“There is a crack, a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”
It is hard to write anything without first acknowledging the absolute state of the situation in Ukraine.
You can help in a number of ways.
Donate to the Red Cross to help people on the ground get food, water, first aid, medicine, warm clothes, and shelter.
If you’ve read anything about the racism being experienced at the Ukrainian border and want to help the sheer number of BIPOC people being turned away, this fund ‘Black people fleeing Ukraine’ is in the process of getting help - financial or otherwise - to those who need it.
If you’ve already done the above, or similar, and wanted to help in an entirely different way, my friend (data-nerd, political campaigner, ex-colleague, and all round smart man), Rob Blackie, has set up a fund specifically to fight the disinformation battle inside the Russian border. You can read more about direct from Rob here - and donate - here.
If the cost of living is such that you’re unable to donate then consider reaching out to colleagues or checking in with your European friends. You may be surprised at how many Ukrainians (and Russians) you know…
It’s OK to feel helpless.
It’s OK to be afraid.
And as it’s all too easy to lose yourself in the doomscroll. It’s OK to put the phone down and not think about it if it means it’s better for your mental health; you still need to function.
Take a breath.
If you’ve done all you can.
Take. A. Breath.
As for Five things on Friday, well, a lot of it is pre-written over the days leading up to publication. And as I’m sure you get enough of honestly just too much of everything every single day on the news, in your feeds, and in your chatgroups, let’s try and show you some other stuff to think about. OK? OK.
This week’s things are close, they’re super nerdy and… we shall put them off no longer.
Shall we crack on?
TO THE THINGS.
PS. Fair warning: Substack told me this email was too long to send. So we’re clear: Substack is not the boss of me. Sorry not sorry.
1. BEING THE NEW BOY
I started a new job this week.
After three years of being an integrated brand strat/unicorn @ Digitas UK, and ten (10) years of doing the big network agency thing, Tuesday, March 1st was my first day at independent full-service specialist games agency, Diva.
The job: Chief Strategy Officer.
The job: build the strategy offering to help clients present, (PlayStation, Netflix, Bandai Namco) and future (insert your brand here), build better campaigns, title launches, player engagement, and brand partnerships in the worlds and communities that live in gaming and beyond.
Diva has been doing advertising and marketing for games developers and publishers for over 15 years and has done some incredible work.
This is unsurprising really, given Diva describes itself as ‘gaming native’. I’ve been working from the Bristol HQ all week this week and have seen up close the credibility, the industry know-how, and frankly the sheer quality of creative product - it’s been fantastic.
And I guess that’s what it comes down to really: credibility and creativity.
At this point in the lifetime of all things GAMES, it’s a proper exciting moment for two reasons.
First, with technology, popularity and let’s be honest, the social acceptance of being “a gamer” (there’s no such thing as gamers), now is the time for games to push out even further into popular culture.
Second, as more and more brands wake up to the fact that all those metaverse presentations and decks are mostly about gaming, they’ll want to push in and start playing around with these huge online communities.
And to do that meaningfully, in a way that matters, in a way that works - they’re going to do need the right skills, the right strategy, and the right creative partner.
Hi, I work for Diva. We should chat.
That’s the job.
And I’m excited AF.
For what it’s worth, I will miss my gorgeous lot at Digitas. We’ve parted on the best of terms - and they’ve all been genuinely lovely. The work
is was always as wide as it is varied and I can honestly say there’s no way I would be ready for this kind of role without them.
I do a bit of mentoring from time to time and one piece of advice I often fall back on is ‘Move towards things, not away from things’ - and this move for me was 100% a step towards an opportunity, and Digitas gave me its full blessing as I left to follow my dream.
Not many people can say that about any employer, let alone a big London network agency. That. Speaks. Volumes.
Thank you - especially to Dani, Matt, Rafe, Charlene, Marius, Laz, Lou, Ian and so many others… for the time together. I would not be here without you xx
If you’ve been around this newsletter for long enough, you’ll know that gaming is where my heart is.
And sometimes when your heart calls, you just have to follow.
Apparently, this gaming thing is quite popular.
Go follow Diva on Twitter and I’ll see you there.
2. THE BATMAN
No spoilers here.
On February 23rd, and as an entirely on-brand leaving present from my (now ex-)clients at Mondelez, I was invited to attend the world premiere of THE BATMAN.
And I am here to tell you (now that the embargo has well and truly lifted) that THE BATMAN is a bloody fantastic addition to the best icons of Bat-film history.
First thing to know is that THE BATMAN is brutal. I mean, surprise surprise it’s a 21st century Batman film so of course, it’s going to be dark (as a side note: I’m kinda bored with people saying ‘Oh, why does it have to be so dark? Can’t we have a lighter Batman for once?’ NO DEBBIE, WE CAN’T. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, WE GET BATMAN FOREVER/AND ROBIN. HAVE YOU EVER READ ANY OF THE BOOKS? NO? RIGHT THEN. HIS NAME IS LITERALLY ‘THE DARK KNIGHT’. GET IN THE BIN) but this time it’s actually properly D A R K.
