Art For The Square-Eyed

Whether you play them or not, there is no denying that today’s video games are more cinematic than ever before, boasting visual effects and immersive experiences worthy of Hollywood itself. I have never owned any of the major consoles (save for a Nintendo Wii), but I know the strides that are being made nowadays and they are impossible not to admire. In being so impressive, they must be behind increased sales to some extent, but in my experience, “less is more” can be just as enticing when it comes to gaming as the snazzy and highly-advanced products we are now offered on a regular basis.

When I was 8, Mum bought me a Game Boy Advance for Christmas, with Lego Star Wars accompanying it as my first-ever game. She will tell you that Louis and I fought over it like cat and dog to begin with, but when we weren’t doing that, I was busy being utterly flabbergasted by the fact that so much scenery, storyline and playability had been packed into a tiny cartridge for use in the palm of my hand. Such a feat seemed like it should be pure fiction, impossible even in the 21st Century as something that transcended the laws of physics. And yet there we were, with other more complex systems such as the Nintendo DS and PSP catching up and expanding this compacted art form.

From the outset, then, I was very impressed – but the impact those early experiences with Lego Star Wars had on me was nothing compared to when I got MotoGP for the same console shortly afterwards. Bear in mind that this is a game based on a legendary real-world motorsport series, featuring real tracks and real motorcyclists I have admired on TV, so to my younger self it was always going to be a revelation regardless of its quality. When I got it, I owned no officially-licensed racing games of any kind; I saw those as being the reserve of the PS2-owning elite, of which I would never be a member. I was therefore eager to see what this new addition could offer, hoping that it wouldn’t disappoint by comparison to the big boys.

I should make very clear that the entire MotoGP game can pretty much be summed up by the word “simplicity”. Even the hardest difficulty is easy to conquer in any mode, since braking is virtually pointless on every circuit layout and the AI are hardly stiff competition. Race weekends are much shorter than their real-life counterparts, too – one lap is allocated for qualifying with a maximum of four for the Grand Prix. But trust me when I say that I would never slag this game off; we all have flaws, after all. Indeed, its charm lay in its pick-up-and-play suitability, its excellent replay value (even to this day, as it turns out), and the aforementioned ability to take to the track against actual racing heroes. Even more prominent than these qualities, however, were its visuals, which I would still describe as nothing less than stunning for the Advance.

16 different destinations feature in the game, perfectly replicating the 2001 MotoGP season calendar, and all are rendered so beautifully that they almost resemble oil paintings. From the mountains seen in the background at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit to the deep blue sky and sea at Phillip Island in Australia, they never fail to disappoint. The same applies to the sprites representing the riders and bikes, as well as the trackside scenery – billboards feature the names of real sponsors, there are distinguishable kerbs and cones, and excited spectators even appear to cheer you on at certain corners. The fact that all of these details are included in such an uncomplicated piece of software is what makes the game stand out above all the others I own, despite its age. If you want to take a look at it for yourself, you could search for some gameplay on YouTube, but I honestly don’t believe that this will do it justice. I now play it on my DS, which offers me an even more vibrant display thanks to its brighter screen, and this in turn only cements its reputation in my mind as a piece of modern gaming art. It won’t take you long to complete if you do pick up a copy, but I honestly believe this 16 year-old game is still worth buying. As a bonus, you won’t spend as much time being antisocial with something so easy!

Mason

Fandom Island

Fandoms are truly amazing things. There’s one for seemingly every franchise nowadays, and whatever the product they exist solely to bring fans of all ages and backgrounds together in a comfortable and familiar environment. They are capable of lifting, inspiring and even saving lives, and so their importance to millions around the world – including myself – must never be underestimated. As you will know by now, my chosen fandom is Doctor Who. It has definitely shaped my life to a significant extent, as I may never have chosen to write without it, and watching it has filled me and many others with seemingly endless wonder. It pleases me greatly to see fellow Whovians freely interacting online and indulging in what they love so much – and even those of you who are not fans can surely appreciate how expansive this international community of enthusiasts is.

