Robots, Sex and Adolescence (Darling in the FranXX: Light Thoughts on Sex and Sexual Repression)

20170628_001052-1Mecha anime and I have a tenuous relationship with one another: I love the ideas, concepts and designs behind the mech suits, the technological infusions into more mundane aspects of coming of age stories and sometimes bleak social commentaries about the constraints that the modern world places on the youth to not only magically solve all the problems that they had created in their back-handed, self-serving drive to maintain the status quo, but also to create an ideal future for those self-same power brokers and all at a profitable margin. However, the general tone behind the narrative, the “you possess true, unique power that is a cut above everyone else because = reasons” and general obsession/fetishization of wanton destruction and a death-count for civilians that can rival the first five minutes of most Hollywood natural-disaster/youth-dystopian-sci-fi/Marvel films (not mutually exclusive from one another, but both impart the same sensation of digestive issues but, like, for my brain) is a surprisingly powerful turn-off for me.darling-in-the-franxx-episode-3-image-6

Side note: that whole paragraph is two sentences. Holy hell: actors everywhere should be glad I don’t write scripts for people more often.

Back to the topic at hand, many who follow anime trends fairly closely know about the big advertised anime series for the season: Darling in the FranXX, an oddly named anime with some oddly named everything. Example: Klaxosaurs. It’s just a weird word. I’m still not sure what the writers were thinking with that word. Klax-o-saurs. Just weird.

My interests in pulling apart this anime today stem not from the usual trends: I’m not going to laud the art style, the interesting designs, the flashy fight sequences, et cetera. I’d like to discuss, more so, a common trend I had noticed in some commentaries and criticisms about the show, and what that can potentially mean to our society as a whole.

imagesSurprisingly, the anime almost seems to revel in its own fan-service, but with a certain degree of cynicism added to it that makes the effort more aware than simply trying to pander to the lowest-common denominator. Generally, public commentary about the series I hear is summarized as, “This show is great, but it could do with less sexualisation/fan-service/weird words to describe things” (that last point being broken down further into two schools of thought: weird words like Klaxosaurs, and weird words with perhaps uncomfortable sexual connotations like ‘stamen’).

I find the whole thing curious, to be honest: perhaps one of the biggest criticisms about western culture in general is the abundance of sex and sexualisation in many aspects of our media and consumerism. Yet, when presented with something that is built upon the foundations of trying to understand or express that sexualisation, there is an inherent backlash from the populace at large. In reference to Darling in the FranXX, specifically, we’re being presented with a anime that is not only forcing its characters to come to terms with the literal aspects of sexuality, but the audience to understand all the metaphorical aspects of sex that, maybe three quarters of the time, we blatantly ignore.

I’m sure near anyone can see the face-value sexuality of the show without too much effort: the way the mecha suits are piloted, the tongue-in-cheek rebranding of romantic implications into basic mechanical functions of civilization, the general tone of repressed desire and emotion as expressed by not only the children of the show, but by the very nature of how the adults dress, behave and interact with their world (sterilized white environments, complete enshrouding of personal identity to the point of being entirely indistinguishable from one another, but the general focus on controlling the lives of children by means of forced partnership/mathematical metrics to measure things such as compatibility and mental aptitude), there’s really a lot to pull from what this show is trying to say.

Now, I will say this as a disclaimer: many of the social commentaries the show has better reflect the more hierarchical nature of Japanese society and culture than it does western society, but there are still many lessons to be pulled from it. Most notably, and I feel like I’ve pretty well been harping on this the whole time building up to the primary point: adults controlling the sex and relationship lives of children.

