#GamerGate

Gaming, a hobby largely despised by the mainstream press and much maligned as a pastime of the basement dweller, the social recluse, the spotty nerd. Anyone in the games community knows that, in reality, it is increasingly made up of a group of varied, diverse and flawed people. There isn’t one stereotype that unites us; we haven’t all been bullied, we didn’t all get straight A grades at school and we’re not all dudes.

And yet, there’s a subculture of people who are so determined to retain the ‘gamer’ crown, uphold its dirty stereotype and keep out anyone who they perceive to be unlike them, that they will participate in the very bullying they supposedly despise. They will create a campaign centred on targeting large swathes of predominantly women writers who they feel are a threat to their precious, precious games.

#GamerGate has fostered such threat and hostility, both from those at the centre and those pulled into it on a false pretext, that it has actively forced some women out of the industry altogether. Brave, unique and vital voices have been hounded to breaking point.

We can separate those involved in #GamerGate into two basic groups (ignoring, of course, the jilted ex) – firstly, we have the 4channers, those at the centre of the movement who sought to harass, abuse and tear down so-called Social Justice Warriors and deliberately mislead others using the hashtag. Secondly, we have the Adopters, those who bought into the narrative of #GamerGate as a movement about journalistic integrity and about fighting back against journalists sullying the gamer name, inadvertently promoting the cause of the 4channers.

The 4channers at the centre of #GamerGate and #NotYourShield have had their true priorities revealed, to strip power and agency from prominent women and men seeking to better the industry. To attempt to tear down the limited progress the games industry has made, to turn games media’s own recognition of oppression back on itself by creating sockpuppet accounts, in the misguided belief that they would be listened to without question. These people are abusers and fantasists who succeeded in leading others in order to gang up on, bully and harass those they disagree with.

The fact that ‘gamers’, developers and gaming sites bought into #GamerGate as a legitimate movement is nothing short of an embarrassment. They were manipulated by a pathetic pantomime act playing make-believe, a group of children who ran away to their den to plot the collapse of the gaming community. When I say ‘children’ that applies to these people no matter their age; they are mentally stunted aged 12 and ¾, incapable of empathy and naming their abuse campaign an ‘Operation’ and treating it as an opportunity to recreate their own Tom Clancy-esque desires.

From ‘maybe we should listen to them’ to changing policies, many in the gaming press were taken in by the call for greater journalistic integrity that concealed the true motive of #GamerGate. The ruse designed to make people in positions of power more amenable to their demands, while rendering those relying on audience support and freelance work even more vulnerable to their attacks. In 2007 readers didn’t trust games journalists; in 2014 games journalists can no longer trust their readers.

The fact that this subculture exists, occasionally making itself known in the comment sections – long written off as the breeding ground of loathsome, odious opinions of entitled children – and seemingly finding its home on 4chan is a somewhat scary prospect. Their fantasy continues as they send out ‘orders’ to ‘regroup’ next year and yet we’re expected to accommodate and babysit this group of cockroaches, the walls of their bedroom plastered with gaming posters and scantily clad women who they want to control and abuse. Although they’re scuttling back to their holes now, these children with ability for hacking combined with a hatred of women, obsession with games and an intense jealousy of games journalists will resurface.

That someone had to trawl through their logs in order to prove #GamerGate as a farce and defend themselves and their colleagues says something about our acceptance of these comments at face value. Although some had genuine concerns, at the heart of this movement was an attempt to seek out and demonise writers the 4channers define as Other. The way #GamerGate was created, promoted and eventually fell apart is damaging to the games community as a whole, #GamerGate’s outright abuse and fanatical conception has truly lived up to the outside world’s idea of gamers.

In the second group, the Adopters, we have a group of people who identify deeply with the gamer title and stereotype, who will happily buy into a flimsy narrative-come-witch hunt in order to feel part of a group, to feel purpose. At a base level, these people bought into a movement that was ultimately centred on not wanting to share games with anyone outside their defined circle of ‘gamer’. While the 4channers, happy to hack people for their own depraved motives, hardly deserve our time, the Adopters leave us with questions to ask.

