National Service

There’s not a lot that connects North Korea, South Korea and Switzerland. Except, that is, their continued use of compulsory national service. With all three countries having rather turbulent histories, it could be hard to argue against national service, but a lot of other nations are moving on from the notion.

In Europe war used to be seen as rite of passage, a chance for young boys to become men. Luckily that stopped following the two world wars that reminded the public consciousness that war one hundred per cent sucks. I’m glad to live in a country that doesn’t have compulsory national service. But I think in these modern times we can do something more to help our society than learn to fight.

Since graduating university, I have worked in a call centre and a local cinema. Neither job is what I particularly want to be doing with my life, mostly because interacting with the general public is, to say the least, an unpredictable line of work.

The second your work takes you behind the phone, or behind the till, people’s perception of you entirely changes. Perhaps the unpleasantly bright red of the uniform brings out the subconscious anger of the customer, or perhaps they see anyone existing in a service role as somehow less than human. While most people are either perfectly average, or pleasant during our brief interactions, some are not. To them I am a deliberate obstacle to their enjoyment, apparently there to make their experience less enjoyable. Somehow, being yelled at, insulted and belittled is not my goal at work.

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For instance, if I’ve told a would-be cinemagoer that the showing they want has been sold out, there are three reasonable responses:
One. Choose a different time.
Two. Choose a different film.
Three. Leave.

What you’d be surprised by is how many people ask what am I “going to do about it”. The answer, dear reader, is nothing. I can sell them different tickets, or serve the next customer. These are the only options available to me. I’m not going to build more seats, or pick other customers to forcibly removed from the screen. I do not work for Delta Airlines.

This is by no means the only time customers mistake my role as their personal servant. Nor is it by any means the most abuse I receive at my job, it’s just an example of members of the public that don’t understand how service jobs work. At the call centre, I don’t need to tell you about the abuse I received; but at the cinema, I’ve had customers demand I apologise for the price of Minstrels, as if I have any say in it. I’ve had customers visibly furious because a trailer for a film they didn’t want to watch ran before the film. I’ve even had customers threaten me for running out of hotdogs. Genuinely. And while I can complain about them, make jokes about them and tell stories about them, something is inherently broken if people think this is at all reasonable. We need more empathy. We need more discipline. We need to understand the chain of command. So, I’m proposing a radical change in our society, to help correct the behaviour of the public on those that reluctantly serve them.

Compulsory National Service Industry.

Imagine it: everyone has to hold down a single, paid, service job for one year. Everyone over the age of 18 will have experienced the total lack of respect that comes with the job, the weird hours, the boredom, the busyness, the repetition. Now imagine how they would treat the staff at their local cinema once they’ve finally completed their compulsory call of duty. It would be utopian. The few unpleasant customers would be seen as outliers, whom no one would like or agree with. Everyone would easily empathise with the staff as well, which in turn would make the staff much more approachable and less likely to shut down.

If everyone knew what it was like to work for the public, the public would be a lot easier to work for. Compulsory national service is out dated, dangerous and nationalistic, but national service industry would improve employability, worth ethic and just generally make people a bit easier to deal with, and isn’t that reason enough?


The Pitch Paradox

Yes, yes I lied. Its been longer than a week and I’ve not put anything up. On top of that all the words below aren’t actually about getting a commission either. But there’s been nearly big things happening for me, and I wanted to get it all down here. Unforunately, its not over yet, so I’ll probably being doing an update to this is the hopefully near future. Anyway, this is all about getting an interview as a freelancer. Enjoy!

(Actually having read through this, which I wrote about a week ago the situation has already changed a lot of maybe I can get two more of these messy posts up about it.)

So I’ve got a thought experiment for all you lovely people. Picture yourself as me, devilishly handsome, charming and mysterious, and (desperately) trying to get into games journalism. Okay, have you got that? Good.

Try and think of a really good idea, framed around an interview with a game developer. You’ve got the pitch all sorted and now comes the problem, who do you contact first, the interviewee or the editor?

Without the editors approval, you can’t exactly say which publication you are writing for, or that you are writing for any. So any request for an interview is going to look a bit weak, as all you have to say is that you’d be looking into the possibility of conducting an interview. Oh and did I mention that interview requests go through a PR firm and rarely if ever the studio or individual directly? That means you have to make it look good, interesting and most importantly valuable to them to get anywhere.

