunes.

Many more are rumoured dead before their time and shared before careers have even blossomed – with networks of devoted fans connected by networks designed to let good news travel fast, the eager swathes pick up on the merest whiff of death like rabid wolves, not fuelled with perversion or contempt, but simply impulsed by the need to share now nearly as essential as water or air. Death, once so precious, is now one of many tweets that can remain eternally, and in perpetuity as the thoughts of thinking thoughtless sand.

When Bruce Willis supposedly approached the issue, it became world wide news – what would happen to his collection of digital music once he had passed? These questions of are only beginning to be asked. Cory Doctorow in a recent TwiT podcast, posited a business opportunity to allow entire identities, passwords and databases of personal date, be bequeathed. Still in it's infancy, the internet will eventually have to deal with the question of death when it's mature enough to know what it really means, while our inevitable future echoes on and accumulates in a space without limit for ghosts in the machine.

Amusingly, the answers are not being sought with any passion for the lives of loved ones, but many of the questions being asked are posed by those for rights to copy and sell the works of the deceased. Within Cliff Richard's lifetime, a number of copyright laws have been extended and overturned to allow rights to his music to remain in his pension. Of these living rights, it is perhaps justifiable for some kind of control remain to those who made their work before the author had been declared dead. There was an innocence when one could create something that was exclusively theirs, and could also control and limit in precise terms how much it was heard and sold. But now, these limits are no longer even conceivable, and laws will soon be passed in this decade or the next, that no longer simply protect authorship, but which extend and the re-imagine the relationship of rights to their author against the will of those who create.

Where before death drew a line on the soul of creative work, natural limits made sense. What once were vultures picking on the carcases have evolved into whole cultures and communities, eco-systems of industry that exist almost entirely on the value of something dead. Ensuring new life could grow from the old is a natural progression, built into nature, and in most cases the spirit of those lost shared with reverence and respect. But now works, sometimes created before technology, before systems were created, and even before the knowledge and weight of world wars are exploited, and at significant cost.

Walt Disney is often cited here for example of the kind of things that happens. The intellectual property of Walt Disney – regardless of the disputed origin – includes characters like Mickey Mouse. Since his death, the brands and works that Disney create continue to be owned and mined, like endless coal pits, for value and capital. Behind the scenes much work is done to ensuring this property never be gifted to the public in which it is loved – and this includes lobbying for laws to protect their business, and imagined survival.

The Walt Disney estate are very clever in how they utilise their intellectual property. They haven't dared to make new Mickey cartoons for adults, or those who would pertain to remember what Mickey used to be like, for a substantial time. One can deduce this is a paralysis through fear, afraid of what people would think of them for betraying but knowing the inevitable backlash could end their business. But they do their experimentations in the form of pre-school children's shows, an audience for whom the memories are new, and cannot be shamed. Through this indoctrination the value of the brand is sustained; shopping malls and theme parks are thriving with the cultural cache of a brand that has been dead for years. I'm not saying this practices are any more moral, but at the very least they value the memory of their audience in some way.

I bring this, potentially morose relationship of death and copyright to our attention, as there is little more important to our culture. The relationship of nature with technology, one built by humans the other the story of how humans were built, is dangerously close to become so entangled that we forget where we end and technology beings. Memory is one of the areas in which two worlds collide – on one hand it is a figure that dictates how much data a computer can hold, interchangeable and upgradeable at ones heart's content – yet on the other hand, it is the past lived through the flesh, it is the only thing of what we have left for what used to be. A world without technology only exist inside us, it will always be the last vestiges of culture and passion. As such, it needs to be treated with respect.

This weekend past Children in Need featured a sequence in which Chris Moyles – the self proclaimed saviour of radio 1 – danced with the reanimated holograms of the kings of light entertainment, Morecambe and Wise. Without a doubt the most influential and well loved double act in British entertainment history, the duo are one of the few treasured links from broadcast television to the thriving Vaudeville scene from which they emerged. Their relationship to history is fascinating, as time slowly marches on, fewer and fewer will remember seeing them perform when first broadcast – the memory of them persevering through generation to generation, as each round christmas dinner recount that skit or bit where this or that did dance and lark. And despite revisiting through garish clip show in the past 20 years since their death, their memory has not been lost, and even us new kids on the block have a

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memory of fondness.

