Words of Love

I wanted Dogmeat to live. During a single fight, at near the same moment every time, he would die. I would reload the game, try again and would inevitably be standing over this corpse.

This went on for seven different tries until I finally decided to load a save that was in a time before I met him. I went into the same area, accomplished the quest and then went back to find him. He never knew the difference.

Wait. Let me start over.

The damn dog kept dying. I didn’t know what to do about it. He just kept jumping in front of the Super Mutant and then getting killed. I had to keep reloading files over and over to save him until I had finally had enough and did the quest without him. After collecting my reward, I went back to get the dog and hoped that it wouldn’t happen again.

No. That didn’t happen.

Was it my fault? Did I train him wrong? Was I using the wrong settings? He just kept dying! I tried to stop it. I was using various weapons and even a grenade that one time. What could I do? Should I go back to an earlier save? Would that fix this? I thought about it and decided to reload again.

***

It’s easy to think it’s right to do that for a AI companion or a virtual pet. I do it all the time. I want to save certain people or creatures and so, armed with my previous experiences playing game, I know that if I just try it enough times I can figure it out. Brute forcing the problem will allow me to get the outcome I want. All I need to do is keep trying.

That is what worries me about the future of relationships in games. Rachel Helps and I have talked about it some already (read: I wrote some soliloquies) over in the comment section of her blog.

What’s to stop the determined player from getting to the sex scene or seducing the guy they want? What’s to stop them from using save states to “game” the relationship? What is to stop some players, to put it more bluntly, from getting exactly what they want when they want it from the characters? And, to throw more questions into this mix, is any of that right? Is it ethical?

I’m single and it influences how I see relationships in games. To me, they often feel cheap. If I can use presents to dissuade any opinion, in what way do I not have complete control over my partners? That one character didn’t like that I murdered everyone? Why, give them some presents! It will make it all better again. As long as I balance my outrageous evil with constant gifts, I’m fine.

Relationships though don’t work like that. At least, in my experiences they don’t.

“Obviously,” I can hear you saying, “you are talking about isolated incidents. Serious players wouldn’t do this.” Oh? Is that so? I was lurking on Twitter last night and I saw some very disturbing comments that I am now going to paraphrase.

“Ugh. I need to get the right romance.”
“Thank god [Y] is dead. I hate him.”
“I arranged it so [Z] would die. I’m ready for the sequel now.”
“I slept with and then broke up with everyone. Gotta play it again.”

To get ready for Mass Effect 3, I was watching some players causally arrange murders and romances for their own amusement. If they are given the power to do this, and they exercise it, is that wrong or are they just playing the game?

If you can pick the equipment, which missions they are on and arrange their lives, in what way are the companions, party members or even just virtual pets not dolls? Sure, it’s reducing these actions to the most base level, but is that it works out to be. And, in case you think I am being pejorative here, I’m not. This might be a good thing.

Those who have been following my blog for a long time know that I really liked Critical Play by Mary Flanagan. In the early chapters of the book, Flanagan talks about doll culture during the Victorian times and how some children would hold mock funerals for their dolls. This gave the children something they lacked in their own life, says Flanagan: control and a sense of closure about death.

For some players, the ability to manipulate characters in a video game is great. They can use the safety of the game to express themselves and perform actions they may not be able to do outside the game. That relationship that never worked out for them can be remade and that resolution can finally come.

Yet, there is a dark side. Choice should bring consequence and video games often lack that permanence. That is what worries me. I’m probably a pessimist at heart, but I start think of players logging hundreds of hours trying to get Lara Croft naked in Tomb Raider and how often I get Google Search result hits for the phrases “demon sex” or “demonic lady naked.”

I begin to wonder if, when we yell for more maturity in games, we aren’t just, on some level, enabling some players to abuse in-game characters.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.

Wait. Let me start over.

Bits of Love

I’ve struggled with what to write about for this month’s Blog of the Round Table. The topic is “Love” and I don’t know what to say about it. What experiences do I have? What can I write? Who do I write about? What occasions have I seen “love”?