Going in there with a vague and unconfirmed idea isn’t the best way of getting very far. Even worse, what if they do like the idea and are totally willing to set up the interview, only for the editor to reject the pitch in its entirety.

So, I think we’re agreed that this isn’t the smartest idea. Obviously we’ll email the editor first, get the pitch approved and then go in for the interview request.

What could possibly go wrong?

Oh right, the exact reverse of what I just described, and a situation I currently find myself in. Having spent a week or two in correspondence with an editor convincing them my idea was worth exploring, only to have the PR firm decline the interview.

Now I’ve had to go back to the editor with alternative options and clumsy apologises. I’m hoping I can still do the piece, but there is a strong chance this won’t be able to take off any further without some possibility of an interview.

Trying to stay positive on this one, but it feels like this aspect of games journalism is well, a bit broken. There’s no right way to approach the situation unless there is something obvious I’m missing. (And if there is, please don’t tell me, I’m not sure my ego couldn’t survive it.) This is especially true of people like me, new to the game and without all the necessary contacts that can help assure an interview.

Anyhow, I know this isn’t what I said I’d write about next but, oh well. Hopefully my next piece can be how this all came out fine and I’ve got a nice shiny bit of writing to do. Either way I’m sure I’ll think of something else to complain write about.

I promise one day these updates will be slightly more positive. I know the last post was a bit bleak and this one is a thinly disguised explanation of my current, rather awkward situation, but it will get better. Or at least more cheerful. Hopefully.

Freelancing, and Other Obvious Observations

Okay, long time no writey. On here at least. I’ve been spending my time almost exclusively writing pitches, and very occasionally, commissions. I used to use this space to write my little thoughts about video games, but more lately I’ve been trying to sell those ideas. Putting them up here would be, well, more than a little counter-productive. (Not that anyone actually reads this.)

Anyway, I’ve decided to start writing about actually freelancing here, rather than features themselves. I mean, I’ll still do that for the ideas that aren’t that solid, but as no one in the real world wants to listen to me ramble, I decided to talk about it anyway, here. If that’s not your thing, then sorry, I guess.

I’ll be trying to do these about once a week, though there might not be much interesting to say every week. But getting to the point (finally), this is about freelancing, as it is to me.

Freelancing is hard guys. I know that should be a ridiculously obvious statement but I didn’t quite expect the emotional toll and self-doubt that comes with it. For those of you who don’t know, the way to get into freelancing initially is to pitch your original ideas, to more or less strangers. Worse, they’re not strangers because you’ll have read, analysed and enjoyed their work long before you started making your own.

So you’ve got your idea, great! And now you’ve managed to cram it into 300 words. Nice job! Now, send it off. There we go, easy right? Now you just have to wait. This is where it gets difficult, because this is where I might be doing things wrong. Sometimes (read: Most of my waking life) I think that my ideas are a little too out there. You have to spend a lot of time developing your ideas, building a solid foundation and a great angle. After that you have to find the right website to pitch too, which can be just as difficult. Sometimes it’s the other way round, where you see a certain angle fitting well with a website.

I do all of that, or at least I think I do. I’ll have an idea that I think is really interesting, which I know sounds conceited, but you honestly have to think it’s a good idea otherwise there’s no point in writing about it. Anyway, I’ll have this idea, and work on it really hard before pitching it off, only to see either no reply come through, or a simple no.

Maybe the things I’m interested in aren’t the things the people are interested in. Maybe I’m not doing a good enough job vetting the websites I’m pitching to, but after a few occasions where hours of work, good will and determination evaporate it can be more than a little soul destroying. I have a folder of dozens of dead ideas, some I still really want to write about.

Luckily, I’m starting to get a bit more headway now, which is why I’m willing to talk about it. I’ve had two commissions, and nearly two more. I’ve had actual conversations with editors about my work and my ideas and it does wonders to lift your spirits. I’m still fighting against a wall of silence, and sometimes I have to take a day off just to recover, but its getting there.