Partly, this will be down to our access to the show – in a broadcasting world where there was no space, nor indeed inclination or conception, or keeping records of what went on TV, much of the BBC's earlier years were thought lost, until keen collectors, and hobbyist pirates revealed their glorious wares. Notably Bob Monkhouse – a figure of comedy himself, and this I believe is no coincidence – had a shed full of old tapes and videos. Certainly it was rare to have enough money for the equipment, and indeed the nous to know this kind of equipment even existed, but his position as a comedian knew o

how to get him back

f the importance of our relationship to the past, in a craft that constantly refers, repeats and listens to those that come before it, and acknowledges our debt.

And so it was with sheer disgust that I heard, through twitter, that Children in Need had revived Morecambe and Wise for their latest endeavours. As a fan of comedy, and a fan of the sanctity of life, I have sincere objections to their actions. Here is a preview video from the BBC explaining how the bit was made:

I understand the night is for a good cause, and I know how hard it must be to fill hours – literally hundreds of minutes – full of content that gets people giving their money. In an economic climate that is itself near death's door, in which the only capital is dead capital, old money endlessly recycled and shared, even artificially inflated by the doctors and wizards of the Bank of England, it is no doubt tough to get people to part with what little they have. But god damn you for your insolence – how dare you.

If you must, traipse the cohort of commercial whores, punting their wares for a few well exposed minutes of good will. Let them trade and trash their memory, flirt and spurt from mouth and flesh into the lens, pierce their very hearts against obscurity, let them be dragged by your dirty blade into the spotlight, and bleed their lives in whatever crass, disinterested manner they permit you to. Peddle breast for a few bucks, let torso be sold, and let gut be gauged to the highest bidder. Fine. But don't demean those who can't give their consent, who didn't belong and have never existed in these over saturated media dungeons you call modern broadcasting, and who don't deserve your abuse. Get Terry drunk it's funny. Let him slur and fart his way through a nightmarish evening of untalented skeletons and now soulless enthusiasts that litter the halls of the media. But don't for god sakes shit on the dead.

These men are loved. Adored. They gave their entire life to show business; rehearsed, rewrote and rekindled every word in their calloused mouths for the love of laughter. Not a single improvised line was real, but scripted to death. Their knowledge of the craft of comedy – and dance and song too – go back not only their lives, but the lives before them. They built their work, their reputation and their entire lives on the passions of an industry that knew how to do things, and do things well – and deliberated every gesture, movement and intonation with almost military precision.

I do not care if the technology, or even the fashion of the time, allows one such transgressions. These holograms are a travesty of art and science, a systemic industry of horror and trolling. Even if you are as utterly devoid of creativity, have a drought in talented writers and performers – which I guarantee from the circuit I work in (in my spare time I pretend to be a comedian) is not the case at all, far from it – then at the very least recreate their spirit, and relive their memory through the bodies and work of other people. But to re-imagine the memory through such a crass and cowardly truce of light and deceit, even if pieced together from actions they had done before, and with the blessing of which ever estate or body that owns rights to such things, it is a disgusting act that desecrates them far worse than. No one, as far as I know, has asked for these ghosts to be re-woken out of anything other than shallow lust.

I get that people know what they like and they like what they know. This shouldn't mean to give them what they already know, and repeat it ad finitum, or perhaps more succinctly, ad nauseam. But nothing is a surer destination than cultural suicide if nothing new is created, and if no new space is permitted for this new to emerge. Let a new generation find their own passion, let them watch and grow with fresh talents, new works that build themselves in the shadow that they choose to cower within.

People often despise adaptations of Shakespeare. These re-imaginings, it is said, gut the glorious text written by Shakespeare, fuck the heavenly hand that wrote the words and spew out verse like slop in buckets, cesspools of post-modern bullshit. They couldn't be further from the truth – but you are entitled to your opinions – re-imaginings of these works make decisions attached to the spirit of the work, re-interpret and breathe new meaning into work, through body and language of theatre that rebuilds and remixes through talent and ingenuity. But their work is a remix of rebirth, not some monstrous approximation and desecration of the past. They don't traipse the body of Shakespeare through the mud, but discuss its meaning and relevance today, no matter how the primary material is treated. The past should be used to influence and inspire, to haunt our thoughts and justify our actions. The joy of the past is that it remains dead, and that we can have our way with it.

Don't with one hand re-animate the dead, and in the other demand people pay for content so that artists get what they deserve. The two are one and the same issue. Artists are losing out on jobs because of an industry that disputes the value of the now, over the bankable value of that they already know and have sold before – without any love or heart in what is being made. Don't you dare create new memories, entirely new narratives and stories for which those who it damages most will not be able to participate. Memories for which these individuals can have no control. Let these two stolwarts of British culture sleep – they were worked to death by our want for entertaining, and it is our payment to them to let their memory and work shine as they remember it.

