Bring Her (a Step) Back

20170807_004837There’s been this game running amok in the world of indie games and social media for maybe a few weeks now, something of a different string of game experience. Under clever facades and brilliant writing, the collective internet has been exposed to the next big online gaming mystery that people are itching to solve, piece together, and revel/cower in the presence of. I’m sure the title has popped up on your radar once or twice by now, but it bears discussion for many reasons. Several blogs and online articles do a great job of peeling back the layers as to why it’s been so fascinating an experience, and reviews on Steam race it Overwhelmingly Positive, always a good sign.

Indeedly so, this game rapidly breaking into the realm of infamy goes by the innocuous title of Doki Doki Literature Club. A slow-burn psychological horror that plays on a few uncomfortable meta-tropes and mechanics that, as gamers, most are at least superficially aware of, if not intimately familiar with. But before I delve too far into the subject matter I wish to discuss, I need to preface it with a few disclaimers:

  • I’m writing this with the assumption that the reader knows about the game and its major plot points
  • I’m writing this with the understanding that the material I discuss is difficult for people who are mentally debilitated might have a hard time coping with or reconciling
  • This article is much like the tag-line of the game reads: “This is not for young audiences or those who are easily disturbed

If you’re still reading this, then I’m taking it as implied consent. As mentioned, this game serves predominantly nerve and willpower testing ride. While there is a great deal of “choice of illusion”, the fact always remains that you, the player, are ultimately powerless in the face of the developments for the story. And, frankly, this might be the single greatest tool to educating people about how mental illness and, by extension, how powerless those afflicted with depression can feel.

Doki Doki Title CardThere’s this overwhelming issue with trying to sympathize with a character who has depression in video games: by the very nature of the game, the player is always saddled with options for how to approach and overcome a challenge. This also reflects in the choices a developer of the game chooses to build their options and choice-pathways for players to navigate. You can really get a sense from how the developer feels about depression and, in many cases, suicide, by how they choose to allow the player to contend with it.

In many cases, there are hopeful (bordering on idealistically optimistic) about how you can overcome depression with some pluck, determination and stalwart friends. If it sounds like I’m describing many other methods of overcoming challenges, say dragon slaying for example, that’s because the similarities are certainly there. While these aforementioned traits most assuredly help, they’re often not enough; anyone diagnosed with clinical depression (hello) can tell you that this isn’t enough.

Some developers take a slightly more bleak on the subject: depression and suicidal tendencies only end in one conclusive event; where there remains nothing left for those after the tragedy other than to simply move on. Suicide is inevitable, and everyone left behind will just have to live with that. This mentality plays out as a sort of guilt-trip for people who contemplate these thoughts: how dare you do something so selfish to people like that?! Don’t you know they care about you? Again, talk to some people who have contemplated, or even attempted, suicide and they’ll tell you about how little they care about what other people think. And if they do care, guild it the last thing that’ll help in that situation.

Rarely do we see cases where we, as the player, have to rationalize and contend with that logic: games try to put you in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem, and by that very nature, removes some of the problem with depression by giving the player choice. How do you choose to react to this? What options will you pick?

chibi_by_satchely-dbo7yijIn DDLC, we’re given something different. Enter Sayori, your spunky life-long friend who’s always been there for you, even if she’s really tardy and hungry. Of course, it’s revealed late into the first arc that Sayori has depression, and not the kind of “gee, life is kinda hard, isn’t it?” sort that we commonly throw around as slang. Rather, a crippling and self-depreciating depression that permeates every ounce of her action and behaviour.

I played through the first arc a day ago, but was already familiar with how it was supposed to end. I’d seen people try to give Sayori the affection they believed was needed to bring her back from the brink (didn’t work), I’ve seen people try their hardest to distance themselves from the issue hoping to spare themselves the pain of her death (didn’t work), and I myself tried to do what she asked of us by making good friends with another of the girls and being happy for her (didn’t work).

Ultimately, it always ends the same and robs players of the chance to do anything about it. Knowing what’s going on and having fairly extensive experience with the subject matter myself, I could read between most of her lines and deduce what was transpiring from the very beginning. As Sayori admits: the depression was always there. And for the (rapidly completed) two hours you get to know her through dialogue and gameplay, you unwittingly grow fond of the bouncy creature you call friend.

In the end, however, Sayori’s death by hanging was forever bound to happen. And, because of another clever programming trick: it doesn’t matter if you saved before to try something else, the game will not let you go back. No mulliganning here, pal! Though there are some misconceptions on this topic: it was not your actions that lead to Sayori killing herself, and neither was it her’s (or Monika’s, either).

Sayori HangingIn actuality, there is no logic to this choice. This can be a maddening fact for most people to comprehend; we like to believe humans are inherently logical creatures, and that we do things because A + B = C. Instead, in this case, it feels like every answer leads to C, regardless. When that power is ripped from the player’s hands, you suddenly start to get an surface level understanding of the powerlessness of a depressed person against their own brain.

