Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Year: 2017

Unplayer One: Brothers

Unplayer One is a recurring feature exploring games in way that should appeal to those who enjoy art irrespective of the medium.  Unlike other review posts, these are likely to contain major spoilers so, if you have any intention of playing the game in question, please do so before reading.

Sitting in a car at traffic lights and discussing the nature of death with my cousin, whose mother had passed away a few days before, I found myself struggling to communicate an idea and instead explained it through my experience of the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. In an increasingly common trend, Brothers was developed by a small breakaway team within a larger developer, Starbreeze Studios, a Swedish studio known for violent first person action games. A thoughtful, beautifully colourful fantasy tale about two young boys was an unexpected offering.

The initial premise is somewhat trite: two boys must undertake a dangerous journey to obtain water from the Tree of Life in a distant land to cure their dying father. The control scheme is immediately frustrating, with one half of the gamepad (one analogue stick and one trigger) used for each brother, whom you move simultaneously. It takes most of the game before it starts to feel natural but by the end it is clear that it could not have been designed any other way. Recent ports have brought the game to mobile devices but I think a controller is required for the best experience.

The game has no intelligible dialogue but the brothers work cooperatively as they traverse the land and help others they meet along the way. They meet two trolls who turn out to be friendly creatures that the brothers reunite. Nature is routinely their chief adversary, through dangerous animals or treacherous terrain. The game’s prologue shows the younger brother, Naiee, in a boat with his mother during a storm in which she is swept away and drowns. As a result, Naiee has a phobia of water and is unable to swim. Crossing rivers requires his older brother’s help, climbing onto his back and being ferried across. The trauma is deeply-rooted.

Towards the end of the game the brothers fend off a giant spider, but not before she mortally wounds the older brother. Although they reach the Tree of Life together, by the time Naiee has scaled its branches to retrieve the water, his brother is dead. He grieves, burying his brother. His sluggish, pitiful movements are affecting, but moreso is the effect on the control scheme. Suddenly you are playing with half the controller, with a single hand, as if you have physically lost a limb. It is a perfect parallel to the overwhelming sense of loss as we grieve the death of a loved one, as if we have lost a part of ourselves. But the game is not yet over and has more to say. Naiee must still return to his father with the cure. The return journey is smooth until, nearing his village, a storm floods the surrounding land. Frozen by the edge of the water, he cannot reach his father without swimming. The boy reacts as he always does near water, pausing, the controller vibrating softly in his refusal to move on. The game offers no prompt, but the solution emerges organically — the absent elder brother’s unused half of the controller becomes the key as Naiee draws on him for strength to proceed. Using both halves of the controller (as you had when crossing water so many times before), Naiee forces himself on, overcoming his fear and saving his father’s life.

This, I explained in the car,  was my view of death. Irrespective of an afterlife, I find it difficult to view people as truly “gone” as long as we carry them with us. We often worry that the dead will be quickly forgotten but they continue to exist in our choices, our decisions and actions. In truth we only need to worry if they meant nothing to us at all, if they had no impact on us. Brothers was a perfect metaphor for this concept, and one that could not have been communicated so fully in any other medium. As a game, its control mechanics were not simply a way to tell a story but part of the tale itself.

In the West too frequently we shy away from discussing death, which leaves us ill-equipped to deal with the absolutely universal experience of grief, as well as our own mortality. Interactive art like Brothers can provide us with shared cultural touchstones and, as a result, better tools and vocabulary to explore these ideas.

Norse Mythology

I remember as a boy my father introducing me to myths of the Norse gods. Although they were told to me as pure fiction, they resonated with an identical primal, religious truth to the Biblical stories that pervaded my Catholic upbringing. Over time I developed a more nuanced understanding of fiction not merely as a vehicle for entertainment but a purveyor of deeper truths. Nowhere is that truer than with tales that transcend a single telling and earn the loftier title of myth. The difference may be nothing more than that they are a mongrel amalgamation of retellings, more powerful than any single story or storyteller.

Neil Gaiman’s work has always been infused with the ancient myths, particularly his most literary works, The Sandman and American Gods. Now he is releasing his retelling of the tales with which I (and he) grew up in a volume titled simply Norse Mythology. The muted black and gold cover feels less fantastic than the artwork adorning his past fictions and the black-edged paper of the signed first edition produces a sombre, earthy tome. Mjöllnir weighs heavily on the cover though the book thankfully lacks its heft.

