Saturday, February 28, 2009

The World Begins With Us

I was going to write a post sometime soon about The World Ends With You. It was going to be a high brow review, rejecting numerical summaries and hype-driven prose, for I felt this game deserved more. And of course I'm too good for such drivel. No, I was going to take the "game as arts" approach and herald it as a rare jewel. I was going to mention the brilliant manner in which Jupiter has captured the theme of loneliness en masse and held true to that vision in every pixel, the grin-inducing moment when I realized that the regional "trend" system that guided my choice in equipment could in turn be affected by me and what kind of a wonderful message this was, delivered via gameplay mechanics as only an interactive medium could. I was going to write some paragraphs, dust them off, and feel good about myself for commenting intelligently on a topic dear to me and adding another post to my blog.

Then I made the mistake of beating the game.

I have dreamt of making video games since I was five years old. I was even drawing them on paper back then, a hobby that would turn into making levels in Wrecking Crew on the NES, then into making more complicated levels in games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, then into programming. All along, video games were produced by people, not people like me, for if they were like me I would understand them. No, people with talents and visions far beyond what I was capable of grasping or imagining. Imagine my shock two years ago when I entered the industry and realized that these people did not exist.

Well they did, except they weren't unattainable gods of the interactive arts. They were people like me. It has been relieving and disappointing, and above all else disorienting, to come to terms with what the industry has become. Every asset carefully calculated in a middle manager's spread sheet, every in-company rumor carefully filtered through a bloated pyramid. But that's how it is, and that's how games are made, and I don't deserve to expect more when I have a job and so many don't right now.

And I understood this, and things were simple, until I beat the game. And again and again, three weeks of what should have been groan-inducing plot twists when the game "wasn't actually over" instead drew out smiles as I realized with relief that I did not have to stop playing yet.

I was going to write an artistic review about the artistic merits of an artistic game, but The World Ends With You deserves far more than that. Far more than I can contort my fingers to type. For it is far more than art, and it is unfortunate that I do not have a word to describe what it is.

When I was fourteen, I read an article in an innocuous encyclopedia describing the mating habits of humans, and it has torn a hole in my soul so deep that I can never feel romantic love. I watch my friends date, have sex, get married, and a voice louder than a thousand ends of the world wants to yell, to tell them that they are just doing it because of hormones, that they don't really love each other, that we are just meat machines, that we all live in our own little worlds and can only appear to come out and connect when there is something we need, and that we are selfish in such a way and, worse, deterministically so, so we can't be blamed nor can we ever change, and don't they even realize this? And why am I the only one that finds himself suffocating in this toxic air of causal psychology and nihilism? Am I a super intelligence painfully evolved to recognize the illusions of morality and justice, or am I so far behind the cognitive development of the average human for letting such emotional desires as sincerity cause me to think that this world was ever something more? Just a strange mix of emotional and insightful?

Why am I alone?

Art has become like this romantic love, perverted beyond the reach of sincerity. Art has become snarky toilets in snobby museums, an antithesis to the desires of the uneducated masses, a battle between the interpreter and the creator, and all manner of semantic faux debating, and to reduce TWEWY to this realm of ivory tower treadmilling is a sin far greater than I care to commit. It is unfortunate, then, that I have no rhetorical training to describe what I am trying to get at, but I must still try.

An Explanation, as best I can


I purchased this game a couple of weeks ago. I had heard good things, but I had never been in a hurry to get it. Looked like a slightly innovative game for anime fans and Japanophiles in general, enough to pique my curiosity but not enough for me to purchase with a first priority mindset. I enjoyed it right away, glad that I purchased it as the fresh aesthetic and quality were immediately apparent. It took a little bit longer to appreciate the purposefulness, the manner in which the heroic journey from self-isolation to ally dependency was expressed not only in the characters and story but in the gameplay mechanics, through and through. A little bit later, and I realized that this game was at least as good as Chrono Trigger, an amazing thing to realize as I have not felt that way about an RPG in years. Forcing myself to play through a few every now and then, I thought I had just outgrown them. Now I realize that we have just quit making them good.

Skip forward to tonight, and I have just completed a game so emotionally moving, by its own merits as well as by what it means for our craft, that I immediately had to take a walk through the local park and collect my blended thoughts. At 4 in the morning.

Yes, I'm scared. I'm scared that this isn't really as good a game as I gush about and that I am overreacting because it happened to resonate with me, for whatever reason. Seeing a verdict of 89 on metacritic last week, I nodded in agreement. Felt right. Now, I am wondering how numbers are even the right way to measure such a title, when GTAIV about tops out the max at 98. I would suggest you get this game, but what if you don't enjoy it? What does that say about my abilities as a designer, a skill in which the accurate assessments of other titles is a necessity? I thought I was mature enough to understand and accept the innate subjective limitations of views on the quality of art, but now I'm not sure I can afford emotionally to be wrong. That's what this game has done to me.

I described earlier the feeling of separation between my childhood self and the gods that made video games. At some point growing up and entering their circle, that feeling vanished. Until now. The feelings that TWEWY have evoked in me, night after night as if to assure they aren't accidental, have proven that there are gods of game development far beyond my comprehension yet again, and in a bittersweet way I wonder if I have made any progress whatsoever toward mastering the art, choking back tears with laughter as I realize that it is out there, the star that I have been reaching for but have become blind to after decades of struggle, that there is a right direction, and I need to take it.

