Vote For Your Grandchildren, Not Yourself

Of the £160bn annual benefit budget nearly £75bn goes towards pensions. This in itself isn’t anything to complain about – many pensioners rely on these payments to live – but there plenty of others who do not need a penny of it. These wealthy pensioners tend to vote for a Tory party that is happy enough to keep giving the pension to them, in fact to keep raising the amount. Strangely, young families with just as much money have child benefit taken from them – perhaps they don’t vote for the right party.

Meanwhile tragically poor families are being robbed due the detestable bedroom tax and other squeezes on benefits. This disgusting bedroom tax policy could never have made a change to the way housing stock is used, there just aren’t the smaller houses for people to move into. The cold hard mathematical facts are against the policy – there really isn’t the housing stock. The government would have known this when drafting the policy – instead the bedroom tax is a deliberate ideological and financial attack on the poorest members of our society. The plan is to dismantle the state and to do so first one must attack those that rely on it. So the poor are demonised, the NHS and education systems vilified. Look at how much money we waste on these broken dreams, the Tories say, let us abolish them.

Some of you Telegraph, Daily Mail and Express reading old folks are probably disgusted with the poor, the way all the money is spent on them and believe it is ruining our economy. Do you know how much jobseeker’s allowance costs the nation? From the annual benefit budget of £160bn it is just over £4.8bn. That is a mere drop in the ocean compared to how much you pensioners are getting, remember you lot get £75bn. These are facts, but not something you’ll find in the Daily Mail. Do you like being manipulated into hating others by these papers? How does that make you feel?

So why do we hear so much about benefit fraud, see posters and TV campaigns surrounding the issue? Because demonising the poor is politically useful. There is a growing working poor and it is in the interest of the government to keep the unemployed poor and working poor from joining forces. What if all the disenfranchised of this nation acted together? It’s a scary thought – they might engage in the democratic process. And so the working poor are fed a lie that our economy would be so much better if people weren’t cheating jobseeker’s allowance.

How big is benefit fraud? The Department of Work and Pensions estimates it is in the region of £1.2bn. Hardly pocket change, but in terms of the overall budget not a major cost – that’s still you pensioners. But wait a minute, it seems that according the DWP’s own figures it accidentally overpays people £1.4bn. So rather than the benefit cheats being the biggest drain on resources the DWP’s own ineptitude costs the nation more. We don’t see any demonising posters about that do we?

Meanwhile the HMRC fails to collect tax from some of the biggest avoiders. The HMRC’s own figures put this at £30bn, meanwhile Tax Justice and the PCS put this figure at a higher £120bn. What can we gather from this? The very rich aren’t doing their bit. They are avoiding paying tax and the government is putting less effort into collecting it than it does to demonise the very poorest in our society.

In our supposedly civilised society we have food banks springing up everywhere. There are always going to be the kind of feckless parents who would rather buy cigarettes than feed their children – but imagining these are the cause of the growth of foodbanks is living in dreamland. Our nation is deeply divided. In my local town there are wealthy people who are unaware of the poverty that exists in that town. They genuinely don’t know the poor streets and estates exists. And some that do aren’t too pleased about the “sort of people” they should allow to use the foodbank.

We have the rise in food banks and the massive growth in legal loan-shark companies such as Wonga. There is no coincidence in the existence and growth of both of these. The government you voted for is crushing the poor to the point where they have to go stinking up your nice little church food bank or borrow money at 3000% APR from Wonga. There’s an irony in the design of the puppets Wonga uses in its advertising campaign – the very sort of people who voted for the state our nation is in. Saying a prayer for the poor on Sunday doesn’t really cut it. It is the irony and tragedy of West Dorset that so many wealthy older people that live here are involved in the church, yet vote for the very enemy of everything their faith stands for. So many good people seem to leave their goodness and their faith outside of the polling booth.

Some of these people are extremely generous with their time and money towards the poorer members of the community. That is a great thing. But that’s not enough. Let’s look at it another way. Imagine we had a national problem in that the poor were being attacked by rabid wolves. Every week a government van would arrive in poor areas and wild mad wolves would be unleashed to attack people. You, being a decent church going type are horrified by the suffering this causes. You do your best to help those who have been attacked. You give them shelter, tend to their wounds, feed them. You offer them all the generosity in your heart – and it makes a real differences to these people – you ease their suffering. But then every four years you walk into a polling booth and tick the box marked “I want rabid wolves released on the poor”.

Why keep voting for a party that’s doing its best to ensure your own children, grandchildren and ultimately their children will never have the health service you enjoyed, can use a library, get inexpensive health care, or a state pensions. Why do you do it?

If you love your grandchildren then please cast a vote for their future, not a vote for your past.

Where are the expert game reviewers?

Hello folks, long time no see. Today I want to talk to you about game critics and their lack of knowledge and expertise. I’d like to do this in relation to the numerous reviews for Xbox One’s Forza Motorsport 5 that have appeared online this week.