The fact that such a seemingly large group of people in the gaming community could so easily buy into sexist and abusive logic without questioning it and could so readily buy into MS Paint mock ups as evidence of corruption without any independent thought of their own, leaves me asking how we can move on from this while knowing that these people exist in our community, waiting for the next target to be pointed out for them.

While the easiest, and most attractive, option is to leave them alone, ignore them and sweep them under the carpet; that leaves the opportunity for more pressure and anger to build, and thereby more fuel for influential people like the 4channers to latch onto and harness. Some would argue that we should interact with these people, convince them of our way of thinking and show them that they’re buying into a crock of shit but that’s easier said than done when there are hundreds, or even thousands of these people who all give ten @ replies to one tweet and continue to exist on forums spreading hatred as gospel.

There isn’t one true solution to this; no one can provide an answer to all the questions and anxieties this month of abuse has caused. The audience of games journalists is made up of a lot of angry people, a lot of easily led people but, equally, a lot of loving, caring and well-meaning people.

If we maintain Business as Normal, continue to produce and consume meaningful, challenging and interesting critiques of games, do what we can to cultivate a culture of inclusivity that questions the norm and absolutely does not accept abuse or harassment and calls it out at every opportunity, maybe we can keep the good people who haven’t yet fled. Maybe we can change things and create a community that seeks to do better. If not, we can keep going for the many good people who do appreciate our work and fuck the rest.

Destiny’s Dilemma

So, Destiny. For those of us lucky enough to get a code from a friend (or Twitter follower – thanks @rudeasHECK) or excited enough to preorder, Destiny’s beta has provided an opportunity to fill the post-E3 comedown with space, shooting and looting. As someone whose only foray into MMO’s was a few colourful weeks in the online, free to play EverQuest, I wasn’t all that interested in Destiny initially but fell for the social media chatter and wanted to have a go on the beta myself.

Destiny is a weird mix that appeals to my shameful bloodlust, desire to explore space and chemical pleasure derived from getting points and levelling up. I love the idea of owning your own spaceship and teaming up with friends to form a fleet, explore and fight together. Destiny’s world is gorgeously realised and anyone following me on Twitter will have seen the many screenshots I’ve taken, staring up at the sky from the wasteland beneath.

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However, in many ways, Destiny feels like a victim of its own success. In its ability to create breath taking, otherworldly skylines, I yearn for the next Mass Effect. In its construction of a torn and broken planet, I hunger for the next Fallout. In its pretty much flawless FPS mechanics, I just wish Battlefield 4 fucking worked.

This, perhaps, gets to the crux of my issue with Destiny: it lacks personality. It’s an amalgamation of lots of different genres and although on a gameplay level, they fit well, the lore we’re presented with seems too reminiscent of past RPGs. We’re Guardians, on a quest to stop the darkness. Like Grey Wardens, on a quest to stop the darkspawn. Like Spectres, on a quest to stop the Reapers.

Names aside, a lot of the enemy design is very similar to Mass Effect’s Harbingers (Wizards) and Oculus (Sepiks Prime), Skyrim’s Dragon Priests (Wizards) and Draugrs (Dregs), Dragon Age’s Revenants (Captains) and more. Disappointingly, most of the enemies shown in the beta are both humanoid and harken back to archaic themes. Destiny is set in space. The enemies could be as fantastical as the designers wanted them to be and yet I’m still able to draw parallels with other games.

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Let’s take the wizard as an example. Most people have basic associations with the word ‘wizard’ – they can cast spells, fly, they’re male and have a long white beard. While Destiny’s wizard lacks the beard, it otherwise adheres to most of our expectations of a wizard and doesn’t present anything new or scary. The level indicator is by far the most fear inducing thing I’ve seen yet in Destiny as I approach a level 11 enemy at level 4. Whether that’s an MMO thing that I just don’t get or a failure on Destiny’s part, I don’t know but I do know that I hope Destiny will have a greater range of enemies in the final release, particularly enemies that are unique to certain areas or planets.

