A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 5

21st December 2020

I have been very much sucked into the game Alien Isolation. The latter half of the title very apt for our times. J has left for Wales while A barricades himself in the kitchen for most of the day, working at the breakfast bar with his laptop, floor heater and view over the estate. Every few minutes he pops out for a smoke, which worries me, then it’s a bike ride for the evening. And repeat. We wake, eat and go to bed separately these days.

Thus it’s just me and the homicidal extra-terrestial. I get why it’s been dubbed the best horror game of a generation; unlike a film where one watches events play out on a screen, this time YOU, dear friend, is in control of your protagonist. You get to decide to run or hide, to make a sprint for it or crawl about in available corners, gibbering like a gibbon.

The fucker’s fast, and like this first semblance of AI to the public, it’s intelligent. It acts on sound and movement, unlike the games I grew up with where the characters forged set paths that you could learn and cheat. Thus hiding in the pits of an airvent I was forced to throw a noise emmiter out one of the ducts, so as to distract the thing from me exploring about. Of course the sound bomb bounced off a wall and landed at my feet, making me scream. And run, chased through dark corridors.

Then I saw it pass by in front, in the self same air vent, and bottled my scream (like that would have helped -there have been times I’ve been inches away from the screen to better peer into the corners). I switched off my torch and began crawling the fuck away. Of course it caught up, jumping me in the black, and forcing out a bunny pellet in the bed.

It’s true what you see in films, when spaz hands can’t work the gun or missy falls over at the most unwarranted of times. The stress levels ensure you are just as idioted, running into walls, taking the wrong door, trying to shoot with a loaded carrot, and missing anyway. The game is so stress enducing even after I got killed (a horrible wrenching sound, everything going slow-mo, with a spiked tail emerging from your belly as it fades to black) I was still covering myself into the duvet and mewling. Motherfucker this is intense.

I’m almost too scared to carry on. Just cannot, cannot find some damn keypass out of the trap. So ended up watching a youtube vid on some gamer playing it out to give me clues. Even then I was screaming, along with him. I like to think I’m calm in a crisis as, well, I usually am. This is proving me wrong.

I think collectively humans on the planet right now are being spazimodo in the same way. We are literally launching ourselves into the mire with the pandemic -and after watching Attenborough’s latest offering (his witness statement on the destruction of the world over his lifetime) -with the environment too. We are literally sitting over a spread with Death and his mistress Mass Extinction, and having the time of our lives, having invited them over with promises of tea and biscuits, and a lathe for the scythe. Instead of running for the hills, we’re playing footsie under the table.

It says something when for me to get away from it all and some light relief, I’m choosing to get chased into industrial piping by a creature with two mouths and acid for blood.

An Xmas card came in the post, from my ex-landlord and friend T. It sits now over the fireplace with its pic of ice skaters outside the Albert Hall, near where we werkkk, and painted back when people could swan about unmasked. Even though he’s furloughed he’s super busy still, likely planning for the holiday and a big meal as he’s a great cook -these lives lost to ether. We’re planning Xmas day ourselves too, with D, who’s been stranded in the Big Smoke and now our support bubble. His plans to go up north were upset by the lockdown, plus apparently the police at Waterloo were stopping and checking travellers. He’d not have gotten away with an excuse for work when carrying a packed suitcase and a whole bunch of pressies. Thus he’s been home alone for a week now, like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

Ours will be salmon en croute, and I’m adding pigs in blankets. A will bake the parsnips n potatoes, as Greeks make the world’s best in every shape and form -ALWAYS perfectly crisp on the outside and mushy inside (their chips OMG), and D bringing the stuffing. I’ll do a starter of vinegar sweet veg and fried sprouts, and we’ll finish off with vegan chocky cake.

Artists’ impression

With J gone I’ve ventured into the living room to write this on a table, vertically, as opposed to lying in bed and making no end of typos as I try and tap shit out with laptop on my chest. My spine is like a Quaver from so long doing it. It’s really quite civilised -the lamp’s are on and the room is lit like a cosy study, helped by J’s inordinate amount of antiques. Silver is meant to be displayed in firelight he’s said -it shimmers and glows through an ethereal gloom. One of which is a turkey dome that looks inviting for use in the next few days. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, and it’s getting late.

Anyhoo, time again for some running through darkened, post apocalyptic rooms. Or maybe a showing of the Hound of the Baskervilles, the Hammer horror version with some candles and blankets. With all this around it feels right tonight.