These sorts of telethons are themselves a dying breed. It won't be hard to imagine a time when television isn't experienced as producers co-ordinate it – these events won't be guaranteed achieving the passive eyes in the same way they do now. TV just won't work like that. Sure, live events will continue to be screened, but the viewers themselves won't be glued to their chairs without the content to sustain them. There will be no obligation to the stream as there is to the aerialed box, and the demand for spectacle, creativity, humour and experience of seeing something live will still exist without them. The future will demand, and on demand, something of their own.

Sure, the technology exists for this kind of morbid animation, but we shouldn't let technology be used to destroy what it is to be human – and especially not to manipulate and delete the memory of those which have come before us. This technology should allow us to tell new stories, to communicate in new ways, to develop new narratives and shared experiences which are relevant and our own. To educate and innovate in immersive worlds, places which heighten our memory and participation. To extend our memory so that nothing, however glorious or sad, is lost.

Nature is cyclical. The seasons bring birth and death into some kind of balance and order. Even our more primal culture has survived on this system of recycling, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the myths and legends that inspire our stories, that have survived through oral performance and tradition, and have given birth to the many off shooted tribulations and tales that seep into our lives today. In many ways our technology must help us return to this way, ensure the means by which we can consume with balance, turning refuse into fuel, and restoring the balance to life which our culture has thrived from theft.

Instead, this technology is being used against this order. The pervasive sentiment of rebooting for profit in the face of creative drought emerges and is informed through the technology we use. Despite a world of interesting things being written, performed and shared at an unprecedented level – in a world in which everyone can hope to be an artist of some description – we are slavishly rebooting franchises before they've even learnt to walk. We treat intellectual property like legends of ages past, when they are little more than ripples of a stone thrown into puddles years ago.

I understand completely that there is a complexity to what I am arguing that deserves more nuance than I have allowed. What distinction is there between the use of remixing film footage than remixing through some other technology? Other than the limitations of the technology of one generation against those of another? Even within film, I am thankful that worlds have been rebooted – I wouldn't for a moment wish that Christopher Nolan didn't get the chance to tell the Batman stories the way he has – and in doing rescuing the hero from his camp silver screen beginnings. One form of reuse and renewal over and above the reboot and reanimation. How is one beautiful, and one monstrous? How can we know that Morecambe and Wise weren't the same authorial, godlike breath that

Perhaps my own reaction is that of a world I am more familiar. The same sacred affection I hold for Morecame and Wise is little different to that shared by someone for Adam West's caped crusader – and the theology shared by millions of a religious order I find illogical and near intolerable But, the issues of copyright and technology in regards our memory, tradition and mortality, have a far more entangled relationship than has ever been suggested. We should pay close attention to the times in which these worlds were born for sure, and guarantee that our laws and actions reflect the times in which these works were created. With the internet perhaps we can understand that memories are there to be shared by all, and always respected.

I don't have the answers, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

And that my friends, is how you write a piece about the BBC and dead talent without

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making any references or jokes to Jimmy Savile. Good luck finding another one written in the next 12 months.


Pioneers: Watching People Playing With Themselves

Catherine - PS3 game

Pioneers is a column that focuses on discussions surrounding digital culture, including  news, reviews and features of games and other webby things that are going on that are interesting. If you have something you’d like featured or think worth exploring get in contact –, or sound off in the comments below.

Last week I skimmed through potential ideas surrounding the use of YouTube and how it is having a dramatic effect on broadcast media, as much as culture in general. From there I asked you to let me know what you watch on YouTube – I”ve had quite a response, and I look forward to reading through any more you have to send me. But this week, by way of a lengthy introduction, I want to talk to you about what I do on there.

I spent the last week at my parents” house, digging through old boxes packed from moving years gone by and I found some gold (you can read my semi-erotic nostalgia stream on my twitter page). Some of the boxes I must have packed 10 years ago, and even then they only collated stuff which hadn”t been touched for a decade before that; 20 years of glorious clutter. I pulled out Gladiator”s toys, a talking drinks coaster from hit BBC Comedy “They Think It”s all Over” and a whole host of Simpsons gumpf that I foolishly imagined my brother would like for Christmas (and who wouldn”t want a homer slouched on sofa next to their television which would hail catchphrase abuse with every use of the remote control?!)

Then came a box that made me weep. Next to Timmy Mallet”s board game (genuinely looking for a small team to play through this if you are interested) and between dusty dining suits that would make even Bernard Manning looking fashionable (and he”s dead), I found my holy grail: a treasure trove of vintage gaming, my holy trinity of digital glory: a Sega Master System, a Sony Playstation and the Sega Megadrive. All in their original boxes, and surrounded with the games I used to play on them.