I'm disappointed in myself. What have I done? With my life. What the fuck have I accomplished? If I die tomorrow, who will remember me? Who will I have changed? What has my purpose been? I graduated from college, run through the factory of higher education. I won the state math competition one year when I had an odd infatuation with math, and my parents assure me that I still have a plaque at my high school for the highest cumulative SAT score. But how many people's lives have I enriched with an SAT score? I have shipped two commercial video game titles, one ranking in the fifties and one in the sixties on metacritic, and neither deserving of much more. Every week or so, I blog cynically about the state of the industry, never changing it but patting myself on the back nonetheless for constructing such "insightful" declarations in such edgy tones. I am kept up at night with internal dialogs.

I should quit my job and try to start my own video game company where customers are friends, not sources of income to manipulate through marketing.

But I don't know how to start a company, and I don't have the money, and if I borrow money from an investor then I am stuck in the art-disruptive cycle of financial responsibility yet again

But if I don't take that risk then I may go through my life without ever truly doing what makes me happy

And why am I not happy now, now that I am in the wonderful industry that I dreamed of entering since I was five?

And what will my parents think if I fail, run away, and need to leech off of them again?

And will I ever really be happy, or is satisfaction just a bubble under some infinite wall paper that I can chase around but never capture?



And on and on, until I somehow fall asleep.

I have accomplished absolutely nothing, and it pains me more than I can bear. I wake up every day, marching to work like a toy soldier, because I have to pay the bills, the very expensive bills that I have amassed moving out here to work in the industry in the first place. And if I die tomorrow, no one will remember me. No one will remember me, because I don't deserve remembrance. Sure, the people that matter to me will, and maybe a few of them will cry. But I don't see them anymore. I talk to them on the phone, if I talk to them at all, their digitized voices trying but failing to mask the 2,000+ mile gap that I have put between us. I fail to see them at Christmas, because I am too tired from crunch on a project that will soon be lost in the middle of the game ranking bell curve to even fly home.

I tell myself this is okay, because at least I have a job, and... you know, "the economy" and all that. But a job is nothing without happiness. Life is nothing without happiness. I am not happy with my life. I have hope, but that is a painful kind of happiness, because it can easily be taken away or spoiled before fruition.

The World Ends With You has shown me that I was wrong to believe that it was my jaded attitude keeping me from enjoying games, for how else could I enjoy it as much as any of my childhood favorites at my current age? Most games today are developed by incapable, uncaring individuals with far too much power over the individuals that do care. And really, in my long winded way, that is what I am trying to praise Jupiter and Square Enix for; they care. They have to care. The localization team cares, the voice actors care, the writers care. They all care. This game exists because people enjoyed making it, and wanted to share that joy with an audience that is precious to them. I have no other reason to believe this than the game itself; that it is capable of communicating this is a testament to their talent as well as their sincerity. I must seek such a position, I must be a part of this. Could you imagine if every game developer put innovation above finance, quality above innovation, art above quality, and sincerity above art? What a wonderful world such would be!

Please


I can't do this alone. I can't even continue tricking myself when I wake up each morning into believing that I can be a savior of the craft someday, that today is going to be different from yesterday somehow. I have no clout. I have not been in the industry 'x years' for any impressive value of 'x'. I dream, I desire, but I don't see the answers. If you have any answers, any answers at all, whether you are an industry veteran or a college student trying to get in, or if you are simply a fan of games interested in a healthier future where the discourse between developers and purchasers is more meaningful than the current back and forth of "you give us money, we give you product", please let me know.

9 comments:

Masayang Tupa said...

Hallo. It's me, Brian.

Let me give a little bit of background before I dive into my comment. I do not believe in free will, and I am an atheist. (Okay—technically, I guess I’m agnostic. An atheist claiming “it’s impossible for there to be a God” seems as close-minded as a Christian claiming “it’s impossible for the Bible to be wrong.” But, in practice, I’m an atheist.) Perhaps this tidbit of information will give you some insight on where I’m coming from with the rest of my comment, even if we don’t agree.

In reference to this quote:

“And why am I the only one that finds himself suffocating in this toxic air of causal psychology and nihilism? Am I a super intelligence painfully evolved to recognize the illusions of morality and justice, or am I so far behind the cognitive development of the average human for letting such emotional desires as sincerity cause me to think that this world was ever something more?”

I’ve observed three categories that most people seem to fall into in life. For the purposes of explaining these categories, I’ll be using the term “hidden tragedies.” By hidden tragedies I just mean “shit that sucks that many people don’t even acknowledge as being a problem.” For example, what if there is no God? Hitler would have no hell to burn in, aborted babies could not flee to heaven, rapists and charity workers would be treated the same after death—no punishment for the wicked, no rewards for the benevolent. That would be a tragedy. But most people are religious, and so they have their own beliefs of how cosmic justice gets fairly dished out—like heaven and hell, or karma—and they won’t be considering this to even be a possibility, much less a tragedy, and so these terrible possibilities lurk in the shadows, remaining hidden from the masses.

A Godless universe is just one example of a hidden tragedy; there are plenty, unfortunately. What if there’s no free will? What if there’s no life after death? What if our government is lying to us? How are the hundreds of thousands of people that die of starvation compensated for their tragic, avoidable deaths? What if my whole life is spent giving my time and servitude to greedy corporations in exchange for money that I just end up giving back to other greedy corporations when I buy clothes, food, and entertainment products; corporations would get my time, my work, and my money, reducing my existence to nothing more than a means for other people to have a better life for themselves—the entrepreneurs who sit atop these financial pyramids.

Goddamn it, I’ve made myself sad; now I need some vodka.

