On Giving Up

A few months back I looked at my life and went “nah fuck it” and threw the whole dang thing out the window.

This is not entirely an understatement. After three years as a professional games journalist (i.e. I got paid to do it) and nine or ten years of writing about games for fun (and for free) I made a serious decision and quit it all so I could go work in PR instead.

To be honest I would’ve gone anywhere that would have had me, and I’m glad that the first people to say yes to me turned out to be a great company that I’m enjoying being a part of, even if I have increased my commute to an hour and a half each day, rather than just rolling over in bed and picking up my laptop.

But I still feel weird. It’s been at least four months now and I still feel like I made a huge mistake. Like I ran away from all my problems instead of tackling them head on and trying to turn my job around. Or my life, I guess.

I made a conscious effort not to let my job become my life, but it did. There was no avoiding it. When you write about your lifelong hobby for a living, everything you do becomes part of the job. Playing games is no longer about enjoyment, it’s about assigning scores and understanding what makes them tick. Reading news and features is no longer about learning new things, it’s about picking out problem areas that I would fix, were I in charge.

So it really does feel like I threw my entire life away, largely on a whim. Largely because I wasn’t capable enough and couldn’t hack it. And that sucks. It can’t not suck.

Being editor at a gaming publication was my dream job. To be in charge of a crack team of writers, to find the most interesting stories, to write the best articles. To review whichever games I wanted, and set a tone for the whole site. It was my dream. I hated almost every second of it.

Wish I kept getting the free games though, that was pretty baller.

By the end of my games journalism career I was broken. I was propped up by antidepressants and largely-useless online CBT courses, but I’d mentally checked out months ago. I still haven’t really checked back in. I’m trying, I think. But mostly I still can’t seem to find my way back into my own head again.

And the worst part of all this is that I still want to write about games. I still want to tell people my stupid thoughts about stupid crap that no one but me was interested in playing. I had a lot of fun with some of the stuff I wrote. But everything else was too much for me to take.

I like to think that I’m slowly, slowly coming round to the idea that I haven’t made a huge mistake. But it was literally my dream. I’m 26 years old and I already chucked away my dream job. How do I possibly recover from that? How do I find a new dream, or the time to fulfill it?

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Pokemon Alpha Sapphire (3DS, 2014)

My girlfriend is in a hospital 160 miles away from me, unconscious, in the operating room, and there is nothing I can do. I haven’t spoken to her in a couple of hours, which isn’t unusual, but is still unnerving. Usually we go so long not speaking because we’re too busy doing something else, or sleeping next to each other. Not because we’re physically incapable.

On the train home from work, I weigh up my options for the night. I have to keep my mind off things. I have to entertain myself, even though all I want to do is sit very still and stare at a wall and think about all the ways things could be going wrong.

I let my mind wander. It settles on Pokemon Alpha Sapphire.

I stopped caring about Pokemon shortly after the original release of Ruby/Sapphire. I never played a version of the game released on anything other than a Game Boy Advance, barring atrocious spin-offs like Pokemon XD and Pokemon Channel. I had Ruby, and I revisited it several times, even after the GBA became defunct.

I won’t hear from my girlfriend until tomorrow morning at the earliest. The doctors have refused to call her parents to let them know how she’s doing, and insist they just show up in the morning to see her instead. Her parents send me messages to update me of a situation that I know all about already. They ask how I am. I try to keep my responses light and cheery.

I started playing Alpha Sapphire a couple of days before, during a particularly long train journey to my own parent’s house for a family wedding. It’s nothing like how I remember it. All 3D graphics and friendly rivalries and choosing genders. I end up playing as the female avatar and naming her after my girlfriend. It’s a habit. One I should probably stop.

I remember there being a phone system, where defeated Trainers would sometimes give you their numbers and challenge you to battles later down the line. I vaguely remember bikes, even though I’ve only just started and won’t get one for many hours. I do not remember having to jump on a boat and sailing to a seaside town containing a Gym I can’t beat with my Fire-type starter.

At home, I lie on the sofa and stare out at people playing in the basketball court near our flat. There are always people playing there, no matter the weather, no matter the time of day. Watching them is hypnotic in its own way – a distant collection of shapes running around, jumping, throwing, dribbling, slowing down after an hour or so, sitting around talking, moving on.

I lie very still and keep watching them. My mind is vacant for the first time all day.

Later, I’ll realise that for the last decade or so, I’ve been confusing Ruby/Sapphire with Gold/Silver/Crystal, of which I had all three, two of them having been given to me by Christmas. My uncle and former aunt got them for me from Hong Kong on the cheap. I played them all equally, despite being the same games. I cannot mentally separate them from Ruby/Sapphire, no matter how hard I try. When I look up the phone call system, I realise that was only in Gold/Silver/Crystal.

I never get round to playing Alpha Sapphire. Instead I order a takeout I can’t afford and don’t want to eat, and idly feed myself while watching a middling cop show, trying desperately to fill the multitude of voids that are growing inside me. In my head I try to make something interesting out of the situation, and start writing this blog post about Pokemon and feeling completely alone and empty without having the words to describe it.

