Wrestling With The Issue At Hand

I watch professional wrestling. There: I said it. I also play video games, and sometimes wonder why I do either of these things. Come with me while I try to justify myself.

At this point I'm left interacting with video games in the same way I do professional wrestling. Every Tuesday I watch Raw, WWE's premier showcase for its roster's talent. It's about two and a quarter hours without commercial breaks and airs every week. Every single week of the year. The promotion also broadcasts Smackdown!, which I could watch on a Friday. That too airs 52 weeks a year. I don't because five hours of wrestling each week is a lot of wrestling. Also, Raw is the show generally used to tell the stories, with Smackdown! existing as more of a runty sibling to be constantly overshadowed. Indeed, anything meaningful that happens on it is carefully edited down into cruelly efficient recap packages to be broadcast four days later on Raw. It's as if even the people at WWE know they're just going through the motions. Beyond the weekly stuff you've got an ad-free pay-per-view spectacular at the end of every month. Chalk it up: three more hours. These are meant to be super special but are normally only slightly more impactful than a regular TV show. AND, ever since the launch of the WWE Network streaming service, you're also sporadically gifted a second one of these in the middle of the month. All told, on a bad one you're looking at 26 - twenty six - hours of wrestling a month. I get by with 16 at the most. And it's a slog.

Why do I feel the need to watch wrestling at all, especially given the fact that I largely don't enjoy most of it? Fear. I'm petrified of being left behind, of missing that elusive good moment.

I don't talk about wrestling with anyone. Not even my live-in beloved. We go to a London indie promotion for bimonthly beers on a Sunday, but that's different. You're there and it feels good to see wrestling mere feet away. The WWE stuff I watch is entirely different. It is sanitised, safe and clean. There is no swearing, no blood, no genuine levity, no real soul; at least not one that's conveyed well enough through a TV. I understand why this is: the WWE is a huge public company at this point; it has no real competition and is entirely beholden to advertisers, broadcast partners and shareholders. What is good for business? Money. The money exists in sponsorship deals, merchandise and moving the shows from city to city to city numerous times a week. Door sales. T-shirt sales. Ad sales. Subscription sales. And so the product has to be as universal as possible. It must be exhausting to make WWE's wrestling. It's certainly exhausting watching it.

But I'm scared. Scared that now I'm in the hole of watching it I've already invested my time too heavily to stop now. I've only been back since March, but I'm acutely feeling the pressure of sustaining my consumption. You see, when it's good wrestling can be amazing. Truly amazing. At this year's Wrestlemania a man called Seth Rollins did something unthinkable (though clearly signposted to death) and won the world heavyweight championship. I knew who he was at the time, but having not watched for a decade I wasn't equipped to really feel the gravitas of the moment. It was cool, yeah, but I wasn't jumping on my sofa in enraged disbelief. When Mankind won the world title in early 1999 I was there, because I'd already been there. I knew the stories and liked the character and was overjoyed that he'd been given the push he so rightly deserved. It was a momentous occasion. Like someone who is partial to crystal meth or heroin, I'm constantly looking to replicate the euphoria of days past.

So I keep watching wrestling. Investing myself in it even though I know it is all-consuming and wasteful. I want to feel good. And to feel good I need to submit to the whims of the whole sorry mess. There's loads of good wrestling I could be watching. New Japan. Ring of Honour. Even the WWE's own developmental brand, NXT. But I don't. I keep watching the biggest wrestling, because that's where the best stuff happens, right?

I'm the same with games.

I chug through big-ticket releases like an alcoholic at a wedding. I slosh it down my throat even though I'm sick of it and have been for years. Why did I play Grand Theft Auto V? Why did I play Far Cry 4? Why did I play Dragon Age: Inquisition? I'd had my fill of their particular offerings games ago. I didn't finish any of them, either. It doesn't help that most big games these days are just like wrestling: they never end. Games just go and go and go, offering stuff upon stuff upon stuff to do with very little of it meaningful. Drive here. Shoot this. Ride a horse here and shoot this. Talk to someone. Go here and talk to someone else. Shoot that person after talking to them. Most of it, to lean on an atrocious analogy, is Smackdown!, with so little being Raw.

But I keep playing them because I'm scared of being left behind. Scared of missing out. Big games are still, for some reason, my thing, even though I'm so tired of them and  almost never speak to another soul about them. I'm caught up in a self-imposed zeitgeist. Just like with the wrestling, I'm fascinated by a product that no longer appeals to me. One that isn't even created for me at all on the whole. I'm stuck following its progress, watching and waiting. I think it might be because all of my fondest childhood memories of games are of big-ticket ones. Half Life. Call of Duty. Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko. Grand Theft Auto III. Time Crisis 2. Die Hard Trilogy. Soul Calibur 2. Super Mario All-stars + Super Mario World. Kirby's Fun Pak. Monster Hunter over the network adapter with my boy Tom. That one time I played Counter-Strike on a private server with my friends from school. Watching my mum play all one thousand hours of Grandia. Or Alundra. Or Final Fantasy IX. Or The Legend of the Dragoon.


All of those came in boxes and you bought them in shops. I get that you did this because that's just how you bought everything back then. But for some reason I still subconsciously give more reverence to things wot you can hold in your hands. Which is silly, because most of the games I've truly loved over the last, well, almost decade, have come to me from the Internet and not a plastic case. Flower. Valiant Hearts. The Room. 10000000. Papers, Please. Flower on the PS4. 

I started playing the adventure game about Alzheimer's, Ether One, because it sounds fascinating and tells what I gather to be a touching and well told story in about five hours. I stopped when The Witcher 3 came out because there were posters of it everywhere and it comes on a disc in a box. It is more important. I'd love to fall into its world and explore everything it has to offer me, but if I'm honest I'll probably just stop at some point from fatigue and intimidation. But it's a super important release so I've got to play it. I've just got to. It might be The Best Game Ever Made after all. It might be as fun to play as Fallout 3 was back when I was a student and stayed up all night drinking cider from large plastic bottles and smoked Marlboro Reds at a rate of knots. But it probably won't be. I don't really enjoy staying up late, and drinking, and smoking fags, and being a layabout. I've kind of changed. I like different things now. I like shorter games, ones about human stories that don’t really revolve around me killing things. So why do I find it so difficult to accept this and move on? Why am I playing a 200 hour game I’ll never, ever finish instead of sitting down with on I could conceivably enjoy over the course of a Saturday afternoon?

For the same reason I sometimes do, on occasion, still stay up drinking lots of beers and chuffing many bines. For the same reason I have inexplicably begun watching wrestling again after almost fifteen years. For the same reason my little heart fills with joy whenever I hear Somewhere Along The Line by Billy Joel. I've had some truly wonderful times with all of these things, and I want more of them. I can't accept that my association with them may well have peaked years ago - foolish as that may be. I am, as The Bouncing Souls said around the same time as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mick Foley were still duking it out, a True Believer. Whether I like it or not it would seem.


Fags and booze cost way more money than they used to. I think it has something to do with the large amounts of tax one pays upon purchasing them because, I'm told, they are bad for your health. Or something to that effect. Anyway, if you're thankful in any way for my free written gift to you, maybe consider making it ever so slightly less free by donating to my lovely Patreon, it resides here: patreon.com/ashouses. Chuck me a couple of quid and you can rest assured I'll spend it all on getting drunk and being happy. Chrz.