The simple answer, for me, is to just shrug my shoulders at it. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that we find echoes of ourselves in the books, movies and games we play. We associate with situations through their metaphors and are able to process, on some level, what we are seeing with what we are feeling. We go along with the ride and experience the catharsis needed to deal with our emotions. If they can go through those troubles, we say to ourselves, then I can go through mine.

We get lost in these virtual worlds. We go on adventures with the virtual only to find the real among the words. This is the power of fiction. It’s what we talk about when we say that a movie, a book or even a game “had a good story”. We become the roles we read and are able to gain, if only for a moment, the necessary distance to see our own life from a different point of view. We look through another person’s eyes and solve their problems. When we come away from it, we are changed.

That’s what I find so hard to talk about. In order to see the echoes, the waves must have first come from me. To hear them return, they must have first left. The sad truth is that I have not been a romantic relationship for just under a decade. I don’t have that. I barely remember what it was like to be “in love”. It’s been so long that it hardly matters most of the time to me.

It’s not that I don’t feel it sometimes. That sudden tightness in the chest. That moment of pause before breathing. I can remember those occasions. I might be standing on a corner waiting to cross a street and then, for a reason I can’t quite figure out, I remember those times. For a moment, I feel that joy and then, as soon as that comes, the pain too. My feet never leave the ground, yet I am taken on a emotional roller coaster over just a few minutes until the light changes.

That should be the same for video games. I should feel that again. But I don’t. It’s cheap to me. As any number of characters in any number of worlds, I have bought and paid for sex. I have charmed my way through a situation. I have been the prostitute and I have been the john. Was that “love”? Was it any approximation of those feelings? I don’t think so.

When I spend time getting to know a character and hear their story through dialogue, is that a relationship? I would say no. To me, to the player, it’s not. To the character I play, it’s important, yes, but the player doesn’t think so. There is no free will for the other character. They didn’t come to me. They didn’t think my character was attractive or smart or funny. I had to go get them. I had to recruit them and then give them presents, go on loyalty missions or complete their quests. I always have control over them.

They “like”, “approve” or even “love” me because I told them to in the first place. And, not unlike Neo in the Matrix, I find it hard to turn off the programmer part of my mind and not see the feedback loops. I isolate the if/else branching and begin to solve the problem. If I want this story or these attributes, I plot in my head, then I need for this person to be happy, this person to be sad and I need to avoid that person.

That’s not love. It’s problem solving. It’s code. Where is their choice? If I own them, they are not unlike dolls. I can dress them up, direct their lives and tell stories with them. They are variables in an equation. Plug in the correct series of inputs and I can watch them act it out.

That is also what scares me about trying to make relationships more “real” in video games. I would like to see better writing, more detailed worlds or even just really solid stories for me to play, sure, but I cannot see a way to escape the agency problem without heartbreak. If I invest time into getting to know a character, do I want them to leave me? Do I want to get rejected? If, because of how I look or act in a game, they should leave, would I go back? Is that “love”?

I don’t feel like I have a good answer for this. Then again, maybe that’s the point. We are always wondering about our output. Was what I said understood? Did I state that correctly? Does he like me? Does she like me? We try to match up the input to get the situations we want in life.

Video games characters can be so very limited at time. They are just little bits of life wrapped up in code. But maybe we are like that too. Maybe we are all just waiting for the right person to come along and ask us to go on an adventure with them.

Other people are writing again, you should be reading them.

I have a crazy schedule — crazy! Seriously. Super crazy. So, I am not writing much. And, even when I have time, my writing is going up in a different place. Yes, I have sold out. All my creative-ness, it’s gone. Completely. I will never write here again. Your eyes are not reading this post either. (Also, it’s not 3 AM as I write this — no, it totally is. I’m tired.)

Anyway, other people — blog neighbors? Beighors? — are writing good stuff and I have read it. I want to take some time here to highlight things you should have read. Emphasis on the “should”.