Outside of the realm of arranged marriages, something we don’t hear of too often in Canada (and, presumably, the US, but I don’t live down there and pay only marginal attention these days to the hot mess devolving south of our border), the idea of adults telling kids who they can and can’t date/be with might seem a little unusual. After all, most parents don’t typically set up an exact parameter of traits and conditions for courtship of their offspring. Typically, anyway.

download.jpgCaveat, however: I’m certain you’ve seen various posts online, or hear people parrot, general sentiments of “dating my daughter”. I even, just as typing that last sentence, input “dating my daughter meme” into Google to pull up some specific examples to relate, but the sheer degree of options to choose from kind of reinforces my point. Most of them generally boil down to “I will control what you can and can’t do around her” or “I liek gunz”. In many regards, this reinforces the general sentiment as expressed by DitFXX (double ‘x’ included deliberately to maximize my Scrabble score) of adults controlling the sex lives of children by saying “yeah, there isn’t one”.

Papa-head-of-APENeed some more proof? Take a look at the current and sometimes volatile arguments/debates/witch-hunts involving sex-ed in schools. In many regards, parents are the ones acting in outrage over what lessons children should, or more accurately, should not be being taught. The rationalization for these fears, groundless or otherwise, stem from everything from religion, personal opinion, tv show doctor pseudo-science and online fear-mongering. Regardless of reason, in many cases, parents are generally of the mindset that the best thing we can tell them is very little to nothing.

Of course, even a brief mental exercise to plumb this process to its logical ends has so many dangerous potentials that it makes the whole thing more daunting. Add the wild west of information, the Internet, to that mix, and who knows what, exactly, it is people should believe. Regardless of whatever opinion you possess, you’ll find no shortage of people who think you should be ashamed, in the most mild of cases, of what you think.

If you’ve managed to read between the lines thus far, I’m certain you can deduce where I stand on the issue at hand. In most cases, I’m of firm belief of a more open, thoughtful and acceptable level of sexual discussion. It’s something of an outdated model that we view the whole thing with a level of sanitization that even hypochondriacs would find impressive; more so that we have countless silent methods of reinforcing these beliefs and penalizing people who stray too far down a path that, as a collective, we’ve agreed yet disagreed to adhere to.

Where we go from here is a tremendously complicated question: not in sense of where we should be headed but rather how we should be going about it. Of course, dismantling that topic could take me several hours to research so that I can present it in an at least marginally coherent means, so that won’t be today.

maxresdefaultAt the very least, if you’ve not watched DitFXX, I’d recommend watching it to try to see some of the motifs as mentioned above; and if you have watched it, think on what sort of message the show is trying to convey in its premise. Personally, I’d rather not live in an environment where sex has lost the power to connect peoples in ways that many other forms of communication cannot; nor would I want to live in a world where it is by the decisions of emotionally removed peoples to decide how and where younger generations explore those connections themselves.

30e985543e979ab572aac8912f32686bAs a general aside: Kokoro and Ichigo are best girls in that show; I’ve started wars over less.


Let’s Talk Words, Shall We?

20180227_215541_HDR[1]I’m actually being serious here, or at least, marginally serious: Let’s talk words, shall we? This simple statement is actually a little layered: let’s talk in literal terms, using words instead of metaphors. Or, let’s talk, using our words, instead of in a textual format or replacing thoughts and concepts with entire images or simplified emojis. Or perhaps even let’s talk about the words we use, why we use them, what we hope it is to convey with these words.

But isn’t that kind of the fascinating aspect of language in and of itself? How delightfully varied intonation, intention, and concepts can be even though the words are so similar, if not entirely the same. As a writer, this sort of thing should be the puzzle box I spend hours poking and prodding at, finding new and exciting ways to string these abstract concepts and otherwise meaningless sounds and images together to form bright, new and terrifying ideas that our world has never seen before.

It’s the sort of thing people can spend an entire lifetime studying, thinking about, and playing with, only to end off their time on the mortal coil claiming they are no more an expert on the subject that the day they first started. For language changes, evolves, bends to the wills of the owners of those words. Each mouth is a particularly and peculiarly shaped tool in which to craft these new sensations that others cannot begin to fathom, let alone relay in words of their own. Word smiths, authors, artists, copyrights, patents, images; all these ways to create new thoughts and ideas that not only shape a conversation, but a person as well.