Time and time again, Sayori is shown to be a pivotal and crucial member of the Literature Club. Her enthusiasm brings all three girls to cooperate and disarm fights, her understanding lets everyone find common ground, and it is absolutely her that brings you, player, into the realm. When she misses a meeting, you can begin to see the wheels falling off the tracks as some of that gentle compassion is lacking.

In actuality, the gentle compassion is only because of Sayori contending with her own demons and doing what little she can to bring a measure of value to herself. In her confession to you outside your house after Yuri/Natsuki leaves, she virtually shatters as she explains how worthless and terrible she is. Sayori isn’t, however, blind to the good she does: it’s more that she doesn’t care. The pain and misery far outweigh the good: as it has always been and always will be.

Never before have I seen something so poignant and accurately explained about a sensation that I myself contend with on a daily basis, but cannot seem to express in a way that others who don’t live with similar can understand.

And in that cataclysmic finale to Sayori’s existence, she finally decides to take her life into her own hands. It’s not that she chooses to kill herself, but rather she chooses to alleviate a burden from everyone’s mind. Deep within the core of who she is, she readily believes that everyone around her would benefit from her not being part of the picture.

Of course, as a player whose seen otherwise, nothing could be further from the truth. But this raises the question: what, exactly, IS truth? Truth is information that we as a large demographic agree upon and accept. To do that, we rationalize information we are given and, should it fall under particular quantifiers and qualifiers, we deem it as acceptably factual and, therefore, give meaning to truth.

Did that sound a little abstract? Because it is. Truth, by its very nature, is a construct of the mind. A mind that is mouldable and shaped by experience; experience that is controlled by what our own minds process and fathom. And if your mind is convinced that your very being is a burden upon others, and the only means you find value in yourself is in how you can make other people’s lives better…

The danger comes when that illogic becomes too logical, and the logical becomes irrelevant.

If this whole thing makes you feel a little hollow, without confidence in an arguments ability to change anything, you’re on the right track to understanding how deeply disturbing it can be for someone to live with constant knowledge that their brain is out to get them. Cause by trauma, genetics or chemical imbalance, it is a pervasive and invading aspect of life that can’t simply be willed away.

Yuri CuttingI’d like very much to explore some of the other elements that this game brings light to in regards to mental health and those who live with it, but this blog has already gotten quite long as it. I shall wrap my thoughts here for the time being, with intention of exploring other avenues of this game’s narrative mechanics in understanding mental health.

If you’re reading this and feel like you know someone out there who might be going through similar to Sayori: there are one hundred ways to help. Each person is different and each circumstance impossibly unique. As of presently: learning how to comprehend, even if only on a surface level, is a starting point.

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The Conclusion of a Habit

20170816_150524November was an exceedingly busy month for me. I had finished a very taxing Chemistry class and had moved right along to a double-feature of English and Biology for the next term of my lessons. English wasn’t going to be terribly difficult for me, but I was anticipating it to be very heavy on homework and assignments (of which it ended up being), which Biology would be a class I could do rather well at, but it also turned out to be very much saturated with assignments and homework (most predominantly of that is memorizing terms and orders of operations).

On its own, these two things should have been more than enough to keep my brain fully occupied; coupled with pressure to get a paying part-time job since my writing habits earn me no income (perhaps one day that’ll change), as well as the desire to not live my life in a basement at a computer screen typing away for the remainder of the autumn season. And, to top it all off, my Minecraft cycle kicked in again, forcing me to reboot my village and begin the project once again from the ground up. And that goes without mentioning that I had every desire to get back into my weekly blogging and vlogging pastimes.

Understandably, some of these things don’t much seem like reasonable distractions, but fight me: I am very proud of how my new village is coming along. Now if only I could turn up some diamonds…

All in all, very busy month ahead of me. Then a friend of mine, my literary rival (though she frequently assures me that it’s a one-sided contest) informed me of a little ditty called NaNoWriMo. Some might have no idea what that is; while some, like myself, had only a vauge inkling as to what it was. I had heard it being mentioned once or twice in a Vlogbrothers video, but that was some years ago and I had fully forgotten about it. For those not in the know, a brief summary:

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResNaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month in full, is a month where authors and writers world-wide are challenged to concoct, write and complete a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. This pans out to an ambitious almost seventeen-hundred words per day of writing. This is a very ambitious undertaking for pretty much anyone I know, but when you’ve been saddled with an academic workload like I had been, the smart thing to do it not take on such a maddening extra task.

I’ve never been accused of being smart, though; you can probably assume what I did.

Now, the real humour comes from my starting time for this. Instead of starting on November first, like a sane person might, I came into the game late on November 4. So instead of having to write seventeen hundred words like everyone else per-day, I instead got to look forward to two-thousand words per day. This would be very easily achievable, were it not for the aforementioned mountain of homework I had before me.