So far, Destiny has offered hoard style excitement (which very occasionally borders on the mundane – a la Devil Walker) and an ability to take on tough fights with friends. To form packs, battle (if not unique) challenging enemies, take in beautiful vistas and dance.

While that’s all well and good, I hope when it’s released that Destiny has a bit more to it. Hidden caves with stories to tell, bosses tucked away in remote corners of the world and a tad less cliché. A ruined world begs the stories of the dead to be told and while I understand a beta can’t reveal much of the story or lore of a game, I hope that the now infamous, and removed, line ‘That wizard came from the moon’ doesn’t set the tone for Destiny.

Kojima’s Vision: Fridging, Rape and Torture

Inevitably, Kojima has popped up at E3 to validate the rape and torture of Paz and Chico in Ground Zeroes. How? By explaining, in a roundtable interview published by Gamespot, that it’s ‘meant to help players empathize and understand Snake’s feelings of “why he feels he needs to go after someone.”’

Put simply, what Kojima’s saying is that the rape (a word which he seems determined to avoid) and torture of Paz and Chico, the horrific depiction of Paz’s unanesthetised surgery and her death via vagina bomb, was all to give the player, and Snake, motivation in The Phantom Pain.

To break this down to its bare bones, Kojima is using the rape and torture of a woman and child in a juvenile attempt to tackle and present mature themes in an adult and affecting way. Like a child playing with new toys, Kojima’s attempts at maturity have been fumbling and heavy handed to say the least. The sole purpose of the extreme pain and violence shown to us in Ground Zeroes is for us to sit here and think “yea, I really understand Snake. I want to kill that baddie too!”

The idolisation and love of Kojima as an auteur seems to exist not only among gamers and games critics, but in Kojima’s own mind too. There seems to be a belief from Kojima that simply by including mature themes his games will automatically be mature, regardless of the fact that he’s fridging Paz to further Snake’s story.

Kojima evidently believes that he is a storyteller and is pushing boundaries through his stories, by continuing to treat him as a god among men and shying away from criticism of his work, we only serve to further this idea. By telling him that it is an absolute privilege to meet him every time he’s interviewed, and asking him about ‘controversies’ rather than asking him about what we personally find problematic in his work, we create a barrier between Kojima and criticism of his work. He can so easily dismiss it out of hand because we all so desperately want to see what he’s going to create and want to wrap him up in cotton wool, devoid of criticism, so that we don’t stifle his creativity.

Whether Kojima has failed to recognise, or sees no issue with, using an increasingly outdated plot device in order to excite and motivate players frankly doesn’t matter. Kojima’s own vision far exceeds any criticism levelled at him, the themes he wants to explore will be explored and the story he wants to tell will be told.

What this means is that, yet again, we have a work of fiction that cheapens the abuse of a woman to a simple plot device for the development of a male character, with a young boy thrown in for good measure. Snake’s story is all Kojima cares about; every character is created in order for him to exist as the ultimate hero, for him to be both troubled and resilient, brooding and stoic, cruel and heroic.

Men Only: Co-op in Assassin’s Creed

The decision not to include a playable female character in Assassin’s Creed’s co-op play and Ubisoft’s assurance that they had intended to do so but ‘the reality of production’ got in the way, is indicative of a wider trend in games. Developers are always full of good intentions and agree that diverse representations in games are important but always have an excuse ready and waiting for why theirs isn’t diverse, especially those with multiple playable characters who are put under greater scrutiny. They have plenty of reasons for why it’s simply not possible: lack of resources, masculinity is a crucial theme or maybe the engine couldn’t cope with female avatars.

Ubisoft’s own comments show that in spite of how ‘dear to the production team’ the inclusion of a playable female character supposedly was, it was always at the bottom of their list of priorities. After all, “[i]t was on [their] feature list until not too long ago”. While this comment was obviously well intentioned, it suggests to us that they hadn’t begun work on adding a female character until recently, when they say they ran into difficulties with what Jonathan Cooper, animation director on Assassin’s Creed III, estimates to be ‘a day or two’s work’.

