Last week, I reviewed 64 Bits Of Pain, a collection of video game poetry by an author named Craig ‘The Rage’ McLelland. I wanted to get to know the man behind the words a little better and what leads him to create such works.
Xero: First question, who are you and what do you do?
Craig ‘The Rage’ McLelland: My name is Craig, and I write videogame poetry. That is basically what I do. Obviously I have to support my lifestyle with a wage of some kind, so I spend my days in an office dabbing listlessly at a PC keyboard and trying to avoid making eye-contact with my ‘colleagues’. It’s easy work… I wouldn’t like to say too much about it, but it involves judging strangers and finding reasons to remove their entitlement to funding of one kind or another.
X: Next, a question we ask everyone we meet here at Midlife Gamer, what is your favourite beverage and what is your favourite biscuit?
CTRM: My favourite beverage is Bovril. I like it mostly because it tastes like the cells of a cow – each cupful resonates at the exact frequency of the dying ‘Moo’ of the cows who were executed and rendered for my pleasure. Drinking it is like bovine communion – a very moving experience for me.
Biscuit? I prefer not to get involved with silly foods such as biscuits. But, if I am feeling particularly indulgent or naughty, I do like to settle down in front of my front window with a pair of binoculars and a Jacob’s Cream Cracker. Sometimes I like to break some crackers up in a bowl with some butter and Soy Sauce – or perhaps a cheap supermarket own-brand ketchup / catsup – and eat them with my bare hands.
X: We recently reviewed 64 Bits Of Pain, can you tell MLG’s readers a bit more about the inspirations behind the book?
CTRM: A number of things inspired me to write this book. Many of the inspirations were things that made me angry: the BBC’s Nick Robinson – a man made of smugness and poison, who will inevitably die toppling into a river in an attempt to fellate his own reflection; the relentlessly arch presentational style of the group of eyebrow-raising morons on Channel 4′s ‘T4′ programme; packaging for products which addresses me in matey, conversational terms, specifically Innocent Smoothies, which should taste like fruit, but end up tasting like Cancer and Aids in my mouth because I know that a revolting young ‘creative’ somewhere has smirkingly typed the copy that I’ve just read, imagining that I may be charmed by it, that I may chuckle a little to myself at one of the soft little witticisms that he has incorporated into his text, and that somewhere inside me a voice will say “Hold on Craig, you’re a lonely lonely motherfucker, perhaps the team behind Innocent Smoothies are the closest you will ever have to an actual, real-life friend: perhaps you should buy lots of Innocent Smoothies, perhaps you should plough the entirety of your meagre financial resources into this successful international brand, and neglect to purchase other dietary staples to allow more time spent with the deliciously gloopy fruit drink, and its oh-so-very-fucking-friendly packaging. Those kind of things.
But the main inspiration was a desire to reflect the sheer mundanity of the grotesque daily drama of life: to capture the horrible fact that each of the sour-breathed, Nandos-eating humanoids that you are dimly aware of weebling past you on the street each day, each of these ‘people’ is carrying with them the most enormous payloads of guilt, grief, hope, anger, hatred, love, and fear that no one else will ever know about; carrying all this stuff and trying desperately to suppress it all while attempting to retrieve a very hot single-serving Chicken Jalfrezi from the microwave oven without burning themselves, or to clean dog muck off the sole of a deeply-treaded walking boot without just bursting into tears at the sheer, howling futility of it all.
X: The common factor between each of the poems is video gaming, what is it about this central theme that interests you?
CTRM: There is a refreshingly stark morality to videogames, which I find reassuring. You are Pac Man – your task is to eat pills (much like human beings eat beef burgers, or drink glasses of beer in city-centre pubs). Your task is also to avoid being killed by the ghosts (the ghosts are essentially representatives of a police state, or some other kind of repressive regime: their goal is to capture Pac Man and subject him to interrogations which involve water-boarding and stress-positions). However, when you (as Pac Man) ingest a Power Pill the roles are reversed – you have power. You are faced with the choice of using your (albeit temporary) power in a benign way, for the benefit of Pac Men and Ghosts alike, or you can adopt the role of the oppressor, and turn the harsh yoke of state-sponsored violence on your enemy. My observation is that people usually choose to take on the role of oppressor, and fail to realise that there is a hidden game which allows you to build a beautiful utopian society based on principles of fairness, respect, and not eating each other.
Video games are a moral test, and it is nice for me to see people consistently fail these tests.
X: How long have you been playing video games, and do you feel you are a ‘hardcore gamer’?
CTRM: I’ve been playing videogames since I was seven or eight years old. My first computer was a haunted Commodore Vic 20 – it came as a special package containing games such as Feud, Nifty Lifty and Frogger. I then progressed through the latest generation models as they emerged – Spectrum 48k, Spectrum 128k+2, Atari ST, Amiga, SNES, Nintendo 64 – before coming to a halt with the Sony PlayStation.
If by ‘hardcore gamer’ you mean someone who immerses themselves in a fictional pixellated world while the fabric of their ‘real’ life crumbles around them, then yes I would describe myself as a hardcore gamer.
X: Many of your poems centre on retro titles or consoles, OutRun, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the ZX Spectrum, do you feel older titles have more of a unique identity than new releases?
CTRM: I chose to stop acquiring new videogame consoles when the original Sony PlayStation was released. It was clear to me that gaming reached its zenith at this moment, and that any further ‘developments’ would simply be a corruption. I didn’t want to get involved in the undignified death throes of a a format I cared so much for. The release of the Nintendo Wii was a particularly sad moment for me. These are the last days of Rome for videogaming. The Wii was our Pompeii.
