Sunday, 3 January 2010

Like self-indulgent butter spead too thinly over a peice of bread that is far too big


Well technically the new decade doesn’t start until next year, but if you’re pedantic enough to care then I feel sorry for you.

As is inevitable when a decade turns and I have too much free time on my hands, I have spend some time reflecting on the past 10 years, not just in my life (because let’s face it no-one cares) but also on the world in general. Obviously the most memorable (and not in a good way) event of the decade was the terrorist attack in the twin towers in New York in 2001, killing thousands and drastically changing the face of world politics. It was the catalyst for two controversial and politically damaging wars by America (with Britain tagging along in) against smaller powers as part of the uninformatively named War on Terror. Who knows maybe in the decade someone will tell us what that actually means.

9/11 was in many ways a turning point, but by no means a one off. Various other attacks throughout the decade, such as the 7/7 bombings on London and the Madrid train bombing are indicative of the dangers of the decade. The main enemy seems to be Islamic extremism, based largely in the Middle East. So far we’ve had little success in combating it.

The second major political theme of the decade has been climate change. Fears over what all that CO2 and other greenhouse gasses we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere for the last 150 years might do to the planet reached fever pitch this decade, culminating in the Copenhagen conference late last year, which certainly blogs completely failed to cover… Anyway I really don’t know what to think about climate change. I can see that the science has a point, but I’m not exactly sure to what extent the government can force businesses to change. Much has been done over the last 10 years to build up a strong case for climate change; I guess the actual action to stop us all drowning sometime this century will have to come from the bottom up, not the top down, in the next decade or so. Maybe if we stopped dropping so many bombs on innocent civilians that might help.

Politics aside, this decade has seen massive advances in technology; computers have become faster, smaller and more powerful. Technology such as music players, phones and camera have now become something that everyone carries around in their pockets, usually as part of the same piece of hardware. The internet has gown to become a huge part of everyone’s life, in a way that many would not have seemed imaginable in the year 2000. To many the fact that we don’t have AI and space exploration yet will be a disappointment, but to be honest we could do without Blade Runner style Cyborgs running around putting us all to shame and beating Han Solo up (if you don’t get it go watch Blade Runner).

With this massive improvement in the power of computers comes a massive improvement in CGI. This has expressed itself most in video games which have become bigger and more beautiful than ever. Even post-apocalypse Washington DC is looking pretty fine these days thanks to games like Fallout 3. The internet has also allowed people to play against each other across the globe and expose their wilful ignorance to more people than ever. Games like WoW and Modern Warfare have all but dropped the pretence (or dropped it entirely) of a story in favour of getting people to pay through the nose to play for hours online while getting nowhere.

To me this is a great shame. Video games provide a superb opportunity to tell a very unique story because it is much more immersive and involved than a film or a book. The story is no longer being told to you, an independent viewer entirely outside the action, you the player are actually part of the story; you interact with it and possibly even effect its direction. ‘Sandbox’ games like Fallout and, well the majority of games released recently, allow you to fully explore the setting and choose exactly what your character does and says, even what he looks like. The game leads you in a specific direction, but doesn’t dictate how the story flows or even how it ends. However often more linear games rely on cut scenes to tell the story, which is basically like playing a game for 30 minute to and hour, then turning it off to go watch TV for a couple of minutes. I’m sure with the complexity of games these days story telling could become even more immersive. Maybe in the next decade we will see games focusing on storytelling again, rather than simply dumping you in an environment and asking you to explore or even worse just dumping you online with hundreds of other idiots and telling you to go nuts. The technology is there, someone just needs to use a bit of imagination and not jump on the bandwagon of what makes money, which they have done recently (see previous post on motion sensing).

CGI and special effects in general have also served to make films much more visually complicated, allowing for frighteningly realistic animation and stunts. A recent example of just how far we’ve come is Avatar, which I really need to see. The decade has been dominated by high octane action thrillers, with impressive special effects and fun explosions. These have a tendency to get in the way however of what really matters to a film; the story and the characters. Sure a film may look nice now, but as CGI gets better and better, is starts to look a little dated and all you’re left with is outdated animation which fails to impress. Let’s take the Star Wars franchise as an example. The first three films (that’s the three that were made, not one ones that come first in the chronology) are amazing films, with a superb story and brilliant characters. The animation and stunts and all that were good when they were made, but pale in comparison to what is achieved these days. Even so the films still stand out as some of the best ever made because a good story is timeless, it doesn’t matter that it looks a bit shit compared to the more recent Star Wars films because what matters is the story, not the aesthetics. Compare this to the most recent Star Wars trilogy. Looked pretty impressive at the time, lovely choreography, lots of explosions capped with some truly cringworthy one liners. Looking back now however, especially in the light of a film like Avatar, it’s not actually all that impressive any more. It no longer looks that good and all we are left with are a crap story, spoon-deep characters and a bitter taste in the mouth. CGI and special effect cannot compensate for a lack of a decent story.

Of course the film industry is not all terrible films that rely in looking impressive with no depth, films like the Dark Knight, Brokeback Mountain, Gladiator, the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Minority Report and I could go on and on are brilliant films that will continue to stand out even when all rest of the bilge has paled again the slightly better looking bilge of next decade. I’m sure the filming industry will continue to play on gimmicks like 3D and CGI and produce some truly god awful films, but I’m sure there will continue to be some gems as well.

What we can gleam from the last 4 paragraphs and 10 years of visual forms of story telling is that games and movies have not gotten any better in the last ten years, just a hell of a lot prettier. Hopefully the latter will continue to be the case and we continue to get some damn fine stuff mixed in with the inevitable dirge of complete crap.

The latter can also be said for the music industry. This decade has been characterised by some truly dreadful, manufactured abominations, mostly popped out by the X factor poptart making factory run by Simon Cowell. This decade has probably seen more talentless clones singing other people’s songs than any other. Thankfully there have been some genuinely talented musicians trying and in some cases (like Muse and Coldplay if you like that sort of thing) succeeding, but in most cases (like most of the bands I like) failing to get a look in. To be honest this has and will continue to happen for the same reason that crap films and crap games will continue to be released; people are morons. Yes I lost my faith in most people’s opinions long ago and it’s hardly surprising given how popular Twilight and Lady Gaga are between them

Right, so to wrap up the decade, we have only really progressed in that we have found better and more interesting ways of blowing people up and entertaining ourselves. We are no cleverer and our stories are no better. We make the same old mistakes and will continue to for as long as it takes for the ice caps to melt and us all to drown in a flood of stupidity and water.

Before you sigh in relief that this frightening mass of self-indulgent drivel has finally finished, I have a couple of announcements to make.

Because I have decided that I still have too much free time and I got some weird flashes of inspiration, I have decided that in the New Year I will be starting 2 new different but slightly linked projects.

The first is called Project 365, the idea being that you take at least one photo per day all year so that you have a pictorial record of the year. With any luck I will manage to keep it going for longer than a month. The second and more interesting one is inspired by something called ‘postsecrets’, whereby people write shameful secrets on postcard sized images and send them in anonymously. However because I am not nearly as depressed as the people who send in these things (seriously read them, they really heart wrenching), I have decided to do a similar things, just with little sound bites that I enjoy, either from me in my day to day life, or important, intelligent people who have something interesting to say. My first comes courtesy of Wil Wheaton’s twitter (the guy who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation)

I shall be putting them up on this photobucket account, the Postcards every Wednesday (roughly) and the daily photos whenever I can be bothered to make an update, probably every couple of days and at least every week with any luck.

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