The first console I ever bought took me three years of saving from Birthdays and Christmases, £5 from depressed Aunt sally here, £10 from randy uncle buck there, and topped up with pocket money that I had convinced myself my parents owed me thanks to the influx of sitcoms for Kids on the Disney Channel (yes we had Sky, fuck you). Back when I first made the purchase, my family thought it would be a waste of money, but I planned it expertly – the £100 box set saw the console (second generation) packaged with Disney”s Lion King, a killer game for the under 10″s if they happen to be a fan of lion based platformers. From this day on, I was hooked (and destined for light hearted obesity).

Amongst the slightly weary cardboard, I even found a multi-tap which really showed my age – a peripheral that allowed you to add four controllers to a console that was only designed for two players.  Sure, I can”t have the same eldered shivers from the Amstrad days (we did own an Amstrad but I”ll be damned if I can remember anything beyond the rainbow striped keyboard), but even I was old enough to remember a culture of gaming that wasn”t to be shared. It was niche, a hobby for the lonely. You had to want to play, to find this world yourself, on a 14″ TV screen borrowed from some spare room or closet, twice as deep as it was wide. Gaming was a dirty secret.

Consoles have since developed from this mysterious 2D word (anyone remember zoop?) and has developed into the multi-billion dollar industry that now has a games console in almost every home, that not only plays games, but the entire media experience. Sometimes we forget just how staggering graphics are these days – sure Fifa 13″s models all look like the reanimated corpses (my favourite being United”s Raphael, who in the game looks like a lemur from the 70″s), but from a distance you could be fooled into thinking you are watching the real thing, less football arcades and more a Sky Sports Simulator.

Rio Ferdinand looking scary in Fifa 13

So realistic that they predicted his international career would be dead, so they rendered him a zombie and decided to make him look like he wanted to kill you too.

Not only this, the staggering cost of games means that to be successful, games have to be rammed with content. 20 hours minimum of gameplay to get a decent return on the 50 bucks you have to shell out for the latest release. Not only this, but these consoles are hooked up to be social, connected into the internet, and thus to players from around the world. Who can shout abuse at you. In surround sound. Mega.

These games were too long for me. Even if I had the composure to stay interested in the single player, the literally endless possibility of online gaming meant that multi-player extended the half-life of a game exponentially. Games became mystifying in their complexity and dangerous in their capacity for immersion. For a few years I had to let this world go – I couldn”t be trapped as I had been before, the potential to be lost at sea in an endless perversion of shoot-em ups, career driven sports games and open-world hero stories leave little time for a real life. Because they expect you to take on a life of someone in the game world, which they”ve made to be perfect.

Even when detached from the over-designed landscapes of in-game playing, the consoles have a life as Media Hubs to suit the rest of your life. My PS3 is chock-a-block with films and TV, whole libraries of ripped CDs, and with their own apps and services designed to deliver the artistic output of the outside world through your 44″ Plasma TV. Buying the latest console isn”t about the games you can play, it”s about buying into a lifestyle. I may have the latest console, but I rarely buy a new release, and I don”t think I”m unusual in that, especially now I have such a vast back catalogue at my fingertips.

In the last year or so I”ve rediscovered what it is to be a gamer, but I still rarely play – and even rarer still that I make it to the end of a game. Sure, works of art like Portal 2 demand that I play them, and are rightfully demolished in a glorious weekend; but these releases are few and far between, and it is only when I know what I want and I play it to completion. Then I fuck off before I”m suckered in to the extra, Downloadable content.

But I still love Video Games, and want to keep in touch. To keep on top of this world, I rent games through LoveFilm. I”m probably one of the few people to still use the postal DVD service, but for me at least, with games it makes sense. I play a game for a few days, get a feel for the thing, and send it back. If I really like the game, I”ll pick it up for cheap a few months down the line, but more often than not, I”ll shove the disc back into the envelope without a moment”s notice. I might get fm über 200 Automatenspiele für Euch getestet. to try out 4 or 5 games a month, for a couple of quid at a time. I must have the most useless collection of Bronze Trophies given to me for picking up the fucking controller. CONGRATULATIONS, it reads, YOU MADE THE CHARACTER BLINK ITS FIRST BREATH. Here”s a fucking pony.

And this is, finally, where YouTube comes in. For the most part my experience of gaming is through what I read, or more often than not, it is often through someone else playing. And I am not alone.

