During one of the worst years of my childhood, my mum returned from a hospital stay literally wreathed in pain. She’d had a hysterectomy, but something had gone wrong at the end of the operation and all I really remembered from that Winter was constantly turning up the music on my walkman to drown out the sounds of her sobbing in the bathroom. It was a grim, terrifying time: being an only child, you have a certain amount of fear tied up in the fact that there’s really just the two of you: my nan was a borderline alcoholic, and could really only be relied upon to provide unpredictable problems whenever she came back from the pubs.
It would be easy to say that I don’t like cats and cats don’t like me but it’s just nowhere near as simple as that. The war between the cat kingdom and myself began – as many things do – in a pub.
Then it happened. I was at an airport, getting ready to fly out to Italy, when a friend called me and said: ‘What do you think of Neil Gaiman?’
I first read the Discworld novel Eric by Terry Pratchett when I was twelve years old. I was a huge fan of Fighting Fantasy, and I’d gone into town to get the 50th FF book, Retun to Firetop Mountain, but they’d put the price up to £3.99 and I only had £2.99 in my pocket. That meant I either had to go home and spend a Saturday on my own with nothing to entertain me, or I was going to need to find a book to read: an actual book.
The year is 1991, and I am sitting in the manager’s office of Ramsgate’s old Pleasurama arcade, accused of trying to steal cars in the car park. My best friend, Russ, is sitting beside me: he’s accused, too. We have been in the office, waiting for the police to arrive, for around twenty minutes….but it feels like we’ve been there for hours.
Dominating the Ramsgate skyline, the Granville Hotel is now a (mostly) restored and beautifully unusual landmark. To those of us who grew up in the 80s, however, it will always be that half collapsed old ruin with Dracula’s Castle rising out of the end, sticking one MASSIVE middle finger up at the sky. I’m serious, back in the 80s, the rumours were strong: there were things in the basement at the Granville that would snatch you out of the dark and wicked old ladies in the tower offering you tea and biscuits before hitting you over the head with a twenty pound lump-hammer.
When I was growing up, I had a lot of ‘Uncles’. Now, I’m not saying my mum slept around: she didn’t (as far as I know), but our house was always full of people who liked to drink….often at the expense of a new suit. I’m not blaming them: I like to drink, too….but I tend to stop if I begin to fill my trousers before I can get to the toilet.
It’s Saturday morning, and both my kids are at a local birthday party: I’m not going, because it’s a Two Party Saturday and I’ve pulled the late shift. I’ll be at Jungle Jim’s tonight, watching all the sweaty midgets get high on e-numbers before bedtime. It’s no big deal: I’m used to it. What I’m not used to is making lunch at my nan’s house. My nan lives very close to the location of the party, so I’ve escaped to get a convenient bite to eat…except it’s not turning out to be convenient. In fact, it’s proving practically bloody impossible.
Above and Below isn’t just a fantasy game with a few odd kinks: it’s a personally defining and beautifully rare gaming experience that holds up a mirror and shows you who you really are. What kind of leader would you be? Does your moral compass tend to swing south at the first sign of profit? How would you cope when faced with the opportunity to help someone in trouble? Would you leap to the heroic defence of a victim when they’re at their lowest point or leap in and steal their shoes while their guard is down?
“Ah, young Mr Stone – do come in.”
“You look good.”
“Thanks! I feel great!”
“Indeed. Do take a seat. Now….um…..your mother tells me you’ve lost six stone in two months?”