It’s horrifying, frankly; part of the reason why I hate language so much. It’s just a little too abstract; too much room for error. A misplaced inflection on the wrong word can utterly shatter the connected stream of what you intended and what was received. A derailed train, a catastrophic failure. Or some such similar metaphor that might intrigue the senses.

In many senses, it’s that precarious balance of intention that leads to so many break-downs in our own modern dialect. As mentioned, words change with the peoples, perhaps even mid-conversation, and it takes a truly savvy mind to pick up on those minor alterations nearly every occasion. Never mind the changes of intention of word between generations: look back some few decades and read some outdated literature and you can really grasp how things have changed.

I was listening to an unabridged Moby Dick audiobook, and the language seemed so poetic, so enthralling to me. I was enraptured by what I was hearing (also due to, in no small part, the calibre of the performer), but I know full well there are many who would not be able to take interest in such a writing style. This isn’t a shame upon them, rather a difference in dialect. Other people think and speak very differently than I do; where I tend to rely on a more outdated and somewhat “high England” based language structure (not a real thing, but the image is already in your mind), much of the younger generation relies on a more concise, information dense language to convey ideas.

Which is, in and of itself, much more beneficial than the way I convey language. My method is derived, I’m not going to lie, mostly to pad out the length of my thoughts and make my language reflect a persona I wish to portray in my written works. I like people to think I’m more educated or more intelligent than I typically am: the back pocket of the pants I’m presently wearing is literally ripping off and has been for several months now. Not nearly as high-brow, right?

This leads to additional issues. We present fake personalities to people we don’t know. To change who we are, we alter not only our physical characteristics, but our verbal and somatic ones as well. Think on the differences briefly of how you talk when meeting someone you highly respect and want to impress, as opposed to someone you’ve spent years around. The words change, the tone changes. In the few cases where I see someone who genuinely does not act any differently, it’s due to them having mastered the fine art of not caring what other people think of them.

And we all know what people whisper behind their backs: “He’s such a jerk,” or “She’s so conceited,” or “Who do they think they are?”

We speak differently, if only to portray ourselves in a desired light. When we speak differently, agitation can rise. This thought was very recently driven home to me when I read an article about the recent Black Panther movie. The article itself was very well written and, in many aspects, I largely agreed with the underlying message. So why, then, was something irritating me about the way it was written? Something that got my blood pressure to rise ever so little; not enough to induce a rage but just enough to make me realize that I was being bothered.

Toxic Masculinity. This is, literally, the phrase that was bothering me: nothing else. The message behind it was something I agree with, but the specific phrase, “Toxic Masculinity” bothered me to no end. More-over, it was the degree of repetition that agitated me, for reasons I still don’t fully understand myself (and I’m certain any number or reasons will either be provided or thrown at me, reader preference). Those two words are deliberately charged to incite an emotion, a particular idea, a very specific response from different demographics. To some, its two words of validation, to others: vindication. For some, it’s a cry for change, and for others it’s a war call to rally against.

Two words can incite heated and, occasionally, violent discussion or discourse. And I’m only talking about the words themselves: not the ideology behind them or what those words represent. The power of words to instill anger, grief, joy, ecstasy, whatever. Words as magic, words are magic. In a sick sort of way, a wild magic that has been gifted to each and every person in a cornucopia of different languages and incompatibilities; a magic that ebbs and flows with age and understanding, and even lack-thereof.

What, then, do we do to control such magic? Do we control it? Should we control it? I’ve seen arguments on all sides for all different ideologies: some who say conversation and discourse should be held in a mild, composed manner. Others who claim that speaking from pure emotion is the only way to have meaningful conversation. Still others who claim that speaking any words is a sure way to weaken the resolve of one’s position. We go to school to learn how to master language, we hone the craft on the streets, and we evaluate our own dialogue in our own minds.

For myself, my mastery of language (if it can even be called that) did not come from a classroom. It came from hours and hours of putting thoughts onto paper, trying to find better, more interesting ways of saying what I thought. Better: a weak way itself of phrasing that sentiment. In that case there, I chose better, but despite having put it down and continuing to write, I even now itch to go back and change the word. In my mind, the magic that the word “better” instills does not produce the desired result. In some cases, and for many, “better” would have been the perfect word to use. Beyond perfect, even.