The fact is, the inclusion of a playable female character wasn’t a priority for the developers and it helps no one to pretend otherwise. Every part of a game takes a lot of work and resources, the voice acting, the animation of crowds and character design but you wouldn’t ever see a game released without a soundtrack. It’s a crucial part of the game which has a lot of time and resources poured into it, if Ubisoft really wanted a playable female character, they would have one. To come out with the excuse that they don’t have the resources to ‘double the animations’, which in light of Cooper’s comments seems to be at the very least extremely misleading, is insulting.

While Ubisoft have taken some positive steps by acknowledging women as players of multiplayer shooting games in the footage of both The Division and Rainbow Six Siege and by choosing Aisha Tyler as their presenter, the proof of their commitment to diversity is truly in their games. Their failure to include a playable female character, or treat it as an aspect of Assassin’s Creed’s co-op with any true importance, as well as their deliberate decision to place a lone woman in the role of hostage, shoved around and controlled by a group of players in Rainbow Six Siege’s multiplayer trailer, shows what they believe to be important.

Of course they’re going to tell us that they wanted to include a woman and of course they’re going to give us what they think is a legitimate reason why. They knew these questions were going to be asked of them, all they have done is tried to stem the response to their decision, and I use the word decision deliberately. Ubisoft don’t want us to see this as a decision, they want us to see it as an inevitability and something that couldn’t be avoided in order for them to swerve any criticism.

As a community we are demanding and expecting more from our games but AAA are slow to catch up. Women are supposed to be happy with wishy washy and so called strong female characters like Infinite’s Elizabeth and the new Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, people of colour are supposed to be happy with GTA’s Franklin and The Walking Dead’s Lee, trans people are supposed to be happy with Birdo and the jokes made at their expense.

The positives are few and far between and are rarely as sensational as they’re made out to be but the lows far outweigh the highs. Because we see so few representations of people outside of the typical cishet white male within AAA, every time there’s a character outside of this norm we jump on them as the best or strongest woman/Poc/trans/LBG character and hold them up as everything a character should be, thereby lowering the standards and expectations of writers, developers and publishers further. To push developers to do what we want, as the consumers and fans, we need to continue to expect and demand more of them and refuse to accept pathetic excuses, disproved by professionals in the industry and designed to mislead us.

Quotes from articles published in Polygon and Video Gamer

Chico’s Tape 4

TW: Graphic images and discussion of rape and sexual violence

Spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

There have been plenty of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes reviews, some of which have been greatly revered and lauded as brilliant pieces of writing but, barring the Telegraph’s review, they have all failed to do so much as acknowledge the existence of tape number 4 which depicts rape and child rape.

Yes, the same publications that questioned the implied rape in Tomb Raider, who were disgusted by the torture scene and sexism in GTAV and raged about the oversized breasts in Dragon’s Crown didn’t think it necessary to highlight the fact that a tape depicting rape is used as a reward for the completion of a mission in Ground Zeroes. Or, that in spite of ESRB’s inclusion of a sexual violence warning, PEGI have included this under the illusive ‘violence’ content warning and as such no mention of sexual violence appears on the box or in game.

Instead, publications have focused on dismissing the fact that the main mission can be completed in ten minutes on a speed run and convincing readers not to write it off just yet, it really is worth playing oh and there’s even some depth in its depiction of Guantanamo Bay. The length of the game is the main talking point, not the rape or child rape, not the fact that this is used as a reward, not the fact that there is no warning that this will happen. Every other detail of the game engulfs this miniscule, unimportant tape.

It’s easy to question the function of sexual assault as a catalyst for story progression in Tomb Raider. It’s easy to say that the world of GTA is sexist. It’s even easier to criticise overtly sexual, even comical, depictions of women. But to criticise Kojima? Someone whose stories we’re not supposed to take any notice of and we’re supposed to just humour and pat him on the head and say ‘It’s ok, we don’t expect you to tell meaningful stories’. That is, seemingly, extremely difficult.