Rachel Helps, over on Ludi Bin, has been writing up a storm. Last week saw What visual novels should learn from sequential art, something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile now. Visual novels, with their emphasis on the single frames, are more like graphic novels with their cells. Each screen, then, should spend more time cutting down the dialogue and condensing the action — simple and solid is best.

Just a couple days ago, she wrote Dear Esther’s setting matches its emotional push talking about how atmosphere and mechanics link Dear Esther to the idea of a cybertext, but configurable. I still haven’t played it, so I can’t comment. It’s a neat approach though.

Actually, speaking of atmosphere and mechanics, Line Hollis goes all out on Limbo asking, as people have before, What’s the Point of Limbo? I don’t disagree with Line’s take, but have had my time with it and… I liked it. Overall, I liked. I’ll leave the aesthetic discussions to people who know more. It was a neat little thing.

Speaking of Line, and in the hope of getting more recorded interactive fiction sessions, there was I Am Bad at Interactive Fiction a couple weeks ago. It’s rare that I laugh while reading a blog post. Most of the time, it’s me considering a theory or trying to think through someone else’s point. That was a great example of someone just posting a thing for no other reasons than to just wanting to do it. I liked it.

They say that Punk’s Not Dead and, it seems, neither is ~hellfire~. I’m always glad to see people writing again and “whenever I’m” is a look into Rock Paper Shotgun’s new –series? — on “Punk Games”. (I might also be doing that, making games for no other reason than love of the process and trying to put something together.) Ewers, says ~hellfire~, are “very hard to craft” — and so are games. (That is so very true.)

That was the advice that Rampant Coyote echoed from Robert Boyd’s post on So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer? That’s the advice I have tried to follow in both my writing and game making: follow your passion. Do what you love.

How to be an ass on the Internet

You want to be an ass, huh? You suck!

That feeling you have right now, that anger? Yes, I can see it in your eyes. I know you have it. Let it fester. Feed it. Every time you look at someone else’s work, slip some food to that anger. I could do their job better than them!

Say the following to yourself right now: “I am better than them! I am the best!” Good. Now, scream it! SCREAM IT! Good, good. Now, you are ready for the instructions.

1) Have a sense of entitlement.

No one else matters. Always remember, no matter if others are getting paid for their work and have awards, only your work is important. You could do that same job, if there wasn’t a conspiracy to keep you down.

You deserve more attention. Who cares if you have only written a few articles? It doesn’t matter if you have only one painting! Making a game!? You have done something and deserve attention for it. It’s perfect. And so are you.

2) Be paranoid. (Yes, I saw that.)

We are, in fact, out to get you. I am standing outside your window watching what you are doing right now. No, don’t go look. I’ve moved somewhere else now. Doesn’t matter anyway, I’ve already judged you. You would have see me if you were paying attention. But you weren’t.

Unless you are Google-ing yourself several times a day, you don’t matter. Track your mentions on Twitter. Facebook? More like spy-on-everyone-book! How will you know what other’s are doing unless you constantly look for what others might be saying about you? You won’t! The only way to know you are better than everyone else to read, watch or play everything they are doing. Then and only then will you know you are the best. (I saw that too.)

4) Ignore logic.

Whatever you feel is right. Whatever you do is great. Don’t believe me? You just read this sentence. Therefore, you are better than the people who didn’t. (I just blew your mind, right? I know I did. I saw it from the window.)

You want to paint? Just paint whatever you want. Ignore the past, present and anything that’s brewing for the future. Right now, it’s just you. Anything you might have picked up along the way, you invented first. No one else is doing what you are doing right now. No one has ever dared to do it.

You are making a game? Figure out everything on your own! Those commercial programmers won’t help you. They don’t care. They are misleading you. If you get good — and you already are — you might take their jobs. They are trying to stop you. Don’t let them!