When it came down to choose what to write about, I had initially intended to work on my current novel in progress to actual get some make some head-way on that. However, I was jokingly teased that a good writer would start something new and do that instead: I caved and pulled a pet-project idea out of the back of my mind to work on.

Years and years ago, I had concocted a small novel-worth of plot for my Dungeons and Dragons character, but I wasn’t sure if it would be a worthwhile story to put into formal print. Besides, I was just finishing writing what would become my first published novel, and I felt guilty about working on something else while that one was what I was most passionate about. In the end, I put the idea aside as a fun project I might work on when I finished with my current writing series.

Figuring this would be a good time to just have fun with writing, something that I had been struggling with since the publication of my first book and the crippling anxiety and stress of writing a better sequel (a whole blog topic all of its own), I decided that I was going to bring this pet project to light and just prod my way through it. It had no great ambitions, it had no great morals, or anything to that extent.

At first.

The introduction very nearly wrote itself, I found; moreover, the story had taken on this riveting and exciting life of its own. The focus changed from the very basic roots of what the foundationary material had been into something that I was earnestly excited to work on. I genuinely looked forward to when classes would finish so I could keep working on it; and in a way, it almost became a little obsession of mine.

As with any obsession, however, it started to become all consuming. Initially, I wrote off working on any blog or vlog material until the end of the month; people had been willing to wait this long (or had just moved on, either or), so it wouldn’t be too much of an issue if they waited a month longer. Then came my decrease in seeing friends as often as I should. I needed time to write, after all; I was plenty behind as things were. Then came the crowning achievement: writing my project during class while trying to multi-task learning the material.

Academics: begin your frustrated temple-rubbing.

In the end, though: I do not regret this decision. In fact, this amusing little pet-project had awakened a genuine pride in writing that I had long since lost. Excitement to see where a story took me and to what fantastical adventures lay in the next, blank page (digital page, though). By the end of the month, I had achieved the 50,000 word destination. But now I was met with a new problem.

shrunken-manuscript-1024x574At final count, my story was 50,026 words long, the last hundred or so words being hastily slammed together to meet the deadline more than much else. However, the story wasn’t finished. Like with most of my plans: my ambition outweighed the practicality of the situation. I had started working on what could only be called an epic, and I was very nearly at the half-way point with it.

“Screw it,” I thought to myself, “I’m just going to keep going on this.” But first, I had to finish the term of classes I was in. My marks had dipped a bit in Biology, English was a non-issue though. I determined to resume working on it after the term had ended, and aim to finish the story.

About a week ago, though: I caved and spent an hour clacking away at my keyboard to keep going on the tale. Should have been working on homework, but this was still forefront on my mind. Just needed to hammer off another page or two…

In the end, I finally acknowledge something my literary rival had mentioned in a blog that she wrote about NaNoWriMo. Roughly quoted: “It’s not about writing something good so much as it’s about writing something. Anything. Building that habit to write, even when you don’t feel like it.”

I had built that habit, and something else. I had built my next project; this silly little pet-project has grown into something I am both unreasonably excited for, and very proud of. With every intention of publication of this, I will continue writing this silly little novel that had taken me by surprise.

There’s a few morals to this tale, as it goes. Many different conclusions that can be drawn, and I’ll not beat your brow with how important these morals might be. Though they are very important to me and helped me reconcile something that had been an issue for a long time, these might be of little to no consequence to you, reader-type person.

But if nothing else, I wish to iterate this one point: I now consider myself a writer. For months, I had been writing, but never considered it to be a key aspect of my life. Now, however, I do declare myself a writer.

4051009161_8f543d2d90My pen is mighty indeed; though I’d still default to a sword if my life depended on it…

But Did it Make a Difference?

20170808_201604By now, everyone and their dog is aware of the particular little catchphrase that gets slapped across the title of a video or within the first sentence or two of an article. We call it out to each other during conversations and, lest we not forget that some online forums even have programs in place to protect their reader’s eyes from the unholy machinations of the careless or compassionless. It’s become iconic of our culture and, frankly, an odd component of our modern world.

By now, you’ve probably been able to put two and two together and arrive at a shortlist of such possible phrases. To my mind, based on my own descriptor above, I can think of only two examples: Trigger Warnings, and Spoiler Alerts. And while both relatively recent additions to our modern colloquialisms are the subject of some contentions, I’m choosing to focus my attention to the latter one.

Spoiler Alerts: we read about them in titles, they precede virtually every discussion on any work of fiction and, in ironic cases, any work of non-fiction. They’re found in professional reviews, editorial articles, and quite often even on our own tongues as we discuss things with our friends. In fact, the term gets so thrown around that is rivals even the number of times one Canadian might ask “Hey, how’s it going?” to a complete stranger (as a personal aside, I probably ask that question somewhere around a dozen times per day to people I have never talked to before or since).

headerThis of course raises the question of why? Why do we feel that such a disclaimer before we discuss any piece of fiction, new or otherwise, and feel terrible backlash or verbal abuse should we, writer speaker or otherwise, fail to mention it?