I hope it’ll make sense when I write it.

Battlefield 1

Charles Edwin Nutt was a distant relative of mine – my great-great-great uncle, I think, if my maths is correct – who served in the First World War.

The man I’m playing as in Battlefield 1, who’s name I’ve already forgotten, apparently used to be a chauffeur and is now a tank driver, and has decided to wage a one-man war on a small town in France after his squadmate has buggered off and the tank captain is trying to fix the tank or something.

There’s not a whole lot of information available on Charles Edwin Nutt, from what I can tell. We don’t know his side of the family – or at least, if we do, I’ve never met them – so there are no stories to tell or history to him. Just one note that we have detailing one story of his.

Tank man, for lack of a better name, is sneaking around a French town trying to find spark plugs for the tank. He needs to visit four locations to do so, because apparently the Germans have only managed to salvage one spark plug per tank they’ve scrapped. He finds a silenced pistol in a convenient crate in a barn and systematically shoots each and every enemy soldier in the head, remaining undetected the whole time.

Charles first joined the war as part of the Cheshire Regiment – somehow, he ended up with the 11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, or Accrington Pals as they were informally known to try and draw in groups of friends who would all go to war together.

Tank man kills a German soldier by running directly at him and slamming a shovel in his chest. He has been at war for all of one day.

At the Battle of Lys, near Merris, an order went out for troops to retreat to a position near Merris Wood. The order didn’t reach the two left companies, who were behind enemy lines and faced being completely cut off. Charles, a private, volunteered to deliver the message alone.

Tank man has triggered an alarm and the entire town is awake and full of gunfire and shouting. He runs into the nearest barn and waits for his health to recover – he has been shot several times by now, but feels much better for having a little rest.

Charles Edwin Nutt ran three quarters of a mile into enemy territory, avoiding what is described as “considerable machine gun fire”, found both companies, and led them back to the right position under “heavy artillery and machine gun fire”.

Tank man grabs another gun off the ground and fires wildly, killing several German soldiers almost instantly. A soldier with a flamethrower appears – he is almost impervious to bullets, but tank man runs behind and unloads a clip into the gas tank. The flamethrower-wielding soldier screams as he catches fire and explodes.

For his service, Charles Edwin Nutt was awarded the Military Medal on May 4th 1918, six months before the war ended.

On May 17th, Charles was killed in action. If memory serves, he never physically received his medal.

Tank man has secured all his spark plugs. With the town awake and gunning for him, he jumps on a nearby horse and sprints past every soldier in sight. The horse cops a few bullets for him but seems unphased. The mission is a complete success.

My parents visited a military museum to see Charles’ Military Medal once, several years after we first found out about him. The museum curator happened to walk by as they were at the Accrington Pals section, and my mum pointed out Charles and said it was her great-great uncle. According to my dad, the curator stood with them for a time in total silence.

I don’t know if Tank Man is real. Most likely he is an amalgam of stories with some dramatic flair thrown in to make it more interesting to gamers.

I wonder, as I’m steering him and the horse through town, if Charles’ story would have made the cut for this game.

I doubt it.

The Perfect Trial (Phoenix/Nick x Manfred von Karma slash fic)

Phoenix slicked back his hair one more time. He was nervous, as always. He had all the evidence he needed, the prosecution had a witness testimony with more holes than Swiss cheese, and Maya was by his side. Everything was going to be ok.

But he was still nervous.

Suddenly, the Steel Samurai theme song started playing out of nowhere. Phoenix looked around, shocked, before he realised that it was just his phone. He laughed to himself and looked down. It was a text from Edgeworth.

“I know you’re probably nervous, Wright, but you’ll be fine. I believe in you.”

Phoenix smiled to himself, but was shocked again when his phone buzzed another time. It was Edgeworth again.

“x”

Just one kiss. Phoenix could imagine Edgeworth sending his first message, before begrudgingly deciding he should be more romantic. He was probably sat at his desk in his office, cup of tea in hand, feeling pretty stupid. It made Phoenix smile harder.

He looked at his watch. He had ten minutes until the trial started. He felt much calmer now.

“Mr Wright!”

A bailiff was calling his name. He walked briskly over to Phoenix.

“Mr Wright, sir, I’ve been told to inform you that the trial has been pushed back by half an hour.”

“Wh-whaaat??” cried Phoenix, staggering backwards.

“Also,” continued the bailiff, “Prosecutor von Karma would like to see you in his chambers.”

Phoenix was about to cry out once more, but the bailiff took off purposefully, returning to his post by the door. Phoenix felt all his calm melt away and be replaced with fear. Von Karma? Chambers?? Delayed??? This didn’t sound good.

But what choice did he have? He grabbed his court record and headed off to find Von Karma. God knew what would be waiting for him.

*

Phoenix arrived outside von Karma’s door a few minutes later. He nervously slicked his hair back for good measure, and knocked loudly.

“Enter!” snapped a harsh voice from within.

Phoenix swallowed, then gently opened the door. Manfred von Karma was sat behind his desk, idly looking at papers, a glass in his hand. His eyes darted up over his papers, but his head didn’t move.