You like to write, eh? So does everyone else on the planet! People write everyday. The only way to show you are better than them is to insult them. After all, you are better than them. Put them in their place by questioning how much work they put out per week. If it’s that much, it must be crap. Awards for writing! Critical collections! Bah! None of it matters! Only you.

97) Communities are for wimps

If you work — or even talk to — other people, they will steal your work. They will. Right now, they are waiting for you to slip up and forget to triple-encrypt your work. They might have even installed a keylogger or other spying software. You better check your computer again.

Don’t post anything. Ever. Just don’t. They only way to keep your good ideas safe is to keep them in your head. Don’t even write them down on paper. That piece of paper might be stolen. Or forgotten! Then it will be used by someone else and you won’t get credit! Again! It will be just like last time. (Yes, I know about that too.)

8000) Comment that their work was boring.

If you ever feel the need to comment on another’s work, start with telling them about yourself. Remark that you had your own personal journey and how you came to find their work. If they don’t know you, they will now. They will see how important you are from your comment.

Follow that by saying something like, “I was going to comment, but I had something more important to do.” Alternatives include, “I was saving the world just now — as I do every Thursday — and I saw your work. I can’t be bothered to comment,” “I read the first few sentences. Where did you learn to write?”, “I might have cured cancer if your work was shorter” and “You just vomited words here, didn’t you?”

2.5) Write a blog post explaining how to be an ass on the Internet

See Dan’s latest work. Enough said.

Are you talking about… ? Oh.

Update: TWIVGB is not the problem, but an easy target for these troubles. I’m the one working 32 hours a week and taking four classes, not the editors who do good work according to their passion. As with the comments and now this post, this has everything to do with me and very little to do with them.

I left two comments on a blog post by Eric Swain the other day. In his post, he was trying to bring some transparency to the process of curating the This Week in Video Game Blogging list that is put out by Critical Distance — notably this post. After going through his struggles filling in for Kris Ligman on short notice, the problems trying to put something together in just a few days and having limited resource to do all those things, he felt he had to present his reasons and trials in putting together the post.

He mentioned that the editors “were debating what exactly TWIVGB and Critical Distance are for, or rather what their direction is.” Clarifying that thought, he said:

“The short of it was, none of us knew or were quite on the same page. Critical Distance had some vague ideals of archiving and pointing out good critical pieces because the community was scattered and disparate, not even knowing the other end of the sphere existed. All of this was way back in ’08. Now 4 years later we haven’t defined it much beyond that. Each element being trial and error.”

That was what caused me to leave the first comment. I’m suspicious of Critical Distance and TWIVGB. And, after saying as much, Eric replied saying, “I’d be more interested in hearing about your previous doubts and your doubts now. We are on the inside and are clueless to how this is all viewed. We can only guess.”

And so, as you can imagine, I left an even longer comment detailing, I hoped, why I was worried about the power that TWIVGB wields and what my own personal journey has been like within the video game blogging space.

The long and short of it is that I’ve been on the peripheral of the video game blogging community for many years now. I can remember, since I was following their blogs at the time, back when many people who are game designers now were just bloggers then. I can remember when other people, who are now getting paid to write, were just posting random articles and thoughts they had that day. I have been following some blogs for years now and, if you were to just look at my own archives, I have been posting things here since 2007 — yes, this blog is nearly five years old.

At Play Podcast Logo
That's me in the middle. Yup, that is the same picture I now use as my avatar in many places too.

Back in May of 2010, I got two other friends together and we recorded our first pilot episode of what would eventually become the @Play (At Play) podcast. We decided, after that first session, to invest in microphones, a soundboard and arrange our schedules so that we could record every week. And, over the following months, we found hosting on a site and started to slowly build up an audience. We liked what we were doing and thought, perhaps naivety, that others would too.

During our run of a little over a year from May 2010 to August 2011, we recorded 50 episodes. We interviewed Shawn Andrich (Gamers with Jobs); Leigh Alexander (Sexy Videogameland); Chris Furniss and Jinny Koh (The Weekly Geek); Scott Juster and Jorge Albor (Experience Points) and Jenn Frank (Infinite Lives). We had a Twitter account. We had plans of doing cross-over episodes with other podcasts.

