cw: depression stuff
writing in lowercase again because it’s more comfortable to tackle personal topics like this. i think of it like minimizing space, a kind of tepid and forced humility. it’s a natural impulse for me when i don’t want to feel seen and i don’t want to feel like an authority, but i’m not sure if that’s how other people see it or read it. i don’t mean to impose anything either. it’s just easier for me to apply a specific direction and style of writing for certain topics.
i’ve decided to also start writing about japanese freeware games because, i uh, can, and i think it’ll further my commitment to talking up small games by tying big ideas and lifestyles to them. or in other words, same as any other writing on here. lightly, consider lightly, that gamewriting’s american and english-centrism is a clear and present weakness.
but already, engaging with stuff i’m not fluent in has presented challenges. peripheral information is laborious to unparseable; i didn’t really know what i was getting into when i started playing 少女 (shōjo, which just translates to girl). having to suddenly and unexpectedly devote my attention (reading while learning a language is indistinguishable from close reading) to traumatic events that i have personal stake in… is less than pleasant.
the proximity has me feeling recentered. well, it took a day of despondency, but i meditated and remembered why i bother reading and writing. it’s been awhile since a technique felt so specific to life experience i’ve had that i felt less alone. i’m not really cool or tough. i don’t really have any kind of aura to succeed or have any kind of necessary composure, and so i’ll say it again: i just do this stuff to feel better, to feel less alone.
a silent voice has come out on blu-ray, though it hasn’t been licensed, so i shouldn’t technically tell people to go watch it. you know, technically. as i haven’t actually seen it, i guess i don’t really care to vouch for it either. admittedly i don’t read much manga, but i read a silent voice at the prompting of my brother, and it became an instant favorite. so i would say read it, but i think most’d rather watch a movie. either way, either way, it’s raw, direct, and incredible at portraying bullying, trauma, depression, and lived-in scars.
it seems wrong to applaud portraits of abusers, but that is precisely what stands out in a silent voice. actual mechanisms that lead people to hate and bully another. i’ve done some bad things to people, but, i don’t really know how to hate other people. it doesn’t come to me. i routinely get jealous of people who have hate and can direct it. is that weird? so as an experiential work a silent voice maps out motivations that i kind of pieced together and intuited, but couldn’t finish, couldn’t figure the drive behind them. it’s more clear now.
personally, having been bullied and hating myself for it, there was an intensity to the early volumes. it was difficult for me to read. though, it wasn’t the convenient kind of bullying as portrayed in media (like this one). i wasn’t singled out by a sole antagonist, but came into situations where i was laughed at and demeaned by almost any kid. like independently other kids came to conclude that i was annoying for being overeager, fat, or a crybaby, and well, that i was pathetic for it. that i wasn’t correct.
i’m going to make some points that i can’t really justify except on an annoyed personal level. a silent voice is a convenient story. i would say it’s an appealing story. this isn’t to say it’s trendy—it most definitely is not trendy—but its popularity points to a general appeal and i think the structure of the story speaks for itself. rather, what i’m talking about isn’t as specific as a trend, but as broad as an impulse. sometimes people say a happy ending is only good when it’s earned, which is a vague feeling that’s hard to pin down. personally, earned or not, i feel that a neat and tidy ending is a matter of convenience.
it’s a near omnipresent thing that art is convenient because creation is a curation of ideas. i find myself going out of my way to make and feel things that are inconvenient. i want to escape whatever determination that makes things i’m not like good and most things i am like bad. in the end my own arrangements are out of a different kind of convenience. there’s no escape from being ego and feeling ego. there isn’t an escape! so it comes down to what is processed with that internal dissonance.
so, and i guess spoilers for a silent voice, the abuser gets his second chance at making up to his victim, and they end up together. my disgust at this concept comes from my own disgust for bullies (i have embarrassed myself and others standing up for people. it will happen again, it’s near involuntary). this disgust is tempered by a shared connection with the protagonist. an awkward, stunted, masculine person, who desperately wants to be forgiven and loved. who had their capacity for being social and understanding bottomed out out by spiteful peers. though my experiences were never justified as being a “punishment”, it’s hard to not see myself.
well, i didn’t get liked in spite of those things. though i wouldn’t consider myself a bully during those teen years, i was certainly an asshole. it’s not unreasonable how i got to be an asshole, yet it was going to be what it was. so i found myself rolling my eyes at the success and happiness that occurred, in a rushed, melodramatic way. it was too convenient. it seemed made for a story rather than something about people.
to reiterate, i don’t think i’m writing intelligent criticism. this is just me feeling a certain irrational way and trying to backexplain those feelings. my reasoning is not artful and clean, i know this. convenience in fiction is not a bad thing. it is an overly common thing, an expected thing, and definitely a desired thing. convenience is one of the secrets behind appeal, being that it works. it makes sense and it uplifts. people want things to be good and work out, in fiction of all things, because life isn’t necessarily like that! it works for most people but still leaves a part of me sputtering, grumbling, in tired disbelief.
at a certain point in 少女 i was thinking about that convenience. written like a mock diary, the story is much more dry, direct, clinical, and contained. i identified a pseudo-realism (maybe even an underestimation of what a high school girl sounds like) from the game’s prose. whatever its shortcomings, there was a tangible factor to the hurt within. a silent voice has love triangles, dramatic misunderstandings, comic relief, and long, contrived character set ups. which, in my opinion, are necessary hallmarks of any drama, and are welcome in any plot. but these are mechanisms of compelling fiction and i think they get in the way of facilitating representations of actual hurt. characters turn into conduits and become increasingly unrelatable, and indeed needn’t be relatable, because it’s the cataclysmic nature of drama and tragedy that manages to rend the heart.
