(This episode’s write-up is extra-long and in-depth, and I think it’s worth reading even if you don’t follow the series. Note: Episodic notes are still mostly to be found on the Episodics Notes’ page. For those who don’t know, I take the notes as I watch the episode, and merely re-order them afterwards.)
So, our party wiped last week, and Shiroe mused, mused on his past mistakes, and on learning from them, that the problem is distancing himself from others, and not trusting in them enough. So, let’s see how things work out this week around, when he shares. Also, an impossible game? That can’t be right, but this is no longer a game, so the rules may no longer apply.
Thoughts and Notes:
1) The Voice of Despair:
1) “I lost” – this seems to “strangely” mirror Shiroe’s words from last week, and Akatsuki, but Shiroe thought of these words to a degree because of a recollection of a past conversation with William – dying reminds you that you’re bad, and still need to improve. That’s what losing means.
2) Heh, a raiding guild, so they wonder if all raids are now impossible, and if so, what are they even a guild for, what are they even in this world for? They drew purpose from their goal, but what if the goal’s impossible? Well, need to make the impossible possible! Or find a new direction in life…
Moreover, they’re saying it made all their past accomplishments worthless, but is this true? Did the time they spend, did they not spend it in order to have fun, to bond with others? Even if raiding is no longer a future option, the past time spent was still spent well.
3) “When it worked, it felt great. When it didn’t, it sucked.” – Welcome to life.
4) “There is no point anymore.” – You know what this is? This is the Akihabara situation before Shiroe stepped in, created the Round Table, and gave everyone something to strive for, a community.
2) Who We Are:
1) To William, he agrees with what I said, but it’s more than that, he’s unable, unwilling, to accept the time spent is wasted, because that’d mean everyone else was wrong, and he did enjoy his time there, and his bonding.
2) William is exemplifying another good point here, “You might be right, but what of it?” – And this is a point so very interesting for video games. You have to play by the rules, you’re technically playing by the rulesno matter what you do, but even within the rules, you live the fantasy of being powerful, and you try within the rules to be more powerful, not just from the game’s monsters, but from other players. Always a balancing act of toeing the line set by the system and trying to stand out within it.
Also, it’s not really them playing the game to stand out, it’s just that what they chose to do is not as accepted. But yes, you don’t become a Guild Leader without trying to do things your way, within the game.
3) Ha! William’s point is such a reversal! “So, what we’re doing now might be a waste of time? Well, we knew from the get-go that playing this game is somewhat of a waste of time, so it’s not like anything changed.” – But people don’t enjoy futility. Even in video games, you like feeling you’ve accomplished things, that your effort bore fruit, and that mastery is possible, rather than pure arbitrariness by the game – if you wish for the feeling of helplessness so-called arbitrariness engenders, there’s real life for that. And yes, much is up to us, just illusions, but in a game, it can truly be like that, unless you set your own goals. Again, see The Round Table in Akihabara.
4) “We may be maggots, but I won’t let anyone, not even God, tell me it was a waste of time.” Oh William!
3) “This Time We Spent”:
1) “What do these things matter? They matter, because I’ve decided they matter, that they’re wonderful, glorious things!” – This isn’t nonsense. Things don’t have inherent value, they have the value we ascribe to them. Well, and then there are things like food and clothes that have a certain value regardless of appreciation/money, but you know what I’m talking about here. Everything is about ascribed value, which is why different people value different things differently. Much difference.
He’s arguing against the idea that there’s a universal set of values, of worth. It might seem it’s not a moral standpoint, but it is – “This activity isn’t worth doing” is a moral standpoint, and why people try to persuade people to not “waste their time”. It might not seem to exist on the same plane as “Don’t lie or steal”, but it’s exactly the same, it’s ascribing some acts as worth doing, and the others as not, and thus pursuing them as being “less-moral”, of wasting your potential, or robbing society of gains you could’ve contributed otherwise.
“If we decide something is amazing, then it is!” – Yeah! Well, it sounds ridiculous when people state it out loud like that, but that’s what everyone’s doing implicitly already, and then acting as if the value came from outside, while it didn’t.
2) William is implicitly touching on what I’ve been alluding to above, somewhat, and which I’ve said in non-anime circles numerous times over many years – it’s not sad, how someone spends their time, it’s not meaningless. What is sad is when someone is unhappy with how they spend their own time, or regrets it. It’s sad because they regret it, not because it’s somehow meaningless. So William is telling them, even if you choose to do something else, don’t feel bad about the time you spent, because only that will truly make it meaningless, and will also insult the time and people you spend said time with. Think of it like this, you’re in a relationship with someone, and it doesn’t work out – what does it say to consider that time “wasted”? Not just of the other person and of the relationship, but of yourself?
3) I really like the “It’s all bits on a server, but so what? We’ve dedicated our lives to it!” – As someone pursuing a Masters degree focusing on the Philosophy of Language, it’s again with the “Ascribed meaning” – the bits have meaning, the ones ascribed to them. We could otherwise dismiss language as simply scribblings on a paper, or waves of sound, yet we treat these with respect for the ideas they convey, not their mere physical aspect.