For a start, the BBFC has rated it a 15. We’ve not had a 15-rated Batman movie in the UK since Batman Returns (and to be fair, Penguin chews a woman’s nose off in that film so y’know, IT’S DARK).
Our young Bats is barely two years into being Batman. The bat-signal is a thing that exists, as does his relationship with a certain James Gordon. So the establishing job is skipped over. There’s no origin story here and the film is better for it; you arrive in an established moment in time and you’re away with the characters - quickly.
And what a brilliant cast of characters they are.
Robert Pattinson is a great Wayne/Batman (called it). Brooding. Angry. Laser-focused. Not perfect - by any stretch. But committed to the cause. We actually see ‘the world’s greatest detective’ start to earn his stripes. And about time too.
Paul Dano SHINES as a superb and utterly deranged Riddler. Your skin will crawl every minute he’s on the screen and yet when his scene is over, you’ll wish he was back again. That’s a skill.
Zoe Kravitz as the cat-burglar Catwoman is the most realistic take we’ve seen of Selina Kyle and the energy between the Bat and the Cat leaps off the screen the moment they first lay eyes on each other.
The supporting cast: Jeffrey Wright (world-weary Jim Gordon), Colin Farrell (unrecognisable scene-chewing Penguin), Andy Serkis (an Alfred that leans in), John Turturro (a slithering Carmine Falcone) - all of them (and more) just STEP THE HELL UP. THE BATMAN really is an ensemble piece - I haven’t seen a cast this well put together since KNIVES OUT.
What else can I tell you?
Gotham is fully realised, and the links back to the multiple books that the story touches on (to name them would be spoilery, I think) are as long and deep as they are well-chosen and remixed.
Truly, this is not a Batman we've seen on screen before. And while it is not without its faults (it's arguably about 20mins too long and there’s probably one scene I’d remove completely) it belongs up there with the greats.
Timeless yet of its time, I genuinely can't wait to watch it again.
There’s more I could say but I don’t want to give anything about the story away.
Two other things of note:
The cinematography is outstanding. The premiere was at the BFI IMAX and my seat was CLOSE to that massive screen. There were more than a few occasions where my jaw was wide open just amazed by what I was looking at.
The director, Matt Reeves, was interviewed on the red carpet and let slip that HBO has commissioned a series for Farrell's Penguin. I am going to watch the hello out of that. He’s great.
So yeah. the tl;dr is: see THE BATMAN.
You won’t regret it.
Yours, a fan.
3. THIS WEEK IN… GAMING
Back once again by popular* demand, we have a lot to cover.
That said, gaming overload is a thing (this is from man who has barely touched his PlayStation in a good fornight and my goodness me I’m missing out on some games right now) so I’ll keep it brief.
Horizon Forbidden West launched and we all missed this small but effortlessly charming meme-based foray into Giphy. Smart. Related: this is hilarious.
Elden Ring launched and my chat group(s) won’t shut up about it (you know who you are). Have you picked it up? Between new Destiny, Horizon, and Sifu AND you know, starting a new JOB, I’ve not had any time to play much/anything (did I mention this already? MIGHT BE A SORE POINT). So there’s no way I can pick up the sadism-dressed-up-as-gaming that is Elden Ring. Stranger things have happened. PS. My new lot, Diva, did this bus. Lovely.
Speaking of Elden Ring. LOOK AT THOSE SALES NUMBERS! Insane for ANY game, let alone one from From Software. Incredible. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
The developers of my Game of the Year 2021 (Spiritfarer), Thunder Lotus, gave a great little interview about how they managed to build such a successful title. I know I’ve mentioned this before but you really should play Spiritfarer. It’s beautiful.
Remember Twisted Metal? It’s coming to a TV streaming service near you.
*by popular I meant ‘zero people demanded it to return but no one said they loved the gardening bit two weeks ago either so I’m bringing it back because I like it’ - clear? Clear. The suggestion box is officially open for next week’s ‘This week in…’ - hit that reply button and tell me what you want to see here (if I have time and if nothing else better arrives, it could happen).
4. THIS BE THE (META)VERSE
Repeat after me: the metaverse doesn’t exist. And anybody who tells you otherwise either has no idea what they’re talking about or they’re trying to sell you something - or both.
When I was a kid, you’d go down to the beach with a pound in your pocket, turn it all into coppers (1ps and 2ps) and play on the slider machines until you’d doubled your money or lost it all. Walking around all day in a pair of jeans under the Canvey Island sunshine, you’d keep that pocket of smash gripped tightly in your palms. The sweat, combined with the copper, left a distinct whiff that would take a good day or so to disappear. Ask anyone that grew up near the arcades, they’ll know what I mean.
Anyway, just like that weird fishy/metallic stench that wedged under your finger nails in years gone by, this weekly Metaverse section just won’t budge.
What’s happened since we last spoke?
