|Wouldn't have to do this if me shoes weren't|
wrapped round a telegraph wire.
Looking back now, with our minds fixed on PEPs rather than Pepsi, its hard to shoehorn the adult psyche back into that mindset. Innocuous premises, executed with fastidious intensity. I mean, you’d go to lengths involving ropes, pulleys, blueprints, the underwear of a smaller boy. Whatever it took to dam up that brook, because, well, the babbling son of a gun had it coming. You and a posse of like-minded pygmies could spend hours – days – pursuing these profitless schemes. And you never ran short of ideas. Around a matchbox fire, someone would say: “I heard you can catapult a person twenty feet by springing back a small tree, pegging it to the ground and lying on top of it. They did it in the olden days for laughs.” Boom, simple as that. A prime Dickabout project for mapping out the air-miles to A&E if ever there was one.
But what of now? Is the Dicking About gene recessive? Maybe this digital generation has moved on? After all, there’s Sky, laptops, iPods and any number of pretty reasons not to go out. You don’t have to sense the incredulity, it is writ large in your child’s saucer eyes as they search for the hidden meaning behind your words. "Outside? Wh-why would I want to go there?" So you might be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Dicking About is a dead science. So History channel, dude. So Antiques Roadshow.
Well no, actually. If you really feel the need to televisualise, its more Brainiacs with a bit of Blue Peter thrown in. But what does any of this have to do with gaming, you ask? Well, the social landscape may well have changed, but on Sunday in 2010 I discovered that Dicking About is still a reassuring part of adolescenthood. It pleases me ridiculously that it lives on, an inalienable by-product of youth and curiosity, a process of our fascination with picking up something mundane and turning it over in our hands, not just wanting to better it, but having the endless patience to do so. To indulge our monkey-mind before it gets taken over by sex and drugs and sausage rolls. To embrace the uncomplicated essence of just ‘doing shit’ for no good reason and with no secure outcome.
|Put that high-powered rifle down and come and get your tea.|
Adam is doing the equivalent with his Xbox mates. Scaling the barn wall via broken vertical planks and crumbly footholds. “Get out of the way,” he sniggers to the lad in front, who is either snagged on a nail or stuck in the scenery. ‘What are they doing?’ I wonder, over the top of the Sunday paper. What’s so familiar about it? Nothing to do with the game mechanic, no attempt to follow any route of scoring or skill. Just trying to get to places you’re not supposed to go.
Finally, one of them makes it onto the roof of the adjacent pillbox, inaccessible by any means other than the luck and persistence of a triple jumper on cherryade. “I’m up!” he whoops.
They throw celebratory ‘nades at each other. Then the next map loads, and a new challenge of exactness is mounted. Onto the rotor of a broken chopper and into the crawlspace of a ruined conning tower. I smell nettles and nostalgia, the mossy, shinbeef feel of clambered-over bricks as we emerge from the darkness of Madam's Wood, into the blazing sun of ‘76. A phantom, photic sneeze shoots out the preceding memory. My initial thoughts had been along the lines of ‘ekeing every scrap of playability from games, long after completion.’ But that wasn’t quite right. With the same everlasting patience I had left years behind and forgotten, they were Dicking About. The tools may have changed, but it was still a generation spanner.
Oddly comforted, I go upstairs and Scott is balancing Halo’s Master chief on a giant golf ball, which he then tries to wobble around an elaborate assault course, cheered on by his headsetted mates. I suddenly want to climb a tree so badly it hurts. Pity my back is dodgier than pesto.