“Ah, Mr Phoenix Wright,” said von Karma. “Please, take a seat.”

Phoenix nervously walked towards von Karma’s desk, pulling a seat out from opposite the imposing man before him. The chair squeaked against the floor, causing Phoenix to wince, but von Karma’s eyes had returned to his papers. Phoenix sat down cautiously. Von Karma took a swig from his glass.

A few moments passed in absolute silence. Phoenix started to sweat slightly. What did he want?

Suddenly, von Karma finished his drink, and put his papers aside. He neatly placed everything back where he clearly felt they belonged, and turned to Phoenix, his arms folded in front of him.

“Now then, Mr Wright…” von Karma began. Phoenix swallowed again. He was starting to seriously panic.

“It’s come to my attention that you are… how can I put this politely… seeing? One of my children?”

Phoenix flinched. Von Karma’s children?? But he only had his daughter, Franziska, and she was in Germany!

“Ah, I can see you are confused,” said von Karma. “I am of course referring to Miles Edgeworth.”

EDGEWORTH?!

“B-but he’s not your son!!” cried Phoenix, sweating.

“So you don’t deny it then?” replied von Karma.

Phoenix bit his lip, and dropped his head. “N-no… I don’t.”

Von Karma snapped his fingers, and smiled wrily. Phoenix’s sweating got worse. What was von Karma’s deal??

“Good. I’d hate to see you try and pull one of your little… ‘turnabouts’ on that rumour.”

Von Karma stood up and began to walk around his desk.

“Miles Edgeworth may not be my blood relation, but I raised that boy to the man he is today. That makes me his father, and him my son. Do you follow so far?”

Phoenix nodded.

“Now, I have no issue with the two of you… frolicking together. What I do take issue with… is you, Mr Wright.”

Von Karma stopped in front his desk, and leaned against it, no more than a few inches from where Phoenix was sat, shivering in fear.

“You see, Mr Wright… I don’t know what kind of man you are.”

Von Karma looked down sharply at Phoenix, who visibly shook. Von Karma’s power was overwhelming.

“And I don’t know if you are… worthy of seeing my son.”

“OBJECTION!” Phoenix cried, standing up suddenly. “Miles and I are in love, and it doesn’t matter what you think!”

Phoenix suddenly clapped his hand around his mouth. LOVE??!? Did he really just say that?

But von Karma just looked at the ground and smiled his wretched smile. Phoenix couldn’t get a read on him still. Where was this going.

“That may be…” muttered von Karma, “but I’m afraid I need more… evidence.”

Von Karma’s hand snapped up from his side and grabbed Phoenix’s shoulder, who flinched in fear. But von Karma’s grip wasn’t very strong. It was… gentle, almost.

“Mr Wright… Phoenix…” said von Karma, “I… want to give you… a perfect trial.”

P-perfect… trial? Phoenix couldn’t make heads nor tails of it. He felt von Karma’s presence shift from harsh to almost warm… or as warm as a von Karma could be. Phoenix almost felt relaxed…

…and then von Karma’s lips were on his.

Phoenix staggered back, detaching himself from von Karma’s face. Von Karma just stood there, smiling that same smile. But it felt more gentle now, instead of shrewd. Phoenix was so confused.

“Wh-what are you doing??” cried Phoenix.

“I… apologise,” said von Karma, still smiling, “I may have been… a little too forward.”

Von Karma stepped towards Phoenix, who took a step back of his own.

“Come now, Mr Wright,” said von Karma, “we both know that you were enjoying that.”

His fingers snapped and pointed to Phoenix’s crotch, where a bulge was already beginning to grow.

“I only want to make sure that my son will be… satisfied.”

Phoenix swallowed again. It’s true. He was enjoying it. Von Karma’s overpowering presence was actually a huge turn-on, and his directness, while catching him off-guard, was something Phoenix liked in Edgeworth. He was beginning to see where the younger man had picked up his habits.

“So, Mr Wright,” said von Karma, softly, “shall we try this again?”

Phoenix stood rooted to the spot. He didn’t want to betray Edgeworth. But at the same time, if he didn’t do this now, would von Karma ever let the two of them be happy? He was too scared to say anything. All he could manage was a nod.

Von Karma’s smile grew, and he stepped forward once more, taking Phoenix’s head in his firm hand as he did so. He brought their mouths together, and this time Phoenix didn’t resist. He moved his hand around von Karma’s waist, pressing his mouth against the older man’s, feeling the other’s tongue enter his mouth. His bulge grew some more, pressing into von Karma’s leg, who reacted by kissing more harshly. His hand grew tighter on Phoenix’s head, keeping him locked in place. It felt… it felt really good.

Von Karma sharply pulled himself away, breathing heavily. He stepped back from Phoenix towards his desk, and leaned on it once more. He then started to unbutton his trousers while Phoenix watched, nervous and excited all at once.

“Now then, Mr Wright…” said von Karma, “let’s see how you handle this piece of evidence…”

Von Karma slid his trousers and underwear down, revealing a hard, throbbing dick. Phoenix was taken aback once more. It was… it was huge! So much bigger than Edgeworth’s. Phoenix thought he wouldn’t be able to handle it, but von Karma barked sharply at him, bringing him out of his stupor.

