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31/5/2004: Troy Boy

Unless you've spent the last few months with a metal bucket on your head which you have been repeatedly hitting with an aluminium baseball bat in your isolated doom fortress on the surface of Venus, it can hardly have escaped your attention that there is a film currently out based on the Siege of Troy. I have not seen it, nor will I probably ever, but I once read a children's history book about the ancient Greeks so I am obviously eminently qualified to take the piss.

It stars Eric Bana and Brad Pitt, who probably got on very well on set, since they both have two four letter names, and they both spend the film fighting a losing battle with their respective accents. And I think Legolas is in it, too, though I don't know what he does. Educated guess is he looks pretty.

Now, historical epics almost invariably get rave reviews, because critics feel uncharitable about slanging an attempt to educate the beer-swilling Osbournes-watching masses, but I just feel the Siege of Troy is a rather difficult story to work with. It's a very dodgy narrative even for semi-mythology. It's one of those stories that has been told so often and from so long ago that no-one really questions it. But if you were trying to explain it to a Martian or a retard, you may be faced with some difficult questions.

For starters, we've got the centrepiece of the whole fiasco, Helen of Troy. The woman married to King (fill this in later) of Greece and the big slut who runs off with the Trojan envoy Mr. (fill this in later). And she was apparently so shit-hot in bed that the Greeks, rather than just chalk it up to experience and strike the Trojans off their Christmas card list, somehow feel justified in sending an army to Troy to get her back. And not just any army; the entire fucking FLEET. All I can say is this: either every single member of that army had been promised a blow job of the Gods as soon as they got their queen back, or the Greeks invented brainwashing.

And then we have the Trojans, who suddenly find themselves staring out over their city walls in disbelief as the biggest fleet in the world comes over the horizon. And instead of doing the sensible, grown up thing and saying "Fine, if you really want the bitch back THAT badly, you could have just said so", they actually dig themselves in and attempt to stave off the Greeks in the biggest, longest and most pointless game of 'Keep Away' ever devised.

And, again, instead of realising the inanity of their venture, the Greeks besiege Troy. And not just for a few hours or a fortnight: for TEN YEARS. How the hell do you keep your army's morale ticking over for that long?

"Stop looking so glum, men! I know we've been fighting for the best part of a decade and a lot of us are dead and wounded, but I'm pretty certain that any day now we'll break through their defences and rescue our pushy whore of a queen who doesn't pay tax and probably doesn't even want to come back to Greece anywa - actually, you're right. Bollocks to this."

And then, of course, there's the infamous Wooden Horse bit. The Trojans all wake up one morning scratching their heads and yawning, then stagger down to the city walls for another hard day of being seiged. But there, where yesterday there had been an amassed Greek army, there now stands a gigantic wooden horse with a little note tacked on saying "Sorry about besieging your city, you win, keep the slut, here's a token of our admiration. Signed, Greece." And, indeed, none of the Trojans thought any of it seemed a bit dodgy.

Apparently, the Trojans didn't think it dodgy because the horse is the traditional symbol of Poseidon, god of the seas, and they assumed the Greeks were just leaving an offering before setting off for home. Yes, the symbol of Poseidon is a horse, that well known aquatic animal. But even so, surely the first thing you'd do to a wooden offering for the gods is set fire to it? Just seems like the sort of thing you're supposed to do in these instances, rather than bring it into the city and go for an early night.

I was discussing this with an associate yesterday, and they told me that, in the original legend, a priest (who was nobody's fool but his own) saw through the ploy, and attempted to get the Trojans to believe him. However, at that point a sea serpent leapt out of the sea, ate the priest, and leapt back again. It was an envoy of Poseidon, apparently his way of saying "Dude, shut up." And again, not one Trojan thought any of this was weird. Not a single one of them said anything to the effect of "Fuck!" or "Shit!" or even "Crikey, a sea serpent!" No, they all just rubbed their hands and said "Right, that settles that."

Apparently, the Odyssey which follows this story happened because Odysseus forgot to thank Poseidon for his sea serpent contribution. Frankly, I don't blame him. If I was Odysseus, here's how my prayers would have gone that night: "O great Poseidon, what the fuck was the idea behind that sea serpent thing? Why couldn't you have just struck him down with a heart attack or made the words 'SHUT THE FUCK UP' appear behind his eyelids in glowing letters? You almost gave the game away, you watery cunt. Love and kisses, Odysseus."