Understanding, of course, that the phrase “Spoiler Alert” to as early as 1982: it’s been circulating around internet-based vocabulary for over thirty years now. As a disclaimer: that’s older than I am. I am being outdone by a concept (yes, I may, perhaps, be a little salty). When a concept has been ingrained into a populace for any prolonged matter of time, it will invariably be an unshakable truth in how we view things and the world around us. For example: the idea that an average work-week is Monday to Friday, eight to five is a dated concept going back over centuries now. And I’d be willing to hazard that most people interviewed would explain that as typical business hours.

This is part of a larger issue at play, but not the focus of today’s dissection. Yes: I wrote dissection there. And then a second time; repetition is key, I’m lead to believe.

I’d read a few articles and listened to a few opinions over different channels over this whole Spoiler Alert issue; and generally I find there are two primary ideas behind the feeling in favour towards it:

  1. That is primes someone’s awareness towards avoiding reading/watching/hearing something if they wish to maintain a degree of ignorance on a topic
  2. That the spoiling of particular plot points or “big reveals” in many fiction pieces can eliminate the enjoyment of a particular story

It’s a little harder to argue against the first mentioned idea since it’s very subjectively minded and, frankly, pretty logical. After all, who am I to determine that someone would or would not enjoy something more if they didn’t know a key story detail? It is, however, closely tied in to the second point, which many might actually include as part of the first point and, by extension, omit all together.

The second point is where I start asking questions. What is the purpose of enjoying a story (regardless of media)? Is a story defined by its plot twists or surprise developments? Does the knowing of a surprise detail automatically reduce or eliminate the impact of a tale’s completion?

Things get muddled in that second idea, I find. Since so much of this seems tied to opinion and to the first idea, it is also very subjective. But I’d like to challenge a few of those points, see if I can’t bring some different light to your way of thinking about it.

For starters, we need to address why, specifically, we read/watch/listen to any sort of fiction. Depending on which particular school of philosophy you subscribe to will drastically change your views on things. The main reasons that I am aware of, however, are distraction, escapism, comprehension and/or enlightenment.

Listed in no particular order; probably should have prefaced with that…

However, these tend to be the primary reasons people partake in fiction in any of its form. Notably, half of those are for purposes of entertainment or stress reduction, the others might be to broaden your mind in either spiritual or mental endeavors. Maybe even physical if you consider it an eyeball workout.

Seeing as my primary experience is as a writer of fiction, it will skew my views on the matter slightly. After all, one thing I always strive towards is that impossible idea of creating the perfect story for people to read. And in doing so, I’ve read many different views and lessons on how to compose a story. What I’ve noticed, however, is that there seems to be a bit of a divide in mentality there.

You’re perhaps of the mind that there is no such thing as a new story and that everything has already been written; sometimes with different skins and to different degrees of quality, but otherwise it has already been done. Of that mindset, would that not negate the need to warn people of spoilers? If everything is already written, then the consumer would, either on a conscious or sub-conscious level, already know of the major plot developments as well as have a good comprehension of what the likely twists and turns will be.

Or, if not for that reason, perhaps then it’s for the simple enjoyment of the story as it’s written. For the pure satisfaction of the prose, of the dialogue or of the descriptions of peoples, places and things. In that regard, there is little to no reason for spoiler warnings considering that the only thing to be ruined for someone to discover is a particularly well-composed sentence (we’ve all read sentences that just hit that sweet spot in us when we read it), and even then the only thing to be ruined is that self-gratifying sense of discovery.

There is, of course, mention of the third component to this and that it is possible to write something in such a way that it truly shocks and surprises your audience with the big reveal or the sudden plot twist. This seems to, in actuality, the common belief of most consumers of fiction; and it’s not a viewpoint I particularly subscribe to. For myself, it has more to do with that previously mentioned point.

The specifics of the “what happens” is significantly less important to me than the way it happens. The inflection in the words of the actor, the particulars of the dialogue or descriptions within the text or even in still images. The enjoyment for me isn’t in the big surprise, so much as it is in the reveal of the surprise. Very seldom am I able to not predict what’s going to happen next, and because of that logic, I should have stopped enjoying fiction quite some time ago.

when-you-see-a-car-with-a-big-spoiler-snape-kills-dumbledoreAnd yet, I can still harken back to when Half-Blood Prince was published and the stories floating around that the “Dumbledore had been killed by Snape” spoiler had been belted out to crowds of people buying the book. There was genuine outrage from patrons. I had heard this story when I was only one chapter into the book, and yet, it did not kill for me the joy of reading the story. When the big scene came along, it was fairly apparent that the death of Dumbledore was eminent, regardless of spoilers.

Though I’m still not entirely convinced that Dumbledore is actually dead in that series; just comatose. But that’s a different article for a different day.