“Mr Wright!” called von Karma, “get over here post-haste!”

Phoenix fell to his knees in front of von Karma’s thing obediently, and immediately engulfed the huge member in his mouth. Von Karma groaned loudly, his hand immediately grasping Phoenix’s hair and holding it roughly. Phoenix gagged slightly as von Karma pushed his dick further into Phoenix’s mouth and held him there, clearly savouring the moment, before pushing Phoenix’s head away so he could breathe.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr Wright?” asked von Karma. Phoenix nodded.

“Good,” said von Karma. “Continue.”

Phoenix once more took von Karma’s dick into his mouth eagerly, feeling his shaft take up his whole mouth, and moved his head back and forth, taking more in with each motion. Von Karma banged his fist on his desk, groaning more and more, before he couldn’t resist and grabbed Phoenix’s hair again. He held Phoenix’s head in place and roughly fucked his mouth, moaning with each thrust. Phoenix let himself be taken control of, and was enjoying it so much that he decided to start tugging at his own member. Von Karma noticed and immediately stopped, pushing Phoenix to the ground.

“No!” cried von Karma, angrily. “You will do as I say, and nothing more!”

Phoenix nodded, and removed his hand from his own throbbing dick. Von Karma snapped his fingers again, and shook his head. He reached over his desk into his drawer, and pulled out a small black object. It took Phoenix a second to recognise that it was von Karma’s favourite tool… his taser.

“Bad boys like you must be punished by daddy,” said von Karma, harshly. “Do you understand?”

Phoenix nodded once again, tensing up. Von Karma flicked the taser on with a touch so subtle Phoenix barely noticed it. Von Karma knelt down next to Phoenix’s hard dick and gently touched it with the taser. It was on its lowest setting, but the pain was excruciating. Phoenix loved every moment of it.

Von Karma stood up again, and looked down at Phoenix’s quivering body.

“Stand up, Mr Wright,” he said.

“Y-yes… daddy,” replied Phoenix.

He stood up, his legs shaking, and felt von Karma’s hand on the back of his neck. Von Karma pushed Phoenix over his desk, sending the papers he had been reading earlier flying off into the corner of the room.

“Making a mess, are we, Mr Wright?” asked von Karma, sarcastically. “I do hope you understand the consequences.”

Von Karma pulled Phoenix’s trousers and underwear down to his knees, and thrust the taser straight onto Phoenix’s bare behind. He yelped in pain, his body shaking with electricity. Von Karma removed the taser from his body as sharply as it had been put there, and tossed it aside. Then he took his place behind Phoenix, and pinned his head down on the desk with one hand while guiding himself into Phoenix’s waiting ass with the other.

“Are you ready, Mr Wright?” asked von Karma. “You’re about to feel the level of perfection we von Karmas have dedicated our lives for.”

Phoenix could hardly speak, and once again nodded. Von Karma grinned wildly, and slammed his hard dick straight into Phoenix, who cried out in a mix of pain and pleasure. Von Karma retreated slightly, before slamming him again, and again. Von Karma’s groans drowned out Phoenix’s moans as he felt von Karma’s rock-hard thing drive into him over and over, unable to get himself off. Von Karma realised this, and slid his hand around Phoenix’s cock, pulling it out of his trousers and jerking it hard and fast.

Phoenix cried out in pure pleasure, grasping the desk with both hands, as von Karma pounded his prostate while roughly jerking off his cock. The two men writhed in pleasure, von Karma occasionally letting go of Phoenix’s head to slam his fist on the table, before returning it to the back of Phoenix’s neck. Sweat poured from both men’s bodies, until von Karma suddenly spoke.

“Now, Mr Wright, let me show you why a von Karma never loses!”

His grip tightened even harder on Phoenix’s dick, who couldn’t hold it in any longer, and came all over von Karma’s desk. Von Karma, enjoying the sight, came inside Phoenix’s ass simultaneously. His moans echoed throughout the room as all the tension fell out of his body, and his grip on Phoenix loosened almost immediately.

The two men stood for a moment, panting, trying to catch their breath. Von Karma straightened up suddenly, redressing himself, and returning to his usual calm demeanour within an instant. Phoenix had no such luck. He was still twitching from his orgasm, whilst panicking about the mess he had made.

“Mr Wright, please, compose yourself,” said von Karma, gently. “Do not worry about the mess. I will have… someone come and clean it up right away.”

Phoenix sheepishly redressed himself, feeling von Karma’s hot mess fall gently into his underwear. Sheesh. Would he even have time to change before the trial?

…wait. THE TRIAL!!

“W-we’re supposed to be in court!!” cried Phoenix, entering full panic mode. But von Karma just smiled, as he always did.

“Don’t worry, Mr Wright,” he said. “I have found us some… suitable replacements.”

This only made Phoenix worry more.

“Oh, and Mr Wright?”

Phoenix looked up, and found von Karma’s eyes staring him down.

“You were… satisfactory. You have my permission to see Edgeworth.”