That said, however, I do see an underlying problem that I feel compelled to address – not with the Who fandom itself, but with the perception that some non-fans have of it. I was inspired to write this post just a few days ago, when – being very excited to see the unveiling of Jodie Whittaker’s new costume – I suddenly thought about how these people have reacted to my declarations of love for the show. I can’t help but think that I occasionally feel looked down on in a way that people in other fandoms, such as Harry Potter or Supernatural, never seem to be. As soon as this occurred to me, I knew that I had to find out whether this perceived reaction really was an established thing, and what people’s reasoning – if any – was behind it. I posed these questions to some of my friends, Will included, who I thought might be able to relate to my Whovian predicament — and one in particular gave me a very intriguing response.

It was Lauren who said that, as a Doctor Who fan, there can be some very complicated scientific concepts and plots for one to figure out, meaning that those who can (and don’t be fooled, because I’m not always one of them) are stereotyped as being more nerdy and less cool than fans elsewhere. Believe it or not, I’d never considered this before. I suppose it makes sense, although the apparent implication that non-Whovians are less intelligent in some way does make me a little bit uncomfortable. Maybe the people who look down on or criticise us but have never seen the show are put off doing so by assuming you have to be clever. It’s not essential at all. In fact, I’d say that the reason I had never about Lauren’s opinion is because it’s not why I fell in love with Doctor Who in the slightest. I love it because of that wonder I mentioned, the ever-present notion that anything is possible, and the Doctor’s relentless message of acceptance and equality that is so clearly present everywhere he or she goes. These reasons might all sound clichéd, and maybe I’m repeating myself in giving them, but that’s only because they’re never ever untrue. If you’re reading this, you have a few pre-conceived ideas and you’ve never given Doctor Who the time of day thus far, all I ask is that you give it a try. One episode. You might surprise yourself, and gain a few million new friends in the process.

Mason

Harmonised

I wanted to share another one of my thoughts about Saturday’s Jamiroquai gig (see The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2) – particularly a new feeling that had never struck me before until I was sat there, with my eyes transfixed on the stage and the lights dancing around it. I was on the crest of a wave during the opening montage of the show, scarcely believing that I was really at the concert which had been so hotly anticipated since April. The rollercoaster ride was about to begin, and I eagerly looked around at all of the other arrivals streaming in by the minute. They varied greatly in age, from the under-tens to pensioners I would never previously have expected to see at that kind of gig. Like me, some were wearing Jamiroquai t-shirts or hats, and one man even chose to sport a full Native American headdress in honour of Jay Kay’s love of headgear. I noticed that some of these items of clothing were older and perhaps suggestive of a longer obsession with the band than others – and this, in turn, got me wondering what each fan’s individual story was. How and when did they first fall in love with Jay, his band and his music?

The man himself mentioned mid-show that 25 years have now passed since the release of the first Jamiroquai album, Emergency on Planet Earth. Judging by the reaction that statement received, there were definitely fans in the arena who had been there for that first record, and had been hooked ever since. But there were also fans whose love developed from every subsequent nook and cranny of Jamiroquai history, such as those who grew up at the height of their fame – ensnared, maybe, by Travelling Without Moving or Synkronized – or those closer in age to me, who might have encountered Noughties albums such as Dynamite in mid-adolescence. And then, finally, there are the very youngest, who may only have found the Space Cowboys with the release of the “Automaton” single in January. It’s fascinating to think about, but it obviously doesn’t matter at all. What matters most is that we’re all on the aforementioned rollercoaster together at the same time, feeling the sheer power music can have in a live setting – the sort that can bring a tear to one’s eye if they’re passionate enough. Regardless of who we are, or where we come from, we’re all there to be dazzled and entertained in perfect harmony, making memories to last a lifetime.

Mason

The Funk Is Here To Stay, Part 2

Three days after first writing about my love for Jamiroquai in The Funk Is Here To Stay, Mum surprised me after work with the news that she’d booked two tickets for us to see the band live at Arena Birmingham in November. I was thrilled and overjoyed in equal measure, since I could not have wished for a better first concert to attend, and spent the next few months adamant that it would the unquestionable highlight of my year. The big day came around in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and last night the wait was over as Mum and I found ourselves seated in the arena with a clear view of the stage ahead. Around us, the seats were gradually filling up as a steady stream of standing spectators also made their way in, leaving very little free space by the time Jamiroquai walked on to widespread screams of adulation at around 8:30pm. Those who weren’t already at their seats were seemingly late because their determination to get a pint in the bar queue eclipsed their hunger for the music – more fool them, because here was one show nobody should want to miss a second of.

