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Some thoughts on the closure of BeefJack Magazine

So that’s that, then. BeefJack Magazine is closing down.

Not an easy decision. We went back and forth on it a few times. But in the end, it was the only sensible choice.

We came into a crowded market and tried to do something a little different. Ultimately, it didn’t quite work out for us, despite our best efforts. But I’m still immensely proud of what we managed to achieve.

For me personally, editing BeefJack Magazine was one of the defining moments of my career. My first long-term professional contract in games editorial, it gave me the opportunity I was craving to develop my skills as a writer, editor and, later, manager.

I spent two-and-a-half years in this role, and it’s now well over a year since I stepped down as editor of BeefJack Magazine. I was really pleased to see how it continued to grow and develop under Jamie and, later, Yuliya. We produced some incredible, insightful content over the years. We gave budding writers a platform to write to a large audience. Though we were never able to reward those writers in the way we would have liked, I hope each of them got what they were looking for our of the experience. I always tried to invest time in writers, to pick out raw talent and help them develop their skills in specific, targeted, tailored ways. I know Jamie and Yuliya, along with a number of other section editors, had the same goals in mind.

With the closure of Magazine, though, come lots of exciting new opportunities – not just for BeefJack, but for those who contributed to the magazine.

The change comes at a time of change for the whole company, in fact, and for me personally. It’s been kind of the case for a few months now, but next month it becomes more official: my new role at BeefJack is heading up BeefJack Promote, our PR and marketing arm. I want to continue from the groundwork we laid with Magazine, fighting to give interesting and creative games the attention they deserve. We’ve had a great deal of success so far and have worked with some incredible studios on campaigns for phenomenal games.

With a renewed focus on Promote we can invest more time, energy and resources into providing even better and more wide-ranging opportunities for indie and creative studios to thrive. And with Studio, our development arm, we’re making a conscious effort to push new and interesting ideas from our team, to invest time in creating them, and to explore new technologies and implementations to make our ideas shine. This is more the area of our game director, Shaun, but I’m really excited to see where things go.

So, then: sad times, but encouraging times also. I wish everyone involved in BeefJack Magazine the very best of luck, and fully intend to keep working with those people where possible. As for me and Shaun, I think I can speak for both of us when I say we’ll keep nudging BeefJack into the place we want to be: a place that celebrates games of all shapes and sizes, and brings to the fore the imaginations of our phenomenal, creative team.

What Is Wrong With My Knee? – Part 3

Oh heavens, and then I didn’t follow up again for like six months. That’s terrible.

Anyway, basically, after a month or two of waiting, my MRI test results came back completely fine.

My knee still hurt for a while afterwards but gradually, over the months, the pain has gone away entirely.

A mystery, basically. Doctor said knees are funny things. Sometimes they just fuck up for a while for no real reason.

So that is the end of the story. It was really quite easy and stress-free to get it seen to, and even though I was in a lot of pain for a while, turned out to be nothing. Moral of the story: if your knee hurts, request an MRI, it’s probably grand.

What is wrong with my knee? – Part 2

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You know, I said I would follow up after I went to the doctor’s about my knee, and then didn’t, which makes me as bad as one of the people I was trying to avoid. That’s terrible! Except not too bad, because I’m following up now.

I went to the doctor’s. After a lengthy wait, involving a very strange medical cartoon on the television, a nice doctor examined me. Good news, probably! He tugged and pushed and bent and twisted my leg, and concluded that he could see no sign of any ligament damage, which is what his initial concern was. He did notice that it was slightly swollen, even after all this time, although this was after a 20-minute walk to the surgery, which may have had something to do with it.

He wasn’t able to tell me what’s wrong, but he did refer me for an MRI scan, which I’ll be attending next week. Possibilities include a small tear of the meniscus, or “something to do with the fluid in your knee,” whatever that means. The good news is he thinks that surgery would be very unlikely to be needed: knees aren’t good things to surgically mess around with, he said, so unless the problem was causing extreme discomfort/disability, a course of physiotherapy and simple lifestyle changes would almost always be the recommendation.

I will follow up after the MRI.

Khat has been banned. Here’s why this terrifies me

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I have in front of me a 96-page report, published in January. Here is a quote from page 3, the summary:

The overwhelming majority of Council members consider that khat should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs
Act 1971

Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced that khat will be banned, saying that the risks of the plant’s consumption “could have been understated.”

Oh, look. Here we go again.

This is not the first time that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been ignored. In fact, it often seems that the sole purpose of this group of independent doctors, scientists and sociologists is to prepare lengthy reports on what the Government isn’t going to do. The Council was set up to provide Government decision-makers with the necessary expert input in order to calculate the risk potential of both new and existing recreational substances – but the number of times the Government has now rejected its recommendations borders on the ludicrous.

