Another London

© Ubisoft Entertainment. All rights reserved.

 

Autumn. Filmy cloud sheathes the cool blue.  The night’s rainfall stains the streets, stewing fallen leaves on the cobbles. I start walking again, hemmed in on both sides by soot-flecked brick. I’m claustrophobic – and it doesn’t help that I don’t know where to go. The bustle of the docks is behind me – I turn briefly to see the barges chugging past relentlessly. And around again – to the brown brick. I crave quiet. I crave trees. I don’t belong here. I’m out of my depth.

I breathe deeply. It’s going to be OK. Just relax, just take it all in. And step forward. One step. At a time. Maybe you don’t know what’s going on – but to be honest, how many people do?

The leaves flutter down like yellow Tibetan peace flags – carried momentarily on the sharp breeze, before surrendering to the mucky street. Pieces of paper, rubbish dance too. I wonder about their stories – who threw these, was it from windows, or from passersby? Are there no darn bins?

I need a shower. I feel sticky, and the smoky air isn’t helping. I can almost feel my clothes stiffen. Just keep walking. You’re no Johnnie Walker lover, but the old man had a point. Keep walking.

Another breath, a deep one. I look ahead: at dingy shopfronts and terraced houses, their elegance faded, their beauty surrendered to neglect. But still – I like the semi-circle tops of the long windows. I like the bays in the centre – how they let the light in. I wonder who lives there, on the second floor of the block up ahead. So many lives, so many stories. Where does it all end?

Smoke curls from chimneys into the sky. I stick to the wall, I continue forward. I’m uneasy. Am I safe? Probably not. No one has badgered me yet, but I still don’t feel safe. Is someone coming? (To kill me, I mean.) A woman in a green dress dashes across the road almost getting knocked over – why is she running, what’s wrong? I long to talk with her, but if I chase after that could be considered creepy. She’ll be OK. Maybe she’s just late for a meeting – or maybe she’s just always in a rush.

There is nothing I can do really except to carry on. Keep walking. I need a drink. I want a Laphroaig now, go generous with the ice.

I stop again. I watch the carriage pass, led by prancing horses. They are odourless, which is a mercy – I’m in no mood to deal with shit.

Two Union Jacks hang eerily still on the corner of the Tea Importers. On the ground floor, there’s a pub with square windows, frames painted a red that’s seen better days. I huddle under the yellow awning. A woman bounces pass with a kid who zig-zags behind her. Why’s he walking weird – is there something wrong with him, or with me? Maybe it’s just the wine I had at lunch.

I try the door, but it’s locked. Try again.

Now what? I know it’s a Sunday, I know that in London shops only open at 12. But it’s almost 4.30 in the afternoon, dammit, and it’s autumn, and I want to be inside, want to escape the crowds, the carriages. And the rain. It’s started splattering down. I’m grateful for the awning. Blue sky shimmers in the distance – teasing.

I strike forward – shit, I’m in a puddle. I’m useless at this, aren’t I? I put down the console. It’s time to call it quits.

 

© Ubisoft Entertainment. All rights reserved.

 

As games such as Assassin’s Creed Syndicate become increasingly epic sagas, rendered with exquisite texture and complexity – the world’s gamers have grown 1.8 billion strong. Constant improvements in technology and graphics means that becoming fully immersed in – and absorbed by – the world of a game is seductively easy. Even at their most fantastical, these virtual realities created have, in a sense, become a proxy for the messy reality of life beyond the screen.

Perhaps if I’d spent a bit longer in the streets of Victorian London, I’d have gotten hooked too. But I’m too impatient: I hate learning new things, I hate feeling incompetent. I like being outside – sun on skin, wind scratching hair, taking in lungfuls of the forest or beach. And I’m also so intrigued and bewildered and excited (and quite often a little horrified) by the real world, real life: there is so much to see and experience, so many people to meet, so much to try to understand. I can’t bear the idea of shutting the door on all that, on the crazy beautiful amazing horrendous world – even for a few hours each week. Life is one epic saga, and navigating through it – to me – feels like a full-time thing.

 

Alexander Matthews writes about real life people and places and things.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate artwork by Bertrand Bergougnoux. Courtesy of Ubisoft Entertainment: All rights reserved.

 

© Ubisoft Entertainment. All rights reserved.

 

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