I’ve Grown Up But Videogames Haven’t


I was nine when I got my first console and game; a Sony PlayStation and a copy of Disney’s Action Game Featuring Hercules (a bit of a mouthful). I had played games before but nothing like this with its delightful use of 2D and 3D; its colourful world of Herculades and impossible save points. I wasn’t on the forefront of gaming by any means. I make no claims to that. This was the 90’s.

I grew up with games. I spun crates as Crash Bandicoot, chanted as Abe in Abe’s Oddysee, and brandished a long sword as Cloud in Final Fantasy VII. I followed Naughty Dog from PlayStation to PlayStation. I expanded, bought different consoles, crossed different genres. I grew older. I reached my twenties and I started to play less, but my love for games never vanished. I am now 24 and more picky than ever regarding the games I choose to play. TV became my new escape because I began to realise games hadn’t changed all too much.

At the 2013 DICE Summit David Cage did a talk titled The Peter Pan Syndrome: The Industry That Refused to Grow Up. His point was we need to move the medium forward, to where we’re at today, to explore new themes and ideas – and I happen to agree with him. Please note that this doesn’t mean I want every game to be Heavy Rain. But something different would be nice. Ask a fellow non-gamer friend to take a look at the games lining store shelves and they’re likely to see a bunch of same looking boxes; shooters and sequels to shooters. It’s no wonder so many people still think of video games as a kid’s medium. We haven’t proven ourselves yet. Sure there’s the odd exception and I’ll cover some of those later, but we are still buying the same old crap. And so what do publishers do? Why, sell us more of it of course.

Stories

What I keep coming back to are stories. The basis for a game’s scenario, its world and its characters. How often do you see the same old stories happen in games?

Dude with a gun and a mission?

Rescue the damsel in distress?

Defeat the big boss?

A young hero learning to fight?

Like movies and books, games can literally be about anything. Why are we stuck repeating the same old thing? We play the same White male character (commonly voiced by Nolan North) as the lead in many games. He kills a bunch of dudes and then the credits roll. Even Nintendo lives off its successes of good times gone by with sequels and rehashes of its popular franchises.

Now there are games that buck the trend and these are the ones that capture my attention. Heavy Rain told the story of a father and his desperate search for his son. Grim Fandango; a skeleton salesman in the Land of the Dead uncovering a conspiracy. The Secret of Monkey Island; a goofy boy wanting to become a pirate for no other reason than, because he can.

Why are these games so far and few between? Why can’t this be the norm?

It can be done. We just need the conviction to go through with it. People do buy creative projects. Just look at Kickstarter.

 

Storytelling

And it’s not just the stories themselves but the way they are told. Today it’s still acceptable for you to play for a little bit until you reach a cut-scene that shows your character do something amazing while you sit back and watch, or a dose of exposition is hurled at you while the controller sits on your lap. A few games found a way around this, most notably Half-Life 2 and Bioshock, which keep you in the player’s shoes the whole way through. It’s jarring to say the least to go from a first person perspective to a cut-scene featuring your character.

Games have found ways of giving exposition while you play, and in an entertaining way through dynamic voice over; GLaDOS’ sardonic wise cracks in Portal, or the croaky Rucks  in Bastion. And there’s games like The Walking Dead or Mass Effect where you’re not a straight faced mute and are actually involved in the conversation, picking dialogue options.

 

What Can You Do?

All of this has happened before and will happen again. We’re stuck in a vicious cycle of familiarity. When I say we I do mean the general game buying populace at large. We vote with our dollars for the kinds of stories we wish to play. It doesn’t help that the current best selling games of all time are first person military shooters. The solution for games to leave Neverland once and for all? Buy games that do new and interesting things — games that tell new stories. Fund indie Kickstarter campaigns. And for the love of Tim Schafer, stop buying god damn military shooters!

 

 

My Top 5 Buffy Episodes


Seven seasons of the vampire-butt-kicking Scooby Gang aired between 1997 and 2003. A little late to the party I managed to polish them off during the last six months. So why Buffy now?

Two words: Joss. Whedon.