Since the end of the last Labour government, we’ve seen case after case of such dismissals. The Council’s recommendation that cannabis should remain a Class C substance led to – uh – its reclassification to Class B. Its suggestions outlining why psylocibin mushrooms should not be upped to Class A similarly led to exactly the opposite happening. MDMA should be Class B, it said, while more extensive research into mephedrone should be conducted before a ban is considered. The pills remained Class A and the powder was bumped to Class B before a single piece of research into its risk potential had been conducted.

And, of course, former Council Chair, Professor David Nutt, left the Council after publishing a report that suggested alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than ecstasy and cannabis. Nutt says he was sacked – the Government’s angle was always that he resigned. Either way, this is all starting to look a little bit silly: the experts are repeatedly being told, by the non-experts, that they are wrong, that they have misunderstood, that they have underestimated the harms that these drugs can cause. Trouble is, the non-experts have the final say.

Not only does yesterday’s banning of khat seem ridiculous in light of this rich history of rejected reports, it’s also particularly worrying. Khat is a mild stimulant, a plant whose leaves are often chewed, which induces similar effects to a cup of coffee. From it, you can get things like cathinone, and from there you can get things like mephedrone, much like cocaine is derived from the coca plant and heroin from poppies. But in plant form, it’s not all that bad.

This isn’t the issue. The issue is its widespread use, going back hundreds if not thousands of years, in a number of communities around the world. In Somalian, Ethiopian and Yemeni cultures, it’s been a staple of life for as long as people can remember. Just as we love nothing more than a pint of lager on a Friday night, so these communities indulge in a spot of khat. It is the way things are.

It is believed that khat poses certain health risks, just as anything does in excess. It certainly has the potential for dependence – this has been demonstrated. In rare cases it’s been linked with liver failure, and heart disease, and – in slightly less rare cases – with oral cancers. Its mortality rate is still, in the scheme of things, extraordinarily low: Tobacco and alcohol remain riskier by an enormous degree. But, if we’re honest, it probably isn’t entirely benign.

We don’t ban alcohol and tobacco, and the Government has always shied away from explicitly stating why, but presumably it is because these are historical Western institutions, protected like a religious right, and the prospect of getting rid of them is intimidating. There would be an uproar, outcries, probably rioting. It is acknowledged that these substances are a part of our culture, for better or for worse – so we gently discourage their over-use, while still utilising them to generate huge sums of money for the tax man.

Khat isn’t as popular here. It’s rarely used by British people, who prefer to get their equivalent fix from coffee or Coca-Cola. There is not a mass market for this product, so it can’t be used as a financial buffer, and the number of people who would be incensed by its ban are relatively small in these lands.

But the fact remains that certain communities within our country are now being told that the thing they have done for hundreds if not thousands of years, for generation after generation, is no longer permitted. The worrying effect of all this is that communities that have been using this substance for as long as people can remember, many of whom are addicted to it, are suddenly being robbed of their fix. There has been no mention of any support systems being set up, but May has been quick to point out the risks of the UK being used as a hub for khat trafficking to countries where it is already illegal, its use allegedly – but as yet unprovenly – being used to find terrorism. These are troubling parallels to draw.

And this is happening even though the experts in the AMDC overwhelmingly agreed that it should remain legal. Even though they said there has been no evidence, across decades of research, to suggest that khat poses a significant enough societal or medical risk to become a classified substance. Even though they have suggested integrating with these communities to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions to the problem. Even though they are the experts, advising the law-makers. Nope, say the law-makers. We don’t agree with you. We think you are wrong.

Here’s an idea: maybe they’re not wrong. Maybe, when you get experts in, who year after year tell you that you are doing things incorrectly, you should start to listen. Maybe, when you sack people for disagreeing with you, and their replacements continue to disagree with you, some alarm bells might start to ring.

Or maybe, just maybe, the AMDC functions as a convenient public relations department: a useless filtering system that nevertheless shows that the Government is doing something to understand the real issues behind our substance dependency problems. Look, they spoke to experts! They’re doing things by the book! Except no, they’re not. Because this isn’t how it works at all.

When the Government proposed a Class-A restriction on psylocibin mushrooms, it approached the AMDC with far too little time to produce a full report. According to Nutt, the Government had already made up its mind. Provisionally the Council told the Government that it was very unlikely that they would recommend magic mushrooms should be made Class A. The Government, he alleges, thanked them for their time, then immediately passed legislature that made them among the most illegal things to have on your person.