That podcast is dead. I could go into why it stopped, how much work it became to manage (mostly for me) and the fact that we were dropped from the site we were on for budget reasons. I could even go into what lessons I learned and how everyone we interviewed was pleasent both on- and off-air.

For right now, I want to make the point that I have interacted with and even spoken to many of the respected members of the video game blogging community in the past. I’ve even had e-mail conversations with many more people who, if I could get a chance to do it in the future, I would love to interview and pick their brains about things.

I’ve been around for a long time now. But, as I mentioned in that second comment and is definitely the case with this blog, I’m not known. It’s that last point that has become extremely frustrating to me. From my point of view, I have had to keep saying again and again what my credentials are and why anyone should care what I think and say. I have to keep proving myself over and over and over. I had to write for a year straight before I even showed up on TWIVGB!

That’s why I am suspicious of TWIVGB. It is, not unlike Metacritic, the ruler by which material is measured in this space. The editors there, for better or worse, are the judges of what articles and posts hundreds if not thousands of people will look at and discuss the next week. They are the gatekeepers for this space. To matter at all, you must be on the list. To have a voice, you must continue to appear over and over.

It’s that last point that is the most frustrating to me. My local friends don’t talk about video games much anymore. Even when we had the podcast, we only talked about what we had been playing, with me perpetually the “Jake Rodkin” (i.e. making games and not playing them) of our ‘cast too. I was a student then and I’m still one now. I can’t afford the latest games. I don’t talk about what is upcoming. I talk about what I have and, when I get new games, I talk about them then.

If I look at TWIVGB as capturing the current conversations, I won’t be among them. I’m not part of the zeitgeist. And, as it has been the last few months, I’m getting to everything late. I’m not known and, because of that, I can’t find a conversation or a place to fit into that model. I don’t have that local conversation anymore and I have tried — and often failed — to strike it up with many others using e-mail, Twitter and blog posts. I want to talk about video games with people and, outside Twitter, I can’t find a place to join or a community to be a part of.

I know this is less uplifting than I usually try to be. It’s also a great deal more information about my past than I usually give out too. But, I’m frustrated at where I am right now. Every time I think I have a chance to get step forward, I get pushed back. When I think I have finally settled into a role, I find out I was missing out on something. When I think I might finally be able to freely spend time analyzing and writing about games, I get pulled back down.

Are you talking about… ? Oh. No, I see. Yeah… days ago. That conversation has moved on, huh? And… ? Yes. Okay. You don’t want to talk about it anymore. Do you mind if I… ? Oh. Okay. No, I understand. It’s cool.

Heart’s aflutter: Commentary on Katawa Shoujo – Part 8

[Parts 1 – 7. td;dr > 3.9K]

Previously on Katawa Shoujo

Hisao met Lilly, a blind student at the academy. After spending a brief time getting to know her, they move to the library.

She give an appreciative smile at the gesture, taking the lead as we file in.

[…into the room.]

To the left is the wooden library counter, with the library proper being on the right.

[Blatant exposition and not actually internal dialogue.]

It easily dwarfs my old school’s library, with the distant smell of old books giving the place an almost old-world air.

[This is much better. Exposition is given but it is based in the point of view character.]

There don’t seem to be a lot of students here. Considering the time, it isn’t a big surprise; everyone’s probably either in the school grounds or the dorms.

[In the school grounds? They are buried?]

Lilly: “Yuuko, are you here?”

She says it to thin air since the librarian doesn’t seem to be present and of course Lilly can’t see this.

What’s unexpected is that it draws a reaction. Something from under the counter thuds against it, followed by a quiet wail.

???: “Awwww.”

The origin, apparently the librarian, quickly crawls out and bounces up to extremely rigid attention.

[Why is everyone really young looking at this school?]

Librarian: “Hi, LLilly. How can I help you?”

