Longform Disappointment: Samoa

In your classic three act story structure, the second act is the part when everything goes a bit tits up.

The first act is for introduction, world building and so forth, combined with the gradual sense of things going well. The story progresses quite nicely along and up, with the hero or heroine or hermaphroditic space lizard generally going towards their goal. The third act is when Zzzlarr the Scaly triumphs and becomes both King and Queen of the Omicron Nebula.

Which leaves the second act. Things can’t be too easy, or else there’s no narrative tension. If the plot simply cruises towards a resolution, there’re no stakes or obstacles to be overcome, no real reason for the audience or reader to get emotionally invested in Zzzlarr’s battle for recognition and equality in an oppressively gendered society.

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Longform Disappointment: Australia

SLOUGH – Yeah, that’s a hell of a dateline, isn’t it? The exotic holiday paradise of Slough, a town that elicited the sentence “Oh, that’s not a pub, it’s an exotic dance club” on Saturday night. A town with a name that, in medical terminology, means “a yellow fibrinous tissue that consists of fibrin, pus, and proteinaceous material”; that is, a bit of yellowing scabbiness in normal person speak. I mean, the metaphor writes itself.

And since ‘yellowing scabbiness’ might not be a bad way to describe the England performance against Australia, let’s talk about that. Because the reason I’ve written this from Slough is the same reason that I missed the Scotland-South Africa game and the same reason I watched the England-Australia game from an English pub surrounded by English people. Since it’s none of the wider internet’s business what I was up to, though, that’s all the explanation you’re getting. My blog, my rules.

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Longform Disappointment: USA

I think I’ll probably begin this piece by listing Scotland’s major sporting achievements in the period I’ve been paying attention to them. An Honour Roll, a Greatest Hits collection, perhaps, if you will, a Hall of Fame of moments. Something to be proud of, a celebration of success as we collectively bask in the reflected glow of a win over the sporting might of the USA.

/wind whistles.

/somehow, a tumbleweed drifts past, rustling softly in the stillness, even though you’re indoors.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

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Longform Disappointment: Japan

As a necessary introduction: I’m Scottish. Welcome to a series on fandom.

***

The first video game exploit I can remember using is the Missingno glitch in Pokemon Red. It was… odd. The stuff of rumour and legend on the playground until you tried it for yourself.

At the beginning, I’d grind, hard, for interminable, tedious hours, gameplay being padded out with pointless battles to gain experience. Hours of time were spent walking in circles, finding the same enemy, beating it senseless, then walking in circles again, just to make my pixelated sprites strong enough that I could access the next area of the game.

There was no skill to it, no sense of my becoming honed, hardened, better at the game. Maths dictated that I would eventually win, and I did, by rotely calling for the same attack after attack after attack until a MIDI fanfare signalled victory.

And then, about two thirds of the way through the game, the glitch presented itself. Go talk to someone in the early game, immediately fly to a completely different place, swim idly up and down a ten metre stretch of coastline until a hellish, Dr Moreau-ian snarl of symbols and lines garbles its way onto your screen. Defeat this strangely underpowered abomination however you please. And presto! Whatever item was in a specific place in your inventory has multiplied itself a thousand-fold.

The relentless grind of having to gain experience immediately melts away. The tension of challenging a powerful opponent vanishes. The game immediately becomes a stately victory procession, a gentle, unhindered prance. There’s still no measure of how good you are at the game but who cares? You’re winning!

On a not entirely unrelated note, Scotland’s opening world cup match resulted in a 45-10 win over Japan.

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Why are rugby teams trying to lose?

The opening round of the World Cup was scrappy, boring, and thrilling across a bunch of different games. England looked unconvincing, Wales got even more injured, Ireland were clinical, New Zealand are still inevitable, and South Africa… well, the South African Rugby Union has probably called in a crack legal team to try and annul some contracts.

Obviously, pulling large scale trends out of so few matches, when teams have only played once, is a bit suspect. The high ball seems like it might be more of a factor. Competition at the breakdown looks to be in an interesting spot, with referees aiming to encourage more open play. Video ref interventions are far more frequent, to the point that they’re causing a touch of controversy.

One point in particular that caught my eye from the opening weekend, though, was a bit more obvious. A couple of incidents where the attacking team chose to kick a penalty in the opposition 22 highlighted some serious shortcomings that still linger in the collective rugby consciousness. The problem is that it’s not really a tactical or strategic trend or change; in fact, it’s a marked absence of change, a stasis in thinking.

That’s why the decisions by a couple of teams in particular stood out, because in rugby’s difficult straggle into professionalism, some aspects of received wisdom have gone unchallenged. Having money to pay for match analysts and video experts and stats people and all the other glitter and baubles that go with professional elite sport should mean that teams aren’t consciously turning down chances to win games. But some of the biggest names in the sport still do exactly that.

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Accidentally in Place

The Rugby World Cup starts on Friday 18th September. So, fair warning, I’ll probably be writing about and around rugby for the next month and a half. And yes, this is non-fiction.

***

I was most concerned about what to wear.

Did I have the right shorts? The right shoes? The right socks? I mean, I owned all of these things, shoes and shorts and socks and shirts. But were they rugby shoes and shorts and socks and shirts, and would they make me fit in? Would I be there, noticeable, ostracised?

It was a remarkably sunny day for Scotland. Blue skies, the first hint of summer with a warm, almost thick, lazy feel beginning to develop in the air. The end of season barbecue, all the youth teams getting together on one Sunday morning and playing around, indulgent parents watching and laughing at the ungainly stumblings of their children. The treetops edging the ground waved gently in the slight breeze. The inexpressibly vast expanse of pitch, a full hundred yards long, was split into conceivable pockets of milling figures.

I stepped nervously out of the car. My bare legs shivered slightly, despite the warmth and the laughter that was coming from the jumbled chaos of the pitch. I stood and I watched for a second while my dad climbed out the other side of the car and locked it. I saw my friend, one of the only reasons I was here at all, in amongst a group of boys about my age, all chasing a ball about while shouting and laughing with one another. He was wearing a new looking red and yellow striped rugby shirt, the colours of the team, just like most of the rest. I saw studded rugby boots, oddly short rugby shorts. My heart fell right down into my astroturf football shoes.

I edged towards the group cautiously, loath to hold my dad’s hand in public. But I wanted to.

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