Craig ‘The Rage’ McLelland is an angry, bitter and depressing man. He’s a man that is struggling to come to terms with what is, in his opinion, a banal, meaningless existence punctuated by occasional triumphs of the human spirit and casual violence, a topic which dominates the entire body of his poetry.
Podcast fiends and London based radio junkies will have heard his work featured on Resonance 104.4 fm’s award winning One Life Left, a radio show and podcast hosted by ex-EDGE editor / creative director at Zoë Mode Ste Curran, author and PR expert Simon Byron and produced by award winning actress Ann Scantlebury. Craig’s spoken word versions of his material are a stark counter-point to the light hearted banter of the hosts discussion of the latest topics to concern the game industry, enveloping the show in nihilistic apathy for three or four minutes each week.
Thou shalt not waste your time on video games,
You did that when you were younger and you have moved on now,
And are half-way through Life of Pi, or Atonement, or Korba the Dread,
Or whatever other Booker-Winning, middlebrow piece of crap you picked
from atop the teetering pile of middlebrow crap in your local Waterstones.
Thou shalt pity those who continue to waste their time on childish things:
Match Day 2 – just a game
Smash Court Tennis – just a game
Head Over Heels – just a game
Golden Axe – just a game
Fatal Fury – just a game
Just A Game
A collection of his works to-date, 64 Bits Of Pain, is by no means an easy read, weaving between such subjects as Princess Diana, sexual inadequacy, suicide, mind rotting boredom, Chris Moyles and many more besides, casting a derisive and acutely observant eye over them all and using the medium of video games as the framing device. He’s never particularly strict with this game focused core – poems can simply mention a title in passing as an appropriate metaphor for something seemingly unrelated – however that strand is always there, never quite allowing his musings on society to turn into sheer bile. There’s a lot of hatred to be found within the covers, but this isn’t just 109 pages of wrist cutting emo-etry, this is that tiny seed of aggression and anger each and every one of us has that is pointed at the people who make life difficult, or dull, or dire. Clueless members of middle management, nouveau riche wags, aggressive Neanderthals covered in sportswear and every other Jeremy Kyle candidate who makes Britain just that little bit more tacky, that little bit more embarrassing a country to be a part of are eviscerated by his very deliberate writing…
You want salad?
You want chilli sauce with that?
You want inappropriately graphic World War II video game?
You want pretend you 19 year-old GI thrust into very real hell of combat?
Chips in pitta?
You got anything smaller than a 20?
No fighting in here.
You want become casual tourist in a world of tragedy and sacrifice?
No, no more fried chicken.
You want Call of Duty 3?
You pay now.
You pay now.
Call of Duty 3
But before you start to think that this is beret wearing nonsense of the highest order, with an author casting scorn from on high, let me assure you that it is not. For every poem that is fire and brimstone, comes an inward exploration of the human psyche in a modern, capitalistic environment. McLelland shares a lot of personal feelings with the reader, assuring those holding the book that it’s OK to feel disappointed and scared at what’s out there; the isolation of modernity, the fears and insecurities that advertising instils within us all, the constant threat of a life lived without meaning.
Throughout the pathos and reflection, comes a genuine and very dark sense of humour, with the author turning soul crushing moments of humiliation and degradation into laugh-out-loud funny one liners. A lot of this humour though comes not from schadenfreude, but from a sense of danger as you never quite know which boundary McLelland will trample over next. There are entire poems that are unbearably morbid throughout, convincing you that the resolution of the piece will be exceptionally bleak, yet end on a high note of a simple joke or witty remark. Similarly there are times where he’ll lull you into a point of emotional vulnerability and drive a very blunt, very painful stake home.
But to say that girls have no place in gaming is to risk being labelled ‘sexist’
Well if wanting to preserve one final bastion of macho macho boyboyhood
In this increasingly feminised society is sexist;
If wishing to arrest the alarming slide of videogames into a cutesified circus of grotesque,
pink, powderpuff, oestrogen-soaked obsolescence is sexist;
If feeling a mixture of arousal and dread whenever one even catches a glimpse of a woman is sexist;
If making decisions about another human being based purely on their gender
and with no other salient information on which to base that judgement is sexist:
Then take me away your honour, I am sexist.
It’s often argued that video games aren’t able to evoke particularly strong emotions from players, other than aggression and competition, however Craig ‘The Rage’ McLelland disproves this with just one publication. If you thought that the only thing that could be produced with games as their inspiration was cosplay, bad fanfic and the Tetris theme on piano, then you should order yourself a copy of 64 Bits Of Pain, as it’s one of the most thoughtful, funny and challenging pieces of video games literature out there.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of 64 Bits Of Pain for review purposes by the author. The title was reviewed over the course of five days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.