The king of the culture of video games videos is Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, whose “Zero Punctuation” series on The Escapist match extreme cynicism, fast paced metaphors and humour with a genuinely respected critical opinion that yearns for a return to well made gaming. Often thought of as the Charlie Brooker of video games – remarkable due to Brooker”s own history in videogames – his simply animated web series, funny as it is, does little to pioneer a format that is essentially the same kind of entertaining reviews that has been the staple of mainstream journalism in this field.

Where the innovation begins are found in more amateur attempts elsewhere. “Let”s Plays” are now a staple of the video game industry on YouTube. What these consist of are simply video feeds from people playing games, often accompanied by narration of some kind. Maybe its someone playing a game for the first time, and giving you their honest first impressions of a game, reviewing the concept and potential but not the game itself. Usually it is something in Beta that won”t be released for some time, but often it might even be something you”ve played before, but played by a critic you trust, or just like to listen to. I always enjoy seeing films before listening to one of Mark Kermode”s review, just so I know how valid my hand flapping is. I imagine driving cars into walls and watching Clarkson might be similar. Maybe even shoes and a famous woman? I don”t know that world. Sorry. But you get the point.

In other situations, “Let”s Plays” might include games played through in their entirety, from start to glorious finish. The joy of playing the game is deferred to the joy of the game being played, and receiving gratification in this manner. When I rented the bizarre dating-sheep-horror-puzzle-platform Catherine (genuinely, my full review here These cut scenes aside, playing a game to completion, often in a series of videos, becomes a staggeringly addictive way to enjoy oneself.

Mainstream TV does occasionally glance past this desire – in Japan at least, popular show GameCenter CX sees comedian Shinya Arino play through retro video games in search of their end screen. The challenges he faces are as much an endurance of will as much as he is hampered by notoriously awful thumbs, and cowardly approaches to bosses and monsters. (If you have an interest and a spare hour, I”d thoroughly recommend one of the most entertaining challenges, in which , a game on the famicon – the Japanese NES – which was designed to piss off those playing it with near impossible challenges and unentertaining sections, and the story that goes with the making of the game.) But even this has only seen a life of its own in the West thanks to YouTube. 

Next on our agenda are speed-runs, which has nothing to do with a fast and dangerous form of diarrhea. In speed-runs people demonstrating their uncanny knack of ratcheting through releases at pace, eager to prove their record beating fastest time, and ingenious exploitation of bugs and techniques that make the game move that much faster. For about a month I was obsessed with catching up on the Half Life series like this. Sacrilegious to some, but man I just wanted to know the story – I don”t have the time or the patience (or probably the graphics card) to find out what happened first hand.

Beyond this there are those who are doing so much more than just playing games. It is how these games are used that are fascinating – in PC gaming especially, where games culture their own vibrant community of modders, people add and take away elements of games, create their own worlds, maps and push the games to their limit. GMod is a game developed from this, building on the Half-Life engine, it allows gamers to mess around and create, and has spawned a whole plethora of vidoes that stretch and shoot (for a full history of GMod, check out this and other articles on the development by

But it isn”t just games that are designed to incorporate this playful exploration – on YouTube, the art is making the playing of the the games the entertainment in itself. Some like Yogzcast, among their many video types, use narrative to thread vodcasts of games together, like their quite joyous first encounters with the survival mode of Minecraft. This team has been so successful that they have even spawned their own game , having been backed on Kickstarter to the tune of half a million dollars.

One of my favourite channels on YouTube is Dan “NerdCubed” Hardcastle. What he does is play games, and has fun playing them. Sometimes he revisits old classics, and other times he gives first impressions for new titles.  But whatever he does, he has fun playing them, and entwines jokes and structure into the video, so that the joy of someone fucking about in a game – that same experience most players have after being bored and drunk, turning a game into its sandbox alternative seeing what they can do to make things not work, killing oneself in hilarious ways or just shouting at the screen when it wants you to take the game more seriously. Basically  he wants to play games and he is a joy to watch.

Aside from just playing games, he attempts other ways of coming at games, including his epic semi-tutorial “how not to suck at minecraft” series that sees him build things requested by his viewing community. Though not the absolute best architect of the medium, NerdCubed uses a light hearted and energetic enthusiasm, in what could probably be symptoms of some kind of attention deficit,  lends itself to an enjoyable way to watch someone do something remarkable. I cannot put across how much I enjoy what he does. As testament to his raw talents – and this coming from someone who spends their life drowning in the world of stand-up – I”ve spent hours catching up on his shows, and found myself even enjoying him play around in Bus Driver Simulator OMSI (and several other real-world simulators ) without a second thought that I am actually watching someone play a game that I would never play myself. For hours. Just driving a bus. Picking up passengers. Giving them correct change. Occasionally braking incorrectly. It”s hilarious.