Phoenix’s face lit up slightly. Then it fell again. Edgeworth. He’d betrayed him for what he thought was a good reason. But how could he tell Edgeworth about what had happened? Could he ever confess?

“Mr Wright.”

Phoenix snapped out of it once more to find von Karma stood by the door, holding it open.

“I thank you for coming by. Now, if you don’t mind…”

Phoenix froze, then nodded in understanding, and hurried out. He had to see what was going on at his trial.

*

Phoenix arrived at the court’s waiting room an hour later for his trial. He couldn’t believe it. What would he say to the judge? Did von Karma actually have replacements organised?

At that moment, the courtroom doors opened, and out stepped Edgeworth, looking perfectly composed as always. Phoenix gasped. Had… Edgeworth been his opposition all along?

“Ah, Wright,” said Edgeworth. “You missed quite a trial.”

Phoenix stood in front of Edgeworth, panting. His mind was catching up with his body. Why had Edgeworth come out from the defence’s side? And why was Maya with him?

“Oh, didn’t you hear, Nick?” said Maya. “Mr Edgeworth stepped in for you at the last minute! He was amazing out there! Maybe even better then you!”

Gee, thanks Maya, thought Phoenix, looking at Edgeworth. Edgeworth looked at him curiously, before shrugging and shaking his head.

“It was an open and shut case, Wright,” he said. “I don’t see why you were so worried. It was almost the perfect trial.”

Phoenix shuddered. He never wanted to think about a perfect trial ever again.

Sonic Mania

I am young, very young. Probably like 5 or 6. My sister and I are playing games together – one game really, we can’t decide on anything else, so we always break out Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and play the same four levels over and over. Emerald Hill Zone. Casino Night Zone. Special Stage. Mystic Cave Zone, I think. It’s all kind of hazy now, but the feeling is still there. Two players, sat in front of the TV, me usually winning because of too much time spent playing the game.

Eventually we will move the Mega Drive into my room and put a PlayStation in the lounge and everyone will have to put up with me playing the Rugrats licensed game. Both of them, in fact. But for now we are keeping it simple.

I am 24 years old, and I have a sudden urge to call my sister.

I am 18, I guess. Sonic 2 comes up on Xbox Live and it’s so cheap I’d be a fool not to buy it. I can’t get over the fact that it has save points now. I don’t have to beat it all in one go. I can just work my way through.

This never happens. Every attempt must be in one straight run, and every attempt sees me dying in Casino Zone because let’s face it, I’m just not good enough. After a couple of goes I put it down and never play it again.

I am 21. Someone asks if we can play Sonic 2. I say, sure.

I am 22. My niece is playing Primal Rage with me, but I long to show her the game of my childhood.

I am maybe 9, maybe 10. There is a crummy PC that my parents still use, and a disc with Sonic 3 & Knuckles on it somewhere in the study. I spend an afternoon installing it and loading it up. For some reason it opens in windowed mode, and everything moves at twice the speed it should. It runs fine in fullscreen.

Somehow the level select cheat code remains in my fingers and I’m jumping between zones, failing constantly. Tails dies again and again and again and again. There’s a fire shield.

I am 12, I think. Mum has taken me around several places she is mystery shopping, and in each one I find a GameCube stand and play Sonic Adventure 2. The last one we visit, we leave with a new GameCube and only one game – it will go down as one of my favourite games of all time.

Several years later I will remember Knuckles and regret that decision.

I am 24. My sister is a couple of hundred miles away now, and I probably won’t see her until Christmas. That’s OK, I think. It gives me time to get better at this.

I smack into a wall and run down a small incline. My thumbs instinctively begin a spin dash and I fire myself back up the wall and into harm’s way. Not for the first time.

Most things change enormously over time, but some will always stay the same.

RIP GamingLives (Stray Thoughts From A Depressed/Anxious Ex-Writer)

uggghh this one is going to be hard to write

but i have felt shitty all day and i think it might help so here we go

GamingLives, a gaming website that primarily featured opinion pieces by a small crew of regular writers, is officially ceasing operations on Friday. And this makes me really quite sad.

But, then, I kind of have no reason to feel sad.

My involvement with GamingLives started… five years ago, I think? I was 17 and bored and looking for writing opportunities. I was semi-regularly uploading reviews of game demos to a website called Swearing At Video Games, primarily an achievement guide site that was looking to diversify. I was promised a share of the ad money. I received nothing and the site quietly shut down one day without my knowledge.

Back in those days, the Xbox 360 occasionally saw community-focused posts by AceyBongos, who would highlight cool shit or advertise things, all in textual form. One time he was bigging up a 24 hour marathon of a Halo game that someone had done, written an article about, and raised a bit of cash for charity for her trouble.

The article was on GamingLives. I had a look around, liked the stuff on there, saw a “write for us!” button, and thought, fuck it, why not. I bashed out a dumb article about playing games with your girlfriend (I was newly in a relationship at the time) and sent it off. They accepted it. I was ecstatic.

I was told that if I wrote three articles I’d be considered a writer, and then I could apply to write reviews, and I could get access to games, early, for free, to review. I was over the fucking moon. I scrounged for inspiration and got more articles out. I was a writer. For real.