Having already seen Firefly and Dollhouse I knew I needed more of Joss’s masterstrokes. And that’s when I became obsessed with anything and everything Buffy.

Here are my top five episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Note that all these choices are unique in their format. They aren’t ordinary Buffy episodes, which are great in their own right, especially with the quippage and the snappy dialogues. But when Joss goes off the rails and tries something completely different, well, supernatural stuff happens.

And in no particular order we have…

Hush

 

For nearly half an hour (27 minutes according to Wikipedia) there is not a single line of dialogue on screen. Harking back to the days of silent cinema where in turn the music becomes oh so more significant. The premise is some creepy beings called ‘The Gentleman’ came along and stole the voice from every Sunnydale citizen while they slept.

Forget The Master. Forget Adam. The Gentleman are the scariest villains in the entire series. They float around Sunnydale at night in Victorian suits and wooden teeth, smiling as they watch their wild straight-jacketed minions capture their prey. Then its time to carve out some human hearts. All in the most polite and courteous manner.

Buffy and Riley finally share their love with a kiss. But this is also the point of the season where Riley and Buffy find out each other’s secrets. One is a Slayer, and the other, a military man. Both are tasked with taking care of vampires and demons.

Joss, being the clever fellow that he is, uses the episode to demonstrate problems with communication. Once they lose speech everyone is able to express themselves more clearly – ironic huh? Though of course there are still a few blunders.

The ending is absolute gold. Riley and Buffy can finally talk again but instead they sit in silence, unsure where to begin.

Once More With Feeling

And I thought Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog was good. This “musical” episode takes characters and a show we already know and love and well, turns it into a musical. Sweet, a demon, is summoned and casts a spell over the town of Sunnydale so that anyone can spontaneously burst into song at any given moment. Think Hush but in reverse.

Each character expresses their true feelings through song, finally things that they’ve been keeping secret come into the air. Buffy sings about her troubles and later about needing something worth singing about. Tara sings a lovely song about Willow only to find out about Willow’s magic meddling and so then she sings about how she has to leave her. Same with Giles to Buffy, in order to let her cope on her own. Xander and Anya sing about how they both love and hate each other and their uncertainty for the future. Unfortunately Willow doesn’t have her own song, only a few musical lines throughout. My favourite: “I think this line’s mostly filler”. Dawn’s song is interrupted and becomes a ballet of sorts. Spike sings about his torn heart for Buffy.

Walk Through The Fire is a damn epic and features heavily on my iPod along with the rest of the album. Yes, there’s even a Buffy album.

The Body

Warning! Pretty major spoiler ahead.

Right, you Buffy virgins all gone? Good.

So avid Buffy watchers, you must know that this is the episode in which Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers, dies. Boy did I bawl my eyes out during those 45 minutes. Well, more like a constant drip.

There is no music throughout the episode. Everything is slowed right down to real-time, Breaking Bad style. In stark contrast to all the supernatural deaths on the show, this one is natural, a cerebral aneurysm. Joss’s mother went the same way.

Joyce was in recovery from her operations that season and in true Whedon fashion he killed her off right at her happiest point – being given flowers after a first date.

Everyone in the Scooby Gang deals with the death in their own special way. Buffy imagines scenarios in which Joyce survived. Xander throws his fist into a wall. Willow can’t decide what would be appropriate to wear. Anya, relatively new to the whole human emotion deal, breaks down. Dawn goes to see Joyce’s body in the morgue, by herself. And the only supernatural bit in the episode happens when a vampire rises from an operating table, in a tense. rough battle made all the more scary without music.

Again Joss pushes the boundaries of what TV can do. Without such a creative risk taker something like this would never have made it to air. It’s so raw and unlike any Buffy episode before it. This death meant something.

 

Restless

Instead of defeating the Big Bad in in a massive build up (that happened the episode before), this season finishes off with something quite different.

Due to using some big magicks to defeat Adam, four of the Scoobies are trapped inside their dreams, stalked by the First Slayer, an ancient African female, primal in her urges to slay. It would pay to watch the director’s commentary after this one. Much of the episode is spent inside the dream space. While Joss does say that most of the symbols should be taken quite literally it can still be a tad hard to decipher without the codex of a good director’s commentary.