In essence, I can’t help but ask to what purpose do we, as people, need shielding from plot twists and sudden developments. In our exceedingly interconnected digital world, it’s become more and more difficult to “protect” ourselves from being exposed to story-ruining elements. Personally, I feel no inclination towards the inclusion of spoiler warnings and alerts in my works, but I also acknowledge that it is a personal decision that is, by no means, reflective of the mentality of the public on a whole. At the very least, I hope this has given you some different ways to look at the topic at hand.

Writing convention now dictates I should shoe-horn in some cheeky “spoiler warning” joke; but I’m better than that. Instead, I’ll just end it with an unexpected

When it Misses the Mark (Blend-S)

20170628_001052-1My track record involving discovering new anime is something of an impressive record. Typically speaking, if I discover something new on my own and without anyone else pointing me in the right direction, 7/10 times I’ll turn up some of the most uninspired, uncomfortable and/or illogical garbage the market has to offer. Truly, it’s a talent I possess; one that can be seen as either a curse, or a perk depending on what I need.

In this case, it’s working as a considerable benefit to myself and my friend who, for reasons well beyond my comprehension, will still get together with me for our weekly anime session, where I make him sit through all the shows I come across that I’m invested in. In some cases, this has lead to some absolutely thrilling and enjoyable anime seasons: past season, we were fortunate enough to have great anime like Made in Abyss, Princess Principal, GAMERS!! and My Hero Academia to keep our day busy.

This season, almost assuredly because I am a picky anime viewer, we have much slimmer fixings to work with. Granted, while two of the three anime we are following this season are very good, the third is one I turned up on my own, and I’m determined to see all the way through if, for no other reason, as a learning tool on how to fall short on a premise.

88286If you’re tired of me beating around the bush on this subject, I’ll come clean and admit that I’ve been watching (with some degree of shame) the anime that goes by the name of Blend-S. Fortunately, the summary can be condensed down to a few sentences, and I’m sure you, reader, will be able to deduce where some of this show’s issues lie.

Main character Maika Super-Traditional-Japanese-Culture wants to get a job so that she can save up enough money to study abroad. The only problem: her eyes make any attempts at smiling look truly cruel and vicious, repulsing those about her. Worry not, though, as she finds the perfect job when she happens across a cosplay-maid cafe and offered the job as a server. On one condition: she must play the Sadistic Maid character. Also, the manager, who is a foreigner from Italy, has a macho crush on her.

See here, the foundations for a two-dimensional comedy. Like a bowl of low-fat, low-sodium potato chips: poorly marketed and leaves you full of regret and sad when you finish it.

maikaI tease; mostly. While I will admit the anime is far from inspiring, or even well written, or even well executed; it is marginally charming. The interactions between Maika (and the unfortunately sparse scenes where the other employees) interact with the customers are quite amusing. You do get a bit of a chuckle, perhaps even a guffaw, from the miscommunications. The customers love how sadistic Maika is, and you’d think this would excuse the writers to allow her to really play up those moments.

Not so.

See, the main problem with this show is that the writers are trying to create something they clearly don’t have much successful experience with. The primary writer behind the monthly comic strips, Miyuki Nakayama, is also responsible for a similar piece by the name of Spirits and Cat Ears. I have not yet exposed myself to that one, but I’ve not heard good things about it.

From what they’ve established, the anime is well set-up for a basic gag-style anime. If this is where they stayed, it’d be truly entertaining. However, the writers of the anime, of which my experience is based from, seem to want to try their hands at writing a rom-com. And it’s to poor effect. The characters are exposed for how flat and uncomplicated they really are when they’re removed from the cafe setting. This becomes especially evident in the most recent episode, which anime viewers can safely discard as the “fan-service episode”.

23417176_1484473224982500_574210734901166080_n

You either die a hero, or live long enough to unironically love fan-service episodes…

On the whole, you tend to be either a patron of the “fan-service episode”, or in utter disdain of the concept altogether. There really seems to be no middle ground with it. In my case, I have no particular care for it so long as it’s well written into the main plot and the interactions and characters are kept consistent. As you might have already guessed, Blend-S fails to live up to these “qualifiers” in its most recent emptisode as it simply panders to the art of mindless trope fulfillment in the token beach episode.

Elitist anime viewers everywhere have just collectively rolled their eyes so far back in their head they may well have done a full 360.

y4CjgWDh_400x400As the episode goes to show: once you remove the cast from their established setting, their gimmicks fall incredibly short and the jokes fall hard. There is little that the high-quality animation that is common of A-1 Studios and Aniplex can do to distract from the emptiness of the soul of the show.2000px-Aniplex_logo.svg

Worse yet, the episode does nothing to really further the artificial and uncomfortable relationship between young adult Dino, the manager of Cafe Stilé, and Maika, the ambiguously aged high school girl. Optimistic estimates place her at age 16 and him at age 20; but you probably know by now that I am not an optimistic creature, and so I peg their ages at a two year difference in opposite directions. What little relationship building the episode manages can easily be summarized into a fifteen second clip wedged into very nearly any other setting.