4) I also like the reminder that losing is part of playing a game. If you can’t accept losing, you rage, and shouldn’t be playing games to begin with. A game where you’re guaranteed to win isn’t very exciting, and excitement is a key part for leaderboard hunters, which is what a Raiding Guild is, essentially.
4) “We Spent it Together”:
1) That’s a painful admittance, but also a way to share, to bond – “We’re the ones who have nothing that lets them connect with others easily.” Some of it might be said of all the hardcore players, but it’s probably even moreso for those who didn’t find their place within Akihabara after the Round Table was set up, and definitely for Demikas, who’s sitting there and listens as well. See, it’s not just about “shining in the real world”, because the same things apply to all human interaction, meaning within the game as well.
2) “I’ve never told anyone, I couldn’t, but you guys are my friends.” – Obviously. But that he has to admit it like that shows how sheltered, how hurt, William is. “I needed the game to make friends.” – Shared interests help in making friends, so it goes.
3) “The game let me know how you guys are feeling, that someone in the rear wanted to move to the front, or needs healing.” – Games have rules, and codified language. Less room for ambiguity, so people who aren’t great at the ambiguous stuff can deal with it. Makes sense. There’s also much talk here that is relevant as to how some people try to treat reality as a game, and why it fails, and what we really want in games – not just feeling powerful, but that the world makes sense, that not only there are rules, but they are known, and so long we play by these rules, we are safe.
Yes, not powerful, but safe. Safe from physical harm? Mostly safe from emotional harm, and confusion and misunderstandings have a very real emotional toll.
4) I think it’s actually a muddying of the lines though, some things he knows because he understands the situation, he can understand what they’re thinking and feeling, because he’s the same. He can connect to these people because they’re like him. So a return to ambiguity, with shared experiences being the bridge? Perhaps.
5) “She wants the magic bracelet that boosts her magic stats, but is too shy to say so.” – Yeah, this is them managing to do what those “lucky people” offline manage to do, via the game. Even the situations are similar. So they’re not really weak or pathetic, they manage to make the same connections, and reach the same understanding – exactly the same, in fact, just within the game’s context.
5) Musings on Selfhood and Others:
1) “Elder Tale has taught me many things.” It’s given William the social context to learn how to be social in, but it’s not knowledge limited to the game alone, it never is. He’s a changed person, in all of the worlds.
2) It’s important to note “I’m uncaring and uncooperative” aren’t how he considered himself, but what he was told he’s like. There are those who define “self-image” not as how we perceive ourselves, but how we perceive ourselves as perceived by others.
“And even if they appeared terrible, perhaps I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do.” – The step beyond, of considering not just how you perceive others, but how they might perceive themselves.
3) “And then I started doing Raids.” – I dedicate this image to everyone who went out there in video games and tried to push their boundaries. Him wearing his sweater is very realistic, you can get the “cold sweats” from adrenaline, whether you’re doing ranked games in MOBAs, or climbing up the FPS ladder, or trying a new Raid. I can tell. I’ve been there. And I’d put on a sweater, even in the depths of summer.
4) “I’ve learned to be open-minded and ask others for their opinions.” – Quite unlike Shiroe, who’s reserved, and doesn’t share, and doesn’t feel comfortable when others do. Shiroe doesn’t feel as if he’s a leader, and yet shares less than the one who does. Strange how that goes. I guess it’s because a leader feels connected to others, while one who is not can maintain the image of being distanced.
5) “Because, this world is Elder Tale.” And the uplifting music that plays each time everyone is marveled at the world or their successes in it plays.
6) On The Dangers of Self-Identification With Fandoms – A Mass:
1) “I can’t run away, because I’ve invested my entire personality into this, and to turn my back on it would be a betrayal of self.” – This is made to sound uplifting, inspired and inspiring, but this is the real crux of the matter, this is something I’ve long preached against, and which is very important to discuss, and which is prevalent in all corners of our worlds, and is easier to see around “fandoms”.
See, this is the thing, this isn’t a declaration of power by William, and it’s not even turning your weakness into a source of strength, this is a declaration of weakness, of desperation – “If you take this away from me, if you make me admit everyone denigrating me was right, that I wasted the last two years of my life, I’ll be undone.” This is not a good thing, this is a terrible thing.
And this thing came to be because he invested himself. It’s not the investment itself that is bad, because we should invest ourselves in everything we do, but it’s the self-identification, where he as the gamer, or the game itself, is identified with the core of his being, to the degree that anything that’d attack the game would be an attack on himself, that if something were to undermine this piece of media, he’ll be undone.
Of course, it’s the identification that is problematic. Read the stuff I wrote earlier, where I discuss how things are for William, even if he might not realize them – he learned to cooperate and communicate with people. These are changes in him that’d remain so even if he were to apply them outside the game, but he’s limiting them to the sphere of the game.