The AMDC is not a board of experts to be consulted. The AMDC is a board of experts whom the Government hopes will give weight to the decisions they have already made. But, as drug after drug is banned against the Council’s recommendations, to less of an uproar and more of a mild groan, but in ways that could seriously damage certain migrant communities within our proudly multicultural nation, one has to wonder: when will people really sit up and pay attention?

We hope there will be close attention paid to the ACMD‘s further recommendations, which all have our unanimous support. It is essential that communities be supported and given the appropriate resource and environment within which they can manage issues e.g. to support integration and address inequalities of health … Our recommendations are based on a rigorous and systematic process of evidence gathering and subsequent analysis of what was submitted and presented to the ACMD. We would welcome discussing our findings with you.

Khat: A review of its potential harms to the individual and socities within the UK
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, January 2013

What is wrong with my knee? – part 1

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All things considered, I have quite the history with knees. I remember, as a child, my dad being in and out of the doctor’s office with persistent knee problems, initially caused by a ligament injury and subsequently aggravated by various things. I remember him in knee braces, in hospital for arthroscopic surgeries, and sprawled out on the ground in our garden after running to answer the phone. My dad’s knee was just something that went wrong in our lives sometimes.

Fast-forward a few years and I remember the first time I injured myself in such a way that the pain lingered for more than a few minutes. Messing around with a friend in PE (I was about 11, I think), I hyperextended my left leg while weight-bearing. Cue two days of being unable to walk. And fast-forward again to being 18, when, while in a nightclub, I slipped on a spilled drink, resulting in a night in A&E with a dislocated patella. This was a particularly nasty one. Six weeks in a full leg splint, about a month more on crutches, and a further two or three months in fairly intensive physiotherapy. It was a time in my life that taught me quite how much we rely on mobile knees. Next time you need the loo (number 2), try going through the whole process without bending your right knee whatsoever.

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The Cat Lady review

Haven’t written anything here in a while. Been busy. But when my partner gave me a lovely gift last month (the flu), I finally got around to playing The Cat Lady. So now I write a review, just for funsies.

Cat Lady 1

Unusually in the world of games, The Cat Lady begins with a suicide attempt, and concludes with some general ponderings on the topic of depression. This indie adventure takes great pains to explore the psyche of those on the edge. But despite where its intentions may lie, it’s in between these psychological bookends that the game really shines.

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On depression, and asking people things

I’ve never tried to kill myself. I’ve suffered from depression and I used to self-harm, but I guess that’s true of a lot of people. I also didn’t know games journalist Matt Hughes, who sadly died this week, even slightly. I barely even recognised the name. I had to check who he wrote for. Seems he was a talented guy, not that that makes a difference.

When people commit suicide, people’s response is generally to gasp at how there were no warning signs, that it doesn’t make sense, that the person always seemed so happy. “He was full of life,” people say. “It’s just so out of character.”

When people kill themselves, they’re not doing so out of character. They do it because they’ve exhausted every other option they can possibly comprehend, and things have become so overwhelming that putting a stop to everything now is the only sensible option, for everyone’s sake.

You could say that the main symptom of depression is a feeling of remarkable sadness, but it’s more than that. It’s a feeling of isolation. A feeling of self-loathing. A sense that you’ll never have the ability to separate yourself from the ills of the world, and as such will never be able to construct a coping mechanism or reason yourself out of a low mood with logic.

And it’s a feeling that you’re all alone in this world; those healthy, happy masses go about their daily lives with barely a stumble, while every single split-second of your own life is a hammer-blow to the head. Those people don’t care. Why should they? If they cared, and let themselves into your mind, they’d be depressed too.

The truth is, nobody really takes the time to think about what goes on in the minds of others. Not really. We all have our own lives to lead, and that’s difficult enough as it is. But I like to think that, as people, as the human race, we do care. Even just a little bit.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m mostly okay now, aside from the occasional off-day. I put a lot of that down to my re-discovery of writing, and my decision to apply myself to a goal. But I also put a lot of it down to the fact that I had people who really took the time to understand how I was feeling.

When was the last time you asked somebody if they were okay and really meant it? We say it trivially every time we meet someone, and the correct response is, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” You must not deviate from the script. To do so is social suicide. If you’ll excuse the metaphor.

But really, we’re all human, and we all get sad sometimes, and we all ultimately care when we find out that other people are suffering. So the next time you see your friend, ask them if they’re okay. Really ask it, and push them for a real answer. They’re probably fine. But it might just turn out that your friend needs an ear, and they’ll be grateful for that question for the rest of their life.

And if they think you’re being weird, or take the mick out of you, then they’re a cunt.

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