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A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 3

19th December 2020

Have been spending my time in the company of a computer game recently, chased down metal corridors on a spaceship and crawling through air vents as some evil extra terrestial hunts me out and tries to bite my head, as do creepy androids with steel punches. I’m not sure why but the joypad is the only thing known to science that gives me energy. The rest of the time I have a malaise in my bones, especially when waking where it manifests as a gnawing ache, and dear god it’s such an odyssey to get up for work, each and every damn day. Thankfully which I don’t have right now.

Before the age of 20 I never felt fatigue, even running up hills on my commute, now it’s an absolute constant -some call it age -is it just me? Or some kind of chronic fatigue, or the after-effects of Lyme’s disease or summat. I mean, who the fuck wakes up in a ray of sunlight each morning, stretching their arms with a smile on their face and bouncing out of bed in cereal ads? Pyschopaths, that’s what, on their first day of a killing spree.

So I am tinkering on whether to just dive into a bit of gameplay on waking, in order to boost mind and body, a bit like immersively violent yoga. Blasting people in the face with a glock, getting chased through industrial steam vents, and malleting labourers in the back -there’s nothing more brightening to start your day. Now, I’ve been known to get quite immersed into gaming (one of those people who sway to the side as the pixelated road takes a turn) and I reckon it’s my mind just switching onto threat, and pumping the adrenaline. I don’t think anything in modern life does that anymore, unless you are genuinely besotted with the idea of customer service, or commuting, or pigeons. Jizzing on the keyboards with the latest figures from Marketing and texting work mates about it, at home.

It was 4.30am (my usual waking hour) where I ended up beached, watching youtube foodie vids, then frying up some curry noodles by 10am and falling back asleep as per usual. Till waking again at 3pm. FFS. In 5 minutes I was hauled into the local community pool (ours still runs, given entirely to ourselves in separate sessions) and sitting in the hot tub with A and An, which we’d booked the day before. Swimming I must admit, does give one energy. It’s just the getting used to the cold bite of winter on one’s naked skin each time (changing, creeping into the waters, looking for sharks), akin to a Westeros saga or the 1993 film Alive, where in a cut scene the acid snow comes up and eats them as punishment for cannibalism. Or as a northern European calls it, air.

In my untold decades living in the UK I have never been able to get used to the weather. Ever. For 9 months of the year I feel cold to the bones, no matter how clad, and why it’s such a mountain to climb to throw the duvet off each time. Even my arm creeping out from under the covers, like a pale, angular creature to tap at a keyboard feels dead within minutes, until it verges on pain. People always remark on just how rigor mortis my hands are when they touch them, and I want to scream it’s not me it’s you, fuckers! I’m tropical, my family’s from the jungle – poison darts n dinosaurs n shit. You people are eskimos, happy to be bathing in glaciers or fighting bears or whatever you do every morning. It’s not normal. 15C is not a balmy room to luxuriate in, with a small boy fanning you with a palm leaf. FFS.

The UK has a distinctive tine of humidity plus temperate weather, that makes the cold penetrate. I’ve heard rumour that many people from more northerly climes (the kind where they actually get snow) find it colder here, and people with muscle and bone problems, such as arthritis, hurt more. When I lived in Finland, where it plummeted to -15C as per norm, I found it true. The cold there kinda makes a ‘wetsuit’ reaction of the skin, encasing you in a shell of numbness while inside you stay warm -I found I was even able to nip out in a T-shirt if I had to, through metre high drifts, or jump into snow after sauna.

That’s never been the case here where I keep a hair dryer by the bed (body produces no warmth so it’s still cold underneath) for a few seconds respite from unending discomfort. It constantly feels like I’m soaked in a puddle, in November, in Manchester. Not so much bathing in snow after a spa session, more chucked out nightclub > alley with a kebab stuck to the side of your face. It’s tough for me here, constant fatigue, constant cold while everyone else is having a bit of light tennis. I am an alien.

J is convinced I have some kind of disease, like Raynaud’s, when he sees how icy my hands are and he’s breaking into sweat. It’s not that, rather the fact -if anyone’s noticed -that every other animal but us at these latitudes is tightly encased in fucking fur or feather. Exposed skin is not for these parts. It is not fit for humans.