Okay, so I went off on a tangent there, but let’s get back on track. In regard to these hidden tragedies, I have observed at least three categories that seem to exist:

Category 1
The people of category 1 do not see the hidden tragedies of life. These people must be sheltered, religious, ignorant, or all three. If they’re religious, they might believe the wicked will burn in hell and the good will live happily ever after in heaven, or that doing evil will catch up to you through your karma, or what the fuck ever. These people tend to be proud patriots, loyal to their corporate masters, and just happy people in general. Everything works out in their minds, and the universe just falls into place.

Category 2
I believe you are in this category (I know you love being labeled.) Category 2 people have realized that category 1 is just a self-indulgent cesspool of delusion, ignorance, and lies. These people feel miserable because they see life for what it really is—a meaningless, automated happenstance. They probably feel angry or annoyed because they are looked down on for not believing superstitious absurdities. Maybe the childish delusions of category 1 were slowly taken away from them—like they were from me—leaving them resentful and bitter. The people of category 2 feel they have transcended above the masses with their superior intellect. They feel depressed by the realities of life but comforted by the mere fact that at least they can see these realities. They pat themselves on the back for being so smart because their intelligence is all they have left to cling to.

Category 3
These people have a lot in common with the people of category 2. The main difference is they’ve made a conscious decision to try to enjoy life for what it really is instead of being depressed over what it’s not. I put myself into this category.

I believe I was dead long before our universe was created, I’ll live for just a few seconds after I’m born, and then, I’ll be dead again—for an infinite amount of time. With that in mind, I would rather spend the limited amount of time I have awake on this planet trying to be happy. It’s hard sometimes—okay, it’s hard most of the time, but it’s the one and only life I’ll ever get so I must try.

Now, certainly you cannot usher everyone into one of three categories; that is oversimplifying matters, but the simple breakdown helped me explain how I’ve observed people acting in my lifetime thus far. It’s important to me that you understand where I’m coming from—that these are merely perceived generalizations on my part, not a breakdown of who’s-better-than-who. I don’t even like the category I’m in, I just deal with it because it’s where I’ve found myself. So, if I worded things poorly, at least know that I had no intentions of insulting you.

(Random thoughts)
I swear to that fake God that Phillip believes in, I would sell my soul to get myself back into category 1. I’d take any religion, any at all, just so I could feel like life has a meaning again. It wouldn’t even matter that it’s all bullshit; I’d never know the difference. The only way to discover the absence of heaven is to die, and dead people are incapable of thinking anyway so I’d never realize I was wrong. I’d get to go my whole life singing happy lies until I finally fell into my inevitable, deep sleep—not even realizing that I had died, much less that my whole life had been a lie. Happiness would be my God, not enlightenment.

We tend to glamorize intelligence and shun ignorance, but honestly, when we’re just going to die anyway, shouldn’t we just strive to be whichever one makes us happier? We won’t be getting any gold stars after we die for being “in the know” about the underlying workings of the universe. And if anyone should think they will be getting some gold stars, they can take comfort in knowing that they won’t be disappointed—because dead people can’t be disappointed.
(End random thoughts)

In reference to this quote:
“I watch my friends date, have sex, get married, and a voice louder than a thousand ends of the world wants to yell, to tell them that they are just doing it because of hormones, that they don't really love each other, that we are just meat machines”

Your views on love have always intrigued me. As a guy that has a girlfriend he loves, and as a person who is (hopefully) your friend, I can’t help but feel somewhat targeted by your statement (just a little, because I realize I was not being singled out.) My initial reaction was anger; I thought “how dare him tell me what I feel.” But then I started to question if I really did love my girlfriend or not—not because I’m uncertain about my feelings towards her, but because I was uncertain what the actual definition of “love” is. So I checked dictionary.com, and found these definitions:

1) a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person
Okay, I’ve got that.

2) a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection
Indeed, I do feel attached to my girlfriend.

3) sexual passion or desire
Well, I like putting my penis in her vagina, so this seems applicable.

Okay, so it turns out that I might know what people mean by “love” after all, so now I’m left wondering: what do you mean by love? When you say I don’t love my girlfriend, what do you mean? Maybe it's just a breakdown in communication.

I feel like we’re having this conversation:

Me: “I’m hungry.”
You: “No you’re not; your body is just causing you to feel pain based on your lack of sustenance.”
Me: “That’s what I said—I’m hungry.”
You: “No, you are lacking sustenance.”
Me: “Do you expect me to say that every time I’m hungry?”
You: “Yes.”

I don’t understand what you have against procreation. I agree with some of what you said, I too feel that I’m attracted to my girlfriend because of hormones. I want to put my penis in her vagina—that’s the basis on which we’ve built our relationship. I say “I love you” because “you are of value to me, and I want to protect you and keep you to myself so that we can mate and be happy together” is much too long, and it sounds weird.

I argue that everything that means anything to us is just a result of the deterministic cycle of life, so why should one single out procreation? We only eat because it’s a biological necessity, but should we let that stop us from enjoying a delicious meal? You were not born with your love for video games, but does that make it invalid or less enjoyable for you just because it was not until later in life that you developed the interest? Do you feel that because parents take care of their young based on biological instincts that you should not value and appreciate your parents love?

Do I prefer being a meat machine robot whose only purpose is to make more meat machine robots? Of course not. Can I do anything about it? Of course not. Would I rather embrace my own humanity and be what I am instead of struggling to be something I’m not? Heh, well, to each his own.