Next time I’ll probably discuss getting a commission. But, there’s no formal structure to this. So who knows what my next ramble will actually be about. I hope you enjoyed this, or at least found it interesting. Or bearable. Bareable? Whatever. Sorry if it was a little darker than expected, I figured I might as well be honest. If you want to talk about it all feel free to get in touch here or on Twitter @RoshKelly1

Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Old Fears

Lara Croft is back, and slightly more equipped to deal the situation, as she ventures into the Siberian Wildness in search of a lost city. Like the reboot of the titular Tomb Raider, the sequel is a down and dirty action adventure with brutal kill animations, grizzly combat and dirty, blood soaked protagonists. Rise of the Tomb Raider does a lot to improve on the last game, with stunning visuals, more adaptive skill trees, a bigger collection of tombs, and other breath-taking locations to explore.

This also comes with a bunch of new enemies, which on top of the sinister Trinity, includes the natural wildlife that was much happier without Lara Croft starting avalanches all of the place. More than just wolves, you’ll find bears and snow leopards all willing to take time out of there busy schedules to take important parts of your body off. But it’s the wolves in this game that seem the newest, and most threatening of anything I encountered in my time in Mother Russia.


Unlike the last game, they are given no formal introduction, you’ll just find them out in the ruins of old soviet endeavours, or in snowy forests. You might catch them snacking out in a clearing, or perhaps you’ll be less lucky and only see them as they stalk ever closer to you.

Dogs are something that I have had to deal with for a long time in video games, but canines are not my best friend. In real life, I am not comfortable around these four legged ‘friends’, and have not been since I was a child. But it wasn’t until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that I realised that this perfectly rational fear translated to digital dogs as well.

While killing a dozen or so terrorists or whatever, the faithful bark of their attack dog struck fear into my very soul. The next thing I knew I was screaming, charging headlong through the enemy regiment to clamber up a ladder I hoped would remove me from their hellhound. I wasn’t aware of how scared I was of virtual dogs until that moment, but in a handful of other titles I met mongrels  with the same unblinking terror.


Over the years since then however, I have somewhat come to terms with these barely tamed killing machines living amongst us in real life, and can actually tolerate their presence (if they’re small enough, and preferably asleep). This is also true of their not so real counterparts too. That was, at least, until The Rise of the Tomb Raider.

The wolves in that game are everything I don’t enjoy about dogs. The near silent patting of there paws as they approach. The steady, unyielding gaze as they draw closer to their prey. The way the move in packs, slowly, intelligently surrounding a young woman armed to the teeth but scared for her life.

I had almost completely forgotten that fear, when your heart bottoms out and plunges into where your stomach used to be as its forms into a gaping empty void. The way my muscles tensed as first laid eyes on these proud, snowy grey beasts was the one of the most literal examples of fight or flight I have ever experienced in my life. I would have run from the room, controller still clasped in hand had some part of my brain not flooded with adrenaline not reminded me the fear was merely fictional.

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This, this was not my proudest moment. And I’m not (just) writing this to laugh at how foolish I was, to be so overcome with a fear that I nearly fled from a television screen, but to say how much fun it was too.

Once my intelligence wrestled control from my instinct, and muscles relaxed enough for my fingers to move, I evaded these incoming predators and with a few (read: a lot of) misplaced arrows, managed to survive my encounter.

Being able to deal with my fear, in a safe environment where I knew that ultimately I had full control of how and if I interacted with them was a remarkably soothing prospect. I was able to play against my lifelong instincts and scare myself, really truly scare myself with these seemingly unnatural hunters without any risk harm. This wasn’t the abstract fear of a horror game but a true, affecting fear that I have experienced my whole life.

I know that my fear wasn’t much to deal with, and that others have much stronger reactions than I, but it was a reminder of how powerful the medium of video games could be. Rise of the Tomb Raider was never designed to help people overcome their fear of dogs. Hell, it wasn’t designed to scare the player at all as far I can tell. The wolves they created weren’t meant to the pinnacle of everything worrisome about dogs, and my reaction was probably one completely unaccounted for by the Quality Assurance department at Crystal Dynamics.

But regardless of all of that what I had was a moment of true terror, one I hadn’t experienced in years; one that was more impacting then my initial encounter with digital canines all those years ago, and a moment of clarity that came from it. If this can be done by accident by developers hoping to make an exciting action adventure, this medium could be used for so much more with a little intentional nudging.

The Flame in the Flood Review

This game had me hooked from the trailer. The song of the same name is my go-to shower song, even though I’m still not entirely certain of a lot of the words.

As for the game itself, you can read my thoughts on it here, and why its one of the most refreshing survival games around.

And just in case you’ve got the song stuck in your head, the announcement trailer is right here for you, song and all.