His voice is strained in a failing attempt to sound causal and she’s rubbing the back of her head.

Lilly: “Good afternoon. What happened just now? I heard a strange sound.”

Librarian: “It’s nothing. I just hit my head.”

Librarian: “See, I dropped an eraser under my desk and while I was looking for it a pencil dropped and when I was looking for both of them you cam and surprised me…”

[I don’t understand this response. Are we to understand that she is clumsy or that she might be lying about what she was doing? For example, I interpreted the scene as the Librarian sleeping under the desk and, once she heard Lilly, she hit her head.]

Lilly: “Are you all right? I’m sorry, I couldn’t know–”

[Couldn’t know? That’s a very strange turn of phrase. I think “Didn’t know” was intended here.]

Librarian: “It’s okay! It’s okay, sorry for making you worry.”

Librarian: “This is nothing, I’ve had worse happen to me.”

She’s quick to reverse Lilly’s apologies, almost frantically trying to push aside the possibility that she could be in any way inconvenienced by bashing her head on the counter.

Librarian: “Yes… worse things have happened, hehehe…”

[Hmm. This has some very strange overtones that I do not understand. What does “worse things have happened” mean here? Is that said ironically?]

The girl fidgets with her fingers as Lilly doesn’t seem to drop her concerned expression, and then she shuffles some papers around the counter for no reason.

A little shorter than Lilly, replete with glasses, freckles and a very troubled look, she seems to fit a library perfectly.

Librarian: “Ah, Lilly! Did you get my message?”

Lilly: “Message… hmm…”

Lilly: “Oh, the two imported books that arrived?”

Librarian: “Right! Right! They finally came! I can’t believe it took so long, but –”

Amidst her celebration, partially for managing to change the topic I’m sure, she notices me from the corner of her eye and freezes on the spot when she does.

Librarian: “Oh no, I’m sorry for not noticing you before!”

Librarian: “Did you need to check out a book? Or return one? I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

The way she can so quickly shift between moods is a little unsettling.

Lilly: “He’s with me, Yuuko, this is Hisao, a new student. Hisao, this is Yuuko, the school librarian.”

Hisao: “Pleased to meet you.”

Yuuko: “Hisao. Right. Hisao. Pleased to meet you, too, Hisao.”

For a second she visibly attempts to engrave the name on her mind so she won’t forget.

[“Visibly… engrave”? There is a better way to put this expression.]

Lilly: “Yuuko often arranges to import foreign books in Braille for me.”

Lilly: “Would you like to tell Hisao a little something about the library?”

Lilly’s innocent suggestion is met with an expression of abject terror.

[Because I really have to ask at this point, does Yuuko have a disability too? Other than, I guessing, some sort of agoraphobia?]

Yuuko: “I… Please Lilly, I can’t. I don’t know what he could be interested in. This is too much responsibility.”

[This is weird. Is Yuuko a student or faculty? If she isn’t a student, why is Lilly bossing her around like this?]

How it’s any responsibility at all I don’t get, but her objection is so sincere I don’t doubt for a second that she would rather disembowel herself on the spot than tell me where the light novels are.

[While I am willing to forgive the phrase “disembowel herself on the spot” — despite it being both graphic and bizarre — since this sentence does do a good job of presenting the character’s point of view, I really have to ask about “light novels.” Novels… make of light? Novella is the correct term for works longer than a short story but less than a novel. Of course, exactly what amount of words makes some a novella instead of short story is up for grabs. Either way, I’m confused.]

Lilly: “But…”

Hisao: “So, there are a lot of books in Braille here?”

I attempt to save the day by asking the first thing that pops into my head. It seems to work at least partially, as Yuuko seems to… not exactly relax, but at least look slightly less tense.

[“And as the man here, I knew it was my responsibility to reign in this crazy women with their ’emotions.'” Right, men?”

Setting that aside for a moment, I like that we see Hisao here as taking on the White Knight role. It gives us some expectation that he will attempt to “save the day” in situations and gives the player, in turn, a template to use for future reactions.]