Your comment that I have quoted suggests two things to me: for one, you’ve decided what “love” means to me, and two, you’ve decided that I don’t feel it. So while you might think you just know that I don’t love my girlfriend, just keep in mind there’s 1 billion equally arrogant Christians out there that just know there’s a God.

So feel free to yell at me if you feel you must—but realize I will be yelling back.

This quote baffles me:
“And why am I the only one that finds himself suffocating in this toxic air of causal psychology and nihilism?”

I’ve always thought our perceptions are limited by our experiences, but I’ve applied this reasoning to more abstract human beliefs. I don’t think, usually, people are quite so blinded by their limited experiences on such a low level as this comment demonstrates that you might be. I wonder, how do you know what everyone doesn’t think about? Just because you haven’t met anyone that has outwardly expressed experiencing the nihilism you speak of, you therefore conclude you’re the only person in the world that feels this way?

A little more on topic, I haven’t been drawn into the story of a video game since Final Fantasy VII, and I haven’t actually felt emotional attachment to the characters of a video game since Chrono Trigger. I respect your opinion of video games, so, after reading your post, I’m now excited to check out The World Ends With You. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did. :)

Ahh—the mere idea of another Chrono Trigger-like experience has gotten me giddy!

Perhaps some of my words sounded harsh, but there was no malice behind them—just strong opinions. And, actually, I wanted to say more but I’m getting bored of writing out my thoughts, heh.

Happy trails to you!

Masayang Tupa said...

I had intended to put this in my original comment, but in my hurry to do something else I forgot.

Regarding the topic of love, I'm reminded of this quote (which, I believe was originally intended to be relevant to religion, not love.)

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Eric Ritz said...

I went out yesterday and purchased The World Ends With You after a week of thinking about this blog post in the back of my mind. So I wanted to share some thoughts on the game, although I've not yet finished it.

It seemed obvious to me in the first twenty seconds of the game why Jeff felt the way he did: I looked at the protagonist and thought, "If Jeff were a 15 year old Japanese kid in Shibuya, this would be him." Had the character proceeded to boast about his good looks and/or prefix proper nouns with his name then I would have thrown the game---and my DS---in the garbage right then and there. But the Neku (the protagonist) said no such things, so I continued to play on. Initially there was nothing very impressive about TWEWY, nor anything bad really. But having never heard such praise from Jeff about an RPG like this I was compelled to dig beneath the surface of this game.

And fucking Christ is there a lot to dig. I have mixed feelings about how TWEWY throws you into its game mechanics. On the one hand it mirrors the confusion of Neku himself and I feel that is an intentional part of the design. On the other hand it's fucking confusing. "What are psyches? Now I'm fighting on both screens? Wait which card had the circle? What are sub-slots? Food is measured in bytes? How do I get PP? My battles are ranked? Wait how do my psyches go up levels?" I believe that surmises the first ten minutes or so. Every other initial scene of the game piled on more and more mechanics that I felt pressured to memorize and master immediately. What a dreadful chore in any game.

So I played on, constantly nervous with the fact that I was screwing shit up. I wasn't worried about maximizing my characters' potential---I was afraid I wasn't even achieving the average. So much for easing into things. After going a number of hours into the game and reaching a nice comfort level with the gameplay I simply started over from the beginning.

I've found the plot to be quite interesting and amazing in that it even works. Nothing thus far has been very predictable, but when I step back and reflect on the events of the plot it does feel very cliche. And yet---impressively---it never comes off that way when I'm playing. The presentation and atmosphere breathes life into what would very easily being a boring affair in any other setting. Had TWEWY taken place in some knights-and-dragons era I find it impossible to care.

So far I have greatly enjoyed TWEWY and am beginning to see the grand example of design that Jeff talks about. It took some time to warm up to the gameplay, but even that confusing process was itself quite enjoyable, and now I find myself having even more of a blast.

Question: Is there a New Game+ mode of any sort?

eiyukabe said...

Hey Brian, thanks for the response. I also consider myself to be approaching the asymptote of atheism without really being atheist since I don't feel knowledgable enough to say for certain that "there is no God" while still feeling that there is a very, very, very, very, very small chance that there is (at least as is described in convenient complexity in religious texts). I guess that makes me agnostic? Heh, I really don't like labels ;).

My post was intended to do two things- 1: to glorify TWEWY as a stellar game, and 2: to lament the fact that so many other games, including high ranking AAA titles, and including games that I work on, fail to communicate the same value of caring for the consumer. I experience this first hand daily, and I have ever since entering the industry, and I largely wanted to lament how my dream of working on games for a living has become very disappointing even after "reaching" it. It is particularly disappointing since, having given up on romantic love, an afterlife, and even free will with which to feel satisfied with my current life, video games are largely all I have to live for. I know I can't escape the chain of determinism tied tightly around my neck, but it's easy to "pretend" I can while working on something complex and far removed from basic animal survival like video game development. Sex, not so easy to pretend.

As for why I target sex when I could target food or socializing or consumerism or whatever, I ask myself this quite a bit. I think it's because sexual desire, which is an obvious change in behavior at a certain age, is the most blatant first hand proof that we are not (at least not completely) in control of our lives or even our own behaviour. It's like mother nature says "jump" and you say "how high", only instead of jumping you're jizzing your pants after an awkward dream or whatever. I know you guys remember, but I went on a single date with a girl that I had fun talking to online but was not interested in in person, largely because she was unattractive. Or more specifically I was unattracted to her. I did not "choose" to be this way, did not decide that I would be unattracted to her, that whatever chemicals were supposed to be released upon my brain's assessment of the visual images it processed as light bounced off of her body into my eyes were not in fact released. Yet though my brain made this decision, I was the one who had to feel the guilt. Not very fair eh? Likewise, I look at other women and think that they are very attractive, through no choice of my own. I don't feel attracted to men, but I also don't see how we can blame gays for being gay (as if it was really an unethical thing anyway, heh) when we obviously never "chose" to be straight. I realized that no matter how hard I tried, sexual attraction was beyond my control. It was nature deciding who I was instead of me. That I had no say in who I was which is really all that I have if you think about it, is a pain that can not be described, only experienced. You could just as easily explain what "red" looks like to someone born blind.