And this is where the pioneering element of youtube re-emerges in our brief analysis: What with the inevitable demise of the print industry, there is no better place to turn for publishers than the popular blogs and video channels of those. Trusted critic TotalBiscuit now spends his days roadtesting new games, and highlighting yet to be released software as part of his “WTF” series – now well into it”s 18th Season. My new favourite game Faster Than Light I found only through NerdCubed. And I enjoyed him playing the game so much, I actually waited in line – a digital line sure, but I was potentially as cold as had I been waiting outside – for the game”s release the hour it came out.

Where before, the presence of games on the site were examples of the beautiful and the bizarre, such as the notorious Leeroy Jenkins video, or remarkable throwing knife kills. Now the games are themselves a canvas for others to use for their own production. Even South Park has made an episode almost entirely from in-game footage from World of Warcraft – take a look at this by example. The games themselves become a vessel for your puppetry. An artistic medium like any other.

Following Burnistoun”s Robert Florence on twitter, one is so often reminded of the glory days of gaming TV. His work on Consolevania made popular, gaming entertainment for this generation. But aside from this, there hasn”t been a real games culture on television for far too long. My childhood was littered with such experiences; I remember watching Gamesmaster religiously, the squashed head of xylophone enthusiast Patrick Moore guffawing and disparaging the young and the lame (in gamesplaying terms). Other memories include recorded Saturday Morning TV on my VHS, which flashed up thousands of cheats and hints for games in a highly dense minute of television – so fast that unless paused frame by frame, none of the information was visible. It was even through this that I was exposed to comedy that spoke to me – the first times I saw David Walliams was on Sky One”s GamesWorld, where contestants had to beat “The Videators”. This world may be long gone, but there is scope for a re-emergence of the format, as demonstrated by the vast variety of content available, particularly on the Machinima uberchannel – but the key is that of course, the geeks and hobbyists hat dominate the gaming landscape are not ones to watch TV. This is why their world is documented online.

So where next for Videos of Video Games online? The next stage has already been launched, and is hugely popular – a whole service outside of YouTube for watching other people play games called Having completely ignored the culture of competitive gaming that is rife in South Korea, and becoming more and more popular in the Global North, we now see this kind of gaming as sports entertainment in the service.

The key to this service is that it is all about playing games, and forefronts content according to different elements that only make sense for video games TV. Live streaming games being played by champions, popular channels, in competition or casually by people you don”t know means that you can access the world you want to access without feeling awkward. What”s more, you can find content according to the game you want to see being played, and the games don”t have to be the twitch style game, the popular shooters that dominate mainstream gaming, but focus on independant platformers and cult classics too. By building on a community exclusively tied to video games, all of which is being live streamed with incredible ease, the service has a bright future ahead of it.

It isn”t necessarily skill that is enjoyed by these kinds of viewers though, but also endurance. Foremost in this category is Charity event Desert Bus which raises thousands of pounds through riotous gamesplaying marathons, all in the name of a good cause. The game in question is “Desert Bus” a simulator spoof that sees players driving a bus across America in an 8-hour trip – and considered to be the most boring game ever created. The live streaming of such an event, made enjoyable by the vibrant personalities that take part, are a remarkable recipe for updating the tired charity events dominated by Red Nose Day and the like. And it makes sense too – why appeal to the everyman, and in the process alienating audiences while embarassing performers having to avoid subject matter and wet, shallow humour, when you can have every appeal that the interested niche could want.

Development too is beginning to incorporate live streaming as part of the process. Watching Minecraft developer Notch playing games on Twitch isn”t where his visibility ends – in a recent event Ludum Dare, he and his team were live-streaming game development to make and build a game in a weekend, again for charity. There is an endless stream of people interested in how a game gets made, and focusing on the community in this way is a fascinating endeavour to building a game”s commercial viability.

Gaming itself has been on the cusp of embracing trends in streaming technology for their ends. LiveOn, though struggling financially, allows people with very limited technology to play the latest games on the best graphics cards possible, by live streaming what they are playing. Though this particular venture hasn”t made it to the astronomical success many hoped for it, the fact that Sony recently acquired GaiKai, a similar service, there may be more for this style of gaming in the next generation of consoles.

When the culture of watching games starts to dictate the directions of games themselves, and the industry in general. One of the biggest revolutions for Halo came in the form of a multiplayer mode that recorded everything you played. To me at least, it didn”t seem that big at the time, but now you can see the passion of gaming that they wanted to tap into – now a game can barely exist without having some relationship to its community. These communities, now often found before a game is released, are the strength and joy of video games and I would argue might struggle to exist, particularly in the mainstream, without YouTube.