Xander has the best dream by far and I’m not saying that because of the off-screen lesbian action! He has to conquer his fear of his failure from his long string of jobs and living in his parent’s basement. The long chase scene through each film set is incredible, Xander always ending up at the root of all his fear, the basement and what it stands for. Buffy’s Mum tries to seduce Xander which is awkward for him even after he’s freed from the dream.

The Cheese Man. What does he represent? We may never know. Joss says he’s completely random and without meaning, but I know better. The cheese Man is the answer to everything!

 

Fool For Love

The only non-Joss Whedon episode to make my list. And that award goes to Doug Petrie who wrote the screenplay for this unmissable glimpse into Spike’s backstory. Sure it’s mostly in flashback as Spike tells his story to Buffy, but it’s flashbacks we haven’t seen before – LOST style. After a near death encounter Buffy seeks out Spike’s experience with killing slayers so she can avoid encountering the same fate.

Who would’ve guessed badass Spike was a nancy mummy’s boy and a poet? The Master sired Darla who sired Angel who sired Drusilla who sired Spike, or rather, William.

All it takes is one bite to the neck and soon the meek boy William becomes a confident bloodthirsty vamp. So confident that we see Spike take on his first slayer in China in 1900.

Fast-forward to the 70’s where Spike faces off against a slayer on a New York subway train in an epic battle. Plus get a look at Spike’s outfit!

Like many of you Spike became my favourite character of the series. Where sometimes Buffy would be mopey Spike would always have something smart to say no matter his current state of mind.

 

That’s all folks. Off to watch Angel I go.

The State of Journalism According To The Wire

While The Wire was a damn fun show to watch simply from a good story point of view, it also examines various themes and ideas season to season.

The last season, Season 5, explored the role of Journalism in Baltimore society. Keeping in mind Season 5 aired a good three years ago, most things David Simon, creator of The Wire, put on screen still hold true today. And he should know, he was a reporter for thirteen years.

Simon once wrote as a police reporter for The Baltimore Sun, a newspaper which he used in the television show no holds barred. We even got to see the downright filthy practices of the journalism business.

To introduce us to the world of The Baltimore Sun in season 5, a new set of characters is introduced to us for the first time:

Gus Haynes (Clark Johnson) — a editor at the city desk who stays true to the moral code of journalism.
Alma Gutierrez (Michelle Paress) – a young journalist looking to get a legitimate taste of the spotlight.
Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy) – a journalist who is suspected of fudging the truth.

The Death Of The Newspaper

It’s 2008. The world wide web has changed media as we know it. Newspaper sales are at an all time low. Layoffs are imminent.

White men are at the top of the ladder, seeing The Baltimore Sun as a stop-gap, a platform from which to jump ship to a more revered paper such as The Washington Post or The New York Post.

Which leads to…

Front Page Story Sensationalism

Newspapers need to make money more than ever. And one way for papers to achieve this is to dramatise stories, making them appeal more to readers. Gus is furious when he learns of a burned doll being placed among the debris of a fire, by one of the Baltimore Sun’s photographers.

Alma covers a homicide case of a family murdered in their own home. She wakes up early the next day and visits the printing factory to get an early copy of the paper expecting a front page story only to find “several inches” on page three.

Long-running character Omar, the fear of drug dealers everywhere, is killed in a store shooting, and the story is left entirely off the newspaper’s pages.

“If it bleeds it leads” only applies here if it’s people of a certain class or colour getting knocked off. Or unless there’s something special about the crimes.

McNolty finds this out for himself when his staged homeless killings get pushed to the wayside. He gives the imaginary serial killer a sexual fetish — leaving bite marks on the victims thanks to Lester Freamon’s pair of dentures. And that is the one thing that elevates the story from invisible through to a grand slam of coverage.

Unfortunately for The Baltimore Sun, they don’t know the case is completely fake. One journalist sees the homeless killings as his chance to get noticed regardless of…

Journalistic Ethics

Gus starts to get suspicious of Scott as the season progresses. Gus, the angel of ethics, wants to follow The Baltimore Sun’s policy, which is to get a full name of every source. Scott submits a story about a wheelchair-bound boy trying to get into a baseball game. As viewers we’re not shown these “sources”, but like Gus we have a feeling Scott is playing us like a fiddle.

