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Nostalgic puzzling and the genius of ‘Day of the Tentacle’

7 August, 2013

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I am by no means a ‘gamer’, I must convey this from the start, for if you are looking for intelligent gaming jargon of any kind I fear you are in the wrong place ; )

What I do have, however, is nostalgia. The kind which clings on and seeps in to such an extent that the very idea, however fantastical and unreal, manages to root itself in you.

And so it was that many summers ago my young impressionable mind discovered the game ‘Day of the Tentacle’. Or, to put it more accurately, I hovered and lingered over my older sister and our neighbour playing the game together, then secretly and diligently tried to complete it myself when the computer was free. It is one of the only video games I have been fascinated with and obsessed with in equal measure, and I believe it took more than just my summer holiday.

Portrayed in a classic cartoon style graphic (msdos classic 😉 ) Day of the Tentacle incorporates some of the best elements of a story; a mad scientist, time travel, monsters, (very loosely based) historical background, imagination and ‘teamwork’.

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The premise:

As a sequel to Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle’s plot involves trying to save the world from evil purple tentacle, a deranged lab assistant creation of Dr Fred’s who strives for global tentacle domination. In Dr Fred’s attempt to send Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie back in time to that decisive point in the past, a malfunction causes Bernard to be sent over 200 years in the past, to rub shoulders with the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Laverne to be sent 200 years into the future, to a world where tentacles have enslaved humanity, and Hoagie to remain in the present where he left off.  The game involves you controlling each character in past, present and future, sending small objects back and forth in time and using them to effect changes in time to move the game forward, solve the puzzles and complete Dr Fred’s original plan.

Bizarrely and inexplicably, this rather insane cartoon world that could transport items through time by flushing them down porta-loos (also known as ‘Chron-o-Johns’ – don’t ask…) somehow fixed in me a certain understanding about time.

Beyond the ‘fact of time’, the idea was pressed impressed upon me that the past, present and future are inextricably linked. The inane, seemingly useless (sometimes disgusting) items picked up in the timelines of the game were all key in some way, if you could only figure out how, and when, they fitted into place.

Translated into the ‘real world’ I have been left with a completely unfounded yet extremely potent notion that all the living and learning, however trivial, past, present and future will find its place, and its use, as time unfolds.

Aside from the fact that this is a handy delusion to have as an Arts graduate twice over (and in Theology no less… ;), I like to think it’s a rather healthy way to view the roundabout routes we more often than not take in life. Skills and experiences come in all sorts of unlikely forms, and my rational self definitely gets some pleasure out of the idea that our lives are meant to be ‘puzzled out’. A weighing in of the achievements and disappointments, exhilaration and the unanticipated that comes along over the whole span of living, past, future and present. And sometimes, just sometimes, you recognise the minutest causal connection, an inane choice or surprising event that became a bridge (or two, or three) into a present or future place.

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This mindset came to be even more apparent to me when I received, not too long ago, the email I had sent myself two years ago as discussed in my ‘future me’ post. It was a surreal experience and one I would still urge anyone to do for themselves. In many ways it was a message that could have frustrated and saddened me, full of times and circumstances that hadn’t changed in the way I had intimated. And yet, it was no longer me who was reading it in the here and now, at least not the past ‘me’ who had written the words. I was keenly aware of the fact that I had grown, at least in some small way, and have the intuitive belief that even that experience is an additional piece to the puzzle.

And, as this particular puzzle is still looking a little sparse and sketchy to say the least, my geekish self will be content with the notion that even a bottle of wine, kept contained for an age until it is ‘ruined’ could become one of the secret ingredients needed to power the time machine and ultimately save the world from the evil purple tentacle. ; )

Rx

We’re all part of the masterplan…

25 August, 2012

I feel the need to burst a few bubbles. A few mildly delusional yet calming quips that are thrown around genuinely enough, but which I personally have a great desire to slap into oblivion. One in particular has irked me for some time, I think most of all because I found myself using it the other day and had to check myself for it. – “everything happens for a reason”.

Whether it’s to try us, compel us, sedate us or validate our choices, it crops up in some form or another in times of trial or exaltation. It’s said so often it hangs in the air like some kind of hypnopaedic rhyme, and I can easily understand why.

Leaving aside matters of fate and predestination for a moment, this one phrase portrays a vision of a world that you need take no personal responsibility for. With a shrug of the shoulders and a worldly sigh (or smirk) it can seem to emanate a silent wisdom, a sense of speaking the unspeakable that life can hurl at us. Yet this one phrase doesn’t say anything at all, it just seems to hover uselessly, stopping all further discussion in its tracks. There can be a fine balance between recognising our unknowing, and propagating indifference, and it troubles me to think we are being taken in by a line that is something of a wolf in sheeps’ clothing. To respond to every situation believing it is always part of a bigger plan is not respectful of the unknown, it can very easily be insulting to it, not to mention rather narcissistic.