The tape in question is picked up as an extra during one of the missions, is just under ten minutes long and depicts the torture and interrogation of Paz and Chico and the dual rape of Paz and Chico (Chico is forced to rape Paz but as he’s a child and is forced by Skullface into the act, is also raped by Paz). The thing that immediately jumps out and makes me extremely uncomfortable is the fact that I’m discussing a game which has a character called ‘Skullface’. A character who looks like a zombie and seems to be evil for the sake of evil, from a series which is known for its ludicrous, over the top antagonists. This character forces two people to have sex with each other against their will, this caricature is used as a vehicle to incorporate difficult themes like rape and sexual assault into a series which is renowned for being playful and not taking itself seriously.

The tape in itself is a catalogue of poor writing and voice acting, with Skullface’s over the top, typical, American ‘baddie’ voice and the oft quoted series of increasingly disturbing lines, said to Chico after Skullface has stripped Paz. ‘Do you like what you see?’ It’s like…fruit. Does she look sweet or sour? A man has to know these things. Time for a taste test. Either you take her now or you are strung up next.’ These all add up to make what could have been an evocative scene, extremely cringe worthy and sickening to listen to as it feels like the subject matter is not being taken seriously in the slightest and is instead, doing its best to create snappy, easily quotable lines of dialogue rather than anything even bordering on meaningful.

It’s laden with childish comments from Skullface about Chico needing to become a man and references to Paz as Chico’s ‘girlfriend’ or a girl he’s trying to impress. Thereby girling Paz and putting her into the submissive, controllable role of ‘girl’ and removing her independence as a grown woman and placing Skullface into the familial father role, with Chico fulfilling the role of child and Paz as the mother, controlled and ‘girled’ by Skullface. This in itself sets the tone for the tape, it’s childish. It contains no nuance at all, it’s a child’s idea of what rape is like. An evil man does an evil thing. It’s as simple as that, and of course the woman (or girl) is at least partly to blame as she specialises in ‘deception and deceit, what better proof she’s a real woman.’

After beating them both, Skullface rips off Paz’s clothes and comments to Chico ‘Repulsive, isn’t it?’ Following this it’s deliberately unclear whether Skullface rapes Paz but the sound is more like thrusting than punching, and as the ESRB rating said ‘a female character is sexually assaulted by male characters’, it is certainly suggested that he does. Skullface then offers up Paz to Chico, like a piece of food on a plate ready for his consumption with no personal autonomy or voice of her own. This interaction is extremely Oedipal, like the father handing over his sexual, phallic power to his son and allowing him to realise his Oedipal desire for his mother (in this case, with Paz as the role of the mother due to the age gap between Paz and Chico).

When Kojima finally grants Paz a voice she, a 25 year old woman, initiates a sex act with Chico, a 13 year old boy, immediately after they have both been raped. She asks him to move closer to her, seems to kiss him and, in spite of Chico’s protestations, asks ‘You want to do it here?’, heavily suggesting that Paz is initiating sex with Chico. This casts Paz as an evil, deviant, sexually aggressive woman who deserves punishment. This is furthered by the change in her appearance from Peacewalker where she had an extremely feminine look, compared to her more masculine, short haired appearance in Ground Zeroes, allying her with the male aggressor and making her seem more dangerous (because of course, feminine women can’t be dangerous).

Paz in Peacewalker

The whole thing is tacked on, a silly extra that Kojima uses for additional shock value. It has no bearing on the story and is used primarily as a tool to further our idea of Skullface as an evil character and secondly to portray Chico as the ultimate victim and Paz as a perpetrator, erasing her status as a victim and instead casting her as a sexually manipulative woman who, as Skullface says, will ‘get what she deserves’. This is particularly potent as it links to both the consequent rape and ending of the main mission, Skullface deems Paz to be ‘the kind of woman you’ll want to avoid’, which we’re pushed to agree with, and he punishes her sexuality by putting a bomb inside her stomach and her vagina.