The homeless killings case is where it all starts to go downhill for Scott. He makes a call from a payphone to his cell phone and invents a story that the serial killer called him. McNolty uses him to his advantage pretending to be the serial killer.

McNolty finally confesses to Scott, knowing that he won’t speak out. The two had strikingly similar character plots, each one telling greater and greater lies. As McNolty pointed out, he knew what he was doing it for — more funds and resources for the police department. What was Scott’s reason?

We then see the season close with Gus and Alma being demoted for questioning Scott’s ethics, while Scott is awarded his Pulitzer.

It sums up the entire season really. Baltimore is corrupt and people can get away with anything.

thewire_homeless

If you want to know more about The Wire’s take on media, watch The Last Word — a feature found on the DVDs. David Simon and the cast members tell it better than I ever could.

Why Good & Evil Just Don’t Cut it Anymore

As posted on ButtonMasher.

When was the last time you saw an insanely evil person? Or even a saintly good person? Our videogames teach us to see in black and white. They are the bad boss guy, I am the good hero. Even in games that let you choose your character’s destiny there are only ever two sides; good or evil.

And quite frankly that is not how the world works. In other media we have characters that reflect actual human beings. This is why I watch TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire in favour of playing many games. The protagonists aren’t always clear cut. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. If you even elect to use the words “Good people”. The world is made up of shades of grey, not a single binary position.

In the Fable series you are often given a moral decision. There are literally only two options in either extreme. Do you save your dog or the entire land of Albion? There we go again with the good and bad. Is it bad for a person to choose their loved ones over a room full of strangers? Can we really say that is a selfish, evil decision? What would you do? Really?


Why can’t we just lock him up?

In the first Infamous you are given a similar decision. Do you save your girlfriend or a bunch of doctors? Instead of just bums off the street the victims were made “doctors” to make the decision harder for you. Doctors help people and could save many more lives down the track.

But of course I chose the hero option which was to sacrifice my love for the lives of the random strangers. All because I was playing the hero. I wasn’t choosing how I truly felt, or what decision I would’ve made if it was actually me in this character’s shoes. No, I wanted the good ending. I wanted to win. I wanted the powers and the PSN trophy that went along with it.

And I know Cole McGrath is supposed to be a comic book superhero. But even comic books have range to them these days. Have you read/seen Watchmen?

Hmm which side lets me fry dogs to feed the homeless?

Most games make us pick sides. In dialogue trees (or wheels) in games like Mass Effect we typically have three options; the Paragon (good), the Renegade (bad), and neutral. The more good dialogues you pick the more “good” your character is regarded. And vice versa.

Will it give me room to be a good-meaning jerk? Someone that will moan and complain but in the end gets the job done? No. You have to pick a side. Savage or altruistic. One or the other. The Charm & Intimidate dialogue options are only available when you progress your respective morality side. We all have the capacity to charm and intimidate in our lives regardless of which side of the morality fence we sit. Oh and by the way, the neutral dialogue option conveys little to no personality whatsoever. Commander Shepard? I say Commander Robot.

Select: “Internal Affairs? Shit, you guys are everywhere.”

I want to be a bad-ass who doesn’t mind saving a cat from a tree every now and again. Which game will let me do that? While you won’t be saving any cats Heavy Rain is one game that springs to mind.

Heavy Rain doesn’t fall into the old tropes of good and evil. Instead you make decisions, and those decisions have consequences. Just like real life. A meter doesn’t fill up specifying to the nearest integer exactly how evil you are.

“How far would you go to save someone you love?” David Cage’s words echo in your skull. There’s a moment in Heavy Rain when you are tasked to kill a drug dealer (who has kids of his own) in order to find your kidnapped son. Cage noted in an interview that most players neglected to kill the man even at the risk of Ethan losing his son. Again like my previous examples there really are only two options in this case, kill the man or let him go. But in Heavy Rain there is no “good & evil” meter. It’s truly about you facing up to your own morals.