I applied to be a reviewer and was knocked back. Lorna outright hated the opening paragraph of the one I submitted, and said it wasn’t anywhere close to the style they wanted. It was… well it was brutal. But it was incredibly helpful. I read some more reviews on the site, worked out their house style, regrouped, and wrote a new review within 24 hours of being rejected. I got accepted.

My first game was on PS3, a console that I didn’t own. I borrowed my brother-in-law’s. It was Red Johnson’s Chronicles, or something. It wasn’t great. I got another review. And another. I wrote opinions. I finished my A-Levels and went to uni.

One day, in summer, a fellow writer private messaged me on the forums out of the blue asking if I wanted to share a hotel room in Cologne with him for Gamescom. I wasn’t even going to Gamescom at the time. And then I was. And I saw a ton of new games, and I developed a long-standing hatred for YogsCast, and I met lots of nice people, and I felt like a goddamn king.

I went to a BBQ with all these people, all these writers for the site. I was absolutely fucking terrified of going. I got off the train and very nearly got straight back on. I wanted to cry. But I walked in and hugged everyone and said hello and introduced myself. It was a ton of fun. I’ve gone back nearly every year.

I stopped writing.

I stopped writing several times. I think the first time was because I’d gone through a break-up, and I felt like shit for months, and couldn’t bring myself to do anything but focus on my exams, which I scraped through.

I stopped writing because I got a “proper” job and couldn’t find the time to write anything anymore, despite the fact I’d be up for hours at night doing nothing.

I stopped writing because my depression and anxiety all got worse and worse and I didn’t do anything to make it better, lol.

In 2016 I wrote one article, and it was just retelling a story that happened. I like it, but it’s not one of my best. It’s not a great article. But it was something.

By that point, I had a full-time job writing, and I was done with writing for fun. I was stressed all the time, living in a town where I had almost no friends and nothing to do, ate like shit, got into (relative) debt. I stopped writing songs, writing blogs, writing about music or trains in games or anything.

GamingLives is shutting down largely because most of the core staff moved on to other things and couldn’t find the time to write anymore, or simply grew bored. It happens. People move on. It’s sad.

GamingLives, in some way, is shutting down because I couldn’t write anymore, because the very thought of writing made me want to throw up and punch myself and drive my car into a wall. So that’s fun.

I’m not blaming myself entirely for its closure. That would be stupid. It was a collaborative effort that slowly lost its collaborators, and I just happened to be one of them.

So it’s sad that it’s going, but hey, I didn’t pull my weight. I moved on, I guess. After I got my shit together, even. Christ, I didn’t even play video games for the longest time. I fucking hated video games.

i am doing better now, by the way, like a lot better, like hey look, i can even write a blog better

So I guess what I’m saying is: sorry Mark and Lorna, and everyone else at GamingLives, that I didn’t do my best, and that I flat-out stopped writing, but took up that space on the writer’s page. I’m sorry I didn’t promote your work harder. I’m sorry I don’t talk much in real life. I’m sorry I didn’t post more in the forum. I’m just, sorry, I guess.

Let’s end on a postitive note though: I want to thank Mark Reid one last time for a moment that has helped me stay positive through the years.

So I don’t recall the whole event, but I posted something on Facebook flippant about being a bad writer maybe? And my mother jumped into the comments to confirm that I was indeed a shit writer. That’s her humour, and I knew she was joking.

Mark didn’t know, and also jumped in to defend me. He wrote paragraphs of words about how I was a fantastic writer, that I needed very little editing before I was published, that I was one of the writers who joined at a high level and stayed that way. And, well, I nearly cried. Because it’s very rare that people so vehemently defend my work to others, in public, particularly when it’s my own mother.

Mark and Lorna both have given me great advice, critiques, and praise throughout the years, as have many others at GL, and I cannot thank you all enough.

I literally would not be where I am today without GamingLives, and I’m sure there are a few others from GL who would say the same. So thank you, thank you, thank you, and I’m sorry.

Ok. I’m done. I think. Don’t fucking @ me.

Plexpo

It is absolutely freezing. I’m shaking. The duvet lies beneath us, used for extra cushioning instead of warmth as it was intended. I nudge her until she half-wakes up, roll her off the duvet and throw it over us. I fall back asleep.

It is the middle of the day and I have finally started to process that this is not where I thought it was, that I am in a different apartment block from the one where I started my night, and that I have absolutely no idea where this apartment block is. I have found the bathroom, a truly exceptional bit of detective work, well done Ric, you’ll make captain in a year, but whose bathroom it is remains an unanswered question.

I lie as still as I can so as not to wake her. I remember the look, the pose, the mouths jamming together awkwardly and with little to no grace, my hand being pushed further down and underneath attire. I remember the drinks and the music and the insistence that she was going to get high and that I was going to get high because she’d feel bad about getting high alone. I do not remember what time we went back there, if we had kissed before we got back, how we negotiated the option of kissing or whether any discussion happened at all. My gut tells me there were no words, there was just a bed, a lot of alcohol, and a base instinct that informed the decision. Not my style. Odd. Must’ve said something.

