Increasing the Length of Post-Purchase Excitement

Nothing to do with getting new stuff, but Johnny Cash doesn't look very happy there, does he?

I love getting something new, especially if it’s a piece of tech. Before I buy some new tech I’ll spend a good couple of months, possibly longer, researching every option and working out what will suit me best, whether the item costs £20 or £200. I then buy the new thing and love it passionately for a few days (no USB-themed sex jokes please) and then it becomes the norm and that passion dies. I still enjoy using it and having it, and I certainly appreciate it, but that buzz of discovery and first-time interaction is gone. Right, this is sounding like a terrible metaphor for relationships so I’m going to move on.

The reason I’m talking about novelty is because I’ve just ordered my new phone. For months I kept a keen eye on the mobile market and researched the new phones coming out. In the end it came down to a choice: The iPhone 4 or the HTC Desire. I already own an iPod Touch and I love it. But I love it for the music side of things and looking up something quickly on the internet when I can’t be arsed firing up the laptop. I decided against the iPhone in the end because I don’t like the way Apple have created this world of lowered expectations with the device. A good example of this was when the iPhone finally added copy and paste functionality as a major part of an update. It’s copy and paste. COPY AND PASTE. There are a few other reasons I didn’t pick the iPhone including cost and lack of customisation (for a product that pushes the huge choice available on the App Store, it bothers me that every iPhone looks the same once you get beyond the lock screen.) Anyway, I’m going into too much detail. The iPhone is a great phone and that can’t be denied, though having seen the glowing reviews for the HTC Desire I thought that would suit me more.

Here’s the question I’m going to pose in this post: How quickly will my new phone go from mega-exciting to functional and nice? Does the fact that it’s customisable on such a large scale increase the longevity of the post-purchase excitement, or does that not make a difference because an operating system is an operating system and no matter how you customise it you’ll soon be familiar with what it can do? Also, if I get a mate to kerb-stomp me and mess up my brain, will waking up every day to a totally fresh user experience with my phone outweigh the longterm effects of severe amnesia?

A big part of me thinks that I agree with the equation ‘more functions + large customisation opportunity = long-lasting fun’ mainly because of the reliance on apps for smartphones. A few years ago when you bought a phone you simply got what you got: There was no downloading of new apps or operating system updates or anything else. You got your texts and your calls and maybe an OK-ish camera and that was your lot. Nowadays (get me, I’m twenty-fucking-five years old) you can change what your phone can do and be every 5 minutes. You can download a tiny turntable to scratch out samples of your voice to annoy people. You can stay up to date with any person in the world at the flick of a finger. You can even press a button that makes a fart noise. The options are almost limitless.

I suppose I’m worried that I’ve hyped myself up a little too much for this (this post contributes towards that) and I don’t want to get bored of what I have as the new standard length of phone contracts is quite grim when you really think about it. Can a piece of technology truly be familiar and exciting at the same time?

Maybe I’ll just use it for 12 seconds per day. That way it’ll take a good three years to get past that post-purchase excitement.

Did you learn to drive at the circus?

Ahhhhhhh, a road free from arseholes. Beautiful.

I’m not the best driver on Earth but I’d like to think I’m very good. This isn’t because I’ve got an automotive ego, it’s because I give people around me plenty of space. It’s because I only move into another lane when there’s nothing approaching me on that side. It’s because I try to think of others when I drive, thus eliminating most chances of being a tit to somebody else on the road.

Every day I see people driving like idiots and it bakes my balls. Instead of shouting at them uselessly from inside my car I thought I’d write the worst four things I hate people doing here. Roads and drivers aren’t totally unique so everyone knows these problems, but this is part of my therapy process for road rage so please humour me.

1. Driving up my arse

Not in a mad-scientist-shrinks-a-car-and-travels-into-my-rectum-like-a-fucked-up-version-of-Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids way, but when somebody thinks you’re going slow by doing the speed limit and rides inches off your back bumper. There have been many times when I’ve honestly thought about hitting the anchors and grinning as the following car sails into the back of mine. Yes, there’d be some paperwork to sort out but at least the twat would learn their lesson. I see this every day and it ranges from annoying to downright dangerous. Oh, and it’s always someone driving a nice Mercedes, Audi or BMW. If you drive one of these vehicles be aware that others are letting you down big time. So much so that when I see a driver of one of these cars being responsible and driving well I actually feel the need to pull up level with them, pop down the window and shake their hand.

2. ‘Creepers’

These people don’t really pose a threat to the rest of us and they’re fairly harmless. The traffic light goes red and they’re at the front of the queue so they slow to a stop in front of the white line. Then, even though they know the light won’t be changing for another 30 seconds, they creep forward at a pace of around 0.36 mph until it goes green. I really don’t get this one. Do these people think they’ll get some kind of speed advantage from this? It defies logic. Taxi drivers are especially guilty of this one and often end up halfway across the junction by the time the light goes green. As I said, not dangerous – just fucking annoying.