Yuuko: “Well… I think about a third of a fourth of Yamaku’s library is either Braille or audio.”

Makes sense, given all the blind students that’d be here.

[Why state this here?]

Hisao: “If it’s only that, how come this library is so big in the first place?”

Yuuko: “Ummm, well, we get a lot of new books regularly because the library is adequately endowed. That’s probably why.”

Yuuko: “They spend more on new books than on my salary, and then I have to organize and shelve all of them.”

[Again, very strange. What is the text trying to say here? Is she whining about her job or confiding in a close friend about her troubles? I can’t tell.]

Yuuko: “It’s so troublesome and they weigh so much, I wish I could quit this job.”

[How did she get it in the first place? And what is keeping her here?]

A very awkward silence follows this revelation of too much information.

Hisao: “Ummm, I’ll go check the aisles then, if you don’t mind.”

It’s probably best for all of us if she doesn’t keep talking to me.

Lilly: “Very well. Meanwhile, Yuuko, I would have those books if it’s all right with you.”

My first impression was right; the library is surprisingly big.

Ambling down the narrow aisles, I study the spine of the books in random order, occasionally sliding one out to read the blurb, taking it with me if it looks good.

[Judging a book by its cover, Hisao?]

In a few moments I have a respectable stack of books in my arms.

[After a few moments.]

I guess I’ll never be stuck for choice in here.

The normality of the library sinks in. Sure, there are large-print and Braille books scattered throughout, but it is what it is: a library.

[See? It’s not that different, is it? Plus, “normality”? Really?

“Once I walked around some, I saw that it was like my library at my old school.”]

It’s as if the calm mood from the room I had tea with Lilly in snuck with us in here, unless it was here to begin with.

[Good moment here. I don’t understand why the calm is important exactly. I mean, I can see how, with a heart condition, being calm might be important, but that was not played up enough to make me understand it without really thinking about it.]

Something about that puts me at ease, just like before.

[Am I supposed to be connecting the library (good feelings) to Lilly (also calming)? Is that ii? Because, I feel like this is the setup that serves as the justification of player agency later. They can choose Lilly because she is linked to this idea.]

I reach the end of the aisle and find a collection of desks, set up for study or personal reading. Going a little further, though, I discover a nice quiet corner at the back.

While the rest of the library has the odd student sitting at a desk either reading or stealthily sleeping, the back is pretty much deserted.

As I glance around, I see someone who I recognize sitting on one of the several beanbags.

It’s the dark-haired girl from my class. The one who snuck out of the classroom earlier.

She’s reading a book, keeping it close to her face which makes her look like she’s really into it.

From the way she was acting today, I had her pegged as more of a delinquent than a bookworm. In fact, her mysterious disappearance from the class raises all sorts of whys in my head.

[Raises questions, you mean. But, yes, I agree that this is good here. We, as readers, are drawn into the mysteriousness of the dark-haired girl as Hisao is too.]

Intrigue floats slowly but surely towards the surface, and before I know it I’m walking towards the mysterious long-haired girl. I guess there’s no harm in introducing myself as I would with anyone else. She’s a classmate after all.

[Wrong word here. Curiosity floated. Maybe. Even then, it smacks of poetry instead of prose.]

Walking over to the another beanbag, I take a seat and lay my books beside it.

The girl starts, looking scaredly up at me from underneath her fringe.

[No. No. No.

The girl cannot “start” at all, unless you mean she was born. The girl is startled is the correct term. And I think that you meant to say that she looked through her hair, as if it was the curtain through which she looks out and hides from the world.]

This is the first time I’ve seen her this close. Underneath her long, dense bangs, I can see that part of her face, at least a third if not a half, is pretty badly scarred. My eyes are immediately drawn to the scars, subconsciously peeking past her hair until they meet her own eyes.

[At this point, I am thinking about Mattie Brice’s piece on the presentation of Hanako as the exotic erotic. I am supposed to be “immediately” drawn to the scars too?]

