You remember Christmas; you know, tinsel, presents, over-indulgence. When all you could hear were the classic Christmas hits, and the big Christmas Number One. Killing in the Name Of. There’s more to say about the event than even this lengthy article has room to support. Rage Against The Machine getting to #1 with a song that peaked, nearly two decades ago, at #25. Not just that, but to Christmas Number One, the one chart result the whole country is trained to care about. People’s reactions? Well, we’d need a whole new website to talk that one through. All the backlash about “oh it’s still going to Simon Cowell” (not true, the man doesn’t own Sony) or “it’s a silly song” (being honest, 17 years removed, it kind of is) isn’t the point. The point they missed is, do we still care about the Top 40? The music in the is the world to a certain demographic (shudder); the pop-discovering, identity-forming young teens. But the spread of that isn’t top-down, it’s bottom-up: what a marketing person would be able to call viral without having difficulty ever looking their reflection in the eye again. It spreads across playgrounds and the backseats of buses, through word-of-mouth and mostly, through phones. Ringtones; playing a new song to your mates; Bluetooth, if you’re that old-skool. Y’know, for the kids… It’s this kind of able-to-hear-it-anyway method that renders the chart unimportant, I guess. Who needs the public at large acting as a taste-maker, when you’ve got your friends skimming for the best bits and playing them to you? For me, card-holding Indie Kid, this means flicking through blogs and occasionally even traditional magazines with Spotify close to hand, and the recommendations of a few particular friends. I get to choose whose taste I trust and listen to the songs immediately. No more relying on the general public. But us alternative types, the indie kids, the obscurity seekers, we never should have to care about that anyway, should we? But I think the charts are important. As historical record for one. What was it like being young in 1977, really? 1982? Check the charts. Look at freakytrigger.co.uk’s genius Popular, which is going through every British #1 ever since the first (Al Martino’s Here In My Heart, since you’re asking) and writing an essay on each. They’re also important as a way of making music feel like it matters. Giving us a story. You might well have sneered at a sudden Michael Jackson fan produced by his death. But, to go one notch more credible, how much of the Blur/Oasis enjoyment rode on that feeling of being in a gang? Still sneering? Have you ever worn a band t-shirt, liked someone because they liked the same type of music? You like being in a gang, admit it. But ultimately, it’s all just music, right? Sounds that do or don’t vibrate your ear drums the right way to make you feel something. Why should all the trappings matter? Because it makes people interested. Let’s look at the Top 40 right now as I write this (for the blog-o-sphere, now a week ago). Numbers five and six in the chart right now are the same song, in two versions- Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, the original and as performed by the cast members of American smash-hit TV programme Glee (which I still haven’t seen and am holding out hope will be good, but that’s a mainstream-embracing story for another time). That song has snuck back into the public consciousness loads of late- your university life has probably crossed paths with an anthemic singalong at some point. We’re all just a smalltown girl… It’s the same story as Rage- a third-party makes you suddenly care about the song, and before you know it it’s being thrust to the forefront of pop culture all over again. But those are old songs. The Top 40 is a signifier of the new. Singles are the currency of freshness in music; something new every week please, more and more until I’m full. My esteemed colleague Tom Lowe suggests here that this is a dangerous attitude.But how is this desire any different to the music obsessive’s constant hunt for a new favourite band? Not necessarily following them but being aware of the charts, I have discovered a lot of stuff I genuinely love. It took months of singles for Lady Gaga to click with me and now I celebrate every time I hear Bad Romance (#7) because something so unusual made it through. Weirdness being the lifeblood of pop, the home of the novelty single. The rest of the chart is hit and miss. I hate Iyaz’s Replay (#1), still don’t get Florence or her Machine (You’ve Got The Love, #8). I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at Owl City’s blatant Postal Service rip-off Fireflies (#2, and I implore you, if you like this, to seek out their seminal album Give Up). I probably shouldn’t but I adore Sidney Samson’s Riverside (#3, though it seems much bigger than that) and rather like 30H!3’s Starstrukk (#4) which cheekily combines Katy Perry, a few great lyrics and some good gimmicks to hide the fact that it’s a bit generic. There’s no denying that ‘pop music’ today is an umbrella that covers a whole lot of ground, a lot of it really interesting. Who’d have thought something that sounded like a Death Cab For Cutie cast-off would ever make it to number two? And more good stuff more popular means less overplaying. Only you can prevent another Sex On Fire, kids. …But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve hit that point in life where I mellow out, stop caring about music with the intensity of a teenage zealot. I’m also less exposed to overplayed, overproduced rubbish- I club a lot less these days (getting old), am generally exposed to the radio only for short bursts, and can’t afford music TV. But I think the charts are important- even when […]