For the record, I type this with a rapid pace while chewing minty gum and savouring the flavor, taking a happy sip from Dr. Pepper every now and then. I am not depressed right now, though I speak of things associated with past depression. I am not depressed on average, which I should clear up - but I do seem to see depressing things in the world daily. And not just the easy things like "the economy is in the shitter", but things of a metaphysical nature, as you covered quite well in your comment. I still think, from time to time, when I hear "horror" stories of the stock market dropping some number of points: "Don't you people realize we are all just going to die some day? Die and never live again? And that because of psychological determinism, we aren't even really living now??? Do you really think that poverty is a problem in light of this? Don't you realize that there is a much much much bigger problem in the essential fabric of our universe, one that we can never solve?"

And then I push these thoughts out of my head and play some games or talk to my friends, and I am happy again.

Because these problems can't be solved, only escaped. Temporarily.

I think there is a lot of merit with your categorization, and I think I would put myself as trying to be in category 3 while constantly lapsing into category 2 (but getting better with practice!). I don't think anyone who reaches category 2 can stay in category 3 every day (there will be relapses), but please let me know if you think you have found a way.

I also often wonder how many category 1 citizens are actually category 3s that found a way to delude themselves back into category 1. For example, in college health class we had a guest speaker, a neurologist or something, who basically said that we are all just deterministic objects, despite the complexities of our minds. "When your leg is broken and you can't run properly, no one blames you. But when your mind is broken and you can't think clearly, everyone blames you. Yet you have no more control over the functioning of your mind than you do your leg." As best as I can remember, this is a quote that the guy said that really stuck with me, largely because it was a rare time that I saw another category 2. But then at the end of the lecture, he started saying something casually about his wife and kids, and I had a very WTF?? moment when I realized that this guy had a life. How? How could you know the futility and pointlessness of your existence, as you so eloquently proved, and still find happiness in a category 1 illusion - romantic love?

You tell me, Brian, if such an answer can be expressed in words. I wish our language did not compress so many thoughts into the word "love", but when I get all emo over that four letter word I'm usually talking about the sexual kind of love. For example, if the one you "love" was in an accident and disfigured, or became fat, or had a sex change, or turned out to have been a male before - would you still "love" them just as much? If you would "stick with them" to avoid the guilt of leaving, would this count as love? Or would you still be happy with them, just not as happy sexually? I think that there is such a thing as platonic love; I feel it for my parents and friends, whose physical appearance would not distort my feelings for them. I even think that I could feel it for a woman - despite sexual love, not because of it. But I also feel that sexual love, or lust (maybe that's the word I should be using?) only complicates things. The way people date, trying each other on like clothes at a department store - I dunno, it's probably impossible to explain why I single out love (er, lust) when talking about depressing aspects of determinism. Probably because it happened to be the final jigsaw that convinced me we are no more than animals. Religion and free will soon followed and, well - that's a lot of important beliefs to lose out of nowhere, at the same time.

Quick aside: my world view changed so much when I was fourteen that I seriously think, from time to time, that maybe I actually died that day I was run over by a car when I was thirteen and this is the afterlife (Prove to me it's not, etc). Or that maybe the pressure of hot rubber crushing my skull delivered some sort of brain damage such that I think this way - that my beliefs and dreads are not the result of rationalizing our world into a depressing mental model, but a result of chemical imbalance from head trauma. Oh the irony if the chemicals that I dread controlling me were causing that dread, eh?

"I swear to that fake God that Phillip believes in, I would sell my soul to get myself back into category 1. I’d take any religion, any at all, just so I could feel like life has a meaning again. It wouldn’t even matter that it’s all bullshit; I’d never know the difference. The only way to discover the absence of heaven is to die, and dead people are incapable of thinking anyway so I’d never realize I was wrong. I’d get to go my whole life singing happy lies until I finally fell into my inevitable, deep sleep—not even realizing that I had died, much less that my whole life had been a lie. Happiness would be my God, not enlightenment."

Amen.

"Me: “I’m hungry.”
You: “No you’re not; your body is just causing you to feel pain based on your lack of sustenance.”"

I chuckled. It amazes me that human beings are even able to use words consistently enough to communicate. If you think about it, any argument can be broken down to "when you say the word 'blah' do you mean what I mean when I say the word 'blah'", and it really is never simple. Especially not for a word as loaded as love. I would love to feel love, but as an involuntary perfectionist, I feel that I would always know it is just my hormones telling me what to do. Eh, even as I type this stuff I can tell that, once again, it is like trying to explain the color red. Either you've felt like this first hand or I can't help you feel it now by mere written rhetoric. If you are happy with Arlene, I hope you never feel the way I have grown (involuntarily) to feel about romantic love. As for why do I feel shameful about chemical-driven love when I don't feel shameful about chemical-driven hunger? Simply because I value human beings more than food substances, so I don't feel like I am disrespecting my taco when I "only want to eat it for nourishment". I would feel guilty and disrespecting if I dated a girl just because I only wanted to get into her pants, and extracting this to its finality, one can only conclude that this is the ultimate foundation of any romantic relationship. The final ironic conclusion? I "love" human beings too much to do something as insincere as "love" them. That love is self-contradictory is a hidden tragedy.

