Spot Fires

When I was in university, I tutored at an after-school place. The lady who ran the joint taught both math and English, and her descriptions of those disciplines were very different. Teaching math had clear, demonstrable outcomes. When you taught kids to add, they could add. When you taught kids to multiply, they could multiply. There were discrete building blocks, distinct operations that the kids could execute on request. English, however, was like filling a bucket full of holes. You could slap tape over the holes, block out some specific issues – like how to spell particular words – but progress was less modular. It was about plugging enough holes that the water level in the bucket could rise over time. Math was about blocks, and English was about water. Partly I suspect that appraisal reflected the pressures of the industry. In supplementary education, parents and caregivers want results. They want their kid to get a passing grade in their next report, and if you can’t deliver that within the space of a ten-week term, they might move on and look for another tutor. Results in English tended to take longer than the math stuff – there was a need to explain why that was the case.

It’s funny though, how we talk about progress. It can come in blocks or in waves. ‘Waves’ is often used to suggest periods of plateau followed by short bursts of rapid growth, but I can’t help thinking about it as something more tidal – as moving forwards, and then backwards. After all, we know that failure can be progress – non-achievement as its own form of achievement, offering insights into how to do better next time. Failure offers a photo negative form of success, illuminating your subject by emphasizing its borders, its boundaries, the space outside of and around of where you want to be. Some educational methods are built entirely around that bordering method – in sports education, for instance, you can train people to control a ball by asking them to repeat given movements with balls the next size up or down. Thus a bowler in cricket might practise with both a ping pong ball and a soccer ball – the idea being that you create a deeper understanding of the cricket ball by rehearsing the same actions with its neighbours in size and weight. Progress made latitudinal.

I originally called this site ‘Going Through the Wash’. Terrible for SEO, but I liked the imagery. The ocean breaking on the shore, a front-loaded washing machine on a spin cycle, all the contents tumbling over each other. I liked the repetition, the cyclic nature, the restless driving motion brought into balance by the moon. It spoke of cleansing and wearing down, and eventually of harmony. Progress, in that context, became modular – not in the sense of the modular block, but of modular arithmetic. On a clock, six and seven do not make thirteen: they make one. In the same way, progress here wraps around itself, returning to its point of origin.

I’m thinking again about what I have to offer with this whole enterprise. I said this before, when we were talking about Paradise Killer, but I feel sometimes like this is all too much – too much to do every week. I like to have a queue of four to eight articles, to be writing as much as a month ahead of publication – but over this past year it’s been down to the wire. Lots of last-minute stuff, week in and week out. And I haven’t been enjoying many games, either. It’s been an uninspired year. Maybe my fault, maybe I’m picking the wrong titles, but I’ve not been excited by what I have played. I’ve had a brief burst of enthusiasm again with Paradise Killer and Eastshade, but I only wrote about those in September. The rest of the year up to that point has been hard going. I guess I’m thinking increasingly about the Wolfenstein articles, the 24-part series on those games. I knew I was achieving something with that. There was a clear milestone, a discrete object that could be treated as a whole. I haven’t had inspiration like that since – haven’t felt the drive to wrap myself as closely around a game for as long a period of time. That’s not necessarily a failure, but it might be. I’m just worried that I’m treading water. Failure is only a form of progress if you learn from it.

In a sense this project has been about developing my instincts. I had an instinct that video games and religion were not two disparate topics, but the same. That’s not to say that religion is a game, or that games are a religion – although to some people both of those statements are true. No: they are clearly separate topics, with separate, in some regards irreconcilable forms and goals and methods. And yet they are the same – not symbolically, not figuratively, not by analogy, not spiritually – but they are the same. I feel like a Catholic speaking on transubstantiation. The bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ – not chemically, not metaphorically – they simply are. It doesn’t make sense in any communicable way, in any language or system of meaning, and yet my instincts tell me it is true. I trust that. Similarly, when I write or read or play, I trust the direction of my instincts. I find myself in the midst of the river, and I let it carry me. Sometimes, though, a bit of active paddling is required. I have an instinct towards the self-destructive, towards the self-indulgent – which this absolutely is, by the way, and my apologies for that. Airing my dirty laundry in public – terrible form. In fairness, I end up apologising for just about everything that I’ve written. It’s never good enough. Sometimes we write to escape the flood of things that we’ve written. The trick is to harness it, to bend that flight around a central point and bring it back upon itself. That’s what I have to offer. Sometimes I just need to take a minute and check the leaks before dragging this punctured bucket any further down the lane.

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