Monday 15 December 2008

Going Gonzo

So I’m trying to write a bit Gonzo – more Hunter S. Thomspon than Muppet – after being inspired by reading Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 which, I might add, is a cracking read. Absurdist humour has always tickled my funny bone in the best way (Q: How long’s a piece of string? A: A bowl of soup this colour) and Thompson at the height of his powers does absurd the best. But it’s actually harder than it looks and even he doesn’t get it right all the time. When he does though, as in describing his wanting to put together an Outrage like releasing 50,000 bats into the Democratic convention centre on the night of Hubert Humphrey’s presidential nomination, which he declines on the grounds that getting the nomination would be punishment enough, Thompson lights up the page like the fourth of July

So it strikes me that Gonzo works best when you’ve actually got something worth writing about – like picking up some hitchhikers who also happen to be part of the Freak Kingdom on the road to Washington just before dawn. In this my own personal Post-University purgatory I don’t have nearly as much to write about that’s actually interesting. So instead, it occurs to me that Thompson has another fall-back in his writing; talking about stuff that really freaks him the fuck out. And there’s a lot of that going round in my world right now.

For starters, to make any kind of objective evaluation of my own chances of procuring employment within my chosen industry (videogames), a highly competitive career path to be sure, I’m much too close to myself to make any kind of objective and rational evaluation of my prospects. People I talk to on twitter say, ‘Quit worrying, idiot, you’re smart enough to get any job’, which is a lovely sentiment and I appreciate the vote of confidence, but they’re not the one trying to overcome a lifetime of stay-at-home complacency and inaction when it comes to employment… and I don’t exactly have an abundance of funds when it comes to cash.

Which reminds me of another thing Thompson loves – short paragraphs. And elipses… I thought that particular habit like nail-biting, dropping them in like pennies in a Christmas pudding, was a more modern practice but apparently not. He also likes to let his sentences run on for a really long time, much longer than normal. In case you missed it, I did it in the first paragraph and it seems to have spectacularly backfired, but that’s what you get for trying to write in the style of a Pro like Thompson. It’s also a tendency that I’ve worked quite hard to circumvent in my own writing (academic at least) since it was pointed out to me earlier in the year that while my sentences made sense to me and managed to articulate complicated points, they were usually impossible to read for anyone else. It kind of annoys me that Thompson does it so well and without making them convoluted and confusing. Overall though, I think my problem was I used commas too much and needed to just stop my sentences more often. It might actually be a good thing that I trained myself out of the habit because now I can do it deliberately and, dare I tempt fate and say, somewhat more properly.

So where was I? (That’s another thing Thompson does endlessly – go off topic and then reign it in again as if he was talking to you on the telephone) Something about breaking into the games industry. Thinking about it, how does anyone ‘break into’ any industry? The obvious answer is that some kind of training is supposed to provide with the foot-in-the-door that you need, but thinking about my soon to be graduated from Music degree… I don’t exactly have a massive stable of bankable skills and I’ve been thinking long and hard recently about how the hell I can convert those skills into finances. I thought about doing some freelance writing; it is supposedly my strength, after all, unless I’m deluding myself; but I have this sneaky suspicion that when I am not being exceedingly lazy and posting at 1 in the morning, I’m capable of producing some solid copy. But hey, words are cheap, right, so what’s my other skill? I can edit and proofread and there’s always (well not at this time of the year, but in a few months time) a market for students that have papers due that could seriously benefit from a quick once-over. I could charge $50 for 20 pages and that would at least pay for my board for the week and stop my parents making me homeless before the new year – I’ve currently paid up till the Saturday before New Years day and I have about $33 left in my bank account[1]. I have another $35 in my wallet, but I suspect that unless I somehow arrange to not leave the house before NYE that I’ll need some of that just to get around.

My God, living is so expensive. Whoever came up with the capitalist idea of actually contributing to society ought to go and jump in front of the nearest locomotive. I write a bloomin' videogame blog that aims to elevate the medium above the general level of “Hey, fuck you, my mum is a classy lady” Xbox live discourse which, I occasionally suspect, may be a noble yet Sisyphean effort. I mean, who even reads me? And who would want to after this ridiculously long-winded and self indulgent… tangent? I can’t blame you for turning off half-way through this piece, it’s really nothing but a blatant rip-off of L.B. Jeffries attempts at emulating the style of Lester Bangs in aid of game criticism. At least he had a point in his writing about games, what have I got? Certainly nothing about game criticism just a pointless whinge about how life is so hard for a middle class white kid who’s house-bound with nothing but the internet and a boxed set of Futurama DVD’s for entertainment.

