The James Clayton Column: Pilgrim and Poppins vs. real life

Taking his cue from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, James argues that our humdrum, everyday lives would be made a lot more fun if we imagined them as one big videogame…

For every task that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and, SNAP! The job’s a game!” – Mary Poppins, 58th level Nanny Mage

Game on and right on. The one with the talking parrothead umbrella speaks the truth, which is unsurprising considering that she’s “practically perfect in every way”.

It’s also the kind of intelligence and grasp of universal truths you’d expect from a graduate of the Cloud City Academy of Excellence in Childcare and Domestic Servitude. That’s why she really lands in London at the start of the movie, not because she was touched by the pleas of two children shunned by their banker dad, but because she’s fleeing from occupation under the Imperial Empire. A parrot-handled umbrella is no match for the Dark Side of the Force.

Anyway, the point is that life is boring when it’s not a game, but because the Banks kids live in an Edwardian age that predates videogaming, their quest for affection is still a bit drab. If Mary Poppins plugged into the spirit of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, then everything would be so much more epic and awesome.

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If Avatar can be rereleased with extended scenes, if the guns can be cut from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and if cheap old B-movies can be colourised, then I’m sure some tech whizz can whack Mary Poppins with a joystick and turn it into ‘Mary Poppins Vs. The World’. It would be a total knockout.

Ready, Player One? Commence battle with the deadly dancing chimney sweep ninjas! Find the coins and feed the feral psycho pigeons of St Paul’s Cathedral and save the princess (old bird lady)! Jump through the pavement painting portal and ride a talking horse to victory at the grand animated derby by drawing on the Power of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Unlock voting rights for the Sister Suffragettes by bopping the League of Bad Men Committed to Social Inequality! You don’t need a spoonful of sugar with the medicine, just a gaming marathon and an 8-bit version of the Let’s Go Fly A Kite tune to make everything sweet.

Such is the imaginative appeal and allure of videogaming and it’s therefore no surprise that Edgar Wright’s cinematic adaptation of the Brian Lee O’Malley graphic novels is easily the most exciting and interesting romantic comedy/youth flick of recent times.

This is how young people think and experience life in the fantasy world of the mind. Lives unroll in the imagination like movies, books and films – if they’ve ingested these cultural mediums – and individuals draw knowledge, experience and understanding from them. That’s why Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World hits the mark for its audience. It reflects the alternate reality of the creative mind, where the ‘real world’ is reconfigured into something more outrageous, fun, colourful and stimulating.

It’s dull to think that you are just a faceless pawn on a pointless treadmill of tedium moving through a meaningless nonexistence. It’s at this point that inserting visual sound effects, excellent background music and a bit of arcade excitement becomes essential before you turn into Eeyore or a mound of mindless, unfeeling dust (to be swept up by the cleaning lady on Monday. That’s when she dusts).

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You are a player and life is a game, so insert your figurative coins, pick your weapon and watch your power bars. Everything feels fresher, more kick ass and interesting this way and each little victory is more glorious when you’ve got peppy victory music and the idea that you’ve just beaten the boss. Proceed to the bonus level and collect a 1-up.

That’s why innovative iPhone/iPad/iMind apps that reconfigure your to-do list as a role-playing game and make your schedule of mundane chores and ‘real-life’ business into a World Of Warcraft-esque quest to conquer offer the potential salvation for our jaded, idle society.

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: you have to do accounts spreadsheets, walk the dog, clean the toilet, pick a relative up from the airport, buy some flowers to apologise to the secret lover you’ve been neglecting lately and make the Bolognese sauce for dinner. All of this is expected in the space of a few hours and the sense of reward is minimal. By Dick van Dyke on a bike, confound this woeful drudgery!

You can either face the onslaught by getting tanked up on coke like Henry Hill in Goodfellas (not advised) or reset your imagination and attack it like a videogame. If you get a ‘plink!’ noise every time you achieve an objective, rally up points and get to unlock items and special powers in the process, the sense of satisfaction and psychic wholeness increases exponentially.

Crossing the road can become Frogger and shopping is less soul destroying if you experience it as a 3D version of Pac-Man or some Resident Evil-style battle for survival. If you work at that supermarket, restocking and shelf-stacking is less of a drag if you enter Tetris mode.

The loathsome trip to the back of the filing cabinet to dig out an insurance policy from 1997 becomes a more appealing prospect if you morph into Lara Croft and turn a dusty paperwork trail into Tomb Raider. Bathing that dastardly dog is much better when the ordeal’s rewired as a hairy game of Worms.

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If life isn’t a game, then it lacks wide-eyed, energetic delight and colour and light ebbs. It doesn’t even drop off the bottom of the screen, flash ‘GAME OVER’ and offer a ‘CONTINUE?’ countdown from 10, which is extra disappointing.

Screw that, I say. The way of Scott Pilgrim is much sweeter and thus I embrace an alternate reality of 8-bit bleeps and gamepad whacking. I suggest you do the same, before Death comes and turns you to dust (to be swept up by the cleaning lady on Monday. That’s when she dusts).

Next time that someone sends you a confrontational letter (probably demanding rent, overdue fees or their girlfriend back), I challenge you to get all RPG on the situation. Journey to their Tower of Infernal Pandemonium, blast the henchmen and banish the level guardians blocking your path (they are Medusa, evil Buzz Lightyear and the twins from The Shining, because it’s a computer game and the nonsensical can happen).

When you’ve stabbed the reptilian antagonist with your flaming Sword of Truth and got a high score, you will feel euphoric. Isn’t that so much more satisfying than writing a standard angry letter? Game on… (‘plink!’)

James’ previous column can be found here.

James’ movie-spoof comic strips are right here.

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