Category Archives: Thoughts

Memories of places I’ve never visited and a time I never had

Two games stand out from the past couple of years for their emphasis on the experience of being a teenager, and having been labelled as “nostalgic.” A hint towards which games these are: blue hair. Okay, so I’m neither female nor American, and I haven’t experienced the same degree of loss at such a crucial point of my life, but that’s not to say they can’t speak to me. The thing is, they don’t speak to me in the obvious manner.

Let’s pick a moment from Life Is Strange; the morning when Max wakes up at Chloe’s after having had a sleepover. This scene is full of nostalgic elements due to objects lying around, the music playing on the stereo, posters, the golden sunshine beaming through the window. One of the actions you can take is to simply lie on the bed and soak up the atmosphere for as long as you like. I can’t honestly say much of this relates to me. Messy bedrooms are cluttered and dirty, few of my friends would play music, posters were non-existent or awkward, and Scotland rarely has golden morning sunshine! I wouldn’t wake up feeling refreshed because I’d have stayed up way into the night playing video games and end up sleeping on the floor. So why did I get such a warm feeling from this moment?

I don’t think it’s because of the memories Life Is Strange conjured for me, but because it is a moment in which two friends are simply comfortable in each other’s company. I don’t have many friends – the person I am never will – but there are some people in my life with whom I can share a space and feel relaxed, myself, and safe to be unguarded. This isn’t something one can experience through other media; no matter how well directed, shot, or acted, neither in TV nor cinema can the participant – you or I – simply linger in an environment. In a novel, unless you keep reading and pushing time forwards, a scene is utterly static. Life Is Strange allows you to exist and explore, and relax … the room isn’t static or still, simply calm.

Oxenfree starts off (near enough) with teenagers engaging in intoxicating social activities at a beach. I won’t pretend I’ve never had those, but no-one ever made such a grand fire, and beaches where I grew up were never – are never – that tidy. Whatever, it fits with the art style. The group of teenagers then play a variant of truth or dare, then marry, screw, kill (i.e. that’s the name of the game in the game – they don’t actually do any of those things). I remember games like those at parties I went to as a teenager. I don’t know if they’re supposed to serve some sort of social development function for people, but my main reaction was always “I do not want to be here.” Even playing through this scene in Oxenfree I felt a familiar tightening in my chest that didn’t return throughout the rest of the story, despite the horrors to follow. As with my teenhood, in this scene I couldn’t escape – I couldn’t just not answer. It was utterly, deeply uncomfortable to have my agency challenged, to not have control over whether I wanted people to know what I was thinking. Admittedly, Oxenfree didn’t push me that close to my limit, but the emotion it sparked existed.

There is no real point to this piece. I don’t intend to review games or any other medium. They just made me think about me. I have some friends I feel safe with, and Life Is Strange pointed out how important that is to me. Oxenfree confronted me with a situation that mirrored one that gives me anxiety. I reflected, and eventually wrote something.

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The Screen

My head feels like a grey cloud. As I stare at the screen, the feeling of being human, complex, thoughtful, drains away to a bland fog of apathy. All I feel that I think is just the insatiable, empty hunger for another spark of something – anything – that might make me feel, that will give me sense of being more than ‘just’ alive.

I know there are things I should do, that I should write, that I should think, but they’re all too easily dismissed with a simple click that signals another step into that fog.

There’s a voice behind me, screaming that I should turn round, hit the power, do something constructive. I hear it, but …

click

Canoe Musings: Part Two – Co-operation

Tandem canoeing, i.e. canoeing with two in the one boat, is quite a distinctive experience. With one person in the bow and the other in the stern, both facing forwards, they can be paddling for an entire day whilst barely catching a glimpse of one another’s face. Thus, in a sense they are practically anonymous. However, with communication being key and their both being in the same boat there is no lack of contact whatsoever.

Unless they were to paddle along an impossibly long, straight section of river containing no obstacles, by necessity they must relay information to each other regarding the state of the water ahead and how to approach it. With the bow paddler obstructing a great deal of the view in front, they must call out anything that should be avoided. With the stern paddler being the only one able to see the other’s body position, they typically instruct as to what type of stroke to engage and when. The former is an unavoidable consequence of tandem canoeing, though conceivably the latter could be mitigated through a high level of familiarity between the two persons.

There is also a strong physical connection between the two paddlers. Because they are literally in the same boat they are both sensitive to its balance, and thus by extension to the other person’s weight and its subtle effects on the degree of list. What each person is, or is not doing with their paddle also has a noticeably effect. With both people paddling effectively in unison, they should be able to travel in a straight line, or smoothly around a bend. If one begins to paddle with greater or lesser strength then not only is the difficulty of keeping up the pace affected, but also the line that the boat is taking.

These combined make for an activity with a rare combination of qualities. I spent four days in a boat with one person, barely seeing them save for when we were on land, yet always conscious of their presence. Despite the obviously huge difference in strenuousness between the two pasttimes, I can personally relate the base activity closest to playing co-operative video games online. The other participant is invisible, yet communication is essential and the effects of it breaking down or the lack of engagement on behalf of the other become quickly apparent.

Canoe Musings: Part One – Bridges

I didn’t really notice it at first, but by the third day of the trip I realised that I was seeing bridges completely differently to how one normally perceives them. When you typically come to think of a bridge, it is as part of a walkway or a road, and a means to pass over a body of water or some other man-made transport route. You see the grey stretch ahead then proceed across. That is a bridge.

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They have a habit of looming into view. It may be the top of a tower peering above the trees, or one end sidling out round a corner. At the speed of a canoe this gives the journey under a bridge more than just a brief moment’s consideration. They are each a drawn out event, from first sighting to passing under to disappearing again. During this time they never fully leave the mind. Consider this in comparison to being on foot or wheel where it will rarely take more than a minute or two to traverse before becoming a bare figment of memory.

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In a canoe they are not a means of crossing something, but rather they are an obstacle that must be navigated around. They do not serve to ease passage, but to obstruct. Often they are of little consequence, merely narrowing the options through a short section of river, but other times they can become dangerous hindrances, barriers and traps. Consider a sturdy stone construction with multiple pillars. A river with significant flow is forced through the gap, creating a turbulent, high speed current with lethal walls to either side.

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Bridges also simply become visible from different angles, and from these angles one can appreciate the engineer’s craft. Whilst they could be constructed with an entirely functional purpose this is rarely the case. There is some degree of aesthetic design and appeal to each.

Conviction and Momentum

This is the easy part. Physically, all it requires is the movement of a pencil over paper. What may come afterwards is that which will require effort and perseverance. If we think life is hard now, it’s leisurely compared to what is to come. We may suffer economic collapse, schisms within families and between friends, and ostracism from those with whom we will now share a meaningful border. We will have to work harder for less. We will not be able to rely on an ocean of wealth.

We will be doing so because we will finally all be in it together. Our choices will hold weight. We will have the opportunity and power to shrug off the leeches holding us down. Should we hold our conviction to heart, and drive through with the momentum of our cross, we can stand taller and be a light in the dark sea of cynicism of the world.