Later she’ll message me to apologise for her actions, as seems to be a pattern with those who take me home, but I have never worked out why. I’ll forget to tell her it’s OK, that I had a good time, that I had wanted to kiss her for so long, that I had wanted this whole thing to happen for months but never had the courage to do anything, would never presume myself to be worthy of her time. I will instead concede that I was very drunk, and then try to be funny but come across as sarcastic and unimpressed. She will not respond.

The hangover kicks hard, but I’m warm and cosy and have been hungover since the day before anyway, so it’s not so bad. I’m supposed to be on a train, but evidently I’m not.

I really need to get on that train.

The train is overcrowded, the seats are all taken, the standees are already drinking. Match day. I stand by the door, hurting, broken, tired. The train lets on more passengers. The tannoy apologises for the inconvenience, signal failures, didn’t expect so many people to be on the train, blah blah blah. The woman next to me seems to be amused at my evident unease of being entombed by bodies. I glare back. She’s cute, but I can’t be bothered making aimless smiles. I reach into my bag as we pull up to another station, twenty minutes out, and pull out my Vita. A game or two of OlliOlli to remind myself of the controls and why I enjoy it. It is near impossible to play, but somehow I manage.

I’m finally spat out into the vast expanse of Manchester Picadilly, and instantly forget how to get to the Trafford Centre. I quick-march out of the station and onto the street, covered in rubbish and homeless people and hipsters. Vague memories of a time long ago, where I caught a bus to surprise my then-girlfriend for her birthday party, come rushing back. Centre of town. Huge number of bus stops. I race over and see a wall of busses headed where I need to go. £4.50. I fall up the stairs as I climb to the top deck. No one seems to mind the half-drunk manic laugh I emit.

Match day. The streets are crawling with scarves and police, cars bearing flags, hometown pride I suppose but then I don’t know. Beer cans are thrown around with wild abandon. The bus stops and waits. Gotta stick to timetables.

Three youths dominate the backseats of the bus, either stoned or drunk or just idiots. They lean and laze with no regard for signage asking them to Please Not Put Their Feet On The Seats, tapping into phones or making inane comments to one another. I look to the front of the bus and pray I see the deaf couple I saw so long ago, signing to one another side-by-side. I’m alone. A wave of sickness runs through.

The bus moves.

Slowly, oh so slowly, we escape Manchester and head to the city limits, where the buildings sprawl and the traffic grinds to a halt. The Trafford Centre looms nearby, and I hop off the bus because it is clearly not heading where I need to be. I weave through stalled traffic and across a car park into EventCity. I wander into an expo about health. My hair is currently too long and I’m wearing a hoodie that I haven’t taken off for three days and I haven’t showered in as many and I’m getting ill and my head aches. It raises suspicion. I leave.

EventCity is not a city, as I had hoped. It is not MediaCity, another place I seem to find myself lost in more often than any regular person should. EventCity is just one big aircraft hangar, waiting to be filled with posters and signs and mass crowds of people. It is grey and dark and highlighted with strange spots of purple that hurt to look at. Three young men in bizarre anime costumes walk past, nearly colliding with an overweight couple wearing his-and-hers Avengers hoodies, and I realise I might actually be on the right track. I trapse across a stretch of grass, ignoring the path. My shoes are already destroyed. There’s no way anyone will believe I’m a journalist.

There is no queue to get in. Three people protect the entry way, or so I assume, since there’s an abject lack of signage. I wander over.

“Hi,” I offer, “I think I have a press pass or something here?”

The older woman at the desk looks up, slightly confused. She looks across a young girl who seems strikingly familiar to me somehow and over at a man sat twiddling his thumbs idly.

“You’re dealing with press passes, right?”

The man looks up, then at me, then at the woman, then at me.

“Oh! Yes. Yes I am, come over here. What name is it?”

I give him my name and he scans the list. I’m not hard to find.

“Yes, yes, good. Right. The problem is we don’t actually have any wristbands left because we had an unprecedented demand, so what I’ll do is…”

He takes the email that I hastily printed off using someone else’s university login details, already five drinks down and planning on many more, and scribbles some words and a signature on it.

“Here. If anyone asks, just show them that, it should get you in all weekend.”

I think to myself that I doubt I’ll be here longer than an hour, let alone all weekend. I say out loud a thank you, a farewell, glance back at the familiar girl (it would later transpire that she’s someone I tweet on occasion but she totally didn’t click who I was and I was way too hungover to start asking questions) and head in. No one checks my credentials. No one will check me on the way out either. I probably could’ve just walked straight in.

I barely acknowledge the pop-up game shop on my left as I walk in. I set off straight ahead in search of playable games. I want to find OlliOlli 2, the stand for Futureworks (a Manchester based college/univeristy that offers courses in game development which another Twitter friend attends or attended I can’t remember) and the Team17 stand. I find the Team17 stand, but it’s criminally underpopulated. I shuffle along. A Street Fighter IV tournament plays on a big screen. I wander away. A screen with 32 people playing a game simultaneously greets me. The 32 people are sat on fold-out chairs, looking confused and slightly bored. I move on.