Of course, another Gaiman book meant an another launch event and another chance to hear him speak, this time in a packed out auditorium at the Southbank Centre. The larger audience meant that the evening was host to some big announcements. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Gaiman chose to open with a reading not of the topical tale of The Master Builder (which he paraphrased as Odin deciding to build a wall around Asgard to keep the frost giants out and, essentially, making them pay for it…) but rather with Freya’s Unusual Wedding. His respect for the oral tradition that begat these tales is evident in the punchy short sentences and in the humour that suffuses his versions. They originated, he noted, in an oppressive part of the world where in the summer the sun barely set and in the winter it barely rose — in either case the solution was to get drunk and tell stories round the fire. These are stories that deserve to be told out loud.

When asked what stories he thought he would survive in the next thousand years, he saw limitation in the fact we tend to read rather than speak and retell our biggest stories. Whilst he would love to see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy still being read, it would require similar study to reading Shakespeare to unpack a simple joke about digital watches and their relevance at a specific point in time during the transition from analogue to digital. Which would almost certainly ruin the joke. Instead, he decided he would be happy if, in another thousand years, we were still telling the Norse myths. Perhaps we are in an age when we contribute new ideas to an existing canon of characters and keep them moving forward, polishing, refreshing and renewing them. Think of comicbook superheroes updated for each decade, Sherlock reborn in the modern world. Gaiman himself has done so with The Sandman‘s Dream and Death being touchstones for countless modern writers exploring those same Eternal characters.

He revealed a considerable amount on various other projects too, With a lot of his work being translated into other media, it’s a great time to be a fan of his work. We saw the latest trailer for the forthcoming Starz adaptation of American Gods (which is likely to be released through Amazon Prime in the UK). Meanwhile the Good Omens film is progressing, with a director to be selected in the next month or two, followed by casting. He mused on the emotional experience of writing those characters without his co-author Pratchett to call on, a film that he wanted to see made but will never get to view. A bigger surprise was a previously unscreened trailer for an adaptation of the short story How To Talk To Girls At Parties. The story drew from his proto-punk youth in 1970s Croydon which is readily apparent on screen. It is due to be released this summer and the cast includes Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman and Matt Lucas. Hopefully you will see the trailer before too long, once it is polished and the sound mix finalised.

However the biggest news of the night, on which the event closed, was a simplest. Gaiman revealed that he is now a solid three chapters into writing The Seven Sisters, the sequel to Neverwhere. Cue raucous cheers and applause. It was only right that he reveal it here in London. The city has changed in the 20 years since Neverwhere, and it’s high time we returned Below.

A Korff Christening

On Sunday I acquired a Goddaughter, Audrey. I was delighted to accept when Alex and Suzi asked me. Duties are split with Sarah (far right) and Claudia, who was a little too preoccupied with giving birth to attend!

The service was at St George’s on Hannover Square, the same church where Alex and Suzi got married. Audrey was perfectly behaved through the service…

…whilst her brother Max was a bit of a tearaway!

Rounding out our Christening party was David’s son, Henry. Suzi had suggested the joint Christening to knock all three out at once, which was the perfect excuse for a party afterwards.

I had significant doubts as to whether Sarah would actually give Audrey up by the end of the day.

Gen is Max’s Godmother but Audrey seemed equally comfortable with her.

I have known Alex’s dad, Douwe, since Alex and Suzi got engaged. He is an international law professor and human rights specialist so picking his brain is always fascinating.

Suzi’s decidedly international cake was her quiet protest against Trump.

A full Sunday roast at the RAF Club.

The lens was turned on me occasionally when my camera slipped my grasp.

Henry’s Godmother, Sara, deserves a shot since she took the photo of me.

Audrey and Suzi looking fabulous.

In Defence of Millennials

Lately I have seen a resurgence in comments denouncing the coddled, lazy, entitled Millennials but now, rather than coming from the older generation, they are coming from mine. First up, there is no real definition as to what constitutes a “Millennial” but broadly it covers those born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s. That means a lot of the people denouncing Millennials are unknowingly part of the group themselves. I think it is fair to say that largely they intend it to apply to those younger than them, those who passed through university just behind us.