少女 affected me, but i want to hedge myself that i don’t think it’s because it’s realistic. (depression quest’s incredibly sterile, unimaginative proceedings, come from unabashedly being “universal.” embodying a paradox of being too specific to be anything but individual, while striving to be redacted and realistic enough for someone to self-insert into. however there can be no hurt without personhood.) rather i want to believe in the fanciful nonsense that its mechanisms related to depression, hurt, and degradation. it’s not a well-told, dramatic, planned out, convenient story, because the central topic is none of those things. its style mired in a particular experience and i felt that the author knew what erosion was like.
少女 is a kinetic visual novel—that means there’s no choices to make, no “gameplay”—with a total of three background graphics. the title screen, a blank white, and a journal page. most of the text is displayed on the journal page. it’s usually a sparse amount of text. spacing of text is wide and clean atop the plainness, generates a flowing feeling of nonresistance. there’s a natural fluidity to plain and dedicated software, not unlike minimalist-UX-presenting programs on github made to function first.
so a common rhetorical trap concerning mediums is that art needs to be perfectly adapted to it. that a videogame needs to be the most “videogame” it can be. i tentatively advocate this in the reverse; as an artist it’s important to consider your medium before working and pick something that’s comfortable or strong. in the end, as a critic and a whimsical person, i’m okay with doing whatever, because there’s intrinsic value and potential in things that are overburdened and wrong. if not aiming for something in particular, if there’s only so much that can be done: in the end, anything goes. the useless and discordant illuminate a different spectrum altogether.
though playing 少女 it crossed my mind, why is this a game? it’s plain text, that is without compelling art or music, and you can only click to advance. there’s no argument of the liminality of hypertext; in a way it’s just an ebook. i do wonder about material conditions that produced a game like this. there are many, many free visual novels, made with free tools, not unlike the twine boom, but lasting, attractive (not a boom i mean)… visual novels are still a cornerstone of japanese pc games. a beginner’s visual novel loses resemblance. maybe that’s what’s so interesting about it. a dull flatness, eradication, even subversion of what i expected from a videogame.
And if it’s familiar from computer usage then it’s necessarily familiar from other computer games too, even the most sedate, if not overtly present then as a certain recurring baseline of intensity which the rest of the experience is implicitly structured around. Videogames remain too close to other forms of computer use to be unaffected by the proximity – it affects not only their production and distribution but also the network of associations about technology, certain forms of input or visual representation or spatial organisation, which we draw upon when playing through the things. And if I’m insistent about connecting this feeling to even the smallest Klik N Play games it’s partly because I think it helps us with a way of thinking about those games in particular that a more orthodox game criticism would seem to lack.
stephan “thecatamites” murphey, output lag
i read output lag while thinking on this and found what i couldn’t put into words. regardless of the “software-ness” of software, its proximity to being a product of computer usage is central. so the argument that a videogame needs to be the most videogame-like it possibly can is just about consolidating power from preference. it’s pseudo-nonsense because videogames are inescapably videogame-like. but what of playing with any sort of software? reading ebooks? are they “videogames”? honestly i don’t give a shit. say they are or aren’t to discredit this. when i open software for a kind of undefined usefulness/uselessness that aligns with art, that’s a videogame.
少女 couples that aforementioned flat, minimal expression, with a young girl losing touch with herself. a writing style rough, uneven, filled with time skips, and lacking detail; a style that invokes structural neglect. repeated, targeted bullying occurs that causes a loss of confidence, then a loss of faith, and finally a loss of ego. the girl stops going to school and tries to figure out what to do with her life. a monotony besets as she has no support, no drive to pick up the pieces. it becomes impossible to tell how much time has passed, or what time is anymore. she stops having a coherent conception of self.
and because of the stillness, the plainness of how the game was arranged and told, i didn’t need to force myself to go along with it. i felt its ugly truth emanate. unlike a silent voice, there wasn’t a scrap of appeal, there wasn’t any convenience. just a drone of spiritual death. in some ways, craft is convoluted alchemy that gets in the way of a raw statement. sometimes being boring and wrong, against all odds, targets exactly what needs to be said. 少女 is like this irrefutable suspension that someone has felt like i did, compounded into ether, inexplicably waiting for me to make peace. that’s romantic bullshit and that’s how i feel about it. like i’ll be saying, whatever i do, i do it to feel better.
i found 少女 here. the game is direct, holds no illusions. content warning for self-harm, suicide. i will vouch for the ineptitude and inevitable, absolute inaccuracy of my unedited translation, but if that’s better than nothing, i put it up on pastebin.