This captivation with inserting large objects into the only woman in the game is disturbing to say the least. Kojima seems fascinated by putting Paz through as much pain as possible, deemed acceptable to us as a player because of her actions towards Chico, portrayed as the ultimate innocent. With the entirely unbelievable end scene where she’s held down by Snake and Chico while a doctor reaches around inside of her as one of them holds her intestines in. It’s an extremely ritualistic scene, bringing to mind sacrificial practices. While the extreme violence of the removal of the bomb from her stomach is not entirely believable, Paz’s pain is undeniably real and the detail that she’s not given any anaesthetic is undoubtedly deliberate, to further enhance the pain she’s subjected to.

The scene borders on the pornographic, the build up with close ups of the stitching being slowly removed, moving onto close ups of hands inside Paz’s stomach, her blood and intestines glistening in the garish lights of the helicopter lights and of her face as she screams in agony. It’s almost as though Kojima revels in the pain she experiences, casting it as a complete necessity – no, there’s no time for anaesthetic, maximum pain must be ensured for some unspoken reason.

The only way that Paz can redeem herself of her actions towards Chico and our realisation of her as a sexually manipulative woman and reach salvation, to become accepted by Snake and his team as ‘one of the good guys’ is to become a martyr and literally destroy her genitals (and her entire body). She saves them from the destruction that her sexuality would otherwise bring and embraces her sacrifice as she dives out of the plane with crossed arms, facing Snake the whole time, able to be at peace with herself in the knowledge that she thinks she’s saved them.

I find it extremely distressing that there is no clear warning of the content either on the box or anywhere around the tape which is simply called ‘interrogation’ and seriously hope that if there is any similar content in Phantom Pain, that there will at the very least be trigger warnings on the box. I was already feeling extremely wary about Phantom Pain, and the content from Ground Zeroes combined with the Phantom Pain trailer and Kojima’s comments about Quiet, have hardly absolved that pit in the stomach worry that comes to mind when I consider Kojima’s reasoning for Quiet’s outfit. Right now I have no hope for the way that child soldiers, or any of the female characters in Phantom Pain will be portrayed, Ground Zeroes has presented no tact or maturity in its representation of tough issues and, unfortunately, I don’t expect that to change in the Metal Gear series any time soon.

The whole of Ground Zeroes is simply a catalyst, a back story for the upcoming Phantom Pain. Paz and Chico’s rapes function only to further Snake’s story, to give him a reason for revenge and to have been in a coma. They are victims for the sake of the progression of another character; the scenes are careless, clumsy and childish. In his desperation to achieve “what movies and novels have achieved” Kojima has created a piece of work that shows complete disdain for the only female character in the game, a fetishisation of Paz’s pain and has failed to create any meaningful portrayal of sexual violence.

On being a barmaid (TW: Transphobia and transphobic language)

TW: Transphobia and transphobic language

My favourite customer is a male cross dresser who, as her female self, Rebecca, introduced herself to me as “a guy in a skirt” and teased that “the girls aren’t interested and the guys are too scared” and chatted with me about experiencing both sides of the gender divide within a work environment. The owner dismissed her as “a thing”. Much like the resident joke, “Danny the Tranny”, a trans woman who does nothing to harm anyone beyond exist is constantly mocked among the staff and customers. I grate my teeth and stare in anger at the other end of the bar, attempting to ignore it. I hate myself for not knowing how to stand up for another woman who just wants a fucking drink.

“Y’alright love? What deals you got on?” I pick up on his Yorkshire voice; it makes me feel at home (conveniently forgetting my hatred of Bradford, traded for my affinity to the accent). I ask where he’s from, he tells me to guess, I say Leeds, no, Hull but lives in York. He hates it here, everything’s too expensive and what is with this music? I laugh and explain metal nights are only on Saturdays now, why’s he here anyway? He and his friend are here for two weeks, doing a course at the college which is full of “specials”, they’re in the army. I search for a question that might reveal some redeeming quality but I’m pulled away.

