About twice a week I perform a special ritual.
It involves me logging onto a website called QuickBooks. Within its digital walls is a record of my entire financial world since April 2014. This is a date that marks an accounting rebirth - clarity from the foggy mist of badly formatted excel documents. Once logged in, a dashboard of numbers and figures fires into life, every nuance of earning and spending over the last 30 days is displayed in neat graphs that bounce up and down in boxes scattered over a screen. Money earned brandished clearly across the top of the page as a badge of honour. Money overdue flashes at me in orange. It’s a challenge: egging me onto hunt down what’s owed to me and log it into the system. Go on boy, bring in that bacon.
I’ve always been fascinated by the cargo cults of the South pacific. In the aftermath of world War 2 many islands across the region became strategically important to American forces. Military bases sprung up on tiny patches of land throughout the ocean – on islands previously untouched by outsiders and inhabited for millennia by indigenous peoples. Of course, these people had no say in the cohabitation of their ancient lands, the Westerner appeared, and they were left to react: anything other than complete passivity would have been met with unnerving force.
To the islanders the arrival of these strange neighbours was met with justifiable fear and fascination. These newcomers wielded tools and technology from the outside world that were far beyond comprehension, wealth and ownership of goods that could only ever be dreamed of. These objects gave the bearer immense powers to counteract the very real physical forces of nature. The most lauded of these objects was the aeroplane, a great winged beast that carried white men across the ocean to their shores.
The islanders coveted a plane deeply, but how to get one? They were cautious, they held back, studying the Americans and their actions - figuring out the crucial ingredients required to invoke a plane to land. It seemed that what was needed were an air traffic control tower, a runway and a bait to reel it in.
The next step then was obvious: to create those objects themselves, using tools and materials familiar to them. Towers were erected out of sticks, men and women cleared a strip of land and lined up beside it in wait, at the other end a final lure: a perfect facsimile of a plane ,stitched together from straw and palm leaves, all in the hope that a aircraft could be evoked from the skies and land fully formed on their island.
This was of course in vain. Hindsight provides a particularly bruising hue to this tale.
Documentation of these cargo cults was spread around the world, we sat around the breakfast table gawping in fascination at the errors of these people. Individuals who had no say in their colonization, who were desperate to better their own lives yet provided with nothing more than a smirk and ridicule dressed up as anthropology. After all we Westerners would never fall for such empty ritual, would we?
I find myself thinking about the cargo cults as I flick through my accounts on QuickBooks. It’s a deeply powerful tool that turns the work of an office of clerks in a simple series of scrolls and clicks. But beyond the practical I cant help but inject a thick ooze of the ceremonial into the proceedings.
Once all practical chores of accounting are done, I move onto my own incantation of wealth. I take a look what jobs have been finished, and which have been sent to an accounts department. I scroll down the list, taking out a notepad and pen and begin to write down what is owed, one amount placed over the other. Once the list is complete, I add it up - long addition, carrying my tens and hundreds all the way along.
Eventually a figure is totalled, and its then that I know for sure whether or not the gods are smiling down at me,
Of course, there is a practical point to this, knowing what is owed to me is a basic lesson in money management. But QuickBooks could do this equation for me in a second. There is something more in this act of adding up, a slow tally building up into a scribbled column.
It’s as if this process itself has the ability to affect the outcome, that somewhere in this ritual I’ll convince the numbers to add up to more so that one day I’ll reach a point of finality, that I’ll have invoked such an abundance of wealth that work will become a hazy memory of the past. But really, deep down I know this can’t be true. It’s a routine and like any ritual it’s doomed to be repeated week in week out. No matter what structures I build, a plane is never going to land.
There’s something huge looming on the horizon. It's assumedly towering in height yet its vertical scale is somehow illegible. It’s the length that hits you, it stretches out so far into the distance that it’s almost pulled into two dimensions. We sit on the side lines, plunged into the world of Abbott’s Flatland, with only the edges and shading of the construction to guide us. Butisn’t an abstract creation. It’s is a building with a very specific purpose. It has no visible windows and no visible doors- the only clue to it's function is the neat row of square apertures punctured into the side and the lorries, coming and going like bees to a hive.
And then there’s the colour. It’s glorious. A neat gradation from dark blue to white wrapping the whole exterior in a monochromatic rainbow. On a clear day this almost blends into the sky above, It’s almost comic really – an elephant hiding behind a sapling - because this building is of course an Amazon distribution centre.
There many other elephants in the room (globalisation, capitalism, dubious work ethics) but maybe this camouflage is the point. Amazon, and the vast sea of the internet in which it lives, doesn’t exist does it?