With all this variation, with all these disagreements: how are we to have conversation? Can we even have conversation? Is it possible.

Optimists would say yes, cynics would say no, linguists would say verisimile.

At least, I assume that’s Latin; I used Google Translate because I don’t speak in dead languages; I barely speak the present one I frequently bastardize for my own selfish ends.

As you might have guessed, I have no answers on the subject at hand. After all, who am I to claim I know better than anyone else? My command of language is, honestly, no better than that of an English scholar, or that of a Russian store clerk, or that of a Hindi farmer. It’s kind of the terrifying point, really: we speak all these wildly different dialects with a vast array of different ideas behind them, and for wholly different reasons. So what, then, is the point of words?

Why do we even talk words?

To share. Perhaps the only thing all forms of language has in common: to share. Ideas, news, experiences. Language is a tool to unite minds to a cohesive experience; perhaps not a perfect tool, but one none the less. Language has evolved over millennia, centuries and even minutes: look back at this own article for proof. Three times I changed the way I wrote, twice bearing similarities but different inflection even. To share an experience I was having before I sat down to this empty word doc: a random little thought that trundled through my mind as I was pondering what to write and how.

I shared a portion of my own mind to you, reader. And in turn, you’ve now made it a part of your own. These words will now go on to shape who you become, in some small way, perhaps even an insignificant one; but you will be changed by it all the same. It’s not just the power of my words, either: everyone has this innate power and magic at our disposal. This odd little miracle of sharing parts of our minds with other isolated, but intimately connected, organisms.

So, let’s talk words, shall we?

A Curveball, a Rollercoaster, a Paradigm Shift

20170816_150524I think it’s safe to say that, at one point or another, we’ve been there: on a course or path that we’ve chosen and with full confidence in where we’re headed. The mile-markers (or would kilometer markers be more appropriate?) have been tacked and, not to belabor the metaphor, the destination in mind. There’s a particular comfort in a certainty in this idea. A kind of determination that helps keep the darker days more manageable and give credit to the idea that I am moving forward in life as opposed to stagnation.

As a brief aside, a small note about the feeling of stagnation to those not acclimatized to depression or those who suffer it. We live in a world where there are very clearly defined parameters of what we should be doing and by when. If you think on it for a moment or two, I’m sure you can do up your own little list: go to school, go to high school, work a crappy part-time job, go to post-secondary, meet someone there and fall into step with them, work a crappy full time job, start a family, begin career, reproduce, then watch your offspring repeat your steps. This is heavily ingrained into our culture and reflects every aspect of western life.

When you live with depression, everything takes more effort and takes longer, it would seem. I’m a ripping 27 years old, and I’m still far from where I thought I would be ten years ago. Is ripping a good descriptive word to use before age? I dunno, but we’ll stick with it for now. On multiple occasions over my life, especially in these past three or four years, I’ve felt a particular unease about where I am in life. The lack of going somewhere or being something by this age is something I’m acutely aware of, and reminders of how far “behind” I am are everywhere.

In moments, I’ll begin resuming what most would consider “forward momentum” in my life: either attending to some form of education or settling into what I would expect to be a long-term job. Hells, this blog started as an effort to start hammering together something of a long-term career for myself as a self-made author. Before that, I was settling into that aforementioned long-term job in an environment I seemed to do well in. Before that, I was attending courses at the Adult Learning Center nearby (this last point is quite relevant).

Once again, I was at this ALC trying to get my high school mark upgraded. I had survived my first two terms, passing three courses (one of which was the source of a great deal of grief in years past when I was at this center before) and was saddling up for my last three courses. Beyond the half-way point, let’s do this thing.

I was hesitant and apprehensive, as these last three courses I was being faced with were math classes. Math and I have a very specific understanding of one another: mutual distrust and hatred, among other things. Well, if I want to go to university for psychology, I need to do this thing: let’s do the thing!

