Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Thanks for Playing": Life After Immersive Video Games

So I recently finished Katawa Shojou for the first time with Emi. For those who aren't informed, Katawa Shojou's a dating sim focusing on girls with physical handicaps, e.g. amputated limbs, blindness, etc. Emi's a girl who lost her legs below the knees, but instead of crying about it all the time she sprints on metal prosthetics. I spent several hours of play time patiently working through her resistance towards emotional closeness, but I eventually succeeded in getting the happy ending I sought. I was Emi's boyfriend and we loved each other... and then the story was done.

I'm left with a twinge of sadness, if that's even the best way to describe this empty feeling. I suppose 'bittersweet' also works. Not all gamers go through this silent mourning. Some go onto the next game they have in their infinitely expanding queue. But I'm the type to shut his door and play alone when a game is really riveting, so that nothing distracts me. I partially did that for different reasons with Katawa Shojou (because of the adult content), but I also did that for the entire Mass Effect series. I'm the type to curse at the characters who piss me off, laugh at absurd scenes out loud, and blush and smile and flail when love interests finally give my character some attention. Vicariously experiencing the life someone else is, when looking at it from an outsider's perspective, probably terrifying. Hallucinatory. Escapist. Fascinating. And yeah, I'd agree with all of those adjectives.

Is it any coincidence that I played Mass Effect and Katawa Shojou during times of extreme duress in my life? Good question. I didn't expect to fall in love with Mass Effect like I have, but it always looked interesting to play, and I knew my roommate had a copy of it. Soon after a former girlfriend had broken up with me, I tried Mass Effect out, and was instantly hooked. I burned through both Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, and waited eagerly for my pre-ordered Mass Effect 3 to arrive. I was Commander mother-fucking Shepard, and I was gonna save the whole galaxy from Reaper extinction. Hail to the king, baby!

That was almost a year and a half ago. Nowadays, I'm in a different rut. I sulk around the house in my pajama pants and ponder where my life is going now that I've graduated college. Summer vacations were always great when I knew school would come back later that year and give me a purpose again. Now I appreciate all those years of schooling, because only now do I realize that as an adult, what I do with my life is entirely up to me. No more teachers. No more assignments. I've got to find a job in our terrible job market, or sit at home and write about anime and play games. It's not that I'm not looking for jobs: I apply for a job at least every other day, emailing people that never get back to me. But what is there to do in the meantime, other than sleep and eat?

Does this video game induced emptiness have anything to do with my current state of jobless affairs? I doubt it. I also felt this way after beating Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Vesperia. Spending hours with someone – even if that someone is entirely fictional – can be emotionally taxing. I certainly felt like I had personally died when Shepard sacrificed himself in the Synthesis ending for ME3; the extended ending really made that all worthwhile, since I got to say goodbye to Liara before I died. The surreality of gaming isn't very conducive to distinguishing truth from fiction, and emotional response isn't fabricated based on whether or not the source eliciting them is virtual. People laugh at comedy, and people cry at tragedy. That much is understood by every human on the planet.

But the question the title of this article raises is still poignant. How does one live life after immersive video games? Play enough of them, and I imagine a person begins feeling immortal, experiencing love and loss innumerable times. We want games to go on forever, but they can't; fandoms create their own fiction and keep the souls of franchises alive. Such is the more sobering reality underlying fictional worlds. As Robert Frost once wrote, “Nothing gold can stay.” But you didn't need me to tell you that. You don't need Robert Frost to tell you that either. Life teaches you that often enough. What am I to do, then, now that Emi has been taken from me? Playing Katawa Shojou again is always an option. Creating a visual novel based entirely on her, though a daunting project indeed, feels like a good idea too. But will that be enough? Why is it that people are cursed with listlessness to begin with. Evolutionary drive? Heideggerian will-to-power and all that jazz? A yearning for perfection we once held in the Garden of Eden?

I sit here, listening to my incessant typing, the hum of my embarrassingly small and beat up netbook. Planes fly overhead on their way to the airport. The television plays to my left although I'm not watching it, muted so that I can concentrate on this paper. Perhaps I am losing my mind. I wish I could go back to Emi and run with her on the track like we used to every morning. At least I would be happy again.


  1. I know that feel, bro. I know that feel.

    That Katawa Shoujo stuff's outright mental mutagenic.

    Take care of yourself. It's a tough world out there.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate it. I actually haven't gone back to the game since writing this article. I figured it would be best to avoid it. And yeah, the world's tough, but I'll make it. Life goes on, and there's plenty of good things to look forward to.