In the simplest senses, I’ve lost pretty well all of my faith with this series in general. But, I will undoubtedly stick it through to the end of the season, if for no other reason than to see exactly how far they’re willing to take these jokes and inconclusive romance.

Project 29

It should come as virtually no surprise that I can have fairly vivid and incredulous dreams on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes, these are dreams of torment, where my mind has delicately picked only the most terrifying and debilitating images, sensations and concepts to give me a fitful and restless sleep. Others, I can be subjected to wondrous locations, amazing tales and astounding personalities to fill my mind with riveting tales.

Sometimes, these aforementioned dreams can become ideas that I find ways to work into my stories and writings. Indeed, a particularly memorable dream helped me reshape many of the concepts that I was secretly displeased with of my primary literature franchise, Galaxy 2,000,000,000 and form it into something I am much more proud of to this day.

And yes, I am still working on the sequel. It’s a very long process.

The other night, I had another incredible dream that, upon awaking and retaining a fraction of sentience, I began re-running through my mind in order to not lose it. Occasionally, I see fit to put it in writing: typically as a page-long summary with specific points to help my recollection of the images and sensations I experienced. Others, I rely on my atrocious memory to retain the important broad-strokes and symbols if the specifics of the dream are not overly important (again, see a paragraph prior for an example). This time, however, I wish to share the concepts of the dream I had to a larger audience.

Now, if you’re wondering about the title of this blog, it’s for a very simple reason: I always label all my writing projects in chronological order based on when the idea was conceptualized. Surprisingly, this method allows me to easily retain which story is which ‘project’, and can help me recall if I’ve already had an idea that is similar enough that the two can be rolled together. And as a general aside, I reserve project titles for only stories that will become full feature-length novels. Short stories and poetry do not get such luxury.

Because I’m an elitist, I suppose.

Now, allow me to set the premise for this particular work of fiction I have in mind. This one is more of a hard science-fiction genre, something I’ve never really dabbled in before (if for no other reason that the sheer amount of research required is staggering). Set in a time where technology has become exceedingly advanced and human cybernetics are, while perhaps not common, are prevalent enough that the common human is aware of such a thing.

Enter anonymously named main character (for hereafter called An, since I literally do not have a name for her). A recent hire to an investigations department that works separately from the police and similar law enforcement, An was brought in to investigate a series of serial robberies and abductions that take place near a university in the heart of the city. The robberies and abductions are bizarre in that, if there is more than one victim, the second is abducted, while the first is only robbed. The description of the perpetrator is always the same: a young-looking girl with haunting eyes and wearing a featureless mask.

This is where An meets one of the victims of a robbery, who I shall now give the arbitrary name of Gary since I, again, do not recall what his dream name was (or even if he had one). He was one of two young men, just about to graduate from the nearby university when he and a friend, let’s call them Bob, walked through the alleyway and were attacked. The details match and it becomes apparent that that same perpetrator is at play here.

An carries on with her work and then things get foggy. If for no other reason than to keep some of the better plot developments secret so that, if I do write this project someday, I’ve not spoiled all the good twists.

Now, fast forward a couple of years, where Gary also enlists to that same investigations department with An. Since she’s been pretty good at her job, she’s received a decent raise and promotion. Because that might be important?

Now the two of them are investigating a new case where a particular prominent cybernetics corporation has been subjected to a number of attempted hacks and break-ins. As things stand, the attempted hackers have been unsuccessful in breaking in, but the CEO fears its only a matter of time before these attackers find a way in. This is bad; why? Well, this particular corporation handles a number of commissions from the government, and if some of the files are leaked, it could lead to considerable civil disaster.

Y’know, serious bad.

Well, now An and Gary must work together to find these hackers and bring them to justice (or whatever). As they work, they stumble across a seemingly unrelated group that Gary is rather interested in. Now, in my dream, this group was actually entirely unrelated to the main story, and spiralled into a really bizarre game of rock-paper-scissors on top of a wooden tower that occasionally exploded. Oddly enough, nobody was every harmed in this game.

As the story goes on, An becomes involved in an accident and enters a brief coma. This then introduces a small series of flashbacks to her youth and what sort of events made her into who she is to this day. Pretty standard stuff. When she awakens, she discovers that Gary isn’t a waste of human space and has been actively investigating while she was out-of-commission. Getting back into the saddle, she meets up with him and finds out what he’s been up to in the past two weeks.

Like I said, short coma.

This is the part where my brain actually skipped several plot developments and just left me to fill in the blanks on my own. After an unspecified time skip, An and Gary are intimate (I know, not the most original plot-twist of all time), the investigation is rapidly heating up and our two heroes are hot on the heels of this mysterious hacking group.

The group is discovered, and here come a series of bomb-shells one after another after another. For starters, Gary was an informant for this hacker organization. Shocking, right? He wasn’t actually attacked in that alley all those years back, but was put out there to see how much the investigations departments actually knew (and yes, departments is deliberately plural as there are multiple unaffiliated investigations groups in this world. Because reasons).