Okay, bitching over. I still love the UK. Despite the fact it’s Colditz. Warm pubs, glowsy fires, tinkly lights. Hot chocolate and warm blankets. It’s just till May you have to get used to it, wearing the longjohns.

So last night the announcement came, London is now Tier 4 as of midnight. A, who went out on his nightly bikeride in the rain (like a nutter) reported on the streets crammed with traffic within hours, as a good few million people made a break for Xmas before the giant sharpened shutters came down (Mad Max patrols, helicopters, flame throwers). Queueing outside shops -many whom stayed open till 11pm -booking all rail tickets and clogging up the motorways out of town. 21 million people have been affected, with Wales entering a Tier 5, which means even transport shutting down and birds being shot for moving. The main rail termini, of which London has 7, were all equally clogged up, St Pancras had a queue that went the entire length of one of the world’s biggest buildings.

1,200 miles worth of traffic surrounded London within hours

The city will likely enter Tier 5 at some stage too -we have in the past two weeks been infected by a new strain, said to have emerged in Kent, and similar to one in South Africa, though not the same. It’s 70% more infectious, but not more deadly -yet what’s worrying is the one in SA targets younger people than the norm. Our strain (there’s 4,000 different mutations out there) is being closely monitored by WHO; it’s in London, the Southeast and across Wales at the mo. The exodus last night may well have spread it, similar to how word of the first lockdown in Lombardy got leaked into the universities, and thousands of asymptomatic students took it across Italy.

We finished the day watching Silver Bullet -a Stephen King werewolf movie, very 80s and TV-movie-esque (in a good way), though quite a departure from his novelette. J is quite down, islanded from his beau now stranded in Wales, and no longer entranced by his work. We talked at length about these dark times and our dark pasts, over a flickering screen and some beer, it seems we’re both in the same boat. I watch horror movies when I’m sad, he sleeps. A smokes. Building up his case for cancer and being put into the ground one day, as will we all ha fucking ha.

I’m feeling quite dissonant to the world recently, the umbilical in my lap.

I’m angry. That I wasted my life, that we thought we could make it. Those futile dreams fresh out of uni, so many years trying to get our careers as writers or artists that might as well have been mf astronauts on our way to Pluto. Even onto any rung of the shitting housing ladder and nothing to show for it but two emptied decades, no money and fresh mental health issues. Not wanting to end on a downer here but fuck it, the world is a lie. Who the fuck wakes up for it?

Okay, down time for Aliens and armageddon. Blue steel for breakfast.

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A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 15

19th November 2020

Today I got the controller out (buried in a heart-shaped box) and played a GAME on the computer, it’s been a while old friend. Like how ex-smokers hide a final cigarette in wall cavities /floorboards for nuclear outbreak.

Increasingly I’ve realised internet addiction is a thing with me. They say more than 5 hrs a day and it’s a problem, so yes, I definitely have a touch if I’m on it waking to sleeping. If one’s resorting to gaming as a step up and out, that’s the state I’m at. My name is Wenzhe Chen and I am a Netaholic.

Thing is I used to be addicted to gaming too. Streetfighter IV Ultra Super Sonic The Hedgehog III.0.com is my go-to each time I ever dabble in the dark arts. Memories to when it was only on an arcade machine and I got so hooked as a kid I’d miss my lunch each day in order to save the quid (which afforded me five games). The venue was the tiny little video shop down the street from the gates, and those five goes would eat up a good few hours, coming home in the dark, still in uniform.

If I ran out of money, like any skaghead I’d search the streets for dropped change -once finding another quid, which was possibly the best moment of my life ever. I’m sure any longer on that road and Ida been mugging grannies, ransacking phoneboxes (remember them?), shoplifting and feverishly selling my gear/ body for one more hit.

I dreamed of one day saving up the £3K for a machine, with my £2 a week pocket money, though I worked out I’d maybe need to find an elixir to eternal life beyond the year 3492. Then it would be just me and my tiny empty flat, living the dream machine forever and ever. I saw beauty on the screen, in the way the graphics moved and correlated with the sounds -total ASMR. The way Chun Li thrashed her thunderthighs doing the Spinning Bird Kick, to the throb of a helicopter. The way -for a split frame -Dhalsim would vomit a sparkling cascade when you kicked him in the balls, and an elephant would trumpet. Such exquisiteness.

