Deathbed Recommendations

I had to go to the hospital a few weeks ago, so a doctor could put a camera up my urethra. There was a very small chance that what he found was going to be the death of me…

This was written in December, 2013, the month before Ari was conceived. I found it in a pile of drafts. It’s worth noting, since this, that I’ve had several more hospital experiences that threatened to be fatal. Luckily, none have.

I don’t know if this is just me.

I was getting morbid. I had to go to the hospital a few weeks ago, so a doctor could put a camera up my urethra. There was a very small chance that what he found was going to be the death of me. So, I went a bit Luzhin in the shower before the event, and started following consequence chains as far as I could.

I thought about freezing some sperm, because it’s likely that if the Docs find something bad, the remedy will remove my ability to reproduce. Then I thought about not getting to see any resulting children grow up. And thought about recording messages to them, and then a yearly message, so (like DeTamble in the Time Traveller’s Wife) I’d be with them, fresh, for each year of their life.

Then I got to thinking about how I’d do it. Genial, wise monologues straight to camera is hackneyed but works. And then I thought about what I’d say. I’d recommend my favourite philosophy, my favourite fiction, the strange old books I’ve happened across which will give that otherworldly edge: Lacfadio Hearn, Kipling, Laurence Sterne, Mikhail Bulgakov, Erskine Childers, Olaf Stapledon and so on. An education by proxy, skipping me, back to the formative years of each medium. I even thought about a few movies I’d recommend: The Princess Bride, Duck Soup, Groundhog Day, Fight Club, Yojimbo, and so on. Light themes but with rich philosophy behind it.

A Book, Spoiled
Yet. I couldn’t think of any games I could honestly say a child of mine should spend time on. Time that would be educative, entertaining and efficient. That irks me a bit. Spelunky? No, too wasteful of time. DOTA? Ditto and too repetitive. A shooting game? Hell, no. Planescape Torment? Good, but the interface is awful – you’re probably better off reading Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, the Ur-text for witty rogue worlds. Deus Ex? No, disappointing linearity – read SnowCrash. Mario? Repetitive, brand oriented… no.

(One thing positive I can say of many great games is that they teach you how to learn an imperfect ruleset rapidly. I think of the Reiner Knizia design ethos, which seems to consist of attempting to maximin incompatible-but-overlaid number sets, and I think that’s something valuable for realworld. But that’s something from these games in general, not from any individual game.)

What was wrong with all these games? Not one of them could I point to and say, unreservedly, that is a clean, good, efficient experience which also offers the open edges of a book. Risk of Rain is a perfect action-shooter, with the random drops comboing neatly to force different play styles on you – but I can’t say that I value the compulsion loop of an unlock-based game, especially not for a child, nor can I say that it’s improved me as a human being.

Moving Closer
Is there a game that combines the combined-toolset gameplay of Spelunky with a top-notch scripted experience that still allows the world to have the fuzzy edges a growing imagination needs? I suppose the nearest are Morrowind, Ultima 7, King of Dragon Pass.

An alternative is the Inform and Twine games, the old text adventures, like Violet and Slouching Towards Bedlam. These are near-to-perfection but they waste the player’s time with endless failstates and replays (something the otherwise-light Fable 2 is notable for avoiding). Unless they’re enjoying and learning anew from each failstate, you’re wasting their time. Horse Master is better, in that you carry on to an enjoyably strange ending, no matter what. But a bad text adventure is a short story, spoiled.

This year has seen a few games that have got closer, mingling that Inform experience with production values. Gone Home? Linear, but we’re getting there with the atmosphere, storyline and lack of failstate. Papers Please? Good – linearity concealed behind a clever, shifting toolset and political nous. The problem with these two, like Dear Esther, is that they’re just not all that much fun. The protean joy of the Stanley Parable might be the only modern game I could recommend.

I don’t think I’ve fallen out of love with games. I’ve just recognised that the other media are still superior in what I’d want my kid to input, especially for a peak quality experience.