The next big surprise is that An knew all along about the specifics of what the big corporation was actually dealing in. Remember that promotion I mentioned? Well, turns out she was promoted to a largely unknown organization called the MiD, the Ministry of Data. There, she received a series of cybernetic implants and modifications and was tasked with keeping tabs on what the various investigations departments knew about these nationally sensitive government contracts and to investigate these various hacking groups.

The next big twist comes from the fact that the mastermind behind this hacker organization is someone An doesn’t even know. Given modern fiction, that is actually a bit of a surprise. However; their secret weapon is, in fact, someone An used to know in her past. There was a friend that An used to have that largely faded into obscurity after they graduated highschool. Rumour had it this friend fell into drug addiction and faded between the cracks of society as a result. While largely true, this friend was abducted by this hacker organization and cybernetically enhanced to become the ultimate infiltration tool.

Then comes the big finale. This old friend attacks the corporation with the help of Gary, An must defeat them both and bring them to justice, all while sorting out her own morals on what it means to have a free will in a society otherwise controlled by standards and convention.

Well, the ending is pretty obvious, right? An wins, Gary and the friend are defeated, the hacker group is taken down. All’s well that ends well. And here comes the surprise twist: the story isn’t over yet. With her new knowledge of these events, the MiD is curious to see if they could have prevented these things in a logical manner that wouldn’t show their technological hand while minimizing the collateral damage. With this in mind, An is sent back in time to when the first abduction/robbery happened to see if their analysis was proven correct.

To start, An must assassinate her younger self and seamlessly assimilate into her old life. Luckily, due to her cybernetic enhancements and the MiD’s systems, this is fairly easily achieved. Turns out the MiD has been capable of time travel for an extensive period of time, so they have specific operating systems in place to contact and merge time-travelling agents smoothly.

This is about the point where I actually woke up and the dream ended; but as you can see, the stage is really interestingly set for further exploration of the themes and plot that this story has to offer. Of course, there are many elements that I had omitted from this summary, and as mentioned earlier, either to protect the story’s more interesting plot developments, or because my dream brain is terribly easily distracted and would go off on tangents about other, unrelated things.

All in all, it’d be a really interesting story to write. Ideally I’ll work on it in the future, but seeing as I have a small mountain of other stories to write first, it could be a couple of decades before then. Let me know if you find this proposal interesting and any thoughts on it you may have! I’d love to hear from you folks.

Time for a Brief Intermission

Hey folks!

So, as I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I’m back in an adult learning centre to get the courses I need to apply to university. And, as was also mentioned, I’m in a class currently that I performed quite disastrously in previously.

Over the past couple of days, we entered into a unit that I’m having a very difficult time with, and I need to spend more time than average reviewing and learning the materials. As such, I don’t have the necessary time to sit down and compose my blogs or stories, as they require a degree of mental focus that I need for school.

So, this site will be going on a brief intermission of sorts. Typical uploads will be paused for a period of time; at least until I understand the materials well enough and am confident that I’m mentally caught up with the rest of the class.

That being said, I’ll still be keeping some of my social media feeds updated with smaller or random thoughts, as well as updates as to when for sure I’ll return. Facebook will probably be the most likely site I’ll use, so if you haven’t already, be sure to follow me there.

To help keep you interested for future posts: I’m in the process of working alongside a cosplayer I rather admire for a longer article on stuff and things. It’s quite different than anything I’ve managed before, so it’ll be a fascinating experience for me.

It’s also worth mentioning that Whyte Gears Articles will resume at about the same time my regular blog posts do. These take me the longest of all my projects to assemble and write, so it was the first thing I had to triage in order to keep up with my academic demands.

Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll see you folks in the not too distant future!

In my World Without Heroes

20170913_110023_HDRIn simplest terms, Shonen style anime and I do not get along; but I’ve recently made an exception in the form of Boku no Hero Academia, one hell of a good ride that plays with the tropes and ideas of contemporary superhero genres and tropes. And while I have a couple of ideas for topics that have resulted from my watching this series, today I want to discuss something that was rather integral for the first couple of episodes: the concept of what it meant to be someone’s hero.

Now, I mean this in the less than spectacular sense. Not what it means to be a hero in tights and a cape, or a super high-tech battle suit or whatever the hell is going on with He-man. Rather, what it means to be someone’s role model. The person they look up to and someone who inspires you to do your best in every capacity you push yourself towards.

Young_Izuku's_faceIn the first couple of episodes, it is made abundantly clear that young Izuku “Deku” Midoriya’s hero is All Might: the physical embodiment of all that it means to be just, courageous and all around swell. This idolization is what pushes Midoriya to work his hardest to become a superhero himself and, regardless of how daunting or impossible the odds, to try his darndest!