We attach meaning to the events which affect us in life, yet there is just as much chaos and randomness to contradict our reasoning. Life happens to us, but to think every occurrence has been custom-made for our character development is nothing more than ridiculous, and it can sting one person while ‘comforting’ another.

In fact, I am not as much a cynic as this makes out. I do believe events can arise, choices can be made and opportunities can present themselves at times where it really does seem like a guiding hand is showing the way. I have an admiration and interest in fate and karma, as I am not fool enough to show anything less, and certainly do not have it all figured out.

What seems to have been forgotten, however, in this simplified fateful phrase, is that we have autonomy! We have the scope to make choices throughout our lives which are neither black nor white, but grey, and often indiscernible. From the outset then, this is a much more intricate ‘path’ that we travel, in which we are changed by the choices we make, and the meanings we incessantly give them can make them weights that are dragged behind us, just as much as putting a determined spring in our step.

I do not mean to take away what I see gives some people comfort, but it is a phrase that simply won’t hold up to tragedy. Sooner or later the cotton wool will fall away from this adorable package at a time when we may need to believe it the most. Like the contrast between darkness and light, there is a pervading senselessness in our world that we cannot explain away, indeed should not. It is in facing these unreasonable happenings and utterly disbelieving events that the strength of the human character can really be shown.

Rather than seeking hidden explanations for all that happens to us and others, perhaps we would be better to look for a hand that heals those wounds, and for eyes to open up to the raw truth that exists in companionship.

Let’s rethink the ‘blueprint’, and for those intrigued by a little theological discussion, read this article 🙂

Rx

As Gentle As Silence

18 August, 2012

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I’ve had the words to this old hymn running through my head for some time now, a song often sung at funerals, and somehow vying for my attention. As gentle as silence… what does that actually mean?

Silence is often something we only notice in the absence of noise, a surprise event in the midst of the chaotic buzz that characterises many of our lives. And even when we do discover it, even make room for it, it’s often not long before we plug into sound of a different kind, grapple for music or hasten to pick up the phone.

Rather than ‘gentleness’, I think many of us are scared of silence in its absolute. It demands you to focus, clamours for your attention. Indeed it wills you to bring yourself to attention. It’s no wonder we clamber on to the boredom bandwagon before the whisperings of our minds take hold, after all we may not like what we hear in those places. I know I seem to spend so much of my time and energy trying to fill up those blank moments with distractions and background diversions. There is a prevailing idea that silence = emptiness = worthlessness, and to be limited and segmented accordingly. It’s not an easy task for many of us to sit in complete silence for more than a few minutes, but I wonder sometimes if we have forgotten this art of reflection, this training to find silent places, not run from them.

Perhaps this is why I found this phrase, ‘gentle as silence’, so puzzling. It resonates from some bygone era that can seem foreign to untrained ears. If I were to stab a guess, it seems to me that if we can rediscover the importance of silence, and what its’ practice can teach us about ourselves, encountering the pauses in life would no longer need to be overwhelming.

In time, I believe it might simmer down, even to resemble ‘gentleness’… and in those moments it’s even more likely we will encounter those deeper remnants, hidden murmurs, perhaps even a still, small voice, merely waiting to be heard…

“You wait, in the corners of my consciousness, with exquisite courtesy, endless patience, loving gentleness.”

 – Eddie Askew, ‘Many Voices, One Voice’

Rx

Borderlands

28 April, 2012

“Once a label is on something
It becomes an it
Like it’s no longer alive
It’s like a loss of vision
Or some dark impression
Or a black spot on your eye”

 ….. “restriction, not generosity, has become the order of the day”….

  • 2012…

The article in The Independant above is dated 15th April 2009. Three years ago, when the (in)humane treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants had received press coverage and awareness in the public eye. They say “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“, but it seems repetition is not our only problem. We have now excelled into a new arena, of fatalism and complacency. With tighter and tighter restrictions put in place regarding all incoming migrants, visa applications and requirements for those wishing to enter (the UK), and particularly the treatment at the border, I’ve been somewhat of a slow burner to realise how easily we can be pacified.

On hearing the stories of people detained, people returned, and the situations such as those described in The Independent article, the general response seems to begin with “I can understand why (these measures exist)….but…”. And I can’t help but feel this whole mindset points to the bigger issue at hand – that we only have ourselves to blame.

The fact is, I can’t understand, and may never be subjected to the interrogation, subjugation, distrust and degradation that border agencies inflict on their victims. Simply because I have a particular passport, happened to be born into a certain location by certain parents of a particular nationality, I have more…what exactly?

