What we learned from Eurovision

Conchita Wurst's victory last year seemed to have changed the Eurovision landscape this year: everything* was either a breakup song (a la 'rise like a Phoenix') or a 'get behind this cause' song (a la don't discriminate against people like Conchita). 

All of those songs lost (although it was close). What won? Sweden, with a naff song and a gimmick. In fact, it was the only song with a gimmick. 

People need to realise that yes, Phoenix was a powerful song performed by a strong, empathetic character. Yes, people were discriminating against Conchita as a transvestite and that gave her a just cause. But the main reason that she won in 2014 could have been that being a bearded lady was just a bloody great gimmick. 

This has been a drip of a year because everybody misjudged the public's mood as to what they wanted from Eurovision. Russia's song had everything from Wurst - great song, strong performance, message - except the gimmick. It came 2nd. Sweden had a weak song, no message ('we are the heroes of our times/fighting the demons of our minds' might be the most meaningless lyric of the night), average performance, but it had a bloody great gimmick. It came first. 

The message should be clear: make it fun again, Europe. 

*except oddballs likeArmenia and Latvia. Genius, genius Armenia.


New standards of revue

I was playing Rymdkapsel one day. Simple, stipped down, short, puzzle/strategy game. About half an hour in, close to the end, it becomes unplayable as the enemies attack too fast for you to do anything in between waves.

And I thought, what score could you give this as a reviewer? Eurogamer gave it a no-surprises 8/10; the same score as Shadow of Mordor.

Now 8/10 from eurogamer is so default that it has become a joke. And giving the same 'pretty good by all accounts' score to two games so massively different in scope seems to be silly.

This is a problem with mobile and casual games in general; Steve Jackson's Sorcery!, an android game adapted from his advanced fighting fantasy* series, maintains its text and illustrations from the 25-year-old paperback and can't really be called on to compete with something like Skyrim, can it? You want to rate the experience, but you need your rating to have some context.

The context could be simply be the price; we could give Rymkapsel 2/10, for example, and leave it to the reader to work out about value for money, and realise that that 2/10 is a damn sight better use of 3 quid than the 2/10 game that costs an order of magnitude more. But I feel that will lead to confusion, and invalid comparions. 

An alternative would be to put a price on a game; what would the reviewer pay for it? How does that compare to the asking price? That will tell you both how good the game is and something about the scope of its ambition.

This is important for me, and it came out of something my daughter said. When I asked her I give the Natural History Museum a score out of 10, she said '10'. I then asked her to rate Buxton museum**; she gave it 5/5. A light went on in my head.

Why do we insist on the same standards for every game? Why not rate both its ambition and it's quality in one fraction. This can capture the essential difference between Portal and Portal 2; 2 games of similar quality, but I'd give Portal 9/3 and Portal 2 9/10. 

I'd happily give Rymkapsel 2/2, and shadow of moroder 8/10. We can now fairly compare the two, as both are positive experiences, but the first is lesser in terms of scope. Compare a 2/2 Rymdkapsel with a 2/10 game; it's obvious which you should play. The 2/2 game will give you a lot of fun, but perhaps not for very long and perhaps not at a very deep level. The 2/10 game will have been a fiasco, with not much enjoyment to be had at all.

It's the same problem as when you see star ratings on a billboard, but you don't know how many stars the individual ratings system use. You might get 5 stars from time out, but not tell your advertisees that try use an 8 star system.

These systems obviously can apply to any media; you can't rate a 90 minute film with the same denominator as a late night sketch show, but you can apply the same principles, so the numbers should be relatable.

*nb. Not to be confused with Advanced Fighting Fantasy, the more weighty RPG rule set for the fighting fantasy universe. The Sorcery! 4-book series was merely more advanced than normal FF books, with a more comprehensive magic system and the ability to maintain a character across 4 books.

** it may not have been these exact musea.
There's another dimension I've been experimenting with in regards to assessing whether media is worth your time, and it's my "fuckin' 'ell!" test: if a piece of art doesn't make you go fuckin' 'ell at least once, it's not worth bothering with.

I started doing this last autumn, and quite soon it became a defined thing. That moment where you feel your draw drop, or your cogs turn and click into place, or your brain explodes and upgrades itself... That's what's worth living for. Those feelings that make you go fucking hell, are the ones where you feel the the author(s) are taking you somewhere and showing you new things and surprising you because you're the audience and you're not always meant to know where things are going.

It's pretty reliable, and although I can still very much enjoy things that fail the test, it's quite a threshold. We Are The Best was lovely, but it didn't make me go 'fuckin ell'. Under The Skin got 5, with a long gap in the middle; one particularly memorable moment was the dog drowning in the turning tide, looking for all the world like Goya's black painting on the same subject. 

It needn't be a schocking moment, it could be a particularly funny one or a happy surprise. But it's been interesting limiting reviews to this one reaction, and then broadening back out to see what I'm missing.


I voted for Ed

Ed milliband is my fault, if there's anything to find fault with.

I couldn't vote labour at the election in 2010. I felt like they'd lost their way, and they shouldn't stay in power just because they weren't the Tories. They should have to be better than that. I voted lib dem, for nothing more than a vote for proportional representation. So that worked out well; especially as I was in a labour safe seat and my vote counted for NOTHING. 