In conclusion…

I understand that adding these grey areas is no easy task. It will require some serious programming wizardry. But game designers, if you truly go whole hog with decision making like a Fable or Infamous, please for the love of God give us more than simple hero or villain decision making. Get rid of morality meters once and for all. Give players the room to think for themselves. Let the consequences rule.

An Insider’s Guide To U2 Fandom

If you can spot the favicon of this website you might notice some familiar figures. It is indeed the four members of the musical quartet, U2.

U2 turned me onto the emotional power of music, and helped develop my passion for music.

When I first really latched onto the music of U2 it was circa 2004. Obviously the band has been around since 1978, a good ten years before I was even born. 
 
In my fifth form English class we were shown the film version of Looking for Alibrandi. Our teacher said that even though it was a mature film, and she needed parents permission to screen it, she was going to play it anyway. You gotta love those teachers that break the rules! 

In one of the key emotional scenes, a U2 song plays in the background. But it’s not even U2, it’s a cover by Hamish Cowan performing With or Without You. A rather nasally lead singer that now I can’t help but screw my face up at. But at the time it stuck with me.

It was a little later in the year when I found myself watching C4, New Zealand’s television music channel. I think I was procrastinating study at the time. I hardly ever watch music television, and that still applies today. But it was on, and I was in the room when the C4 presenter described the next song as the one played at the end of a school disco, the one that makes everyone stop on the dance floor. I recognised the beginning beats of this particular song. But it was better, much better. It was the real With or Without You.

From that moment own my fandom grew. And I finally realised all those songs on the radio were actually by U2 — songs like Beautiful Day, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and Where the Streets Have No Name. I wasn’t much of a music fan before U2. I ripped CDs and pirated music. I had never bought a music CD. If I go back now, and look at my old mixed CDs, most of those songs I downloaded were Pop garbage, now lost in time, and only played on those Class of 1990/2000-something radio segments.

I bought my first U2 CD (and first CD at that) at the now-closed Real Groovy in Wellington. The CD was How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. We went off to my Uncle’s house and I tried to listen to it on my teal-lidded laptop. Of course the first thing I did was rip it to the hard drive, and then I listened to it over, and over again. Years later I now own all 16 main U2 albums on CD, most of the DVD concert releases, The re-mastered Joshua Tree album, and assorted U2 memorabilia. A few bootlegs of course. Yet thanks to B-sides and hard to find releases, I’m still discovering their music even today. Just last week I found out about an old instrumental I’d never heard of

As an aside: Five years ago dear reader, I convinced my friends to help me make this embarrassing music video. We promised to make more videos of its kind. We never did…

If I think about it now, my activism today goes back to U2 for inspiring me to take action against extreme poverty and encouraging solutions like Fair Trade and Aids & HIV treatment. We all know how much Bono loves the poverty issue, heck the whole world knows about it now! Love him or hate him, Bono and the band introduced me to a world outside of music. Something bigger than the sounds emitting from my speakers.

Their music is inspirational. It’s encouraging. It’s stirring. Listening to songs like Sunday Bloody Sunday you can’t but help but feel swept up in the revolution, the cause. Like Christianity and the church (which I was a part of for a few years), the songs move you. Many of the songs have religious undertones. Sure some songs are just for fun, but each one has an origin and a meaning. The best part about them is that you can attribute your own meaning. Bono’s lyrics are metaphorical poetry. The perfect imprint for what ails you. 

Something U2 is well known for is its concerts. Oh their concerts. I have only seen U2’s last two tours as that is as far back as my fandom reaches. But my first concert was a U2 one and left such a deep impression that it would sour every other concert for from that moment on.

Vertigo Tour (2006)

I was in the middle of my sixth form year and when I heard U2 were coming to town (pun intended) I knew I had to be there. Unfortunately Wellington was not to host the Irish quartet. That privilege would go to Auckland. The morning the tickets went on sale I waited in line at my local post office as they were using TicketMaster. We waited in line for ages only to get turned away. The first guy in the line got through, but the system had crashed across New Zealand. I was devastated. A little while later the second night was announced.