I even bought a magazine/ booklet thing for the game, equivalent to a Special Edition of Skag Heroin Monthly.

When we finally got a computer under the roof it had been the same story, same game too, played out on a keyboard with such gusto it creaked. I’d even start waking at 5am each day to put in a few hours before school (dragged inert through the carpet, raking nails). This was when the Commodore Amiga was the best thing since the Tele-Vision, as you could copy games (floppy disks) and swap em with your mates. Back before Se-Curity. We had an Amiga 500+, respectable as it had the sheer power of 1.5 MEGA-Bytes -and that Plus was very important, granting 500 bytes more than the lowly, laughable 500. Though Dan DeLancefort, living it up on the hill, had a 1500 – a whole TWO MEGA-Bytes his family had paid thousands for, that drew a respectful hush whenever he passed.

Commodores were a significant step up from tape decks (no, really -cassettes were your denizen for information storage and transfer). Plus a fat booklet that was the mode d’emploi to a better life, whereby if you wanted to play something you’d have to copy 14 pages of code from it. One typo or extra space would be catastrophe, resulting in the Matrix collapsing (tsunamis, fire tornadoes), and you’d have to feverishly check your script line by line. It was often easier to just start again. If you got things facistically perfect you’d then be able to throw a dot back and forth (the world’s bestselling game from 1982 till 1991), or cross a road through traffic, as a frog.

Years later the consoles came out. A step up with proper “Graphics” (256 colours! Three dimensions!) that would dim the lights when they loaded.

Also it was the budding shoots of a new line in porn, that would of course go on to overtake the majority of everything online to this day (like how they say the vast market for robots will likely become swamped, perhaps one day replacing real partnerships). To this day Pornhub has more viewers than Netflix, and one third of all traffic is Sexy Time.

Back then it was a dangerous series of zeros and ones glowing on screen to make a distinction -and form. So that you could walk to the other end of the room and squint, and wank over the vague outline of a boob. Later on as the march of technology roared on it was a frenziedly duplicated disk entitled ‘Animal Farm’ that spread like wildfire through the school. It took ages to load but the result was a series of haunting gifs, involving animals and humans very much in conjunction.

History in the making, bitches.

So now kids, you look at your laptop or phone and be very fucking appreciative. Remember walkie-talkies, now coming back in fashion? Back when Jamie Doggering bought one in to become an overnight sensation. He’d entice us crowded in the locker rooms, rapt around the receiver, WHILE HE WAS IN THE PLAYGROUND. Describing Chantal Naylor, what she was wearing and doing in real time (chewing gum and scratching her leg), seeing a pigeon flying past. Telling us what the weather was like in a live, rolling feed. Locating at all times scary Mr Mountforjoy, even following him to our absolute squeals of delight.

Ah that was the war spirit, children.

Well now we’ve all grown up a bit and after a few stabs and a lot of frustration (about 15 goes to beat the end boss baddy), I decided to hang it up. Rocking, intense, sweating profusely as if executing the super secret moves myself.

But then who should come calling a little further down the list: Alien Isolation. A horror offering that’s flipping perfect for lockdown. Switch the lights off, send up the sound, then steal round a creepy ship somewhere near the belt of Orion. The others have just gotten jettisoned in a freak docking accident, as they do. So it’s just me, Ripley versus the beast on an abandoned mining station, all dripping cables and industrial dark. Some say it’s the best horror game ever, even 6 years after release.

So after an hour or three I’ve gotten stuck quite ‘early’ on. I’m now stranded on a sister ship and just made my way though an abandoned baggage depot via the conveyor belts. But there’s something I’ve missed. I’m a neurotic gamer, one that checks and double checks every cranny, opens every drawer and gazes out every damn window, to take the same vista.

Yet now I’m stuck. After consulting the oracle of Youtube and watching some other dude do it, there appears a trapdoor I’ve missed in the shuttered café de creep. Whoopdie doo I can progress, but maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight seeing dark into day, fingers clamped in sweat.

It is a little spooky with the lights off. Every time some motion sensor pings I jump, or the ship rattles it starts to unstitch somewhere in my chest. I’ll literally scream if the Alien’s shadow even so much as darts across the screen or passes a lone lightbulb in the distance, making it flicker, which has happened. If it attacks me I’ll probably lunge about in real life, real time sending shit flying. Hyperventilating, possibly crying.

