On the third effects of mass, and not on specific spoilers, I promise.

Is free will an illusion?

Do the actions of our past truly define our present and future, or is our ultimate destiny written in stone (or possibly some more complex but theoretically decypherably language scrawled across the universe)?

It’s one of the classic questions reflected in story ever since man first picked up the quill and began to write ponderous self-important fiction, and has persisted to the present day in which narrative has been honed to its ultimate form – pretentious, ponderous blog posts. And I believe I finally may be nearing an answer; it depends entirely on whether God is being forced to animate our destinies to a rigid launch date, and does he have to fit all the spoken dialogue onto two DVDs?

There’s a lot of smack being talked about Mass Effect 3. Fans worldwide are raging out about how the tantalizingly vast array of choices and sacrifices demanded throughout the game ultimately boiled down to one frustratingly closed-minded cutscene. I personally would agree that the game could be compared to being sexually edged for twenty to thirty hours by a master whore, only for it to finally be revealed that the whore is an expertly animated shop dummy, the considerable amount of money you spent on her now seems largely wasted, and that the pimp has crippled her in such a way that her resale value is diminished by her inability to perform multi-player for anyone but you.

That said, I’ve had a marvellously entertaining twenty to thirty hours, although if anone asked me to describe the game, I would probably say “harrowing”. Like some cross between Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise and Battle Royale, the game repeatedly re-introduces characters that you’ve come to love over the last three games; characters you’ve helped, and who have in turn helped you, and presumably ones you’ve gone to some degree of effort in the past to preserve. Then it pairs up your prized and beloved companions in front of you, loads a revolver, and asks you who you love more.

Somehow the actual choice here makes it more disturbing. When the acts of the plot murder your companions, it’s not so hard to take. The universe has taken them from you, and these not being real characters, you’re blameless. There’s no way they could have survived. The knowledge that more missions, more dialogue, and more touching moments exist for each character, and that you’re making a decision that robs them of that, can be gutwrenching at times. This is how Mass Effect has captured an element of Interesting Times that I’ve never really felt in a video game before; the loss, the waste, and the sacrifice. As much as I’ve enjoyed it, I couldn’t say it’s a wholly positive experience. Commander Shepard certainly isn’t a hero that women want to be and men want to be with. Although that said, Shepard does seem to inspire a certain bisexuality, and even Xenophelia, in almost everyone he/she meets.

The great tragedy is that after all this emotional battery, the game takes the bizarre and borderline psychopathic measure of reassuring you that you’re innocent of all these crimes and heroics, because what you’re ultimately given is a straightforward choice as to how you want to fuck the universe. The whore asks you where you’d like to blow your load; in her ass or the face? Maybe the classic creampie?

She then proceeds to donkey-punch you until your blood and semen trickly sadly down your leg into your crumpled underpants. I think we can probably leave that metaphor there.

Mass Effect 3 is, I would not deny, a great game, and narratively taps into a vein of emotion and inspiration that’s possibly never been mined before in the gaming meduium. It’s just a shame that after crafting a fascinating universe, pioneering the preservation of choice between installments and after probably more than a hundred hours of individual gameplay this labour of love sadly falls short of what we’ve come to expect, in the last ten minutes of the show.

Now if you’re still playing ME3 for the first time, I urge you to make the most of the excellent missions on offer, and not to be impatient for closure. Because it’s a bit shit.

Lily Allen only hates pirates because her dad looks like one

Well I think I speak for all the not-entirely-legal music downloading community when I say “Oh fuck, Lily Allen’s weighed into the piracy debate“. I think she might have been panicked by International Talk Like a Pirate day. Lily says, and I quote:

“music piracy is having a dangerous effect on British music. but some really rich and successful artists like Nick Mason from Pink Floyd and Ed O’Brien from Radiohead don’t seem to think so.”

Seeming to imply that the evil rich overlords of music are indifferent to the suffering of mediocre musicians. Hm, I can’t imagine why Lily would be bothered by the trials of the bland, the mundane, the humdrum purveyors of beige music. Not at all.

I’d just like to point out here that while it’s certainly not ideal for the desperate muso, I should imagine that any musicians who’d genuinely be pushed over the poverty line by their sales dropping are probably saving a fortune on their own music collections by Limewiring the shit out of that bitch. In fact the only people I’d say should be concerned about the loss in profits are the cocaine dealers of the semi celebrity pop idol winners.

Not that I’m claiming torrenters are guiltless. It is taking somebody else’s work without paying the requested fee – which is pretty unreasonable for something which, when all is said and done, is entertainment. At the very least it’s impolite. The point, however, is moot, and not one Lily should be worried about. The people with a real stake in this are the pushers, the dealers, the recording industry gods like Sony and EMI who’ve built up a massive advantage over the competition. Although they’ve certainly got the resources to construct a new medium that works for both artists and consumers, it’s never going to be quite as profitable for them as the status quo.

The current situation is, as far as I can see, simply massively influential bodies clinging by the fingernails to a dying medium that has been paying their amphetamine bills for decades. Artists weighing into the debate are simply footsoldiers who have been convinced they have something to lose. Chill out, Lily. There’ll always be teenage chavs. I don’t think anyone can say that the current setup is particularly great for anyone save the suits who run it.

The simple fact is that these megalithic entities have been acting like such pricks to artists and fans alike over the years, they realise nobody would give a shit if they turned up their heels in the wake of the revolution. So they use puppets, like Lars Ulrich, Patrick Wolf and, indeed, Lily Allen, to promote their cause. The visionaries who can see the change in the wind are capitalising on the situation; you only need to see the sales figures on In Rainbows to realise that even if “pay me what you like” isn’t a sustainable paradigm, you can certainly capitalise on that kind of shenanigans.