You know, people I know have said “I would give anything to be able to do nothing, like you”, but what I think they fail to understand is the absolutely soul crippling effect that doing nothing all day has on you. When you do nothing, you become nothing (or you feel like you become nothing) and it’s bloody depressing. Exercise is actually a good cure and I’ve started jogging in the evenings just for something to get my heart racing a bit. Anyway, what friends of mine should understand, before wishing nothing upon yourself, is that it’s really not that great. Sure, it was fantastic to take time off after finishing that thesis I spent the whole year working on but that got old really fast, like in a day or two. I should have actually seen it coming – it always happens and I guess it’s probably inevitable that we put on the rose tinted glasses in the middle of high stress periods. But I could certainly have done a bit more to prepare.

Erm… so let’s bring this to a close. I don’t think I’ll edit this, just whack it up and put it out there – do the authentic Gonzo thing even though I don’t really have a deadline to meet. Feels more raw that way, and hopefully I’ll learn something from it. Might go self medicate or something. Okay, so I lied, I edited it but it really didn’t need much. Maybe I’m a better writer than I think. I should approach some vain Official Australian Xbox magazine or something and get them to feed me games to review and play if only to take my mind off my impending bankruptcy.


Okay, so I have a trust fund that my parents set up for me as a kid with a couple grand in it but using that to pay my parents to continue to live under their roof seems either hilariously ironic and appropriate or just pointless, not really sure which.


Kirk Battle said...

Gads, you remind me of when I couldn't get a job a few years ago and I just laid around the house all day. When you start planning your life in 15 minute bursts, suddenly everything seems empty.

Thompsons a great one to study. One of the strangest misconceptions people have is that taking a bunch of drugs is somehow at the core of his method. That's just the icing on the cake. He was confronting issues that everyone was taking incredibly seriously and fighting about and portraying them in such a ridiculous manner.

Maybe pick a game that everyone takes seriously like Braid and just do a gonzo piece on it?

Ben Abraham said...

"I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating, and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit. Watching "Countdown": one unit. Web-based research: two units. Exercising: three units. Having my hair carefully disheveled: four units. It's amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I'd ever have time for a job. How do people cram them in?"

Thompson's drug habits really *are* almost superfluous - they're only interesting because he's interesting, and they are part of what he does. I think he could turn a bridge game into a sensational read if he was peronally interested in it. He certainly did it with politics, which is no mean feat!

I guess what I've been doing a lot of what I've been writing about Far Cry 2 has been so close to Gonzo already without actually realising it... It's funny how it's all just kind of come together like I intended it or something. Or maybe it's just because I'm naturally attracted to that style and I never knew what it was called before but that's getting into Chicken/Egg territory.

Great idea though, L.B. I haven't played Braid yet, but maybe something like Fallout 3 would be great to go Gonzo in... I mean, how easy would it be to just write about some of the batshit insane stuff that happens in that game.

Unknown said...

For what it's worth, I had similar thoughts a while ago and, for better or worse, gave it a shot.

The first one

The second, and first part of three

Second part of three

Third part of three

Final one

Overall, they didn't go down as well as I'd hoped; I think it's a fairly niche group that finds it interesting. Either that or I totally failed at it, which is equally likely ...

Ben Abraham said...

Hey Evan, I'll chew my way through your "fear and loathing @ E3" (heh) and the rest.

It's such a hard style to get right, too - Thompson must have just been really, really good (as well as an acid fiend and dope Freak).

In "F&L on the campaign trail '72" which is the one I'm currently reading, Thompson talks about a concept he learnt from a Brazillian therapist (WTF!?!) called "Rhythm Logic" which... actually makes a strange kind of sense in a suspension-of-reality kind of way. The example he gave was getting into the mind of Richard Nixon as a "football fanatic" via watching a football game and getting onto his wavelength. Yeah I know, sounds like New Age BS but I can actually see some kind of truth to it - I kind of did it a bit here to write this piece and that was before I'd even read about the idea!

Which is a roundabout way of saying, read more Thompson to write better! =P

Unknown said...

If you haven't already read it, check out the Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved - it's where he really first hit his stride.

It's also interesting to see where he started from prior to developing his concepts of gonzo journalism - if you can get your hands on it, do read Hell's Angels. He was a crazy, crazy man.

Tom Wolfe's not too bad either, although The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is a bit of a struggle to get through. He's less 'in your face' than Thompson, but equally participatory in his journalistic descriptions.

Ben Abraham said...

Kentucky Derby is FANTASTIC!