I still hadn’t told my parents at this stage, but I had to now. The post offices weren’t doing tickets again and I wouldn’t have risked it anyway. I needed to book online with a credit card. I told my parents about my plans. They were baffled. They knew how much U2 meant to me but my Mum said I could buy a DVD for a lot cheaper and save all the hassle. My Dad was worried for my safety and tried to get work off . I’m not an adventurous sort of guy so I guess this was pretty big back then. In the end they withdrew their complaints and let me buy my concert ticket.

I was looking forward to the March 18th concert in 2006, when it was suddenly postponed due to The Edge’s daughter struggling with a serious illness. I wasn’t mad, how could I be? So I waited… and waited… And then we got the announcement that the concert would be rescheduled to November 25th, which happened to be right in the middle of exams. Fortunately for me the tail-end of the exam period didn’t have any of my subjects.

I wasn’t the richest of teenagers at the time. Hilariously I recovered this futureme.org email I sent to myself:

The U2 concert is on November 25th after being postponed from July. At the moment I have no money to get up to auckland and back! I wonder if u went and do u even still like U2??

But somehow I made ends meet. To get up to Auckland I ended up taking the cheapest (and most uncomfortable) option; the Overlander — a train that runs from Wellington to Auckland in under a day. This was my first time on the Overlander, and although the journey was very long and sore on the old behind, I reckon it was worth it. The ride featured breathtaking views of New Zealand greenery, farmland and viaducts. And I’m not just reciting the leaflet here. Besides taking photos on the way up I read the U2 by U2 book I was given for my birthday.

I was to stay with my cousins in Auckland. They let me share a room and meals for a good few days.

And then it was concert day. One of the most fondest days of my life so far — if i recall.

It started with a trip to the Auckland harbour where my relatives took their boat out for a spin. The white sun was shining, the blue water glistening. The wind ruffled my hair. Below deck it was like a luxury hotel. I even convinced them to put on my U2 18 Singles compilation CD. My Aunty asked me if the word Bloody in Sunday Bloody Sunday was just an excuse to swear. I said it was in reference to the conflict in Ireland, and that kept her happy enough to let it keep playing.

That evening my Aunty dropped me off at Mt. Smart Stadium (previously named Ericsson Stadium at the time of the concert announcement). I bought an expensive t-shirt at the merch caravan, and hid my camera under my jacket hoping the security at the entrance wouldn’t spot it. They did. Fortunately they let it slide as it was only a tiny digital camera. Would I have thrown away my Mum’s camera for a chance to see U2? After coming all that way, most definitely. I wouldn’t have been happy about it though. Neither would my Mum. After that ordeal they made me feel more at ease when they removed the lid of my drink bottle. I asked for it back but they sharply refused. If I wanted to make a Molotov cocktail with my water bottle I would’ve filled the damn thing with spirits!

Inside I found a spot close to the front in the general admission. I didn’t want to be crushed so I was still a bit away. Soon it was pretty much packed and I had to stand holding onto my merch bag & camera, and tried not to spill my lidless drink bottle. A couple in front of me smoked for the entire night and I could smell booze in every which direction. But even all that wasn’t enough to stop me from enjoying the hell out of that evening. 

Kanye West came on and did his thing, bass shaking the stadium. After his departure and a few songs then Wake Up, the Arcade Fire hit (which I didn’t know at the time) kicked in. An emotional flurry took on the stadium. We knew the band was soon to come on. We just felt it. Giant inflatable beach balls danced around on top of the sea of people.

And then they were here.

Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry. They opened with City of Blinding Lights. The rest of the evening was a blur of good feelings. I sang my heart out to most of the songs. The crowd did the same along with me. I was amongst people just like me. U2 fans. That blew me away more than anything. My family liked the odd U2 song, but I think it may have driven them batty seeing as it was all I listened to.

I laughed when Bono came out in his Warriors jacket. I was delighted when I heard the Beautiful Day lines changed to reflect New Zealand.