That was the beginning of January. As of a week and a half ago now, I had dropped out of the program and was, once again, stuck in stagnation. My mental health had collapsed (as it has done many times before and will invariably do many times again in my life), I was thoroughly disheartened with how poorly I was doing in the only course I had this term (university level, grade 11 Functions), and I was struggling with reconciling who I was trying to be and what I was trying to accomplish.

Now, when you’re faced with an impasse, it’s important to carefully plan your next move. I could stay in math and try to bludgeon out something resembling a passing mark: it wouldn’t be a great mark, but it’d earn me the credit. The problem with this was that I barely, if at all, understood the material, and the two courses I had to take next were much more advanced and required a complete understanding of these “basics”. Odds were not in my favour there.

I could drop out of the course. Not a great plan, as I had already dropped a few hundred dollars on university applications and was pulling in very close to deadlines for re-applying to programs; but it would save me a great deal of stress and alleviate a lot of burden from my mind. From there, it would be a matter of deciding where to go from there: pursue different education avenues or re-evaluate life direction.

Sufficed to say, dropping the course was simply the better choice. True, it screwed me out of many opportunities I had struggled to achieve for the four months prior, but I was very likely setting myself up for brutal failure or disappointment with my current trajectory. Don’t misunderstand, though: it was still a hard, and very upsetting decision. I was defeated, once again, by the education system that I needed in order to accomplish my goals in life.

Then, cue the follow-up punch to the jab I had just been served: I was summarily laid off my job. Recent economic changes in our province’s employment policies has created a great deal of uncertainty in business owners about viability, and I’d heard a statistic on the radio that the month of January had seen the largest increase in unemployment in over three decades (I’ll not claim this as fact as I do not recall the source cited by the report, so take this with a grain of salt. Or several). More importantly, I had failed in the courses I was taking, I had lost my job, and was being met with a plethora of mixed emotions with other news.

Many of my closest friends have been in stable relationships for a long time, and of them, perhaps close to half are presently or shortly to be engaged/married. Try to suspend your disbelief, but I am shockingly single, and haven’t been on anything resembling a date in the past two or three years. And as anyone who contends with depression can attest: it’s easy to feel alone when your brain is working against you; doubly so when you see things you wish you could have but, for one reason or another, cannot attain.

In fairly nearly everything I had been pursuing these past several months, everything had failed. I was, once again, locked in a state of stagnation: not moving forward, not moving backward. Simply not moving.

An odd thing has transpired, though. Despite all these set-backs, these severe blows to my confidence and life direction, I’m not broken by it. Not irreparably so, at least. In fact, I still trudge forward. The feeling is queer to me, I promise you that: logically speaking these set-backs should almost cripple my ability to do very nearly anything, but this time has not.

I’d share my secret if I knew it, but there are still too many x-variables I need to mull through. Perhaps it’s a change in medication on my end, perhaps it’s the rolling of the calendar and re-focusing on direction, perhaps something in my brain has finally started to tick properly. I don’t know.

But if anything, I’m still moving. Perhaps not forward, and not in the same direction that our western culture has dictated I should, but its motion. I haven’t the foggiest where my future is going to be, but I plan on getting there one way or another.

Preferably with a slightly more consistent upload schedule. Sorry again about not keeping to that :/

So Why, Exactly, Did it Work?

20180110_174945It’s unusual for me to go out of my way to see a new movie in theaters. Even more-so after I’ve gotten home once already and I’ve decided that I have no interest in leaving my household ever again #introvertlife

However, my friend and I had finished getting caught up on some of the new anime that had grabbed my interest this season (disclaimer: one really good one, one mediocre one and one mostly satisfactory one. More on those another time), and we had decided to sit down for a nice quiet evening of Minecraft. That motivation lasted for all of 5 minutes before the two of us got incredibly bored. Then, a thought struck me.

The new Jumanji movie had come out a couple weeks back and I had heard from two other friends that the movie was exceedingly good. With little else to do, we packed up and shipped out to the big city to go see the movie.