I’ve never comprehended this idea of policing borders, or thought that as a ‘national’ of a country this gives you the right to ownership and excommunication. Perhaps it’s because I’ve not been able to claim a country as my home in a way others have, that I would not be the person I am today or had the experiences I’ve had without having crossed other ‘borders’ for a time. For whichever reason, we have allowed ourselves to become polluted with visions of incoming ‘migrant threats’, stealing jobs, exploiting the ‘system’, leeching and draining our economy, and all this aside from the terrorist elephant in the room.

People will believe what they want to in these matters, and there are enough cases to show it can be a grey area to stake credibility on, but the bottom line is that we have all learnt the lingo and its dehumanising effects. Until we realise that ‘stricter controls’, increased security measures and ‘border controls’ relate to human beings in often traumatic and stressful situations, until we realise these are not only statistics being detained, but people, this big-brother-esque police state will continue. These labels – refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants, migrants, economic or otherwise, have now all been tarnished with the same brush of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, and no matter what regulations or conditions are in place, there is no excuse for the belittling and inhumane attitude that ‘welcomes’ them at the border.

Sometimes it’s better to scream into thin air than ferment in silence. This madness will stop, I have to believe it will. So take a moment before swallowing up the statistics you read about, remember that these labels that are thrown around have a personality, history, circumstance attached to them. I fear we have given free reign to those ‘policing’ our borders through all this incessant scare-mongering we are subjected to on a daily basis. How many articles have you read detailing ‘bogus immigrants’ costing the ‘UK tax payer’ X number of pounds a year? Where is the balanced journalism taking note of the migrant workforce bringing with it its own expertise, the thousands of pounds in university fees paid for the ‘privilege’ of studying here? It pervades our whole society, and in the smaller concessions lies the bigger tragedy, of stepping aside and turning a blind eye.

The irony is, we have created a monster we will most likely never have to encounter, never truly understand its wrath, and yet we are the only ones able to demand accountability…

Rx

Freedom Never Cries

12 February, 2012

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

-A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens-

I rarely understand the workings of this world, and the intricacies of the human condition, but I sometimes get a sinister feeling that there is a convoluted game at work somewhere in the hemisphere, and we are the pawns. This wouldn’t be quite so troubling if we weren’t so persistently unaware of the freedoms we are able to enjoy and exercise.

I love that word as much as anyone else – freedom – it’s a grand and fabulous statement to throw around. It conjures up pride, a sense of privilege and autonomy unlike any other. It is a word which has stood its ground in battle, and one which will remain standing firm and tall in our ideology long after any of us are around to see otherwise. And yes, we are physically free in the western world in ways many others across the globe may never realise – a fact I wish not to trivialise. What I do struggle to come to terms with is the freedoms that are trampled on and buried in the sand on a daily basis. If freedom is not our ability to make our own choices, it is certainly held up as our basic right when those choices are taken away from us.

The strange situation we find ourselves in, is the awareness that we are free to make almost any choice we could wish to, and yet somehow blindsiding ourselves to the existence of other options. So often there are entrances wide open, but like Kafka’s man encountering the gatekeeper before the law, we assume permission is needed before entering, we assume barriers and obstacles in our way, we assume submission to something other than ourselves.

We spend much our lifetime weighing up our sense of freedom against another’s, trading off slices of our own to comply with all sorts of fancified reasoning – timing, career, relationships, stability… the list goes on. I don’t believe this in itself is disastrous, if freedom is as subjective as we are led to believe, some trading and bartering can be a healthy outcome. Indeed, there is a certain terrifying thought to the notion of pure unbounded freedom, and the lengths to which it could take certain individuals. Whether appropriate shackles are a necessary evil is not what I want to discuss here….

I am more concerned that we have lost our awareness, our imagination if you will, to see that realm beyond our own cages. When we have convinced ourselves that these ‘reasons’ are what encompasses our freedom rather than vice versa – this is when it all seems to have gone awry.

Call them excuses for doing things you never believed or comprehended you could do, call it whatever you like, but put quite simply, life is for living as they say, and we are all endowed with the ability to make much bigger and scarier choices than we often allow ourselves to take on, myself included. Living freely doesn’t have to be extravagant or extreme, and I’m sure plenty of us are happy with the smaller choices and creature comforts. For the sake of freedom though, whatever yours may be, let us not let our environment alone limit the scope of the freedoms available to us. I was reminded recently of the powerful account of Victor Frankl’s time in a concentration camp towards the end of the second world war. He witnessed and endured unspeakable suffering, and yet even in that darkness and confinement he recognised he had one final strand to cling on to…“the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

There are enough cages in the world without us creating new ones built on our own fears and anxieties. As contrary as it may seem to us, our hands are not always tied…

 “Every human has four endowments- self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom… The power to choose, to respond, to change.”