The night closed, the lights turned on, and my ears felt like I’d been under water for the last three hours. We herded out of the stadium like cattle. I looked dumbstruck at the scene below with all the empty cans and litter everywhere. I walked away from the stadium and over to McDonald’s where my Aunty was waiting for me. I went to bed late and I found it hard to sleep. In the morning I got up early, put on my U2 shirt, and caught the train back to Wellington.

 

360 Tour (2010)

Things were more relaxed this time around. I was so desperate for them to come to New Zealand, I thought the claw would stop them from visiting entirely. But then the tour was announced for Downunder and it all just seemed like it was always meant to be. After my trip to America, and my six week stint in the Army, it was basically a trip up to Auckland that next week. Even though I was planning on going to see U2 all year it was almost an after thought compared to all I’d been through.

This time it wasn’t a solo affair. I was heading up with my Dad, his partner, and my friend Stephen. Stephen told me he would like to see a U2 concert (and this was his first visit to Auckland in fact). We flew up together by plane and couch surfed at my Dad’s-partner’s-son’s-flat (geez that’s a mouthful!) while the others stayed at my Uncles. we did various Auckland sight seeing. Stephen took a trip up the Sky Tower. As I had visited the Sky Tower earlier that year (and sometime before that too) I couldn’t bring myself to fork over money. We visited MOTAT (The Museum of Transport & Technology) and took a ride in a spaceship, together with examining ancient NZ relics. My favourite sights were probably going through what kiwis had as household entertainment, starting from balls on paddles and army men through to retro videogames.

Then it was show day. I bought another t-shirt, even my Dad bought some merch. I learned from last time not to bring a camera, though I did have one on my iPhone. As for the drink bottle I knew I had to surrender the cap, and I gave it up without a wimper. A special section of the tent was reserved for taping up said bottle, which was probably worse than having it spill on people, I didn’t have a sip until the end of the night. We were starving upon entering the pearly gates. I managed to follow a path of arrows leading me to a pizza place hidden behind the other food wagons. Stephen and I shared different pizzas and munched on garlic bread.

Stephen wanted to get to the very front. I don’t much like mosh pits, though U2 concerts aren’t known for those. He convinced me to go closer than I would’ve otherwise. Jay Z was soon on stage with his band putting on a show in the little daylight that was still left.

Some more waiting and then David Bowie’s Space Oddity started to ooze out from the stage speakers. “Ground control to Major Tom”, Bowie’s slow words filled the stadium. This time I didn’t feel that U2 would be on next, I knew. I’d seen the show twice before ,which is most likely one of the reasons the tour didn’t blow my socks off like the first. There were no surprises thanks to my several screened viewings of the tour at the Rose Bowl. First the live stream on YouTube, and then on DVD.

I found the sound in the stadium a little distorted. Something I didn’t recall from my first concert. But that’s being very picky. I still loved seeing the gang in person again, and having some others enjoy it with me.

The claw structure was easily impressive and something you really need to see in person. The expanding screens and circling bridges sure make a brilliant spectacle. The band definitely appeared closer than in the Vertigo tour, especially with the bridges and outer rim for the four to prance around. Even Larry got on his bongo and went for a walk.

The night closed with Elton John’s Rocket Man, another fitting song to the theme of the tour. We didn’t get a live connection to the International Space Station, but the video was still in place.

   

Favourite Songs

While it is incredibly hard to choose between such a selection I managed to narrow it down to three songs I never skip when they come on.

1. Beautiful Day from the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind.

2. With Or Without You from the album The Joshua Tree.

3. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) from the album Achtung Baby.

All three are very emotional and often leave me singing my heart out. Beautiful Day is about enjoying the moment, and forgetting about everything else, saying it’s good to be alive. With or Without You is more melancholy, embracing the pain, and feeling everything even the bad. Ultraviolet has a bit of happy and a bit of sad, almost a mix of the above two songs. It’s optimistic, about finding the light and surging forward. I’m not a music critic and I don’t pretend to be one!

So that my friends is the end of my story — a rather haphazardly spun tale of my U2 fandom. Even if you aren’t a fan of the band I hope you gained some insight into what it’s like to be a fan (or a total cliché of one anyway).