Does this make my position on romantic love/lust more understandable, Brian? If not, I fear I am not a talented enough communicator to do a better job.

"Do I prefer being a meat machine robot whose only purpose is to make more meat machine robots? Of course not. Can I do anything about it? Of course not. Would I rather embrace my own humanity and be what I am instead of struggling to be something I’m not? Heh, well, to each his own."

It's not entirely a matter of preference, it's also a matter of ability (see previous text regarding category 3s relapsing into gategory 2s). I would prefer to be happy with things the way they are, at any time, for any definition of "the way things currently are." I would prefer to be able to rewire pain receptors so that if I stub my toe on a table leg, it feels good instead of painful. I would love it if I could smile at the funeral of a loved one, knowing they are getting a happy afterlife, instead of feeling sorrow. Emotional reprogramming simply takes time and talent.

Basically, the category 2's need something they find special to distract their mind from nihilism so they can become category 3s, and for me this is game development. Well, sincere game development, not this market-driven bullshit that the industry does. That game development has become perverted, nothing more than the practice of market analysis driving poor design decisions with the true artists delegated as slaves rowing the oars of this boat heading into rocky harbors so we can continue to stuff the wallets of already rich media moguls before getting laid off for no fault of our own is frustrating since this is the drug I need to emulate the experience of happiness in my mind.

"I’ve always thought our perceptions are limited by our experiences, but I’ve applied this reasoning to more abstract human beliefs. I don’t think, usually, people are quite so blinded by their limited experiences on such a low level as this comment demonstrates that you might be."

I'm sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what you are saying here. It sounds like you are accusing me of making assumptions about other people without knowing what's going on in their heads, but the words "abstract human beliefs" and "low level" are throwing me off no matter how many times I read them. I respond to the remainder of your paragraph below, so perhaps that response will answer this part of the paragraph as well. Please let me know if it doesn't.

"I wonder, how do you know what everyone doesn’t think about? Just because you haven’t met anyone that has outwardly expressed experiencing the nihilism you speak of, you therefore conclude you’re the only person in the world that feels this way?"

While a technically fair rebuttal, a majority of the text from which you quoted was poetic rhetoric written decisively to reflect feelings of sorrow watching something special turn corrupt while no one else seems to notice (romantic love) as a metaphoric lead in to watching something else special turn corrupt while no one else seems to notice (sincerity in game design). I was trying to express, in writing, the sensation of loneliness, not asserting the factuality of it. I was trying to appeal to emotions, not to reason. I feel you are countering this statement as a literal statement instead of a poetic one, though I will take the fault for poor writing (as much as fault can be taken in a deterministic universe ;) ). To address your rebuttal anyway, I realize that I can never know what people think. I go into work and smile and talk normally to people, and they probably don't realize that I constantly scrutinize the metaphysical. So how do I know they don't go home and wonder painfully about the same things? In a way, I can tell that most people seem to take life in better strides than I do, so I have good reasons to believe that most people aren't bothered by such issues as I am.

"A little more on topic, I haven’t been drawn into the story of a video game since Final Fantasy VII, and I haven’t actually felt emotional attachment to the characters of a video game since Chrono Trigger. I respect your opinion of video games, so, after reading your post, I’m now excited to check out The World Ends With You. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did. :)"

Yes, I'm pretty sure you'll like it.

eiyukabe said...

Eric - glad to hear that you like it. I should write a proper review of the game at some point, or even better an artistic breakdown where I analyze the things that TWEWY did well that could only be done in an interactive medium. I think it is important for games to focus on what they and only they can do, because otherwise we just as well be making movies or novels. Emotionally tying the player into Neku's confusion through a confusing, quickly explained combat system is a fantastic example of this. And mystically, though this game is full of cliches, it somehow paces itself to be always one step ahead of your jaded instincts to groan. To keep up, all you can do is laugh and keep playing. It's mystic, really. The essence of what makes TWEWY really enjoyable can not be described by industry buzzwords or even artistic technique - it seems to be a culmination of so much, tied together by talent and love (word of the day!). If I could develop games like that, I would be happy despite all else. Is it any wonder why I have become so nauseated every time I hear the higher ups at work discussing which 80s franchise needs reinvigorating while the other members at my level seem content on merely fulfilling these market-driven designs and taking home a paycheck?

eiyukabe said...

Forgot to mention: There is a new game+ sort of deal where you can play earlier chapters at whatever level and equipment you beat the game at, but it's even better than that. You can play the chapters in any order, and there are new items and tasks to accomplish to unlock more of the story. Normally I sigh at the inclusion of overt collection mechanics as I feel they just add clutter and false longevity to a game that I don't really want to keep playing, but since TWEWY is a rare jewel - a game I want to keep playing even after beating it - I am thankful for these inclusions. Plus these collection mechanisms actually add to the package by fitting the theme of consumerism instead of just being a hacked-in bullet point for market appeal.

Man, how do these guys keep getting so many things right?

Masayang Tupa said...

Hey. Before I jump into my comment I’d like to say this: I think you and I share many beliefs. I’ve agreed with most everything you’ve said thus far in both your post and your comment. Also, thanks for replying to my comment.

