Soapbox – Everything is amazing. No-one is happy.

In a world where we can stream a high-definition movie instantly, pause and rewind live TV and play with thousands of other people in a persistent virtual landscape, isn’t it interesting that for some people, it still isn’t enough? Have we become so dependent on this now we can’t function without it?

 

When I started playing games, it was on an Amstrad CPC in 1984-1985. I was a kid, not even in double digits of age, and seeing these things move across the screen game me a childish sense of wonderment and joy. Bright colours, loud dull beeps and boops, tape loaders and BASIC, running a game felt like witchcraft to me. A lost dialect that allowed me access to a wealth of entertainment and imagination.

We’re nearly thirty years on from my first faltering steps into gaming, and into the world of seminal consciousness, and what a world has evolved! We have the internet – a super-fast method of getting, sharing and experiencing information. Whereas in the 70s and 80s high-flyers jumped onto huge superjets to get around the world for their meetings, now they can do it from one place – video conferencing has become the new form of international business. Phones that used to need to be spun dialed and crackled and sputtered, now we have crisp digital lines and the ability to block calls. Mobile phones used to be called Bricks, as they were so clunky and large, and now we have smartphones that slip into our back pockets and are so light we invariably forget about them, until we sit down that is. Ooops. Medicine has changed – when I was a little kid, I needed to have several operations to remove small kidney stones. These days, that would be unheard of – it’s easier, safer and more practical to blast them under Ultrasound, break them up and have them naturally pass through the system.

Progress has brought with it many things that are convenient, practical and safe. But it has also led to impatience, rudeness and a general cruel temperament that has savagely complicated so many current advances in the world.

For a start, trolling has become so commonplace. Not five years ago, no-one but the nerdiest of the nerds knew what a “Troll” was on the internet. These days, with Twitter and Facebook, trolling is everywhere. Someone suffers a miscarriage and suddenly there is an anonymous wave of nasty comments and hurtful remarks aimed their way. A wife reports her husband has died, she is taunted and jeered and told she was a bad wife and mother and should kill herself. A teenage girl bullied to the point suicide seemed like the only option available to her – and those same bullies then take it to a commemorative website in her name, to continue their torment long after she is gone.

These are but some of the very real examples of trolling that you can find. Of course, some light-hearted teasing does us all good, as long as you know it is meant in good humour. But there are limits, and sometimes once those lines are crossed the inclination is to just keep going, to keep sinking, and the posts become ever more aggressive, ever more abhorrent. We’ve skipped something in the human stream of consciousness now that prevents us from acting this way – the speed of being able to communicate, and the ease of which we can communicate, means there is no waiting period and no time for our own brains to filter out the worst excesses of the human psyche from what we say and do. And as awful as some find it, many more find it amusing and join in. Something is deeply wrong when this becomes a new pastime for people.

There’s impatience and demands. We’re so used to getting what we want, that we often forget that we used to wait a lot longer. Gaming news these days is instant – blogs cannot, and never really will, rival the larger and more powerful feeds from bigger gaming sources. But thing is, we used to wait a month for the latest news. There was once a time when the only way you could get this stuff was, simply, buying a games magazine off the shelf in your local newsagents. This meant you had to go outside, walk to the shops, buy it for £3.99, then take it home again and read it. Now we can get it fast, immediately and relatively cost-free online, much to the bemusement of some PR agencies who are finding this immediacy can lead to some serious public relations disasters.

Even watching E3 the last few days, merely minutes before a conference is due to start the twitter and Facebook feeds were swamped with people shouting, “Hurry the **** up already!” and “We’re waiting you lazy ****ers!”. The conference is due at 5pm PDT. It’s 4.55pm PDT. For heavens sake, grow up and shut up! You arrived early, the conference will start when it is meant to start.

There’s gaming, and the expectations of things. I find it rather sad to see games judged not on their content, or how fun they are, but their technical ability. You see sites running comparisons between PS3 and 360 games, every frame counted and every graphical flaw accounted for. Every jagged edge, every loose texture. It’s become nothing more than a technical willy-waving exercise, and it misses the point of gaming completely. As I said earlier, when I started we didn’t really HAVE polygons, and sprites were “tiny”, but looked huge because of the low resolutions we had. These days, things are photo-realistic and scrutinised to within an inch of their lives. That a game can live – or die – not on being a fantastic game, but by the capabilities of the graphics engine that runs the show. That we can still judge games based on which publisher sends them out to the stores – be that EA or Activision – rather than judge them based on their actual content, or the studio who has had to enter into a publishing arrangement just to get it to stores.

You see, I don’t particularly like the landscape I see today. There is this strange sense that every single person thinks they are “special”, unique, and should be treated like the superstar they are.

I don’t see myself as special, or unique, or even as a superstar. I have to confess with my medical issues I often look into a mirror and am physically disgusted by what I see in front of my eyes. What I am proud of, and to be honest it is the only thing I have to be proud of, is my mind – a formation that my grandparents set out to forge and strengthen, to make it work for me rather than against me. They would, no doubt, be proud whatever I did but they would have been less proud had I become some anonymous troll on the internet, some strange person who flings insults and runs away. They would have felt ashamed that they had failed in teaching me manners, respect and simple human decency.

I try to be respectful, even when jeering. If I feel I’ve gone too far, I apologise. I prefer rational thinking to knee-jerk responses, because it can be easy to jump to conclusions. I am human, and not perfect. But I respect manners, and conversation, and talking and understanding more than being insulted. I am, I fear, “unique” in that sense in this big and scary internet. I feel guilt, shame and embarrassment over my mistakes where others revel in it. It means I don’t post as much, or as often, as others do as a result. Because I’m always worried, always nervous, always a little scared about how others will react, however I reason my thoughts and opinions.

Sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to be one of these “trolls”, this new breed of person who feels no guilt or shame about their online wording. I’ve often wondered sometimes how it would feel. I can’t imagine it because – well, I haven’t got the ability to disengage that much. I give a damn. It’s a failing, and an asset, and it can vary on the subject and material at hand as to which of those it is at any one time.

But I’m not happy. And it would appear, very few of us are. Despite all the technical advances, the convenience, the simple variety of things at our disposal now, we seem to be getting more impatient, more demanding and we react strongly where things fail. We want things, and want them now. We are paying customers. We are special. We are king.

We are not. Businesses need to make money. Humans have failings. Conferences can go bad. There is an inherent risk that everything we have now may one day be unusable, an EMP nuke could relatively speaking throw so many of us back into the dark ages. We simply wouldn’t know how to act, or react, without our toys.

In thirty years, my games have gone from simple sprites and mono 8-bit sound to high-definition titles with a million polygons and multi-channel surround sound. This is amazing. And still amazes me. But I still find myself criticising sometimes. Still find myself wondering. Unsure. Uneasy.

It’s curious, isn’t it? All this stuff… and we’re still acting like savages in so many cases.

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