3. Lane switchers

Not people who switch lanes normally of course, oh no. I’m talking about those that sit in a right-hand lane and as soon as the person in front of them flicks on their indicator to show they’re turning right, the muppet behind does anything and everything to get into the left-hand lane, cutting up anyone who dares not slam on the anchors for them. The thing that bothers me about this is that these people drive the same route every day (I see the same old cars doing this) and they know what’s going to happen but want to stay in the right-hand lane because there’s a 1 in 5,000 chance that nobody will turn right and they’ll have an advantage over everyone else. If you’re going to drive in a turning lane because you think it’s quicker, accept the fact that there will be times where you’re held up by people in front. You’ve made your bed, now fucking lie in it.

4. Overtaking syndrome

This one isn’t as common as the others so I don’t know if anyone else has experienced it. You’re driving on the motorway and the car in front of you is well under the limit. You go to overtake them and as they clock you in their mirror trying to go past them they speed up so you can’t. This goes on for a while as you’re both level with each other until one person slows down massively or speeds up quite a bit. There’s a rule that applies to this one – your car is usually not as good as theirs when this happens. My own personal perspective is that they don’t like that an inferior car (in this case my 1.2 Seat Ibiza) is overtaking them and upon seeing you they suddenly realise their better car should be high up the list on some kind of automotive pecking order. They’re as silly as the ‘creepers’ and probably don’t deserve mentioning in any way, but they still wind me up.

Right, I feel a lot better now.  For those who think I’m using this post to have a dig at expensive cars or cars better than my own, I’m not. I know others who drive nice cars that don’t act like this at all. Also, I see twats in cars that you wouldn’t believe were roadworthy. As much as these people annoy me I am glad they exist. Without them I wouldn’t feel like a superior human being when I’m out on the road. So thank you, shite drivers, you make me look pretty good behind a steering wheel. I’m out.

King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

The real star: Walter Day of TwinGalaxies. Taken at MagFest VII in January 2009 by Chris Duglosz. Click image for his Flickr page.

Last week I watched King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters after a friend recommended it. I was told it was a documentary about guys competing against each other for the world record score on the arcade classic Donkey Kong. That’s true, but I will say that description was hardly the most appealing and I wasn’t really expecting anything genuinely interesting. This opinion had changed hugely within the first 10 minutes of watching the film.

The subject matter of dank, dark arcades, sweaty middle-aged men and constantly irritating beeps might put off non-gamers, but you definitely don’t need to have an interest in the gaming world to enjoy King of  Kong – it’s a massively entertaining documentary in its own right. The film uses gaming culture as the backdrop that binds the film together and tells a story and once you meet the people in the documentary you realise that it’s all about them and their lives and not gaming. Billy Mitchell (think Damon Hill with longer hair and an infinite collection of shit ties) holds the world record high score for Donkey Kong at the beginning of the film and is, well, a proper twat. Steve Wiebe is the man challenging the world record score, a very likeable bloke who is excellent at nearly everything he turns his hand to but has “come up short at a lot of things in life” according to his wife, letting the world sneakily know that Steve might have erectile dysfunction. He’s the guy you want to knock Mitchell off the top spot. Actually, I wanted anyone to knock Mitchell off the top spot. His words, his bullish and cocky attitude, his dress sense and his cowardice make him as much of a villain as any bad guy in a film. He even LOOKS like the villain of the piece thanks to a face that is completely incapable of relaying a single emotion. Wiebe might be the man everyone is rooting for throughout the film, but he isn’t the true star of King of Kong: Walter Day is.

If you’ve seen Old School you’ll probably laugh the first time you see Walter Day. He is Blue. An aging man wearing a referee’s shirt  who has devoted his life to building a community-based organisation that is the definitive source of world record video game and pinball scores. He’s passionate, friendly and committed, and by the end of the film I found myself wishing Walter was my uncle. Walter and the staff of Twin Galaxies spend day after day watching videos mailed to them by prospective world record champions to make sure the record is genuine and there is no foul play.  Stacks and stacks of videos sit in a pile in one corner of the office as head Twin Galaxies referee Robert Mruczek (Dwight Schrute, anyone?) comments about the next videos he’ll need to watch and verify: 48 hours worth of game footage submitted by one person. Billy Mitchell says that no one at the organisation gets paid for their work and Mruczek counters this by saying that he gets to watch world records being set every day, which not many people can boast about. He’s right, though I’m not sure how many passionate gamers would gladly devote their life to watching hours of recorded game footage to check for cheating.

It’s difficult to talk about King of Kong properly without spoiling it and I don’t want to give away anything because the documentary goes through more than a few twists and turns during it’s  83 minute duration and all of them make the film more gripping as they happen. There’s frustration, sadness, joy, anger and much more as grown men, who’ve arguably dedicated their life to achieving a high score, battle with each other to become the champion.