The cosplay drawing competition is starting up. I snap a photo on my phone. A woman stands awkwardly with another woman who is dressed in a gold costume that apparently won a competition or something. The woman with a microphone asks how long it took to make. The woman in the outfit seems stunned by the question and spends a good minute pondering when, then settles on “since July”. You’ve got fifteen minutes to draw her. Go. I leave.

Pinball machines everywhere. Flashing lights and people crowded around single machines. TILT. TILT. MULTIBALL. I stand at one end, line up a shot, hit the button on my screen, and carry on.

It’s dark down here. Arcade machines in a circle. My head hurts. I can’t see a damn thing. A kid walks away from an endless racer that looks weirdly familiar, so I step in and take over his go. I crash a lot. I move on.

Light gun games. A Crazy Taxi machine. Point Blank 2. Sniper Scope. Where is Time Crisis? A PS2 hooked up to an old CRT screen has it running endlessly, but the cabinet is sadly missing. In the distance, a group of friends play Rock Band 3 with the controllers that have ALL the buttons. I turn a corner and a Wreck-It Ralph machine lies in wait. I’m definitely sober. Someone plays it and fails miserably. I take a picture of the cabinets, turn heel, walk away.

Two people play Timesplitters on the same screen but don’t know what they’re doing. The Wario game for GameCube sits, unplayed. The Joker is beating Harley Quinn at GoldenEye and four guys dressed as PayDay 2 characters walk down one aisle while another gang of PayDay 2 guys walk down the opposite aisle. I briefly consider stalking them and waiting for them to meet, to see if they’ll fake a fight or take photos together. My stomach growls. I decide against it.

I find some indie games to play, sit down, play. The designers stand around awkwardly behind me, clearly hoping I won’t ask any questions. I don’t. I consider taking a picture, but don’t want to negotiate having to ask them a question. I leave.

I play an iOS game where the designers are almost too friendly, too intrusive, they ask me to enter a competition and how can they not see that all I want to do is curl up and die until my next opportunity comes to drink my liver to breaking point. A camera crew sets up behind us all. They ask one of the devs about the game. He gives a ten word speech and the crew pack up. I leave.

I play a game and I break it on purpose to draw some attention to myself. I ask the person who fixes the game about the game. They offer nothing extra than what I have played but tell me I got the highest score of the day. I smile and leave.

There is nothing for me here. I glare at couples and grumble to myself, and try not to think about the numerous people I could’ve brought with me if they would’ve allowed it. I look at the merch and recoil at the prices. I briefly consider buying an old Game Boy and a Game Boy Camera for no other reason than because I think it would be cool. Wisely, I have not brought any money with me.

I wander and wander and nothing happens, and there’s the guy who made Tempest and he has too much hair, and I speak to no one, and oh look it’s Judge Dredd, and finally after two hours I realise I have to leave and get to a gig, and that traffic will be an absolute nightmare. I walk out. There is nothing for me here.

The queue for the bus is huge. Traffc is at a complete standstill. Horns blare. A car moves. The bus is coming, but even from this distance it’s evident that I’m not getting on it. I sit down on the floor. An Italian couple behind me express surprise. I don’t care. I take out my book, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and begin reading. It starts with a girl moving to college and being too scared to leave her room. I flashback. I hurt.

“Oh! That’s a really good book.”

The girl in front has stopped talking to her friend and turned to look down at me, a snivelling mess in a ratty black hoodie with a hole in the armpit, a t-shirt with Mary Berry’s face on underneath, a scratched-to-shit pair of jeans and my trusty pair of destroyed fake Converse, and is smiling at my choice in literature. I smile back.

“Oh good. I picked it up with a bunch of stuff by John Green, and I needed to get another book for the 2 for £7 deal at Tesco, and I saw the title and thought ‘yeah this looks trashy enough’.”

She is apparently less than interested in my explanation but somehow manages to keep going.

“The good kind of trashy though!”

I laugh and agree, and she turns to her friend and begins to explain the entire plot. I didn’t bring by headphones. I try not to listen. I’m tempted to shout about spoilers in a jokey fashion, but I’m too antsy to flirt and I’ll never see her again, we’ll never survive this bus journey anyway, and who needs me breathing down their neck making idle chatter about an event I didn’t enjoy for an hour on a cramped-as-fuck bus.

The bus pulls up, let’s on everyone up to the girls in front. I sit back down. A bus rolls past, full. Another bus comes by. We’ve been here half an hour. It has started to rain. The bus rolls further on than the head of the queue, so the people midway through jump on first. I end up stood right next to the stairs, the same stairs I fell up earlier, praying I don’t slip and fall and collapse into the three people stood on the stairs as the bus crawls through the traffic.

I look out the window behind me and watch as a couple in matching cosplay, Doctor Who and the TARDIS, are left by the road due to an overcrowded bus. I guffaw loudly. What a stupid fucking costume.

The gig ends up being one of the best I play. Later I will hit on girls on Tinder in the vain hope that they will let me crash on their floor or maybe in their bed, I’m not picky. It doesn’t work.