19/5/2004: Pictures of Matchstick Men

I was going over some old articles of mine the other day, because God knows there's nothing else worth looking at on the internet, and I came across an old piece of mine containing some old photos of me in my parents' house. And, well, I just felt some elements in them deserve a little explanation, DVD commentary-style. Relive the magic with me now, people:

1. Horrific wallpaper. This picture was taken in the room that was my brother's for a while, my girlfriend's for a smaller while, and mine for a titchy little while. My parents picked the wallpaper because they had already bought some matching horrific curtains and horrific bedspreads.

2. Steak tenderizer which, to my knowledge, has never even come within ten feet of a steak. I developed an unhealthy obsession with this object when my mum bought it - she had this bizarre thing where she just couldn't walk out of a large housewares store without buying something, even if said something had no practical purpose in our daily lives whatsoever. This process also led to the purchase of a toast rack which has sat forever in a cupboard, never once knowing the feel of the toast for which it was designed, and a microwave crisp maker that was used on a grand total of one occasion.

3. Me, circa yonks ago. Note the shirt tucked into trousers. I reject modern fashion principles!

4. Stuffed... thing. It didn't look much like a bear. Didn't look much like anything. Anyway, it used to be an ornamental bear downstairs until Sarah came to stay, whereupon my mum moved every stuffed animal in the house up to her room. This was presumably because she is a girl, and girls just can't get to sleep if there aren't at least fifteen dead-eyed creatures staring glassily at them.

5. Obsolete VHS tapes. From left to right, John Landis' 1980 musical hit Blues Brothers, in which both Frank Oz and Steven Spielberg had small cameos, Erik the Viking, the delightful 1994 Tobey Maguire vehicle Pleasantville, which is apparently the second film Jeff Daniels starred in which blended colour and monochrome film, and the charming Beatles feature Yellow Submarine, in which some of the voices were performed by the late great Dick Emery. Fun fact: the IMDB is criminally short on trivia for Erik the Viking.

6. Me, circa a few seconds after the last picture. Note the famous trenchcoat, which I was recently reunited with and have worn obsessively in spite of the climate of the Southern Hemisphere. Also note that I am sporting what I like to call the 'McHairdo', because from the front it looks like a pair of golden arches.

7. My FullyRamblomatic T-shirt, to my knowledge the only article that has ever been sold from my cafepress shop. Presumably my readers are discerning types who think they're too good for a crappy shirt with a logo that fades after six washes.

8. It's hard to tell, but that's a stuffed raccoon puppet which, like many things, is extremely dead and lifeless until you stick your hand up its arse.

9. The Shawshank Redemption, probably the greatest Tim-Robbins-befriends-a-black-person film of all time.

10. I think that's a cricket ball.

Ah, what frivolous times they were back then, before I moved to another fucking continent and set up my life independently. Look at the difference between then and how I look now.

5 Days a Snappy Dresser!

18/5/2004: There's Something About Data Entry

I'm working at the moment for a large Australian telephone company with a name that rhymes with "Zelstra", entering obscene amounts of data in the middle of a call centre.

The breakroom at this call centre is probably one of the best I've ever encountered. It has four vending machines. It has armchairs. It has four microwaves. It has phones and internet PCs for personal use. It has a TV and a fucking snooker table. It has a man especially employed to stand in the corner in formal dress with a tea towel draped over his arm.

The reason for this, as I have deduced, is that working in a call centre is the job most likely to make you flip out and bring an AK47 to the office in your sandwich bag.

From where I sit I can overhear the call centre operators as they converse with dipshit customers. "No sir, you don't have to pay that bill. No sir, I'm not lying to you. No, I'm quite sure the government aren't trying to cut off your balls. Actually, my mother was entirely homo sapiens. No, please sir, I can't understand you when you shriek into the receiver. Sir, I'm pretty sure you don't know where I live, and I very much doubt that you own a napalm launcher."

This is why I actively avoid jobs that bring me within ten feet of a phone. I specialise in data entry. Now, since I'm a veteran in this sort of thing, and since this site is rapidly becoming a temping-related blog, I'm going to offer the best piece of advice a newbie in the field can heed:

Learn to love something that everyone hates.

I love data entry. Once I have the swing of things, I can go on automatic and send my brain into fantasy world, where I pilot a Septiron Star Cruiser in the final, decisive moments of the intergalactic war of Inkibits 12. I can write little updates like this one or work on my novel between bits of work. And I'm in a nice air conditioned office experiencing all the perks that call centre operators get. And data entry jobs are always coming up; there's always some company creating a new database, or lesser temps who don't know a good thing when they see it pulling out because their ickle baby brains can't handle the ennui.