In retrospect one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten; thank you sis x

The whole Oculus thing (wraparound Virtual Reality) apparently can give you PTSD.

Back in the real world A has made some peanut butter and hazelnut cookies smothered in dark chocolate. They’re the health guru variety, made from protein-packed flour and sugarless, and surprisingly pretty damn good. The bed has become a tabletop for most of the day and I sleep in crumbs.

I tried to sweep my hair back yesterday as it’s almost the length enough to stay, if you dry your head under a hat. Didn’t work so half of it stands straight up now while the other half migrates the other direction to escape. But I’m beyond giving a shit. Even answered the door like that in my dressing gown (for a delivery), looking like Howard Hughes shortly before his demise. The richest man in the world discovered naked in his Vegas penthouse like Robinson Crusoe, nails like curlicue knives and a beard past his knees. He hadn’t been on the ground in a decade, and no one had seen him in years. But when you think about it, having every want in the world trollied up the 30-storey dumbwaiter, canyer blame him? Without want is without hope is despair.

Any deeper into this game and it’ll only be a matter of time. Of course in the future things will only get more realistic and immersive with the rise of VR and AI combined, part of the fourth Industrial Revolution. It took quite a few millenia between the ages of Stone and Iron, but now we’ve seen the Industrial Age rise only two centuries ago, the Information Age 50 years back with computers, and now already it’s Digital Age with robots and AI.

Computing is getting so powerful nowadays the batshit crazy idea that The Matrix film is real, and we’re all just trapped in God’s computer game while she’s off having a shit or getting told off by Mum is increasingly gaining credence, from scientific pontification to philosophical circles. At our current stage we have reached such advancement we can passably recreate about 70% the complexity of our living, dimensional universe, while growing exponentially as we speak. Bear in mind back in 2000 all the information of the entire World Wide Web could just about cover a streamed music vid today. Think Anaconda being the summit of 100,000 years of mankind.

The next step is when we start combining, at first having a handy smart phone imbedded, say in your hand. Then, why not, your mind. -So slowly, creepingly: the Replacement, whereby your avatar overtakes physicality -that pesky, imperfect blob of flesh that needs periodic feeding and watering and shitting, keeps getting cancer and instigating mass extinctions. But hopefully at some stage, bodiless and self-extinguished by our Age of Abstraction, we’ll all be living our lives in some amazing matrix as programmes. Perhaps jetting off to catch a Balinese sunset on a whim, or too busy exploring the sex coding caverns of the Pluto cloud.

Maybe someday we’ll replace our own personalities, so personalised can we perfect things. Who needs aquaphobia, or anxiety, or jealousy, or addiction? But surely then that risks us becoming typical nodes with no wants, nuances or meaning and we’ll just end up agreeing to end the whole fucking exercise, via Singularity. So maybe not, we’ll put in that Law, like how Robots Cannot Harm Humans.

Yes, a treatise forbidding a nirvana of non-emotive, non-want stasis of perfection, which would otherwise be an inevitable endpoint. Buddha so many thousands of years before, charting the continual chase and progress of perfectionism, saw it coming.

Please pay attention, this is where it becomes new age cult territory.

-Maybe some day these avatars will be static, no longer procreating, gleaning only from those who have ever lived, and every memory resurrecting new life. Maybe what I’m writing into the ether will recreate me years from now. Yaaay.

**Edit * If I’m starting a cult it will be called Streetfighter, or maybe Cedric. We accept all major credit cards.

Meanwhile through all this, some lonesome solar-powered gobot will be tasked with keeping that little drive running, and the 50 billion lives stored within, bless.

-But what if he accidentally trundles over a cable and the programme switches off? And we’re all bloody stuck there, floating in darkness for the next few millennia because of the stupid little fucking fuck. Maybe this is what the promise of Heaven and Hell has always been, lying in wait so long and separated only from us, and each other by Time and twowheels-titface there.

Can we ever, ever get away from physicality, really? Insofar as the laws of physics rule our universe, it looks unlikely.

Oh well. Here’s to the whole Multiverse String thing.

Well, that was quite the rabbit hole. From Streetfighter II to the laws of the universe, God, Nirvana, and the state of existence.

Howard, once a great explorer and pioneer of human flight, was just born in the wrong era, to miss the meaning. So see y’all in Bali maybe, sometime. Or meet, embarrased in Darkroom 42, and pretend not to recognise each other.

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