Finally, watch this. It”s some soft-core nostalgia with a clip of David Walliams on a segment with the Games Mistress (I don”t imagine I got the strange Masturbation references at the beginning) and think to how far we”ve come. YouTube isn”t half good for nostalgia too.

Once again, I”m interested to hear how you use YouTube – let me know in the comments, or e-mail

Pioneers: Have you heard of this things called “YouTube”?

Pioneers: Kickstarter, FTL and possibly a joke idea for an invention if it doesn’t get cut.

Pioneers: Humble Indie Bundle


Pioneers is a column that focuses on discussions surrounding digital culture, including news, reviews and features of games and other webby things that are going on that are interesting.

First off welcome to Pioneers, a new column I”ve set up which is supposed to be a space for me to talk about something interesting or different you clever people on the web are doing, and that other lovely people out there might not know about. I”m not sure I”m happy with the name of it yet, but most of the good names have already been taken or are one of those awful words of demonic offspring – like some bungled mess you”d expect when two cars collide. Words like “Netocracy” or “Infotainment”. I especially wasn”t keen to add a “2.0” to the end of it.

Needless to say, I doubt it will be particularly pioneering, but you never know, you might like it.

So, I thought I”d begin with something easy enough to talk about inspired by a release this week: the bundle.

Now for those of you with their head buried in sand (and not the good silicon type sand, casual everyday beach sand) you might have missed the fact that the games industry – and indeed most entertainment industries for that matter – have found their business models challenged by things people do on the internet. Downloading, sharing, piracy – those sorts of dreadful things. These have not been good for business, or so we have been told.

One of the ways the games industry, closest to these technological changes, have countered these practices with innovative ways of selling games for cheap. Much of the buzz surrounding these bundles have been very useful for selling, and allow people who have liked one game to try other games recommended to them as part of the bundle.

The great thing about these bundles is that they work. Quite well.

In the case of the Humble Indie Bundle – now in its sixth official iteration, but with countess other android only packs and special editions in between – the premise is simple: pay what you want, and choose where that money goes, sharing the spoils between developers, charities (Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and ) and humble themselves who now have a helpful distribution technology which is used by independents to sell their own wares.

The genius of this system is plentiful. The distribution model itself is fantastic, allowing the consumer to have a say in how money is distributed, as well as choosing how much they are willing to pay. Simplicity is key, as without having to log in, one can simply click a few buttons and for next to no money at all (as little as a penny), they have at their disposal enough games to last them a few weeks – or until the next bundle launches.

The charity aspect is crucial too – people are always willing to give a little extra if the money is going something worthwhile, as donating is already a habit established for charity. As well as this, two technology centric charities effortlessly receive an almost guaranteed revenue stream, which is particularly helpful when you have a charity that defends the rights of those notorious to some for not paying for things.

Another feature worth mentioning are the leaderboards displayed on the page ranking and rewarding the highest paid individuals (often well recognised industry types who have digital visibility from games that have successffully emerged in similar set ups) and showcasing which Operating system has paid the most, and how the bundle itself is doing. This mild form of “gamification” – a concept of making things in the real world like games to make difficult or boring tasks fun – adds to proceedings. Beating the average unlocks an extra game and other content, with this average changing – by paying extra, you make it that little bit easier for others to afford that average.

The games themselves tend to already exist, and are usually quite popular before they make it into the bundles – which makes the whole thing that much easier to sell; games which have their own audience bring this audience to five other games they might like, and together the entire industry benefits. Plus, and I think this is a really neat feature for the bundle, if you”ve already pirated the games, you have a way to make amends of your guilt financially.

Speaking of piracy, back when the second bundle was being released, Jef Rosen (one of the developers) revealed to TorrentFreak some of the opinions from an anonymous survey he”d set up to find out why people would still pirate games they could legitimately get for free using bitTorrent, and the results were simple: torrenting was “extremely convenient way to transfer files”. They added the distribution officially to their service with phenomenal success, saving themselves bandwidth costs in the process.

Further revelations from Rosen revealed other habits about those unwilling even to fork out a penny – for some it was idealogical

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(sticking it to the man) but for most it was convenience, while others wanted to share files with friends having already paid on behalf of them all. For those without the means to pay however, there weren”t other options – this includes those too young to have their own debit cards, or where services like google checkout and paypal weren”t working; having found statistical amounts of pirating around 25% the response from Humble was perfect: “”How many legitimate users is it ok to inconvenience in order to reduce piracy?” The answer should be none.” No need for DRM, “we will just focus on making cool games, having great customer service”. Their one request – if you are going to pirate our games they ask you to shout about the games to friends, and “please consider downloading it from BitTorrent instead of using up our bandwidth”.