A video recently circulated in which Simon Sinek weighed in with his apparent insights on “the Millennial question”. It takes little effort to find inconsistencies. He highlights participation medals (of which I am not a fan), criticising them because those who win them know they are not worth anything and so feel worse, but then explains that on entering the real world “in an instant their entire self-image is shattered”. Sinek has discovered Schrödinger’s medal, which makes one feel simultaneously special and worthless, identifiable only once he knows which serves his point at the time. Meanwhile instant gratification means people will “skip seasons [of a TV show] just so they can binge at the end of the season”. By which he perfectly describes delayed gratification: holding off so that you can later enjoy something the way you want.

Later on, Sinek makes a few interesting (although not novel) points about corporate culture and social use of technology. They have nothing to do with Millennials but without that contextualisation his “insights” cannot be packaged as anything other than relatively banal observations. Ultimately Sinek’s best-case scenario for Millennials is that they will be “an entire population growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy”.  That demonstrates incredible condescension and, frankly, a remarkable lack of imagination.

So what about those two common accusations of laziness and entitlement that Millennials face from society at large?

Much criticism seems to come from the fact that many Millennials move back home and live with their parents long into their twenties, well after they ought to have moved out. They expect their parents to be able to provide this for them even though their parents had struck out on their own by that age. This cannot be assessed without considering the underlying economic reality. University graduates are now leaving education with colossal debt as a result of huge tuition fees that their parents were never required to pay and then voted to introduce. They are entering a job market decimated by a financial crisis in which they played no part. They are likely to be the first generation to earn less than the previous one. Meanwhile their parents profited from buying cheap property, while reducing Government spending on new housing, resulting in a broken housing market as prices continue to spiral. Already saddled with huge debts and limited job prospects, where else are Millennials expected to live?

Not only are job opportunities limited in the current economy, but Millennials are being expected to work in unpaid internships because there are apparently no jobs for them without existing experience. So let us be clear: a generation received free education then chose to withdraw it from anyone else, they ruined the housing market whilst profiting themselves, and they caused a financial crisis that ruined the economy. And now they expect Millennials inheriting this mess to work for free.

I agree that there is absolutely a problem with entitlement. Just not where most people are pointing fingers.

 

The Photogenic Side of 2016

It strikes me that in the past year the site has seen an unusually stark contrast between posts here tending to deal with unfortunate real world events and the Artist section featuring a string of weddings (exhaustingly so!) and children. To redress the balance, I thought I’d collect some of the brighter moments of 2016 in a brief photo essay, sharing some comments and perhaps highlighting a few images that may have gone unnoticed.

I made two trips to Amsterdam this year as a result of work retreats. In March Lizzy showed me the non-tourist side of the city. This is not a stitched panorama but rather one of my favourite uses of the fisheye lens I bought last year, with judicious cropping and retaining an undistorted horizon.

There were also two USA trips this year. The first was for Alexis and John Michael’s wedding. On a day when Karleigh looked particularly grown-up as a bridesmaid borrowing my jacket, my favourite shot of her was one of childish excitement as she shook a Polaroid.

Whiling away golden hour during Clark’s football practice provided a great set of photos but I love the quiet strength in this shot of Jenna.

Visiting the supposedly haunted Myrtles’ House, we found a baby turtle in the gardens around the lake which brought the three kids together. It is another fisheye favourite that would not have felt as intimate with any other lens.

“Hello Ladies” – My Godson Simon could not resist his curiosity at his sister’s Christening. Why did so many people seem to be disappearing through this door?

The second US trip was to catch Matt O in New York during his Clipper round-the-world yacht race. One of my favourite NYC buildings is Radio City, a few blocks from Times Square, for the way it is illuminated at night.

The moving memorial at Ground Zero was filled with tourists and kids taking selfies. It spurred me to find a more respectful shot and eventually this is what I produced. The experience made me realise that 15 years have now passed so, for the children visiting the memorial, they have no memory of the event beyond stories which they have been told.

Weddings took me all around the country this year. Adam and Gaby chose Portland, which hosted sailing events during the 2012 Olympics.