The Scariest Game I Have Ever Played

I am here to talk to you today about 2008’s finest Apocalypse Simulator. One that didn’t get much mention in the Best Of lists, one that eclipses the most impressively real panic attack-inducing situation Left 4 Dead can throw at you. I am talking, of course, about Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise. On the surface, it seemed simple enough: a cuddly, family-friendly kind of game, where you run a garden of sweet animals with pun-heavy names. A lovely present from a caring girlfriend. Imagine my horror to find that this was, in fact, all a façade for the true nature of the game. It’s a prep-kit designed to teach you how to deal with the death of everything you ever loved. My time with the game had been happy enough: a proud roster of beloved pets with in-jokey names, a tidy if unremarkable little patch of land to call my own. Then I hit Level 21. Amidst a flurry of upgrades and rewards, a modest cutscene introduces me to my nemesis, Professor Pester. He seems harmless enough, bumbling around, until I realise he is invulnerable to smacks from my trusty spade, and he’s out to kill every last one of my beloved Piñatas. Meanwhile, the garden is invaded by his minions, the Sours- evil versions of the Piñatas. Until now, they’d hardly been a problem: coming into my garden unbidden, eating the odd flower, causing general mischief. Distracted by the misdeeds of the Professor, I spade one to death- just two quick taps. I move on to some other task. Out of sight, the Sour splits open and spills two red seeds out onto the green papery grass. Seeds that will grow, quickly and inevitably, into weeds. A burst of noises, and suddenly I look up from micromanagement of my vegetable patch. It’s an outbreak. Nearly a quarter of my garden is engulfed in chaos: red ugly plants climb up, choking and trapping my Piñatas. They spit fire and poisonous gas. And, most deadly of all: sweets. Bunnycombs flee, their papery fur burning. Lickitoads and Sweetles collapse, green, onto their backs. My beloved Zorro-esque Pretztail, El Foxxo, munches down on a poisoned candy. Before I can do a thing, half my Piñatas are dying and as I summon the Doctor to save them, yet more fall ill to the growing forest of red. Gardening Sim becomes Survival Horror as I try to quell two epidemics at once, illness and weeds, and fight with the controls, which suddenly seem purposefully slow and clumsy. So slow. Eventually, the Piñatas themselves become your enemies. Their bodies choke paths for the Doctor and block your attack on the weeds. The panic of the situation has turned a few of them animalistic, and I find pairs of Piñatas locked in mortal combat, tearing each other limb-from-sweet-little-limb. You’re cursing the stupidity that means they’re eating the same sweets that made them sick twice already. But there’s no way you’re going to let one die. And then one does. Dastardos, the game’s Death figure, appears. He is endlessly creepy, floating just above the ground, all twisted anatomy and red Picasso fixed-express mask. To give you an idea of just how scary he is, here is a description from the Viva Piñata wiki, pinataisland.info. “Dastardos … puts sick piñatas out of their misery with a big stick. When things go badly for an animal, they get sick. Dastardos has invented a cheerful song to help him through the day and make piñatas calm while he ‘fixes’ them.” So sure enough, Dastardos goes about ‘fixing’ a sick Piñata, then another, and another, drifting between the fallen animals, singing his song. These Piñatas are mine- were mine- and they’re never coming back, not the same as they were. In terms of gameplay, it’s just the simple loss of a name and any clothing you might have bought that Piñata (you see the cracked-open body fly into the sky and plant neatly down, fixed again, outside of your garden) but, effectively, it’s the loss of a personality. It hurts more than any fallen comrade-in-arms, the cutscene death of a key character. It hurts more, even, than a corrupted save game or a dead, scratched disc; hours of precious playtime gone. Tired from the endless death and futility, a solution occurs- just kill the 360. I can always fire it up again with an older save. So I shut it down. No luck. Still knee-deep in the apocalypse, just a little earlier, and soon too many animals have fallen. This time it seems worse: the bottom of my screen won’t stay still, new alerts of sickness and death popping up every second. I turn off the 360 again, and take some deep breaths. I call Rare and Professor Pester some very unsavoury things to my girlfriend, who bought me this game as a release from all that muddy grey violence. I scour the internet for help, of which I find little, and fire up the game again, now resigned to my fate. I quarantine the area, excavating the biggest pool I can manage. No seed will take root in the water. I hire two weeders, dispatch them to battle the growing tide of choking plants… Not quick enough. Death comes still. 360 goes off, I catch my breath. Eventually, three tries later, I manage it, but at a cost. I watch death take a Lickitoad, a Piñata I was never too close to, and take toll of the other casualties. My beloved Bunnycomb population is wiped out, but for one survivor. I take a breath and marvel at my garden that was, for a terrifying half-hour, a battleground. I mourn the Piñatas I lost, and start to rebuild. The survivors gobble up the sweets spilt from broken-open Piñata, and life goes on. In a bittersweet twist, the fire had evolved one of my Tafflies into a hidden form, a Reddhott, and I go about exploring this new discovery, recreating and breeding my […]