Walking Hadrian’s Wall 2011 – Day Seven: Lanercost to Carlisle

Steps: 31,453

Distance: 18.86 km

Given the succession of easy days, we expected Day Seven to be a little more hard going but leaving Abbey Mill behind us, we soon found ourselves making rapid progress through gently undulating countryside and farmland. In fact, our progress was so swift that a late lunch at Crosby turned into an early one.

Continue reading →

Walking Hadrian’s Wall 2011 – Day Six: Gilsland to Lanercost

Steps: 25,379

Distance: 15.22 km

I’d like to begin this entry with a word about the weather.  We walked the Wall during the first week of September and we went into it knowing that the weather would be what meteorologists refer to as changeable.  ‘Changeable’ is certainly an apt description of the weather we experienced though ‘unpredictable’, ‘random’ and ‘insane’ are perhaps more thematically appropriate.  Day six began with what would become one of the recurring motifs of the second half of the walk: jacket switching.  One minute it would be brilliant sunshine, then there would be bitter cold and howling gales.  Occasionally, the sky would darken and rain would pelt us just long enough to force a stoppage and a change of clothes.  These meteorological mind-games resulted in my playing chicken with the weather and refusing to put on my raincoat on the grounds that the rain simply would not last.  I am happy to say that I won more games than I lost.

Continue reading →

Walking Hadrian’s Wall – Day Five: Saughy Rigg to Gilsland

Steps: 20,000

Distance: 11.7 km

Having done the crags the previous day, day five’s walking felt very much like a cop-out; too few steps and too little complaining to be altogether real. The morning began with a gentle stroll along the last large-scale remnants of the Wall.

Continue reading →

BG43 – QWOP, GIRP and the Construction of Video Game Realism

Futurismic have my forty-third Blasphemous Geometries column.

The column uses Bennett Foddy’s flash games QWOP and GIRP to investigate the concept of realism in a video game concept.  In a recent article in Wired magazine, Foddy was championed for his commitment to “soul-crushing, low-reward realism” in video games but are GIRP and QWOP really more realistic than Assassin’s Creed?

While there is definitely something ‘unrealistic’ about the ease of physical movement displayed by the characters in Assassin’s Creed, it does not follow that QWOP and GIRP are ‘realistic’ simply because they make physical activity seem a lot more difficult. Indeed, most gamers are in fact capable of walking a few steps and climbing over a wall without falling over or drowning. They can do these things because, for most people, walking and climbing are skills that are learned in infancy, skills that they have mastered to the point where using them no longer required conscious thought. By asking us to focus upon how the laws of physics interact with the movement of our muscles while walking, Foddy is asking us to take control of a character who has not yet mastered the art of walking. But such a character is no more representative of ‘real life’ than a character who can scale a building without breaking a sweat. Both Assassin’s Creed and QWOP present us with highly selective visions of reality, visions that instantly belie any claim to artistic realism suggesting that, yet again, claims or artistic realism are nothing more than rhetorical hot air.

A better way of looking at Foddy’s games is to consider them as an interrogation of the control mechanisms that gamers have come to take for granted.  Gamers pick up a game assuming that they will be able to run and jump and kill with effortless grace, Foddy’s games deny them that ease of access. His games make the most mundane tasks crushingly difficult and so draws our attention to the manufactured nature of gaming reality.

I conclude the column by pointing out that a lot of what we think of as ‘hardcore games’ are in fact nothing more than games that refuse to call into question the basic assumptions and conceits of gaming.  In order to play a hardcore game, you have to be familiar with the games that came before it. In truth, ‘Hardcore’ games are nothing more than unimaginative games that are content to echo the design decisions made in earlier games. ‘Hardcore gaming’ is nothing more than unadventurous and conservative gaming rebranded.

Walking Hadrian’s Wall – Day Four: Chollerford to Saughy Rigg

Steps: 28,000

Distance: 16.65 km

I’d like to begin this day’s entry with a few words on preparation.  In the bumph we received from Hadrian’s Wall Ltd, there were frequent allusions to the need for us to be both physically and psychologically prepared for the walk.  Reading this, we made fun of the idea that a few days’ walking in the countryside might require a rigorous regimen of fasting and meditation. Oh the folly of innocence!

Continue reading →

Walking Hadrian’s Wall – Day Three: Harlow Hill to Chollerford

Steps: 30,000

Distance: 18 km

Breakfast brought more culinary disappointments from The Keelman’s.  My eggs were unseasoned and came with only minimal toast.  Also, most B+Bs tend to give people a pot of coffee for the table. However, The Keelman’s serve you by the cup and so if, like me, you enjoy your coffee in the morning, you may find yourself having to pester the waitress a few times for more coffee. Given that we arrived at The Keelman’s completely knackered and starving hungry, my memories of the place may well have been etched by the twin (and not entirely disconnected) acids of bile and low blood sugar but, after two disappointing meals and a night spent on a bed that felt like a sack of flour, I was more than happy to leave Newburn behind and head out into the countryside.

Continue reading →

Walking Hadrian’s Wall – Day Two: Tynemouth to Harlow Hill

Steps: 50,000

Distance: 30 km

The day began with the sort of breakfast you might expect from a faded seaside hotel.  People sat at tables with white linen tablecloths looking out of a huge picture window at storm-ravaged British coastline.  Alongside the apple and orange juice sat a pitcher of tomato juice, some Tobasco sauce and a few sticks of celery.  Penance, no doubt, for a night on the Courvoisier. Breakfast was decent but no more.  Neither quantity nor quality was anything other than fine.

Bags packed, boots laced, stomachs filled, we headed off on our first day’s proper walking.  Gary had suggested the possibility of walking from Tynemouth to Wallsend in Newcastle but this prospect seemed to appall us both.  We were there to walk the Wall.  Tyneside’s cheap, clean and efficient Metro took us into town and deposited us at Wallsend, near Segedunum and the old Swan Hunter shipyards.

Continue reading →