As Mum and I finished our own beers – Heinekens presented in a plastic equivalent of the normal green glass bottle – the atmosphere in the arena was one that, as Murray Walker once said, you could cut with a cricket stump. The fans present were comprised of the young and old alike, and all including myself gave an equally loud and rapturous reception to the montage of video clips that heralded the start of the gig, fitting with the theme of the Automaton album they represented. Sections of various news reports and TV programmes warned us of the potential rise of robots and machines in society, as swathes of colour and computer graphics accompanied it on the other screens. With that, the evening was underway, and Jay Kay (appropriately behatted with his new colour-changing electronic headpiece) and co emerged to begin an infectious two-hour set, starting with Automaton‘s opening track, “Shake It On”. From the very first note, it became even clearer than before that I was in the presence of some exceptionally talented musicians, as well as a Jay who had not lost a single shred of his ability to sing, dance or have an audience eating out of the palm of his hand. I was a willing contributor to every deafening roar that responded to his performances and between-song banter, and the band definitely made sure to pull out the crowd-pleasers. I would rate “Space Cowboy”, “Cosmic Girl”, my personal favourite “Canned Heat” and encore finale “Virtual Insanity” as the songs that drew the biggest audience participation, although my voice was almost hoarse – along with plenty of others – from belting out every tune that Jamiroquai treated us to. I have not felt as alive as I was then for some time, swept up in a wave of disco hysteria and adrenaline amongst the addictive rhythms. Another notable inclusion in the set was “(Don’t) Give Hate a Chance”, chosen in tribute to those killed in May at the Manchester Arena, while “Too Young to Die” was performed live for the first time in 15 years, according to Jay. There was even something for the hardcore aficionados in the form of 1994 album track “The Kids” – a song even I didn’t know the words to!

The whole show really was a treat for all the senses. There was ear joy from both the music and the wildly enthusiastic audience, a feast for the eyes thanks to the abundance of colour – both from the big screens and Jay’s hat – and the rows of (sometimes drunken) dancing fans leaping from their seats to boogie, the feel of my £20 souvenir programme, which really will be something to cherish with the gig itself, the taste of my ice-cold Heineken and even the smell of chips and vinegar from some of the other seats. Everything about last night will stay vividly in my mind forever, but the mighty Jamiroquai were, of course, its crowning glory – and I just hope there’s plenty more where that came from. I left with a huge smile plastered on my face and a sense of joy that will never leave me, having been blessed with a night’s entertainment from a group of musical heroes that can never be taken away. I have now promised Mum that I’ll have to buy her a concert ticket or two very soon!

Mason

 

 

 

Half Time Oranges

I like to keep this blog as open as I can in terms of the subject matter it covers, but recently I’ve still felt pressure to write a “mission statement” or objective of sorts for Third Time Enabled. If I’m going to take it seriously and make it some kind of living, what do I want it to be? It was while pondering this question recently that I decided to take stock and compose a post that addressed it directly. In an ideal world, I want this project to grow into an outlet where myself and all other contributors have the opportunity to express respectful “opinion”, stories and thoughts from all corners of the “imagination”, and various items of interesting “information” from different areas of popular culture. I like to call these key words “the three ions”.

If I want to reach these as objectives, I’ve decided that we’ll first need some new voices. With that in mind, if you’d like to bring the three ions to life in a warm, humorous, imaginative and polite manner, please feel free to get in touch. You can email me at thirdtimeenabled@gmail.com, tweet me – I’m @HawkerMason – or message me on Facebook. I won’t bite, I promise; in fact, I’ll be delighted to discuss any ideas you might have floating around. Hopefully I’ll hear from you soon!

I know this post is much shorter than most of the others, but normal service will resume with the next one.  Anyway, sometimes the brief job advertisements are amongst the best, don’t you think?

Mason