Found in a notebook

In moments of solitude, my mind, once far-ranging, now only homes in on one phrase; “mi amo”. I don’t speak Italian or any of the Romance languages, save Latin, so I don’t know what it means, but I’ve a feeling that my hindbrain /thinks/ it knows what it means; “my love”. I mumble it to myself at all times, like a mantra that removes the need for thought, introspection, awareness, alacricity. I can feel tearing, as with the sea’s withdrawing acting upon a shore-loose pebble, at my mind right now, a sleepy desire to just lie down and invoke “mi amo, mi amo, mi – amo”. And, yes, I have work to do. My love, I must work.

Eye Contact

The Last Thing The Field Mouse Sees

Ritting

Rattling along underground in a vicious humour, all around me are temporarily like me; none can see the blue of the sky. The tube disgorges beneath Kings-Cross and we all barrel out, the stick-wavers, the 20-20s and me. There’s probably some of my kin around too, but we never make eye contact, head for the city. There’s a city in all of our eyes, great towers of rhodopsin raising up, the rods and the cones, an empty city that collapses at the touch of light. In my city the architect’s plans went awry, or he lacked imagination and my city looks all samey, not enough variety in those towering discs. As in the eye, so in the world and my world, outside the vitreous humour (if it’s really there) also has lost something from that failure; colour.

Liverpool street, 2am

A made-up face that speaks of hours in a frilly bedroom dancing around to hair brushes, giggly from half a glass of stolen wine. What’s she doing in the city at two in the morning, with her mate begging the bus fare from a stuttering banker?

Yeah, she says. With her huge eyes, soft face, hands in the ends of her sleeves, you wouldn’t be surprised if she started sucking her thumb. She still stands in a childish way, tummy stuck out in front of her, leaning her feet outwards in unlaced sneakers. She’s looking in on an adult world. Yeah, she says, I live in Brixton.

Dangerous edgy Brixton, is the implication. Dangerous and edgy and hard, but that’s ok, I live it, I’m Brixton, I’m dark corners and ways of life that seems mysterious to you, but not me. I’m there, I’m grown-up, I’m Brixton.

But the impression she gives is soft and easy and comfortable. It’s not the hard, edgy world she wants to conjure. Hers is a Brixton with a hand written note saying Sweetie, your dinner’s in the oven. Hers is a house in a leafy side road and a Mum looking at the clock waiting for her to get back safely. Hers is a loving and gentle Brixton that whizzes past the pimps and drug dealers in a 4 by 4.

Not exactly out of her depth, but looked out for by a half dozen strangers at the bus stop, who chat with half an eye on her and her precocious mate, who’s twirling her hair for the booze-addled banker.

She’s so young she tastes of alcopops in the park. She’s so young she feels of butterflies and the thrill of staying up all night and talking to boys. She’s so young, but she can’t not be here. She has to be here, testing the world out.

But finally her bus comes and six or so strangers breathe a sigh of relief as, no longer their responsibility, she heads home.

Seasonal Affairs

Well, here we are. The rain’s falled in love with my window and left sickles of watery kisses all over it and its romantic sister, cold, has started to make inroads on me. I can feel her flirting as I sit here, running long frosty fingers across my flanks, paying careful attention to my knuckles, my ears. This morning my lover was the sun, all sweetness and light, feeding me flowers and letting me immerse myself, as I sprawled full length in the old red rocking chair in the front room. I pushed my dressing gown aside and showed my knees and hairy shanks to her, opened the blinds and invited her in, felt like I was kissed all over. Now ever the birds can’t fly high enough for romantic entanglements with her, and they flutter haevily to rooftops to absorb warmth from the tiles, a semblance of the affection she lavished on all of us.

I’m feeling really, really lazy.

Also, and this is turning this from an exercise in creative writing into an admission of general abstraction failure, I can’t bring myself to do anything when Maria’s not about. Not that I want to do anything when she’s here, but it’s worse when she’s gone. I just sit, stare at this screen and occasionally remember to eat. Mmm, this morning it was kid’s mini-waffles, cheese crispy pancakes and sweetcorn on the cob. All sugar and starch and fat, mm-hmm! Just broke to eat some canned broad beans, that were delish.