X: Your work is remorselessly bleak at times, do you feel the written word is an outlet for you? What did you do before you began writing?
CTRM: It is an outlet of sorts. Writing does help to release a certain amount of internal pressure. Certainly it takes the edge off until I can get my hands on the necessary ingredients for one of my patented Schnapps and Methadone cocktails. I call it Schnappadone.
Before I discovered writing I would express myself by sobbing aggressively at people – my parents, people in shops, unsuspecting couples sleeping in their own beds and so on.
X: What’s it been like having your work consistently featured on One Life Left? Do you ever feel limited by the ‘safe to broadcast’ nature of the show?
CTRM: Being broadcast on One Life Left has been a tremendously exciting experience for me. I feel like I am part of a family. Ste, Simon and Ann are the mum and two gay dads. My fellow contributors are my brothers and sisters. Derek Williams is the older sibling who flushes our heads down the toilet and spits on our Walls Vienetta when mum and dad are not looking.
There’s not really anything that I feel I cannot say on the show for any reason. Swearing is nice and makes me feel like a bigman, but it is not essential.
X: How do you feel others respond to your poetry when they first hear or read it? Anger? Shock? Endearment?
CTRM: People usually go through the following stages on experiencing my poetry: hearing – electrical impulse in brain – interpretation by frontal cortex and language glands – contextualisation – “what the…?” – denial – realisation – decision to change own life for the better / decision to ignore message and continue to exist in life of drudgery and self-delusion.
Some people seem to enjoy this process and react well to my work. Others react against this process and make wild accusations, including: “stupid”, “repetitive”, “poorly conceived” and “not even strictly poetry”.
X: Are you pleased with the response you get from them?
CTRM: I like any response. I have an incredibly weak ego, and any kind of reaction from another human is implicitly affirmative.
X: Lastly, I’d like to ask what you feel is next for Craig The Rage… a follow-up book?
CTRM: Next? A sit-down and a little cry I think. I am thinking of writing a film script – it would be a Batman / Star Trek-style ‘reboot’ of the Oliver Twist story, starring Bryan Ferry as Oliver Twist, and Richard Blackwood as Fagin. I would also love to compile a book of Craig The Rage slash fiction, and would welcome any contributions from readers….
To round out our interview, presented below is a brand new piece of art and a new poem by the man himself created exclusively for Midlife Gamer…
The cruel reality of the videogame market
Is that it is focussed on the young, and forsakes the old.
Who cares for the midlife gamer?
What use is a game like Cooking Mama to a married 44 year-old father of three?
I already know how to make a fucking pizza.
I’m a battle-scarred veteran of a thousand suburban dinner parties,
Each one horrifically the same, to the last detail.
I would like to make a sliver of my brain available to the people at Nintendo,
So that they can create the game Dinner Party Mama.
Use the DS stylus to manipulate the lips of your sadsack middle-aged avatar,
As he wet-mouths his way through standard greetings with the Lovely Couple,
Double-cheek kisses and the sweaty, weakening handshakes of men who have never known physical labour.
Receive a £7.99 bottle of Chilean wine and coo over it as if it were the warm urine of Christ himself.
Lead your character through to the living room as you and your guests collapse into settees,
Blowing out cheeks and raising eyebrows,
Preparing anecdotes about busy weeks, and anticipated holidays,
Readying the conversational script you have been rehearsing all week at work
To assemble the scattered bric-a-brac of your drudgesome lives
Into some kind of halfway-compelling narrative.
Moan appreciatively as you munch through the expensively-acquired ‘Italian-style rustic feast’;
Each sliver of Parma Ham, each olive, each hunk of crusty bread
Tasting of resentment,
Of the tight-shouldered form of your wife standing over the chopping board earlier in the day,
Frozen and silent in your embrace -
Your half-hearted attempt to apologise for an earlier offhand remark,
A remark which you already know she has catalogued and for which she will not forgive you,
Except its not really that she can’t forgive you for it;
It’s everything, everything.
Force your character to smile as your wife tells the same hilarious story
You’ve heard literally seventy or eighty times before,
Triggering gales of delighted laughter from your guests,
Which she bridges with incredulous hoots of
“And then….and then!” and “It’s true!”
Loathe yourself as you dutifully deliver your droll, inevitable, scripted punchline:
“My wife, ladies and gentlemen!”
And all you want to do is shout or cry
And you imagine a great white light,
Atomising you, turning all to dust:
The artfully mismatched crockery, the Cath Kidston tablecloth, the other husband’s loosened tie, the £7.99 bottle of Chilean wine, your wife’s laughing mouth.
Eventually, eventually, the other husband turns to the other wife and murmurs
“We should think about making a move, shouldn’t we darling / hun / babe”
And you and your wife avert your eyes politely
As if he has started fingering her under the table.
As they rise to their feet with satisfied groans and jokes about waistlines and calories,
He drapes an arm affectionately around her shoulder.
Panicked, you self-consciously and stiffly take your wife’s hand.
It feels foreign and awkward.
Whose hand is this?
Double cheek-kisses and weakening handshakes and the evening is done.
They are gone and you are alone again.
Craig ‘The Rage’ McLelland appears on One Life Left, the new series of which begins on the 7th of June and can be found on Resonance 104.4 FM or iTunes. If you’d like to order a copy of Craig’s book – 64 Bits Of Pain – click here for details of how you can do exactly that!