If this were to be a review piece, I’d now tease you, reader, relentlessly for about half a dozen paragraphs about whether or not I liked the movie while picking it apart on a cinematographic level and quoting some needlessly inane metaphors to make my opinion sound more trustworthy. However, this is not a review, and I’ll save my inane metaphors for my typical nerd-tastic anime reviews another time (I did say more on the three anime later, didn’t I?). Instead, all you really need to know is that I fucking loved the new Jumanji movie.

JUMANJI_LIGHT_PANEL_2_1_1Going into the movie, I was already rather confident I’d enjoy it thoroughly. My friend, however, was much more skeptical. Most of his skepticism was born out of cautious interest in anything resembling a two-decade later reboot (actually, 22 years later, but that’s neither here nor there) of a franchise that was solid in its inception with a good ending (well, good in an enjoyment sense anyway) and nothing much left to say. We’d both seen the trailers for the movie and knew about the same amount going into it.

Moreover, much of my friend’s worries stemmed from the casting choice of having Jack Black playing a 16~ year old girl trapped in an “overweight, middle-aged man’s” body. I can most certainly see where his worries would come from in that sense: we’ve all seen that trope used before and become an exercise in patience rather than good joke material. To cut to the chase on that matter, that role was played surprisingly well: Black played the girly-ness often enough to just remind the audience in who he was on the inside, but not to the extent that it was painfully in-your-face the whole time.

By end of the movie, both my friend and I agreed that the movie was amazing, the casting choices were solid, and that we’d both be willing to see it again in theatres. This, of course, brings us to the main question of this article: why, exactly, did it work?


Funny thing is: only about half the audience will actively remember a time when 4 controllers had to be plugged into the same console…

For starters, we’ll poke at the whole premise of the movie. I was similarly worried about how the idea of Video Game Jumanji would have come into existence: neatly answered by the fact that the game is sentient-enough to understand its audience (or victim, depending on wordage) and change itself into an Atari game to better work for the times. This does raise several questions that are not answered by the movie itself: why does this game seek to bring people into itself, does it feed on human souls or something, why is the game (which clearly has no regard for whom might be harmed in its playing) so strict on following its own rule set and giving the players a reasonable chance to win?

I’m not answering those today, but you get the point.

Once inside the world of Jumanji, you see the story really come into its own. It’s not a remake/reboot of the previous movie. It did not awkwardly try to tie in references to the past movie, or call on mindless star-power to sell its tickets. It also had, much like in the first movie, a core message it was trying to relate. A moral to the story, as it were.

In the first movie, the main moral was that the cowardly Alan Parrish needed to learn how to face his fears and stop running from his enemies and/or consequences. This was reinforced by the various trials and tribulations that Alan, and his unlucky companions, were forced to overcome. Specifically, in the form of Van Pelt in the first movie’s iteration: ironically played by the same actor who played Alan’s father. In the beginnings, we see how Alan’s father is hard on the boy and how he is almost portrayed as harsh and unforgiving, controlling his life and direction. Take that to the extreme where Van Pelt, same actor, is actively trying to hunt Alan and is, in many senses, the final battle.


Classic Van Pelt: stereotypical British Colonialism at its finest! Except with a German name…

In the new movie, the main message is learning about yourself: who it is you want to be. It’s a message that most assuredly resonates with younger audiences today than the previous message would: high school is a sick sort of jungle on its own where the student body almost dons personalities and become artificial characters in the interest of fitting in. I could go into much more detail, but I feel many of you folks could start filling in the blanks yourself. In this iteration, Van Pelt does not serve as a literal antagonist much like he did in the previous movie.


Updated Van Pelt: what happens when Nathan Drake becomes a possessed evil bug-monster thing.

In actuality, his presence is significantly less important to the heroes to overcome than it is themselves that pose the greatest threat to their own survival. Overcoming their own personal biases, insecurities and shedding their artificial personas to find who, it is, they really want to be. The changes in these four Breakfast Club contenders from Jumanji entry and exeunt are small, but significant.