It’s all virtual – without weight. We type our requests into a screen and hours later that bundle of pixels is materialised into something real, we don’t want to know the logistical intricacies that allow commodity to travel from A to B. The warehouse pretends to fade into the sky and it’s ludicrous, but it’s just enough to make us believe it doesn’t exist. It's a magic trick and if done well the audience will gladly applause their own deception.
The 10 best games of the decade
My re-initiation into the wonderful world of gaming only began in December 2016. I’m a late bloomer. But my word I have tried to catch up. Anyway everywhere else has a countdown so here’s mine. In chronological order of release date not necessarily Preference.
There is a strong weighting towards 3rd person action adventure games. But hey I like what I like
Civilization 5 (2010)
This is firmly a PC (non console) game. I downloaded this on a cheap acer laptop I bought on sale in curries in around 2011 and often would find the poor computer chugging along trying to keep up with the processing demand. Unsurprising really as the game's scope is huge with aim being in the title, build a civilisation from pre history to the nuclear age. Sometimes this goal would literally take weeks (provided you werent wiped out) – never has the phrase ‘just one more turn’ been more applicable.
Don’t Starve (2013)
I’d totally forgot about this until I randomly started playing it again this year. Possibly one of the most additive gaming experiences ever (after The Sims). Again, it does what it says on the tin. You are a character thrown into the wilderness who must avoid starving (going mad/ being eaten by spiders/ attacked by penguins/ killed by the blow dart of a walrus in a tartan hat). Great illustration but totally unrelenting gameplay. Once you die its back to the start, no forgiveness here.
Tomb raider (2013)
I have a deep love for Lara Croft. I even enjoyed the terrible film versions of Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. Less into the Alicia Viklander version. But I digress. The reboot of Tomb raider was as enjoyable to play as the first I ever laid hands on (TR2) but with a much darker feel than anything that came before giving a fresh edge to the series. I’ve played all the others since this relaunch and still remains super fun.
Everybody’s gone to the rapture (2015)
This was a surprise little game that is kind of hard to pin down. In some ways it’s a radio play with immersive visuals. You walk around a small English village trying to figure out where everyone has gone. Turns out they have gone to the rapture - drifting off into the sky kind of thing. But again story here is key, along with fantastic performances it took an interesting slant on what a game could be.
This is a platform game. But it’s a world away far from Rayman or any other platforms we grew up playing. Visually wonderful and with enough puzzles to keep you hooked. But the ending – MENTAL. Just play it and see (you can also play on a computer so no excuses for not taking a look okay?)
Horizon zero dawn (2017)
I LOVED THIS GAME. Here’s the thing. I bought a PS4 in late 2016 because I wanted to play the new Final Fantasy - XV. I had memories of a kid playing FFVIII – X and in my memory was these games provided joyous nights of discovery with tactical scheming employed in an effort to beat the next range out outlandish monsters thrown my way. Final Fantasy XV bought only a whimper of joy and my fear was that maybe I had outgrown gaming altogether. Horizon early Dawn totally dispelled that idea. Great story, so much fun to play whilst allowing you to be deeply strategic in your approach to gameplay. All in all an experience I didn't want to end.
Some of the most stunning visuals/graphics in any game I’ve ever played. Also truly terrifying. The central character, Senua, is a Pict warrior trying to find her lost love, but this game is far from anything saccharine. See, Senua also suffers from psychosis. Playing this with headphones is key, as you travel the sumptuous world voices ring out in your head both guiding and discouraging you at the same time. It also has NO HUD - Basically, no clutter around the screen, just voices in you head and a gorgeously terrifying world to explore. TBH I didn’t finish the game because once you get injured a certain point you have to start again, but I keep telling myself I’ll give it another go, would certainly be worth it for the visuals alone.
God of War (2018)
Like ‘The Last of Us’, this pins it’s story on an adult child relationship – it’s a good hook to get me in. I’ve never played any of the previous versions of the game but this reboot had such enjoyable combat that I found myself running round actively searching for monsters to kill. This is a big thing for me, in games (and life) I’m more of a ‘sneak past and don’t get noticed’ kind of guy ( I’m sure it goes back to the tigers at the start of tomb Raider II ) but here I was flailing my various weapons with exuberant abandon. It’s also set in the Norse world so as an added bonus I’m fully up to scratch on Viking mythology for any future pub quizzes.
Death Stranding (2019)
A risky one as I’ve only just started playing. But like any good relationship when you know, you know. For a giant release game it has a super niche concept behind it. How to describe it… I guess you play a DPD driver with special abilities (he can’t die) in a future United Stated where the worlds of the dead and the living have got all mixed up. But high concept is always high on my list… and great character performances by Norman Reedus, Lea Seydoux and Mads Mikkelsen give it an edge that feels very filmic.