The morning after I wrote my comment I was kicking myself. I realized I went straight to negatively commenting on your post without even bothering to mention I enjoyed it. So, despite what my comment may have suggested, I did enjoy reading your post. In fact, it’s been many years now since I’ve started making comments such as, “I think Jeff is the best writer in our group—which is humorous, since that dumbass Phillip went to college specifically for that kind of thing.”

I realized you were primarily talking about TWEWY being an exceptional game, and perhaps my comment made it seem like I was missing the point of the post entirely. But, I consider video games just another form of entertainment; I don’t give them nearly as much thought as you, and so I had little interest in discussing the gaming industry in my comment. So, instead, I chose to discuss topics more meaningful to me—topics that you only barely scratched the surface of in your post. I suppose my comment was quite off-topic. But eh, I’m a jobless, atheist, non-college-educated alcoholic—my whole life is off-topic.

“I don't feel attracted to men, but I also don't see how we can blame gays for being gay (as if it was really an unethical thing anyway, heh) when we obviously never "chose" to be straight.”

On one of our trips home recently, Phillip told Andrew it was immoral to be gay. As it was described to me, he said it passively in his very matter-of-fact tone. Apparently Phillip thought I needed more reasons to hate him—and he delivered.

“…but I do seem to see depressing things in the world daily. And not just the easy things like "the economy is in the shitter", but things of a metaphysical nature, as you covered quite well in your comment. I still think, from time to time, when I hear "horror" stories of the stock market dropping some number of points: "Don't you people realize we are all just going to die some day? Die and never live again? And that because of psychological determinism, we aren't even really living now??? Do you really think that poverty is a problem in light of this? Don't you realize that there is a much much much bigger problem in the essential fabric of our universe, one that we can never solve?”

I agree—completely. This is an area I’ve invested a lot of thought in, and I must admit, it really gets to me when I hear someone making a big deal out of such insignificant shit. (Yes, I’m calling the economy insignificant in the grand scheme of things.) But I guess, since so many people are religious, it’s safe to assume that many of these people don’t realize we’re all just going to die and never live again. The concept of death—true, permanent, infinite death—bestows a great value to life, because without it we are bound to take life for granted.

If I thought I was going to live forever, I wouldn’t mind spending a few million years stressing over the little things. In fact, if I thought I was going to live again, I wouldn’t mind spending my whole life as a slave to a corporate master—wouldn’t that be convenient for them? Religion convinces the masses of an afterlife, assure them its okay they’re spending their whole lives working—because they’re an infinite being that will be granted eternal happiness after they die—and then corporations can use them for everything their worth until their dead. Churches benefit from this strategy too. The churches cry out, “here’s the collection plate; give to the Lord! Give to Jesus! We act as the Lord’s personal accountants; just put your money in this bowl and we’ll be sure He gets your donation and sends you to heaven!” Their tactic works well; dead people can’t ask for a refund.

“I don't think anyone who reaches category 2 can stay in category 3 every day (there will be relapses), but please let me know if you think you have found a way.”

I have not—but alcohol helps! I still find myself in category 2 plenty of times, but I try my hardest to stay in 3. (Hell, part of being in category 3 is struggling to stay out of category 2.) From your post, I got the impression you were unhappy most of the time because of the hidden tragedies you’ve uncovered, and made no attempts to escape this unhappiness. But your comment has cleared things up for me. It sounds like you’re a category 3 guy to me, which is more in line with the eiyukabe I’ve come to know.

“How could you know the futility and pointlessness of your existence, as you so eloquently proved, and still find happiness in a category 1 illusion - romantic love?”

I guess we have to draw the line somewhere—if we can. We need to be able to live our lives. Though I feel the way I do, I’m still capable of just relaxing and playing a game, or hanging out with friends, commenting on a friend’s blog, etc without constantly worrying about my own lack of free will. Always invalidating everything you do because of lack of free will would be an exhausting way to live.

“If you think about it, any argument can be broken down to "when you say the word 'blah' do you mean what I mean when I say the word 'blah'", and it really is never simple.”

Yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t want to be a word lawyer, but at the same time I don’t want to be one of those people who have discussions like this: “Yes, you say there’s no ‘God,’ but what do you really mean by the word ‘God.’? You say my religion is not true, but what is ‘truth?’ If it’s true to me, isn’t that truth?” I think most of the time we don’t communicate our ideas perfectly; we just get close enough that neither party in a given conversation will notice the discrepancies between what is said and what is heard.

“Does this make my position on romantic love/lust more understandable, Brian? If not, I fear I am not a talented enough communicator to do a better job.”

Indeed it does. We’ve never had a lengthy discussion on the issue, but I had some general ideas about how you felt. And, as I’ve said, it has always intrigued me. When it comes to your view on love, I feel like a devout Christian reading my description of category 1—unable to relate due to my own self-delusional beliefs and/or ignorance. Perhaps for similar reasons (or perhaps not), I find myself incapable of agreeing with your thoughts on love just as I feel incapable of believing in God.

I don’t personally consider love to be a category 1 concept. (But then again, a Christian wouldn’t consider God to be a category 1 concept either.) As I see it, love stems from our need to procreate, and procreation is just as real as gravity. Category 1 is reserved for the more absurd beliefs such as religion. As a category 3 person in love, let me tell you, love does not bring much to the table in regards to hiding the tragedies of life. Love—both romantic and platonic—makes my life infinitely better, but it would be a poor substitute for the blinders of religion.

“Because these problems can't be solved, only escaped. Temporarily.”