The Humble

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Bundle is not the only bundle that”s out there – the premise has been copied and expanding upon all over the place including current offerings “Bundle in a Box: Deep Space” and Indie Royale”s “Back To School Bundle” developing the theme, with many more out there no doubt.

Could this work for every release? No. it”s difficult to imagine an IP like Assassin”s Creed being released like this – not until the game has received a separate release and is being re-packaged for a few extra pennies or in anticipation of the next instalment, but there might be something of which developers should take note.

These sales work because of the reduced costs in making the games that keep overheads low – and the fact that most of these games have already been successful. These platforms offer extra publicity that really push their recognition into a mainstream that they may or may not already have, and thus help fuel sales of future games these companies produce; many of the games end up getting pledged into open source (allowing the games” codes to be seen by anyone, and thus handing over the keys for unlimited meddling and community adaptation).

The real issue is not how to stop people not paying – but making sure your stuff gets seen by the people willing to pay at all.

Now to the Games.

Short, pithy reviews of the games featured in this, the sixth Humble Indie Bundle. Once again, it”s a cracker, with some really rather wonderful favourites from the Indy development world. Really it makes little difference what I say when you can pick the games up for yourself for next to nothing at all, but for what it”s worth:

I must have played for hours when I bought it for the PS3 a few years ago – a breakout clone with some extra tools, it”s a classic retro game souped up with 007 gadgets, with a couple of handfuls of barbiturates shoved up its jacksie for good measure. Frenetic gameplay with an equally pumping soundtrack guarantee some extreme arcade fun. If you need a soundtrack for your next gym session, this too comes bundled with the purchase. Instant Classic.

Shatter - screenshot from the game

“Shatter” just makes me want to wet myself

S.P.A.Z. (Ships, Pirates and Zombies) is a game that according to its developers harkens back to the kind of games that people don”t make any more; with mod options built into the game, this thing has got the legs to last you if that”s what you want; if flying through space, building fleets and mining asteroids sounds like fun to you, then the fantastic presentation and general design should make this an ideal purchase, but didn”t necessarily push my buttons.

is a game I”ve enjoyed far more than most I”ve played in the last month. Set on a mining station in space, the game sees you play a rotund labourer armed with a laser tool that allows you to grab shoot and throw objects to solve puzzles and save the world. It has a gentle learning curve, metroid-esque in its interwoven deployment and every time I think I”m getting to the end of the game I”m suddenly thrown into a whole new level and given an upgrade to mix up gameplay; I don”t care much particularly for the story, but this puzzle platformer develops its core mechanic so well, and so beautifully, that for me it is an essential purchase. Worth buying the bundle for this on its own.

Rochard. More fun than it looks apparently.

Rochard makes my balls tingle. It must feel so nice to let your genitals loose in zero gravity.

seemed enjoyable for my brief stint; you play Arkwright, an inventor, who can create water-creatures to push buttons and open doors. Working out the patterns and rhythms of certain buttons allows you to progress through the game with a steam-punk aesthetic that lends the game an awesome atmosphere to carry off what is essentially a solid physics puzzler; it didn”t grab me the way that Rochard has, but once again the puzzle-platformer genre appears to be the auteur”s choice for game development, allowing the content and form to be delivered succinctly in a package that will pass away a couple of hours with delight, if not with a little frustration and difficulty.

is a great little RPG, where you design a hero and thrust him into a world of magic, goblins and swords, delve into mines, plunder treasure and trade in villages accompanied by your faithful customised companion – in my case a wild cat called Lawrence. I stopped myself before I could get hooked, knowing full well that if I played much more I would be lost for days in the labyrinthine worlds, desperate to level up beyond my means. The splendid visuals matched with simple controls are a killer combination for someone looking for an arcade style RPG, but I alas, could not cut it having to eventually engage with real life. God I miss Lawrence.

Bonus Extra: Dustforce is I suppose a “clean-em up”, a fast paced platformer where you must throw yourself from wall to wall, speed cleaning mansions with ninja-like aplomb; Due to my shitty PC I found the controls a bit stressful for my chubby fingers, so I didn”t get a chance to explore the games full potential, but I imagine the theme is developed to satisfy the most dexterous of digits- it certainly looked great and very easy to jump into if so inclined.

So, that”s it. I hope you liked it. If you have anything you think is interesting in the way that the internet does stuff, let me know. I”ll do a bit on kickstarter and throw in a review of FTL next week. Do give the bundle a go, it”s wicked fun.