The future belongs to the innovators. Imminently, a new way of distributing entertainment will be demanded; Big Music’s leverage is slipping. Without it, compromise will be needed to bring customers and artists into their fold. Possibly after someone’s explained the concept of compromise to them. In the meantime, fresh blood, the Spotifies and the like will be surging ahead, becoming new giants, earning the right for the next decade or so to be total and complete arseholes.

“Too soon”, volume one in an inevitably long-reaching series; In Which Flopsybuns Delivers A Fairly Inappropriate And Hypocritical Eulogy.

I’ve been playing with Google Insight today.  True to its name, it held a few surprises for me.

Not least that the fourth most popular Google in the UK this week was “google”.  Come on, country.  Get your act together.  I’m not the most organised, or even conscious person, but I’ve never asked someone to their face where they are.  I suppose it’s the next logical step in windowlickery from hunting for my glasses when they’re on my head – so long, sunday afternoon, I’ll never see you again – but on a national scale I can’t help but feel this is unacceptable.

Even more depressing is that seventh worldwide rising search is Jade Goody.  The press blitz of coverage of the “tragic” pseudo-celebrity was inevitable, and even the fact that the usually level-headed Guardian gave it front-page reportage stimulated little more than a stifled groan.  The press can’t account for this kind of showing though.  There’s only one logical conclusion; people of the world are actively searching for news on… her.  I’m not going to be overly unkind here.  A woman is dead, and her genuine family and friends are grieving.  They should stop reading here.

Jade exemplified a subculture of consumers who want nothing more than fame and attention, at the expense of dignity, privacy and wellbeing.  It’s worrying that so many people desire it so badly (he said, typing into his unpaid weblog), but ultimately understandable compared to the mass hysteria and schadenfreude that possess those who follow them.  My own theory is that these reality stars give the public the opportunity to feel superior to some of these glamourous characters, and illustrate that it could really be anybody – and in being the everywoman, Jade excelled.

Her eulogy and tribute is loud in the press this week, not so much on the lips of the people in my own experience.  Maybe this unequal treatment is because her presence in the zeitgeist was the pure result of the media and PR insisting she was interesting, rather than genuine relavence.  I’d like to believe that the british tabloids felt some twinge of regret at the way they publically treated a human being, though she was nowhere near the least deserving or worst treated of the victims of ravenous and unscrupulous journalists.  I’m fairly certain though that they were just bleeding the last column inches from her life.  Jade Goody lived to be a celebrity, and died famous.  Now let’s all move on, and read a little less Heat magazine.

I watched the Watchmen and made a tired pun about it

dr-manhattan-3Watchmen finally hit UK cinemas last week, and my contemporaries and I made a pilgrimage around the weekend to see it (in the biggest motherfucking cinema I’ve ever seen, seriously, what’s the deal with that?).

After a modest period of casually asking each other what we thought of it (british to a man, can’t show too much uninvited enthusiasm) shit-eating grins broke out all round, and happy fanboyism commenced.  In case you haven’t heard, it is good, and faithful to a degree I didn’t think possible.  Alan Moore is a writing deity in my book, but he’d do well to stop grumbling about other people paying him multi-million-dollar homage and start complaining about the people who watch the damn thing.

I’d wondered how public opinion would regard Watchmen; western culture doesn’t deal well with pragmatism and mixed motives in its news reports, let alone its entertainment.  If hell froze over and the mature themes in Watchmen – a comic that muddies the waters of morality around terrorism, murder and rape – weren’t censored or omitted, how would the stupid, cow-eyed masses of the public react to it?  Condemnation?  Dare I hope for a reconsideration on the unsympathetic reactions to what we are told to regard as criminals?  I was beginning to fear for British tabloids‘ readership.

I needn’t have worried.  Rather than discussing the plot and characters, the blood-spattered smiley has been supplanted in the hearts of the population by a giant, glowing dong.  Transfixed by the shiny (helmeted) objects, the media pundits narrowly avoided discussing questionable morality and instead fixated on Doc Manhattan’s freely swinging member.  You’d think that in light of recent events, radioactive cocks would be a sensitive subject in the UK, but noooooo.

I do love how, although taboo in most circumstances, unrestrained wangers are considered more suitable for public consumption (steady now) than questioning the moral status quo.  Still, at least my Comedian badge is bona-fide geek cred, right?

Gone the way of the Mammoth

I don’t understand why there seems to be a massive movement to save Woolworths. “Because it’s a british institution”, seems to be the canned response, seemingly missing the point that it’s actually just a shop that doesn’t have anyone buying things in it. I know it’s hard to watch the demolition of the store in whose cafe you used to drink coffee with your nan when the government’s swooping in to bail out the banks that chucked her out of her bungalow, but we need to think of the shop assistants here. What you’re proposing is a future in which these people are doomed to stand around wearing aprons in a shop devoid of customers, as people hurry past the window on their way home, to do their christmas shopping on Amazon. Exactly what are we proposing to do to save a shop that doesn’t sell enough shit? I’ve certainly not heard anyone promise to buy more expensive stuff in Woolworths as opposed to online.

Fuck Woolies. It’s just another mammoth chain store that never made it big enough to make people hate it for swallowing their high street. Worry about the tiny, individual shops that are being driven out of business by the unholy megalithic trinity of Ebay, Amazon and… er, I don’t know, snorg tees? It just feels like there should be three. The fact is if you want there to be real, actual shops in the world, you’re going to have to buy things from them. Doing your shopping at Tesco or Walmart all year doesn’t guarantee there’ll be anwhere niche, individual or interesting left when you decide you want them.

This year I bought about 33% of my shopping in actual shops before giving up and buying the rest on Amazon. So just so y’know, none of this shit is coming from a high horse. It’s perfectly acceptable hypocrisy.