“Paul thinks he’s the best at selling shots but I know it’s the pretty girls who sell ‘em.” I laugh nervously and shuffle around as my manager thrusts a tray of shots into my hands “I’m just gonna go to the loo before I start.” I escape to the bathroom in the knowledge that I’m now The Shot Girl and will be treated as such. A table of four buy the first lot of shots, my hand quivers as I take a shot on its long, lonely journey from my tray to their table. They notice and exchange confused looks without a trace of concern, grab their other shots, hand me £4 and down them.

The tray clears pretty quickly, there have already been two people joking about whether they get the money that rests by my hand with the drink too. “No, unfortunately not” I laugh, sensing a theme. I pass over the sticky notes, smirking at their crassness while my manager checks the money is correct. “What can I get you?” Back to reality, just serve the drinks, smile and look pretty.

A girl with a group of lads, all about university age (bar one who looks about 30), stare back at me as I pour their vodkas. The girl teases the lads by saying we were talking earlier, I go along with the joke and she tells me that I’m prettier than any of the guys she’s with as she pushes her hands towards me. They’ve yet to pay for their drinks so I put my hands up to her, laughing and asking “what?” she grabs me and forcefully pulls me across the bar, laughing all the time. Still in shock I tell them the price of their drinks and scuttle away to the other end of the bar.

“What can I get you guys?” The inflection in my voice cuts through me. “Oh, hey…are you new?” “Ish.” “Newish? Oh, well, we’re the best looking guys in here and you’re the best looking girl in here so, you know.” The nervous laugh rears its head again, “OK, so did you want a drink?” I grab them a Bulmers each; they make me take two trips. “That’ll be seven pound twenty then.” He sniggers “Do you take ten pound notes?” “Yes.” I say, grabbing it from him, still smiling when I give him his change, silently thinking what pricks the pair of them are. He has a quiff and is wearing a t shirt with surf shorts; it’s January.

“Right, Jaeger Bombs this time!” Another tray is shoved in my direction, Nile, an old man who always has a Lager Top holds the door open for me. I thank him and approach a table “Hi guys, we’ve got two fifty Jaeger Bombs if you’re interested?” They stare at each other in disgust, I’ve disrupted their civilized catch up and no of course they’re not interested. Unfazed I move on, this time asking a group of people standing if they’d like one. “Ooh I shouldn’t.” “But it’s your birthday!” “Oh, you’re a temptress you!” The woman stood in the middle of the group with dirty blonde hair scraped back into a messy ponytail slowly turns round, drink in hand “Oh, you really are, aren’t you?” For a reason that I cannot explain this exchange leaves me genuinely smiling and faintly blushing.

A group of guys who turned shots down last time call me over having changed their mind in a way only alcohol can prompt. As I stand with the tray propped up against a table counting out their change a guy I’d served earlier comes up behind me. “Would you like one?” “Argh” he grunts, smacking the back of his head with the palm of his hand twice and gritting his teeth “Sorry, I’m just really fucking angry. I really want to punch that black cunt.” He obviously sees my expression change as he quickly qualifies it with “I-I’m not racist though!” “I think you should go and stand outside and calm down. Leave your drink.” My sternest response yet leaves me concerned that he’ll hit me but he does as he’s asked and leaves. “I’ve got some change in here somewhere” mumbles the guy I’m serving and I smile back at him, telling him there’s no rush.

I revisit a group who wanted drinks last time and they joke that I’m taking them for chumps. One guy in a new group wants a drink and gives me two sixty, I give him ten pence change. His friends tease him for not giving me a tip. He tries to give it to me and I laugh, telling him that he can keep it. He tries again and I tell him that ten pence really won’t make a difference to me. They ask if I make commission on the drinks, I tell them no. The guy stood up gets uncomfortably close, he doesn’t pursue this closeness when I take a step back. He slowly counts out his change and tells the group it’s ok because he’s “a sexy boy”, the girls with him laugh at him and apologise on his behalf.