-Stephen R. Covey-

Rx

Set in Stone

1 February, 2012

As you amble, stride or pace along those concrete pathways we call pavements, don’t forget to look down every now and then. There is whole world of humorous symbols and hastily written messages forever entrenched in the streets of almost every city in the world. Given, the majority of these solidified signatures will signal that “bob” was there, or on a good day something similar to “Sex →”, and a bad day, “Marta is a cow”. Every now and then, though, you may literally stumble across words of a different kind, so out of place from their surroundings it impacts all the more.

The first time I ever came across this element of surprise was in a main street in Kuta, Bali. Desperately trying to avoid the hubbub of, ‘taxi?  taxi?’, ’hello, massage? Massage?’ to get back to some quiet and glorious aircon, I looked down to a place I could avoid all eye contact, and caught a clear snapshot of two words etched into the step ahead of me. “don’t cry.”

Why this of all things has stayed with me since then I can’t quite say. There was something poetic in its presence, but also in its creation. I began wondering how it came to be there, the hand that wrote it, the frame of mind that conceived it. Was this really the first of all thoughts to come to the authors mind when they acted upon the impulse to write in rapidly hardening cement, or was there intent behind it?

Ultimately, we are left with only the residue of a moment, where someone was at a certain place at a particular time, with the determination of mind to set in stone some words of encouragement, either for themselves or those who sought to catch it walking by. For all I know and believe, the words are still there today.

And so the question came to me, if you had the chance to immortalise something meaningful, what would it be?

Would it be a word or words of significance or greatness, the memory of a date of importance, the name of someone close to you, a spiteful rage at people or systems of injustice around you?

The wall surrounding Bethlehem is scrawled with writing capturing the frustrations, anger, cries for help and calls for hope of the Palestinian people. They write to declare their own worth and existence, a statement that offers to capture the eye of the tourists who visit and gawk at the inexplicable tragedy of it all. A barrier that has become a temporary memorial until the scream of ‘How long?’ no longer retains its potency, or so we can only hope and believe. The rocks cry out indeed…

I’d like to think, if I was given that moment, that I’d choose to put down words that would speak to just one other person, that my lingering residue of words would leave an impression on an ordinary passerby after I’m long gone.

(Of course, if the chance does present itself, I may just draw a blank, cave in and write “R was here”… 😉

Getting into the Christmas spirit?

18 December, 2011

It’s that time of year once more. The season of goodwill, giving, Christmas cheer, and the celebration of the birth of one small baby circa 2000 years ago. Once the lights are up, the Christmas cards written, the carols sung and the presents wrapped, we can finally say we are “in the Christmas spirit” with an exhausted sigh, surrendering to the festivities and excess to come with welcome anticipation..

I was busying myself the other day, rushing from shop to shop, lists running through my head and dodging the crowds and the money collectors who seem to multiply on the streets in proportion to the season of generosity. I was thrust a card in my hand, which I hurriedly shoved in my coat pocket, only to resurface when I got home to disburden my load.

It wasn’t a flyer persuading me I needed this item to have the perfect Christmas, or to ensure my loved one would appreciate me, it wasn’t a half price sale to encourage me to buy twice as much as I’d planned. It was a Samaritans card, offering someone to talk to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and just in case you doubted them, a 2012 calendar could be found on the back.

It struck a discordant note from the rushing and the spending and the humming along to Christmas tunes that my day had consisted of. The thought occurred to me that we so easily forget in the hype that ‘Christmas’ is thrust upon many people who do not want it, indeed who dread the absence it makes them feel all the more, shakes up the memories they would rather let lie. At the time when the message of joy and goodwill inherent in a festivity could not be more fitting, our twinkling lights take precedence, and those that are left behind rely on a stranger placing a card in their hand, offering them a number to call to escape from the mania, anytime.

And so I came back to the question, what is the Christmas spirit?

Is it a self-confirming sentimentality that in being abundantly generous once a year we are better people? Is it the season in which we are cornered into forced congeniality with distant family? Is it the one and only day in which we thoughtfully display our love and affection for those ‘nearest and dearest’?

God help us if that cynical snapshot is all the spirit of Christmas has amounted to!

If it is nothing else, it is a counter-cultural call to embark on the best kind of person we can be, in giving and receiving. Marking the small beginnings of a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem who would call into question the status quo and reveal a new potential for the way we should live our lives. I would like to think it much more fitting that the spirit of Christmas, even in its secularised form, could reflect something of this possibility in a change for the better, in all its rawness and vulnerability…

Rx

May the Spirit
bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships
so that you will live
deep in your heart

May the Spirit
bless you with anger
at injustice and oppression
and exploitation of people and the earth
so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.

May the Spirit
bless you with tears to shed
for those who suffer
so that you will reach out your hand
to comfort them

May the Spirit
bless you with the foolishness
to think you can make a difference in the world,
and do things
which others say cannot be done.
Amen.

-Uniting Church Blessing-

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