Besides the significance of the character dynamics and developments, the setting of immersion in a game world is much more relevant to facing challenges in the real world to my, and younger, generations. In many regards, the youth of today do most of their self-exploration and development in a digital format: translating that into video game terms might actually have been the only way the game of Jumanji itself would have had any sort of impact on the movies’ audience. Gaming is a very common pastime, and no longer just for the declared “nerd” culture.


While board games are making a come-back in Western Culture, they’re still somewhat an archaic form of entertainment.

By extension, this makes the intended audience much more literate in the short-hand gaming terms that are used in the movie; almost to an extent that the included dialogue used for explaining certain game functions (cutscenes, NPCs, etc.) to really be for the purpose of older audiences who were fans of the original movie and wanted to see where they’d go with the new one.

And, of course, you have all the staples on modern action-film cinematography: lots of explosions, an injection of womanly sexual push, big-name cast, more explosions, a few penis jokes… (I never claimed this was a very forward-thinking movie, just a good one) When brought together, you are presented with a very tight and well received movie but audiences at large. It really comes as no major surprise that audiences love this movie as much as they do; even if they might not understand all the details as to why it works.

After a Brief Repisal

I’m going to preface this blog with something of an apology: this article probably won’t be particularly good in any sense of the word. It’ll probably be a little rambly, a little incoherent, and largely redundant. But it will be something, and at the end of the day, that’s all I’m really hoping it will be.

As most people in North America and Western Europe know (and I only specify because I’ve noticed someone from both India and Laos have been tuning in on a semi-regular basis; hi, by the way!), the holidays that strangle December are something of a mad dash to get all the things done. I can scarcely think of a single line of work that isn’t swamped with too much to do before the end of the calendar and fiscal year. The insanity of trying to get everything done for those ambiguous holidays is an all too familiar sensation.

Much like many others, I felt the squeeze of time in the school programs I was in. Exams were coming up, things were due, and I was starting a new part-time job. Throw into the mix a worsening mental health condition (as always happens around that time of year for reasons that I’ll delve into another time), I found myself with less and less energy to put towards creating. Anything, really.

Well, I’ve been mostly absent from this site for a few weeks now and it’s about time I started getting back into doing things like I’m supposed to. Following through on obligations, completing projects, returning to old outlets that I haven’t updated in far too long; the usual mess of things. And the first step to that is almost always the hardest: resuming that momentum that was lost due to apathy or lack of productivity.

In fact, this is something that pretty well everyone can relate to in some form or another. Whether it’s been getting back into work if you were fortunate enough to have some time off over the holidays, or picking up an old hobby that you’ve since fallen out of, getting back that “motivation” is perhaps the hardest thing.

But at the end of it all, is it really motivation? Back when I used to work-out (another thing I’ll be getting back into), there was a quote written on a chalkboard that I really liked. And while I certainly can’t remember it word for word, it basically penned out along the lines of: “Motivation is the lazy person’s excuse. What you need is discipline to get it done when you have no motivation.”

It’s a pretty powerful message, and can be applied to most situations. Most recently, I encountered such a sensation when I was grinding away at my NaNoWriMo project (more on that another time) and after two weeks of hard writing, I was losing all sense of motivation to write. But, I HAD to write: to get something down even when I didn’t feel like it. True, reading back to those forced passages I wouldn’t consider it to be my finest work, but it was at least something. Something seems to almost always be better than nothing, or at least in cases where my creative writing and other similar branched projects are concerned.

And here’s the real bonus in those forced passages: I can change them. I can go back, polish it up until it reads a hella lot better and then carry on. Because I pushed myself to get it done, there is at least something resembling frame-work to build off of. And that’s a huge relief in and of itself.

This sense of just getting it done is something I need to turn my energies back towards in many things, and so I shall be doing so. To sit down and just start working on it again, even if I don’t really feel like it. As such, you’ll be seeing a return of regularly updated Station 85 nonsense, as well as a return of Whyte Gears Articles (the latter if not  next Friday, then the one following).

Besides, there’s a small mountain of work I’ve been putting off for far too long: it’s time to stop wasting time and start spending it.

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.

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…