Once again I return the empty tray and decide to collect glasses, lusting after something that involved little social interaction. I step outside, half hoping there’ll be no one out there so I can clear up in peace but inevitably the tables are all full in spite of the cold and wet. I relish the rain on my skin, it reminds me that I am a person who feels and sees and thinks. “Hey, are you new here?” It’s The Best Looking Guys In Here again, “ish” I reply, cringing at the fact I’m having to replay this conversation. “Have you come out here to collect my bottle?” He leers, because of course a bottle is a phallic object and collecting penises is sexy. I force a laugh and move on as the group which has grown to about eight lads continue to shout things in my direction.

On my way back inside I’m called over to a table with a polite ‘scuse me. I ask if I can help them and the woman points me to one of the regulars, prompting him to ask “Erm. Would you like to go out for dinner some time?” “For dinner?” I ask, dismayed, as though it’s a concept I can’t even fathom. “Yeah” he says getting visibly nervous “…o-or, drinks or something?” “I, erm, I’m not actually single. I’m sorry.” I feel an incredible guilt for everything. For not having mentioned my boyfriend, for not having picked up any signals that he fancied me, for the fact that this would knock his confidence back. “I’m sorry, you’re really lovely but, yeah. Sorry.”

Flustered, I clamber up the narrow stairway to the upstairs bar and manage to fall up the stairs as a result of shoes that are falling apart. The tray full of (plastic) glasses and The Best Looking Guys In Here’s glass bottles smashes on the floor so the whole bar is alerted to my clumsiness. I’ve cut my arms and later develop an impressive bruise on my knee. Several guys offer to help me and carry the tray for me but I’m so embarrassed that I laugh it off, eyes firmly planted in front of me and tell them I’m fine, to go and enjoy themselves without worrying about me.

Behind the bar again a guy is telling me that he and his friend/employee got kicked out of the last pub they were in because they were accused of snorting cocaine. He knocks his pint everywhere whilst telling this story, I pour him another and he looks shocked when I ask him for three sixty. I’m being stared at by a guy I’ve not seen before, he asks if I’m single, “Nope”. “Shame”, “Hm, not for me.” “No. For me.” I move away.

The land of the free and the home of the brave

Guantanamo Bay has long been known as, essentially, an off the grid facility which allows US officials to act outside of laws which have been created to protect people. The prisoners taken to Guantanamo are seen as less than human by the US and for so long the facility has been a simple rumour, joke even, but now someone has finally brought proof of the abhorrent crimes which take place, they’re being jailed for 35 years.

The sheer amount of information brought forward by Chelsea Manning has served only to prove what we already knew about Guantanamo Bay, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the USA’s relations with other countries and motivations.

For bringing forward information that proves illegal and deeply immoral actions committed predominantly by the USA throughout the world, Chelsea Manning is being punished.

Who then, is going to be held to account for the illegal actions of the USA? Is Guantanamo going to be shut down? Are the USA going to help the families of innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan and those killed in the ongoing Arab Spring?

Of course they’re fucking not.

We live in a world driven by power and money – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Once people know your name and you’ve got a modicum of power you’re supposed to push for more and step on every person possible on your way up – fuck them, if they were good enough they’d be where you are but they’re not, they’re lazy, they’re scum. If they go against you, you will make them pay.

This ‘logic’ is applied to everything in life – workers in low paid jobs are always told they should be doing better and the leaders of countries? They need to become the dominant power for – guess what – monetary gain. You think your country cares about you? It doesn’t. It wants to control you, if you could be implanted at birth with a chip that could be controlled by the government without anyone knowing, you can bet they wouldn’t think twice about using it.

What the USA has shown is that unless you blindly follow your country’s whims and wishes, whether you live in a democracy or dictatorship, you will be punished. Severely. Chelsea Manning was brave, but is she free?

“Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”