Tell you what, let’s kick off with a doozy.
Arjun Capital has filed a shareholder proposal for the SEC asking FB/Meta to commission a third-party evaluation of the potential psychological, civil and human rights harms of “the metaverse”.
The FB/Meta investors said they wanted to know if any harms could be mitigated or avoided or whether they are simply inherent to the technology.
You will be UTTERLY FLABBERGASTED to learn that FB/Meta doesn’t want the proposal to go to vote.
HAHAHAHA. I’m sorry, you trust these people? Lol, what?
Bloomberg wrote about Tech Giants staging their first A BIG BRAWL in the metaverse (this article says nothing of meaning, I wouldn’t even click on it)
HTC is launching a METAVERSE PHONE. Who is this for?
Zuck, with no evidence, said ‘Humans will live in the metaverse soon’
The Guardian published this… er.. ‘opinion’ piece about why small businesses should get involved with the metaverse. Don’t read it. It’s awful. I mean, properly awful. It made me angry! So angry, I did an angry Twitter thread on it: Lies, damn lies, and small business advice about getting involved with the metaverse.
I’m thinking about scrapping this section next week as well.
IT JUST MAKES ME CROSS!
5. “I SAW EVERYTHING AS A FIGHT”
I found the below in an old FTOF draft that I’d started but never got around to finishing. It’s from October 2020 and, re-reading the notes last night, it felt more relevant to share this now even more than it did then. I hope you find it helpful.
In the article linked, ‘I saw everything as a fight’, James opens up to Alex Moshakis about why his attitude to arguments has changed, what brought him to that change, and how that change will impact his way of life forever.
It is a profound read.
I’ve talked about my own mental health a fair bit in the pages of this newsletter and I must confess, there’s a section in O’Brien’s interview that punched me hard and when I got there; the tears came flooding back.
It was this:
“During one of his sessions, the therapist asked: “Why don’t you pretend that cushion over there is you, aged 10, having just come out of that study, having been brutalised by that man… Why don’t you tell 10-year-old you how you feel?” “And I did,” O’Brien recalls, “like it was the most natural thing in the world.” He looks half-sceptical even now. “There I was telling a cushion that everything was going to be all right, that you don’t have to pretend any more, that it shouldn’t have happened.” He realised that as a boy he had created a kind of armour, and that the armour had manifested as a tendency to argue, of letting nobody get the better of him, of always being alert to attack. “And look what it’s done to you,” he says. He is talking to himself again, weary now. “You can’t provide help and support to the people you love, to people who deserve it.”
I ask if he is capable of providing love now.
“Yes,” he says.”
When I was at my lowest, my therapist used this technique on me. ‘Remember that boy, that you were - remember how afraid he was - what would you say to him?’
It wrecks me now. Just had a little tear.
I wasn’t 10. I was a bit younger. But the armour that I built around me, to deal with my trauma, took me years to understand. To dismantle. And not only am I so much better off for it - but my friends, family, and loved ones are too.
It’s a short interview with James O’Brien but it is worth your time.
Give it a read.
As a post-script, it’s worth mentioning I replied to my namesake. Unexpectedly, he replied and, in doing so, underlined again why it’s so important we talk - why we all talk - about this stuff. Thanks James ❤️
THIS IS THE BONUS SECTION. BONUS LINKS THAT BUMP US OVER FIVE THINGS BUT DUE TO TIMING AND SELF-IMPOSED WRITING RESTRICTIONS ARE LIMITED TO PITHY COMMENTARY ONLY. ENJOY.
Unsafe. Unheard. Unvalued. The state of inequity. A must read.
Lol. Credit Suisse asked investors to destroy documents linked to oligarch and tycoon yacht loans. Is this even legal?
‘I’ve been waiting for 15 years for Facebook to die. I’m more hopeful than ever’ - Cory Doctorow. Worth a read.
Tom Roach has just reached the end of his first year at Jellyfish, and he’s shared his diary (#goals, Tom - thank you).
Strat Scraps is pretty great (thanks Carlos)
Have you watched WHAT IF..? if not, and you’re excited about the new Doctor Strange movie, then you should probably fix that
This old but still relevant: no worries if not
Inside Facebook’s African sweatshop. Horrible.
Amy Kean (ON FIRE ONCE AGAIN) is back with ‘Why it could be time for the #BeKind movement to end’. 🔥🔥🔥
Amy Williams, CEO of Good Loop, writes brilliantly about the lessons brands can learn from Innocent Drinks having its advertising banned by the ASA.
A few weeks ago I shared this stunning story about a new hire that showed up to work being a completely different person to the one that was interviewed (missed it? worth a read). This is a good follow up read on precisely what you should change to prevent this from happening to you.
YOU ARE REACHING THE END OF THE NEWSLETTER. MIND THE GAP.
This week’s edition has been particularly nerdy. The edges are harder to spot between the sections. Normal service will resume next edition.
As ever, thank you for subscribing. Thank you for sharing.
Until next time,
Whatley out x