So having voted against them, I joined the Labour Party to try to help rebuild it. When the leadership election came around, you had two millibands and bunch of chancers with joke manifestos. Dave was the shoe-in. He was also desperately blairite, slick, and probably would have won. 

The millibands are an interesting dynasty, and I quite liked fact that that they were part of a born-and-bred jewish intellectually-socialist family. And even in that fold, there were clear differences between Ed and Dave's politics; dave the blairite and Ed the union man. He was unpolished, definitely to the left of dave, and probably with the union support, he just poked through to win.

Soon after, I left the Labour Party again; I was paying every month for no clear gain. Ed soon seemed to do two things that disappointed me; take bad advice to try to come across well and mask his oddities, and not push any debate with the Tories at all. They seemed to merely seek to moderate the Tories rhetoric, rather than oppose it. They missed plenty of open goals, that they didn't seem to notice, and it seemed that every week there was another pronouncement from the condems with no visible response from ed & co. 

Over the next 4 years, ed & co continued to be a practically invisible unpresence in politics. Despite this, ed was at his worse when trying to play the politics game; rather than just be the weird ideas man he really is. We're meant to believe that such people don't make good leaders, probably by 'leader' types who think the world owes them a living. Ed reminds me of that guy from the apprentice a few years ago, with his curved emery board; he just got on with everybody in quite a nice way, and won without having to resort to aggressive bickering. I just feel that if ed had stuck to *being ed* he'd have had more support.

It took ed & co far too long to get going, and I think the late rush, that we all thought was going to happen, never really could because of the lack of groundwork and lack of any presence. 

So I'll miss ed, and I feel like he never made the opportunities he needed, took the opportunities he had, or stood up for his own qualities. Maybe I'm assuming too much about someone I hardly knew, but when it seemed like we could have an heir to Disraeli in power, I felt things might be ok.


i've started this, so i'm going to finish it

By this point I just can't stand the father-son plot line trope so much, I just can't watch anything that plays it. So walking dead, I stopped at episode three. Daredevil, I just tried watching, and gave up in the second scene. Does anyone in the Star Wars trilogy ever mention Luke's mum? Don't we think that's a problem?

[How to train your dragon does a good job of subverting it - rather than the hiccup growing up, hiccup's father and the rest of his society changes to fit in with him. In the sequal, his ideas of a peaceful resolution are crushed by an insane enemy with whom dialogue is impossible - a convienent enemy for war mongers, which I'd be more critical if there weren't real groups like nazis and Islamic state.]

New Star Trek 2 plays this too, partially, with the older man who took kirk under his wing still hanging around, but it exemplifies another macho trope that's my new one to be sick of, 'I've started so I'll finish'

This involves the male lead starting at a point of immaturity, doing something badly that has unintentional dire consequences, and then having to be the hero and fix things. From mike the knight up to a huge number of slacker comedies and action films, my main problem with this plot line is this: rather than being a hero, the man is just catching up with everybody else. They shouldn't be congratulated for that. Instead, why don't they just focus on some of the actual grown ups in the story, who might still have an interesting character arc.

I mention Cbeebies' Mike the Knight, because it distills this plot for children to such a formulaic pattern that it's impossible to ignore it.

The conceit runs thus: mike is a prince who wants to grow up to be a knight. His mum is the queen, his dad the king is perpetually away on some crusade, and his sister is training to be a witch. Mike therefore feels he has to grow into the gap left by his father. Every episode, mike finds a knightly quest that he feels he must complete. He receives a specific piece of equipment, whose usefulness he calls into question. He then spends the majority of the episode getting things wrong and making everything worse, while everybody around him tries to stop him. Literally anybody else in the kingdom would be a better person to sort out whatever the trouble is, not least of whom, his very capable and mature sister. Eventually, it gets into mike's head that he needs to use the support he has and he does the right thing. 

The big problem is, next episode mike goes trough exactly the same steps, with the determination to be a dick about things of a battery-powered toy repeatedly bashing itself into a wall because its wheels are broken. Every time you think Mike has grown up a notch, next time you realised he hasn't generalised at all - he might have learned how to do that one thing, but he's just as much of an idiot he ever was because he never learns any quicker. This is the same problem with this trope in the media - we see men learning, but never see them using the knowledge for anything. 

It feels like an extension of the 'disaster porn' obsession: plot lines driven by idiotic decisions of supposed heroes. The difference is the 'hero' has to clean up their own mess.

Even the new avengers film has a major plot line of 'uh oh, we fucked up because we're idiots and now we've got to save the world from something we've created' - which is also the same plot as almost all other superhero films. And why does star wars focus on luke skywalker, the teenage wannabe-pilot undergoing a hero's maturation quest, rather than the kick-arse already-hero Leiah, who seems to be completely competent both as a secret agent and a guerrilla? 

Repeatedly, we are told that a male's quest to be a grown-up is more interesting than the actual job of being a grown up - a role usually played by a female. Where this leaves us, I'm not sure, as it implies that once you achieve adulthood, the adventure is over.