Before I continue, some caveats. I have not yet played FM5 and I do not know whether it is a good or bad game. The issues I want to discuss are separate from the game’s ultimate quality. Turn 10’s track record and the footage I have seen it seems the core gameplay is as good as ever but the game has been widely marked down despite this due to lack of content and DLC whoring. That seems fair, Microsoft and Turn 10 are taking cynical route to monetising the game. But, that’s not what I want to talk about here.

What do I want to talk about? Know-nothing game critics that’s what. We can’t all be experts in every genre but I do remember a time when you’d expect a reviewer to be grounded in the core genres of gaming. By that I meant experience and knowledge of shooters, platform games, adventures, RPG, racing games and the like.

However this week has shown that level of expertise even among the highest profile members of the business has all but disappeared. Over the last few days I’ve watched many video streams of game reviewers playing Forza Motorsport 5. In many cases these videos feature that site’s “expert” who was writing the review and his dude-bro team members who were trying the game for the first time and needed the expert’s advice.

Oh lord, that expert would be nothing of the kind. How wrong can you get the pronunciation of well known car brands and models? Watch a mainstream game site stream to find out. Want to hear historic and famous race circuit names said by people who have never heard of them, tune into the most popular video review sites. Some expert eh?

Watch the videos to hear them talk of playing with at least half the game assists switched on including the racing line. Hear the derisory laughter as one of the team asks “have you tried it in full sim mode” as though he’d asked the expert if he blew goats. Who would play a racing sim in sim mode they laugh, only some kind of pathetic geek. I get it, you might not be skilled enough to play in sim mode. Honestly that really is fine. But guys, how about at least trying it for the sake of the review, eh? Gaming, once a ghetto, has gone mainstream and is building its own ghettos now for those who don’t conform to a narrow vision.

And oh God the lack of knowledge of the franchise thus far, of basic facts to do with the game they are playing and some of the most basic game mechanics common to the franchise. Has it come to this that one of the most popular genres in gaming is now too outside the mainstream for any of these sites to have someone who knows anything about them? Is this it now, shooters or nothing? I watched a video review of Forza 5 (which gave it 5/5 by the way) where the reviewer was gushing with surprise and delight about the main game mechanic as though it was new. That game mechanic has been with us nearly two decades thanks to Gran Turismo. To him though, it was brand new. Ten years ago if I’d walked into a job interview and displayed this lack of knowledge I’d never have got some of the jobs I was lucky enough to have. I wouldn’t have been hired as a staff reviewer – never mind making it as an editor.

During my career as an editor I tried to match games with reviewers who had knowledge and experience of the genre. Readers don’t want to know how crap a writer is at platform games, or how much she hates playing them. Readers want to know how good that platform game is, how it stacks up against the competition, how it subverts, evolves or reinvigorates the genre. When I was a site editor there was no way I’d have given Forza 5 to some of these “experts” at major game sites. Yet seemingly, judging by the even lesser knowledge of their dude-bro colleagues, they really are the experts in their office. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Gametrailers’ Kyle Bosman joked in his latest video column of how the ability to stream games will bypass the mainstream game reviewers rendering them useless. I can see that happening but not merely because there’s something better about watching the game being played. The problem is there’s a crisis in games criticism – the lack of expertise. Get the guys on the subject of Battlefield or Call of Duty and you’ll be fine, they play these a lot with their friends. But wander from the core shooter genre and you’re in trouble. That is why games reviews on mainstream sites will be bypassed – because they are light, inexpert, fluff.

I think what has shocked me most about the poor criticism and lack of reader service we’ve seen this week is that games criticism has become so narrow. Gran Turismo sells ten million copies but that’s still not enough for this to be an important genre anymore. Games like this are now looked down on, even among supposed hardcore gamers who work at big gaming sites? Really? So gaming is just Call of Duty and third person action games, anything else is just weird? Racing games are geeky and on the outside? There was a time when I was dismayed but understood this happening to flight sims, even casual flight sims like EA’s Jane’s series, but now we’re cutting driving games out of the mainstream. Where are we going with this guys?

I’ve hired many games writers over the last decade and there’s no way most of the Forza reviewers would have cut it on a site I edited. I read the reviews and wondered where the knowledge is, the depth, the real understanding of the genre. I’ve read tens of Forza 5 reviews this week, watched numerous video reviews, and I have yet to see one I’d have been happy to publish. From the ones scoring the game 10/10 to the scores much lower – the level of knowledge conveyed to the reader has been uniformly poor.

What’s the alternative, specialist sites? Not always. Then you enter the realms of the people who think their gaming experience is a real life experience, where their racing seat setup allows them to speak with the authority of a seasoned racing driver. In this world anything that deviates from being 100 percent realistic makes a game utter shit, where one bolt out of place on a car model renders it useless to them. No these guys aren’t the place to go for good games criticism either. Realism doesn’t necessarily equal good.