And best of all, EVERYBODY ELSE HATES DATA ENTRY. So when they get me onto it, they wring their hands with apology and beg for my forgiveness. They encourage, nay, demand that I take long breaks whenever I feel like it, and let me pick my own hours. I knock off ten minutes early. I hide in the breakroom microwaving snooker balls. As long as I enter their silly data nobody minds, because I'm doing THEM a favour by doing what no-one else wants to.

Supervisor's a bit of a hardarse, though. If he catches anyone not goofing off, he frogmarches them to the breakroom, shoves them into an armchair, pushes a cappucino into their hand and stands over them with arms folded while they watch Judge Judy.

So, that's Yahtzee's Office Temping Tip of the Day: Learn to love something everybody hates. Don't try to love working in a call centre, though, you'd go insane. Avoid jobs that might bring you into contact with the general public, because they're jerks.

I've just realised who I'm talking to. Hey, general public! Stop being such jerks!

11/5/2004: Adventure Lame

Okay, this is probably going to be my most hypocritical update ever. I'm going to talk about why adventure games are dumb.

I think it's pretty much a given these days that adventure games, commercially at least, are dead and buried in a urine-soaked grave. It seems the youth of today are more interested in pointing guns at the crotches of enemy soldiers and reducing their testicles to a fine sticky mist than pointing and clicking in a vain search for a one-pixel coin which they can use to operate a phone booth in order to call the exterminators and have Lord Perwick's mansion evacuated while you steal his pie.

This is, in simple terms, a load of old painfully liquidised bollocks. While it's true that mindless action games are popular these days, they always were. Today's Counter-strikers are yesterday's exponents of R-Type. No, one shall have to look elsewhere to determine the cause of adventure gaming's demise.

The myth is, of course, that adventure games are more intellectual than other forms of computerised entertainment. This, too, is a bitesized chunk of disintegrated bollock. There are exceptions, but in most adventure games the gameplay is this: you have a situation which in real life would have several solutions, but you have to work out which particular one the game designer was thinking of. This will generally end with clicking everything in your inventory together in the vain hope of making something useful.

Nowadays, of course, open-endedness is what the intellectual game audience demands. I'm thinking of Deus Ex here, and the other associated opuses. We've got a locked door, we want choice. We want to be able to blow the door off its hinges if we're so inclined. Some of us want to pick the lock. Some of us want to find an alternative route. Some of us want to hang the whole blessed business and repair to the nearest bar for ale and whores. And some of us might actually want to dick around looking for the actual key.

The question that needs to be asked of a game that purports to be open-ended and intellectual is this:

If your game was played as a pen-and-paper RPG, would the players at any point want to shove the dungeon master's feet down his throat?

First, let's see what System Shock 2 is like on pen and paper:

DM: Right, you're in a dark, moody corridor. There's a door with a combination lock.
PLAYER: I'm going to try to hack the combination lock.
DM: (rolls dice) you fail, and set off an alarm. A big fuck-off robot appears and readies to attack you.
PLAYER: I'm going to fire my gun at it.
DM: (rolls dice) you hit the robot. It loses one health. It fires its cannon. (rolls dice) You are hit and lose forty health.

Now, let's see how an adventure game does in these conditions:

DM: You are in a room with a large man guarding the only exit.
PLAYER: I'm going to try to kill the large man.
DM: You can't do that.
PLAYER: Why not?
DM: 'Cos you can't.
PLAYER: Why can't I?
DM: 'Cos I say so.
PLAYER: Okay, I'm going to bribe him with all my money.
DM: That doesn't work.
PLAYER: Why the hell not? It'd work, wouldn't it?
DM: Probably, but it wasn't what I was thinking of.
PLAYER: I'm going to stick your feet down your throat, now.
DM: Fair enough. (rolls dice) You succeed in sticking my feet down my throat.

I hope that illustrates my point. But really, it's not the case that adventure games 'died out' any more than homo erectus did; they simply evolved into higher forms, such as the aforementioned action-adventure-RPG games. So, fret ye not for the legacy of Monkey Island, for it lives on. That might not satisfy traditionalists, but then, if you'll pardon the generalisation, all traditionalists are wankers.

All material not otherwise credited by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw
Copyright 2002-2004 All Rights Reserved and other legal bollock language