I agree with this so much I wanted to quote it just for the sake of saying I agree with it, but since I hate it when people do that I wanted to write a convoluted sentence that basically says nothing more than “I agree”—so here we are. Yeah.

“I feel you are countering this statement as a literal statement instead of a poetic one, though I will take the fault for poor writing (as much as fault can be taken in a deterministic universe ;) ).”

You’re exactly right; I thought you meant the quote in a literal sense. I failed to realize you were speaking poetically, but I don’t think it was your fault. I just misunderstood you.

Your little side note made me smile. I agree that not much blame can be put on any of us in our strange, deterministic universe. But we have to accept responsibility for our actions anyway, or our world could get chaotic.

“I'm sorry, but I have absolutely no idea what you are saying here. It sounds like you are accusing me of making assumptions about other people without knowing what's going on in their heads, but the words "abstract human beliefs" and "low level" are throwing me off no matter how many times I read them.”

I did a very poor job of articulating these thoughts, mostly—if not fully—due to my own laziness. I was getting bored of writing and I wanted to move on to another activity.

I was talking about this quote: “And why am I the only one that finds himself suffocating in this toxic air of causal psychology and nihilism?” I took this quote literally when, so it seems, I should not have. What I was trying to say is not even relevant anymore, since you didn’t mean what I originally thought you meant. But for shits and giggles, I’ll try to explain.

I said something like, “I believe our perceptions are limited by our experiences.” Okay, so for example:

Take an average, God-fearing, American-loving person who gets his information of the outside world from the ten o’ clock Fox news, and whose biggest problem is that time he got laid off for 6 months and ask this person: “do you think mankind is evil enough to kill 3,000 of its own country’s citizens by flying two planes into its own buildings for the sake of power and profit?” This person is not very likely to say “yes.”

Now, for example, take a women who was a “comfort woman” during WWII—a woman who was abducted by her own government and placed on a military ship or in a “comfort station” solely for the purpose of providing sexual gratification for the Japanese military. These women were raped hundreds of times every day, and even raped by the doctors that came to inspect them for diseases, and if they resisted they were killed without a second thought. Pitch the same question to one of these women: “do you think mankind is evil enough to kill 3,000 of its own country’s citizens by flying two planes into its own buildings for the sake of power and profit?” This person might have a different answer.

So, there’s an example of what I meant about our experiences limiting how we perceive the world around us.

“Abstract” and “low-level” were poor word choices for sure. By abstract I guess I meant “on a large scale” and low-level was supposed to be “on a small scale.” I won’t go into more detail, because as I said it’s irrelevant now, and I’m just rambling at this point. >.>

“It's not entirely a matter of preference, it's also a matter of ability (see previous text regarding category 3s relapsing into gategory 2s). I would prefer to be happy with things the way they are, at any time, for any definition of "the way things currently are." I would prefer to be able to rewire pain receptors so that if I stub my toe on a table leg, it feels good instead of painful. I would love it if I could smile at the funeral of a loved one, knowing they are getting a happy afterlife, instead of feeling sorrow. Emotional reprogramming simply takes time and talent.”

Yet again, I agree. It’s amusing that I said I don’t believe in free will, and then went on to imply that a person can “choose” to struggle to be something they’re not or embrace their own humanity. I think this illustrates another belief of mine perfectly: we’re all hypocrites, not necessarily because we don’t practice what we preach, but because life is simply too complex to analyze all of our behaviors from every angle to make sure they’re consistent with our values. People accuse one another of being a hypocrite as if it’s a bad thing, but I feel it’s just a part of being human. It’s like saying the sky is blue, or rocks are hard, or my dick is big—these things are not necessarily good or bad, they’re just facts.

I probably didn’t organize my thoughts well. I just went down your comment and responded to stuff you said in the order you said them, so forgive me.

Arlene and I have a blog together now. You should read it sometime, though I admit it’s less entertaining than yours. I’ve tried to avoid gloomy topics when posting; my theory is staying on the lighter topics will keep me happier and make our blog a friendlier place. But as it turns out, not being an emo-fag leaves me with very little to discuss.

You can find it here: http://masayangtupa.blogspot.com/

Since we share the blog, you’ll have to look at the bottom of the posts for the signature to see who wrote each of the posts. Heh, but I think you know me well enough to figure out which entries are mine before you get to the bottom.

-Brian

Masayang Tupa said...

I forgot to mention:

I responded to a post you made a long time ago about speeding on our blog. (It's kinda boring though.)

Heh, I think I've written more in the comments of this post than I have written on our whole blog. >.>

-Brian

Eric Ritz said...

> In fact, it’s been many years now since I’ve started making comments such as, “I think Jeff is the best writer in our group—which is humorous, since that dumbass Phillip went to college specifically for that kind of thing.”

I will throw my two cents in and agree with this whole-heartedly. I always wanted Jeff to write more stuff on LNS because I always enjoyed his posts a lot heh.

> (Yes, I’m calling the economy insignificant in the grand scheme of things.)

I'm getting tired of hearing about the economy. I was humorously arguing with my co-workers earlier this week that the economy is no different than religion: I can simply choose to not believe in it. Because really---what is the economy? Show me the economy. Or show me God---or ask me to show you the shit I believe in. Can't be done. I said I don't believe in the economy and my peers pointed out "but it has to exist since it affects you." Which is true, the economy affects me. But my thought was that the economy only affects me because other people believe in the economy, in the same way that God can affect me because other people believe in Him (e.g. someone murders me in His name).

Anyways, I just thought that was funny. As an aside in a comment it has probably lost all potential for humor lol.