There’s an odd contradiction in gaming right now in that many gamers wish the genre to be taken seriously as an artform. At the same time though these same gamers say reviews are pointless. I strongly disagree. When we look at true artforms – fine art, music, literature, cinema etc. what sets them apart from everyday consumerist pastimes is the level and quality of written criticism. Good quality appraisal and criticism in art is exciting and important. I would argue that those art forms wouldn’t be as great without the high quality criticism that lives alongside them. Cinema is vital and thrilling not just for the images on the screen but in the intellectual depth the art form can be discussed, dissected and argued about by experts that know their subject and how to engage with the reader.

Are games art? They could be. But right now the top reviewers at big sites only seem to want and understand the Transformers 2 of gaming. They do not have the knowledge or vocabulary to discuss anything more nuanced. And this is a problem. A problem not just for consumers, but also a problem for the medium itself. Games cannot be art without experts to discuss them as such. When even the games that aspire to say something important, to make an artistic statement that goes beyond the medium of gaming, have to copy the gameplay of Call of Duty (BioShock Infinite) then we need critics capable of debating the issue. We will not get better art without better criticism.

If all you want is FIFA and Call of Duty then fine, have it your way. They are great games. But I have played and loved games for over thirty years, I have been paid to communicate that love for over a decade. For me games are as interesting, thrilling and involving as any book, movie, painting, poem or song. And yet, and yet, it feels like it is slipping away. Our geeky ghetto with its intelligence and nuance began a slow death when PlayStation became hugely popular. But I can’t blame the games makers. I blame the critics. The criticism of art should be an art itself, but today it is merely a commodity.

Right now the mainstream game sites barely demonstrate enough expertise to review the popcorn in the lobby, they are going to have to try harder before their views of the movie are worth listening to.

Katatonia Dethroned and Uncrowned Review

How do you top a great album like 2012’s Dead End Kings? You don’t, you strip it bare and make it even better. Katatonia is spoiling us.

You may remember that I really enjoyed Katatonia’s Dead End Kings – though I readily admit I still prefer Night Is The New Day of their most recent works. So I was delighted to hear that Katatonia were re-releasing the record in a different form.

Dethroned and Uncrowned strips back Dead End Kings – removing the drums and the heavy guitars – leaving a largely acoustic and keys work that is even more melancholy and ethereal than the original. Some electric guitars do remain – for the occasional lead – and the album is by no means the clichéd “unplugged” version.

Instead Katatonia have explored the emotional and darker aspects of the music and while obviously this isn’t a heavier record than Dead End Kings it is much more sombre. The result is a resounding success. In almost every case I prefer the Dethroned version of each song to the one presented last year. Jonas’ duet with The Gathering’s Silje Wergeland on The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here is even more haunting.

If I was going to nitpick I’d say it is a shame that the vocals were not re-recorded. In many cases it sounds like the Dead End Kings vocal lines remain and this does mean that sometimes the emotional emphasis isn’t in keeping with the gentler music on offer.

That aside Dethroned and Uncrowned is a fabulous moody, haunting and progressive take on a great heavy metal record. Highly recommended. And of course it’s the second great record of the year to feature the vocal talents of Jonas Renkse.

Katatonia’s Dethroned and Uncrowned is released by KScope on September 9th 2013.

Total Recall (2012) Review

Last night I finally got around to watching the recent (ish) remake of nineties genre classic Total Recall. It’s two hours of my life I really want back.

What a piece of crap this was. Joyless, humourless, lacking in invention, wasting good actors, poor script, uninteresting setting. The only good bit was “two weeks” and while the appearance of triple-breasted whore should have been funny it just didn’t work.

It’s not often you get a remake and they seem to have said “you know what, the original was too grand. Let’s completely scale it back and make it all rather mundane.”

So many things wrong with it. Let’s talk about design, or lack of it. Production design meeting probably went like this…
“So let’s have your ideas for production design, what about New Britain?”
“Minority Report.”
“Great, what about the colony?”
“Blade Runner.”
“Fantastic. Okay meeting over.”

How about casting two female leads that look a lot like each other. Yes that’s really smart. That was our hero is dreaming of someone who from many angles looks just like his wife, great move. In no way would that dilute his yearnings for a different life.

Let’s waste Bill Nighy’s time for a few days.

Can we get some sci-fi guns with the sonic power of a wet fart?

What the hell was all that nonsense regarding cube lifts about? Did we step into Attack of the Clones’ droid factory? Or Aperture Sciences?

After a while I thought they really need to stop recreating bits from the original film because in contrast they looked shit. These moments really did serve to highlight how bad this film was in comparison. Take removing the bug for example. In Arnie’s film it’s one of those scenes you remember from the 90s – a “no fucking way” moment. Here? Bet some of you can’t remember it being in the film.

What about the Cohagen explains it all bit. In the original of course we get video of Arnie saying he wants his body back. It’s a brilliant scene as he is shown as Cohagen’s friend. Do we get anything like that here? No. Because everything in this film is played flat, it’s all flat, one note, lacking in any excitement and humour.

The original had missteps, of course it did. There’s plenty of things in it that seem very dated. But there’s also so much humour, great action and hugely inventive production design. Meanwhile this remake was unambitious and poor in every way.