Now, for someone like myself, I have a hard time understanding, or rather sympathize with the character. When I was growing up, I never really had anyone I considered to be my hero, my role model. This probably strikes you as a little odd; after all, in western culture, it’s pretty normal for young boys to idolize their fathers or even their father-like figures. As the years go on, it becomes normal to find role models in celebrities, teachers or elder peers in clubs or school.

This was, obviously, not the case for myself.

Instead, I viewed it very differently from even as young an age as I can recall (and I can recall some rather vivid memories from as far back as kindergarten, perhaps even earlier). I was very steadfast in my belief that I didn’t want a role-model, or someone I looked up to. After all, to do so was to deny the unique nature of who you were, instead to just aspire to be a copy of someone else.

In essence: yes, I was a hipster long before I even had any semblance of an idea of what societal norms were.

Now, while I’m not going to pretend that my philosophies were anything remotely close to well founded, I do still adhere to a semblance of this ideology to this day. Of course, it’s not to say that I think that having a role-model inherently makes you out to be their clone in the making. On the contrary, as I grew older, I began to understand the fundamentals behind role-models in ways that encourage positive growth in a developing mind.

Going back to young Midoriya momentarily to paint a clearer picture: he used the ideologies of what All Might represented to the world on a symbolic level as a measure of what he should strive to be like in his own personal life. Even when All Might himself confessed to having lost many of those ideologies in the bustle of celebrity life, Midoriya stayed true to those initial ideas; pushing those around him to greater heights as a result. Okay, maybe not everyone, but close enough…331ff58b020f6f01ac119a0d8ea71cc2

In many regards, this is a healthy idolization. To embrace the ideas of what a person represents or teaches to improve not only ourselves, but those around us and at large. A lesson that I feel I might have missed in my developmental years that will undoubtedly stunt my character to some extent or another. Though, this might also be a blessing in and of itself, as the opposite extreme can be exceedingly dangerous as well.

And this is where I introduce you to the unintended brilliance of my earlier philosophy: not striving to be a clone of someone else. Instead of idolization, worship or obsession of a person. To erase aspects of yourself in favour of being just like this character you hold in high regard. And in some cases that I am familiar with, it can often be just that: characters. Personalities as represented in film, imagination or literature. A character as represented in our real world as well: the facade of who a person is in the presence of the public.

Mask

We all adopt a mask… though maybe not this one…

Let’s look at that in a little greater depth, shall we? Indeed, there are many people out there who don a particular persona when they are in the presence of others. It should come as no surprise that many celebrities are nothing like who they portray on the stage or before the camera; or if they are, are at least notably different than who they initially appear. But it’s not just celebrities who do this, but us as well.

When we go out into public, we all adopt some form of a personality to present to the world we meet. To the degree of this facade will depend on where we are, or our own personal limitations. Speaking from experience, I can say with confidence that who I appear to people as when I’m at conventions doing vlogging work (a great example of this is in this video) is greatly different than who I am around my closest circle of friends, which is again quite different from who I truly identify myself as in real life.

This is a part deliberate, part sub-conscious decision that people make on a large scale basis. If you really want to see a significant difference: talk to anyone working in the service industry. I would gamble not insignificant money on the fact that, with very rare exception, every one of them adopts a sort of “alternative identity” in their line of work.

Note: talk to them when they’re not at work. Obviously, they will deny it on the clock, as doing so will likely result in greater difficulty for themselves at work. Further discussion on the constraints on the individual in the face of the “professional” world is a very complicated and long topic that I shall not dive into here. Because this is a blog. Not a thesis.

Returning to the point prior: the degree of idolization and obsession that can stem from it. While I certainly lack any sort of empirical data to back this up, I have a hypothesis that the generations of my own and the one following it are most prone to having large issues with identity and sense of self. From what little observation I’ve made, these generations are the ones more prone to an unhealthy degree of idolization of particular personas, even more so in those who are socially ostracized.  I tend to see this mostly in environments where the “nerdy” tend to thrive; the more fringe members of that circle tend to not only hold particular fictitious characters in high esteem, rather they go so far as to emulate or mimic their actions and mannerisms in their entirety.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that this is an issue that is limited to nerd culture, rather it’s the circle I’m most exposed to and most inclined to see these trends. I am quite confident that someone who buys every poster and jersey of a particular sports figure could potentially take such a fascination too far, though I’ve personally yet to see it. Again, not for lack of there being people, so much as for my lack of exposure.

This does raise the question, however, as to what is a healthy degree of idolization? At what point does it stop being a positive influence and become a corrupting source? I can’t say for certain. I imagine there are social psychologists who have worked, or are working, on exploring this particular topic, but I’ve yet to see a study that I can accept as a good model.

In the meantime, I will leave this topic off with a couple of final thoughts on this. To what extent is having heroes and role-models beneficial? Greatly! Can the idolization be taken too far and into the realm of obsession? Absolutely! Is it good to not have role-models? Well, it’s not bad, I suppose.

And, at the end of the day: is All Might a good hero?screen-shot-2016-05-08-at-7-18-01-am

Yeah, he’s pretty okay.