House of Burlesque’s show at the Wonderground Spiegeltent is always a highlight each summer and this year I shot them for the first time. I am used to low light from shooting gigs, but the combined rapid movement of the performers made it a real challenge, though I was happy with the results. Here is one of the less risqué shots, from the moody “Absinthe” act.

Becca and Rob had perfect weather for their summer wedding in Bracknell. This was my favourite shot, described generously by one friend as capturing the essence of summer.

A round number and three years since I last threw a birthday party, it seemed time for another. Taking inspiration from Alexis and John Michael, an instant camera produced some fantastic intimate snaps from the Americana-themed night. As much a night to remember as my 27th at Volupté.

On my earlier trip to Amsterdam, Lizzy introduced me to the Tuschinski Theatre, a beautiful purpose built cinema replete throughout with a combination of art deco and art nouveau details. On my second visit I arranged a tour, photographing all of the interior.

It has long been a goal to explore some of the disused tube tunnels that run under my city. This year I did it twice. Most interesting were these travel posters, preserved since the 1960s.

Work required me to travel frequently to travel to Chester in the latter half of the year. Fortunately, I swiftly found a hidden speakeasy cocktail bar and became acquainted with the staff. Darkness and candles led to this shot in which the ice in my Old Fashioned seems to burn – “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The Google Pixel sports the first phone camera really to impress me. This afternoon of gardening with Simon and Abi sold me. Not that there is any danger of my SLR being relegated.

I acquired a second Godchild in 2016. A third may be forthcoming, but that will be a 2017 story. Wilfred seemed thoroughly to enjoy his photoshoot with Alex after the service, which bodes well for my camera in future.

Jack and Katherine’s wedding was an interesting one since I knew them both independently, prior to their meeting at work. Although the barn was beautifully lit, one of my favourite shots was in the dreary outdoors, of Katherine glancing back through the crowd.

Closing out the year with gingerbread baking? That’s just how Abigail rolls…

I hope you enjoyed this set, which was in part to experiment with the flexibility offered by the last site redesign. In the coming year I will endeavour to produce similar photo essays pulling out key shots from larger galleries with commentary, where a full post may not be warranted.

Resolutionary Road

Well, 2016 is finally over and, if you are reading this, it looks as though you survived it. The New Year celebrations brought proclamations that 2017 had to be a better year. I certainly hope that is true but, if so, it means we have a lot of work to do in order to clean up the mess left in 2016’s wake. Disney reportedly has a $50 million insurance payout with which to address Carrie Fisher’s presence is Episode IX of Star Wars, but amongst the various treats bestowed by 2016 we still need to deal with navigating Brexit, the commencement of a Trump Presidency and rebuilding Syria should the current ceasefire hold. We can certainly make 2017 a better year than its predecessor but let us not pretend it will be an easy one. Instead, let us roll up our sleeves and embrace these challenges now that we are prepared for them.

I am not generally one for New Year’s resolutions. If you want to do something, you will do it anyway, so the practice has always seemed more like setting oneself up for failure with most resolutions lying in tatters by the end of January. On the other hand, it does offer an opportunity for interesting endeavours based on the calendar year. In other words, for me resolutions are for frivolous projects.

My film watchlist has gradually grown to well over 300 and, although I knock off many each year, overall the list continues to grow. With time off in the week leading up to the New Year I have managed to watch a film on the list each day, which inspired a resolution of sorts for next year: to watch one film from the list each week. That would guarantee 52 films removed from the list by the end of the year. Undoubtedly new films will be added during the year (and invariably I will be watching a lot of “non-list” films) but hopefully this will result in a net reduction rather than unfettered growth. I am not prioritising any particular films on the list and it will likely be guided by availability on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

My intention is to check in with periodic updates on progress. I hope you will enjoy the journey even if, in the venerable tradition of New Year’s resolutions, I fail spectacularly. If you have made any interesting resolutions, whether serious or frivolous, feel free to share.

Meanwhile, for no particular reason, here is a recipe for the Corpse Reviver #2, my preferred hair-of-the-dog cocktail. It strikes me as a fitting cocktail not just for today but for 2017 in general.

1 part gin
1 part Cointreau
1 part Lillet Blanc
1 part fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Glass: cocktail
Garnish: orange peel

Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a chilled glass and garnish.

"You shouldn't trust the storyteller; only trust the story."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2017 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