Regardless of whether you have an interest in video games, King of Kong is very much worth watching.  It uses the subject matter of classic video games as a canvas for a much more fascinating focus: the length that some people will go to to be the best in the world at something.  After the film has finished and you know who the world record holder is, you still can’t help wondering about what it has cost them.

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A Night at the Races

Yeah, this looks like the start of a clip from World's Most Amazing Videos. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there weren't any exploding cars.

At the beginning of this year I made a promise to myself that I’d get out more and check out interesting things happening in and around Manchester. A few days ago I had an email from my mate asking if I was up for watching stock car racing at Bellevue Stadium, a few miles outside the city centre in east Manchester. I’m not a huge petrolhead but I do like cars and thought this would be a top opportunity to do something different.

For £12 entry fee you got to watch a few different classes of stock cars, bangers and even Reliant Robins (I’m not shitting you) gun frantically round the oval track and, more often than not, smash into each other and create all kinds of automotive chaos. You can watch from outside or sit inside (no extra cost) and even have a wander round the pits, look at the cars and chat to the racers about how cramped and sparse the inside of every car is.

This smashed-up Reliant Robin won it's race. It actually looked like this before the race even started!

If you’re into cars and fancy doing something different in Manchester this is well worth a visit. For details of the next racing night have a gander at the Star Trax site: http://www.startrax.info/

Commitment issues

When I don't finish games I get angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I love video games for many different reasons. They’re social, they’re an art form (Ebert, this is one more person that disagrees with you) and most of all, they’re a distraction. I remember when I was 8-years-old, playing Tetris on my Game Boy (you know, those things you slot your debit card into to pay for your meal at a restaurant) under the duvet of my bed with that quality light/magnifying glass attachment that meant you could play while your folks just thought you were sleeping. I remember popping 19 AA batteries into my Game Gear a few years later to power the chunky handheld for around 13 minutes as I was sword-molested by a skeleton in the original Prince of Persia. I have lots and lots of fond gaming memories, but I also have something that plagues my thumb-twiddling fun and haunts me as I jump from console to console: I rarely complete the games I buy.

I probably don’t finish 70% of the games I purchase, which is a pretty shit statistic when you think about it. When I say ‘complete’ I mean just getting to the end of the single player campaign, I don’t mean netting all the achievement points and unlocking everything there is because I don’t think many gamers manage that these days. So, why do I not finish the games I buy? Well, I think I’ve found a few reasons. Sorry, excuses.

Excuse #1: There are too many good games and too little time to play them.

I work full time, I go to the gym, I spend an hour cooking some fancy-dan bastard pasta dish because I’m scared the narrator of Come Dine with Me will mock me for eating something very simple. By the time I sit down on a weeknight to play a game, and this is presuming the missus doesn’t want to watch something on the TV or we have a new Love Film disc, it’s probably 9pm.  This means I have less hours to play and by the time I’ve got myself in the middle of one game I’ve had it for ages and another game I like the look of has been released.

Excuse #2: I buy games I probably won’t like because I want to like them.

Another excuse is that I often buy games that get great review scores, regardless of the genre and whether I actually have a history of liking those kind of games. I don’t like games that feature fairies and potions and Japanese teens with over-sized pets, but I’ll read a glowing review of a game and end up buying it because it will be the one that I think will convert me. I don’t like to trade games in so I just leave it on the shelf and tell myself I’ll try it again soon. This, I realise, makes me sound like some flash twat who walks around buying whatever he likes because he can. Trust me, I  don’t have the cash to be buying games foolishly. Unfortunately the internet is (kind of) free and the people writing the good reviews can still reach me. I wish they’d leave me alone.

Excuse #3: I get hooked on one game and don’t bother playing anything else

I’m very guilty of this one. When I get my paws into a game I love for its multiplayer I can play it for a very long time and ignore anything else because I’m a habitual creature. When Halo 3 came out I played it for a solid 2 years online, pretty much every other night. That was replaced with Modern Warfare 2 a few months ago, which I’m doing the same thing with now. I have a couple of mates who influence my gaming habits and these mates just so happen to be into the same games and we end up playing them together online a hell of a lot. I’m honing my talents in one game and disowning everything else. The simple solution here would be move cities, not tell anyone my new contact details, board my windows up, never leave the house and effectively rid myself of any and all social contact with my mates. Or just stop paying for Xbox Live.

So those are my excuses for not completing the majority of games I buy. Maybe I’ll revisit a lot of these games and sort that though (I’m just saying this to make myself feel better and probably won’t do that at all.)

Am I the only person to not finish games? Anyone else that would care to ‘fess up and lead some of the pointing fingers away from my guilt-ridden hands?

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