If he were to admit the game was a waste of time, it’d be a betrayal of self, I agree. But admitting betrayal or playing the game more are not the only options, he can move on, appreciate the time he spent, and still realize he grew, and he can take this growth elsewhere. This inability to separate his identity from his identity as playing the game, translated to an inability to separate one’s identity from the game itself is at the core of much of fandom. And what’s that? That’s an inability to grow, exactly the opposite of what we derived from the game, up to a point, and the true betrayal of what the game helped William achieve. It’s also the leading cause of much toxicity by people participating in fandoms or anti-fandoms.
2) Demikas is now voicing “The Voice of Society”, “Even here, we’re still playing a game, that’s not changed.” – You can take this in two different ways, the first is that this is Elder Tale, still not the real world, a mindset Shiroe and the rest in Akihabara are trying to change, and the other is related to that subtle point – the people in Akihabara are indeed living their lives, but the Raiding Guild is still “playing a game”, rather than interacting and changing the world and living their lives. This is exactly the voice of someone else telling you that what you’re doing, what he himself is doing, is worthless, or at least, worth less.
It’s important to note that Demikas isn’t just denigrating the guild, but himself. He’s the one who is voicing the internalized outsider voice. “I’d keep bashing my head against the wall, but not if it’s truly futile.” – As William told Shiroe earlier in the season, when you lose, you hear “You suck, and this is how you suck”, and to hear it constantly, well, sucks, which is how these people got into the game to begin with, and games keep telling you you suck, what do you do? You get something else out of them, such as the community William had formed.
3) Oh sweet, William knows he ran away from The Round Table. This is the true nature of death in this game, again, as he told Shiroe, and as we’ve seen Shiroe and Akatsuki reflect post-death. “Death” is “You failed”, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve done wrong, which is painful, but also the way forward. It’s interesting though, he wanted to “game” rather than “form a community”, which if we look at his recollection this episode, it’s the community-forming that was the true source of his joy in this game. The raids? They were just the method, the way to connect with others. He’s reflecting now on his lack of reflection prior. He’s realizing he treated others in a manner he’d say would be inexcusable if it were done to him – saying their dreams, their endeavours, are a waste of time. He knows that, and headmits that. That’s the nature of defeats.
7) Everyone Looks Up to Someone:
1) “I didn’t understand why they’d left their legend if they were just going to quit.” – I don’t have anything to add, but I find this a really nice line.
2) Being able to admit you look up to someone else is hard. “Oh, they did something I couldn’t, cool.” – It’s really hard to truly say someone is above you, that you’re looking up to them, because it involves placing yourself below them. William is an unnatural Guild Leader, by his own admission, so looks up to someone who created a community. He’s looking up to someone who followed his dream when someone else said it was impossible. The neat thing here is we know Shiroe is an unnatural leader as well, who feels uncomfortable in the exact same position. A reminder that our heroes are fallible mortals as well, and might be more like us than we imagine. Or rather, that’s why we could truly become them, because the distance is so small already.
3) “He’s a nuisance and a sadist, you can see it by looking at him, of course anything he’d ask of us would be impossible, and painful.” – HAHA!
4) “I went to do the impossible, because I thought it’d be fun! Because we’re gamers, dammit!” – Such a rallying cry.
“I’m an idiot, but I want to win!” – I can get behind this cry though, so earnest. More than that, by admitting he’s an idiot, he’s bringing us back to how the speech opened, and to a cry for a call for help from his allies, from his friends.
5) And right as said, the show spells it out – Shiroe looks up to William, just as William looks up to him. It’s always the view from outside. Furthermore, just as William is trying to give a victory to his guildmates, and just as his guildmates want to give William a victory, and just as they all want to give Shiroe this win, Shiroe also wants to give the win to the guild. A community! And well, Demikas.
And thus, the natural progression, from last episode as well, where Shiroe will try a new strategy, one where he admits the truth to everyone else, and the viewers, where he shares the burden.
Post Episode Thoughts:
A reminder, this is the same author as the one behind Maouyu Maou Yuusha, which had my favourite moment in anime from last year, a speech (the title of this write-up is a play on “I am Human!”, the title of that speech). While that speech moved me emotionally, this one didn’t. Am I saying this was a bad speech, or badly written? Hell no.
The speech here was great, it was earnest, it was honest, it was reflective of how people in our world truly operate, from within. It had warts, it had fallacies, but they’re the fallacies that people truly believe in, and build their personalities around. It showed an ability to reflect, an ability to doubt ourselves, and even if not everything it led to was “right”, it was a mostly self-aware speech. Now, just writing something like this for characters is hard, but making it come naturally, and show the round-about way we all go in our thoughts… it was oh so very human. It didn’t move me emotionally because I’m not sure it tried, but it resonated.
A speech about being human, which means being human alongside other humans. A speech about self worth, and about identification. So one could say “nothing happened” this episode from a plot perspective, but characters move the plot, and this had always been a character-driven show, which spends its time focusing on the characters.
And yes, it’s easy to draw parallels from this episode to GamerGate, but it’s also easy to draw parallels from this episode to all of human endeavours. While here William channeled his mono-focus to accomplish more, and it helped him grow, do keep in mind it’s also holding him back and leads to much toxicity in real life. We are more than what we do, and what we like. That’s the source of growth.