For a second, I am shocked, and divert my eyes to the book in her hands, befoere I realize that looking away probably only makes it worse.

[Yup.]

It takes too many seconds to collect myself and remember what I walked up to her for.

===Choice===
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.

Hisao: “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Purple-haired girl: “It… it’s okay.”

[Hmm. Is her hair dyed purple or is this a label to help the visual aspect? I’m not sure if this is a fourth-wall break or just a helpful way of pointing out who is talking to right now.]

The girl certainly doesn’t look like it’s okay, but I let it slide.

[I’m now thinking about how she got those scars. Did something happen that made her scared of people, sudden actions or some combination of the two? And, if I am thinking about this, am I following into the trap of only considering her physical appearance?]

Hisao: “So, umm… do you mind if I sit here?”

She seems to be very uncertain whether it’s okay or not for me to sit, but finally she nodes, just a little.

Purple-haired girl: “O… okay.”

I take the seat next to her, and she hides herself behind her book.

“Life of Pi”… Never heard of it.

[I don’t understand the reference, but it’s an actual book.]

Hisao: “So, errr… sorry again for startling you. I’m Hisao.”

She looks up from her book, stalling a little before replying.

Purple-haired girl: “I… know.”

Purple-haired girl: “We… are in the same… same class.”

Her speech is stilted and so quiet that it is barely audible even in the still library.

Somehow I think that my “delinquent” impression of her was wrong.

Purple-haired girl: “H-H-Hanako. I’m… Hanako.”

I resist the urge to say “that’s a nice name” just to have something to say, but really, it’s the only thing that I can think of.

I feel like an idiot. Everyone here must be used to being different to each other, and here I am being all bothered and fussed about that kind of thing.

[Yes, it’s interesting that most of the “disabilities” manifest in physical ways while yours is internal.]

Hisao: “Don’t let me interrupt your reading. I’ll… just check these books if you don’t mind.”

She nods a little, and sighs a little sigh of relief.

[Same word twice in same sentence.]

So I try to read the covers and the introductions of the books I picked up and she buries her face in her book.

Uncomfortable silence consumes us.

My eyes still wander to her direction, and I sneak peeks at her flowing hair and the scars it’s hiding.

[And I’m right back to wondering about this emphasis on looks again.]

After a while I realize that she’s doing the same, and only pretending to immerse in “Life of Pi.”

[How did he determine that?]

He gaze is not inquisitive at all though, it darts around like a scared rabbit.

[This says a lot about Hisao. He has been watching this poor girl enough to understand her looks and is watching her eyes at such length that he can infer her thoughts without her saying them.]

When our gazes finally meet, the chain reaction is unstoppable.

She stands up forcefully from the beanbag and takes a deep breath.

Hanako: “I…I…”

Hisao: “I…?”

Hanako: “IIvegottogodosomething!”

[Good moment.]

Without warning, Hanako takes off and runs towards the counter.

Her hare-like takeoff catches me so off guard that I don’t manage to go after her until she a good head start.

[While I don’t understand the rabbit metaphor in context with what I know about Hisao, I like that it is used again here.]

By the time I reach the counter she is nowhere to be seen.

Lilly and Yuuko are happily chatting away.

Knowing that I won’t be able to catch Hanako myself, I approach the girls.

Hisao: “Hey, did you see… er… notice a girl run past here?”

Yuuko: “Um, maybe… what did she look like?”

Hisao: “Long, dark hair. Kinda shy. She had… well.. some scars… on her… face.”

Lilly: “You wouldn’t be talking about Hanako, would you?”

Hisao: “Yeah, that’s her. I saw her reading and tried to tlak to her, but I think I scared her off or something.”

Lilly: “Oh dear. Yuuko, would you excuse me, I had better try and find her.”

[“Oh dear. Yuuko. Would you excuse me? I had better try to find her.”]

Yuuko: “S-sure. I’ll just hold onto these until you come back.”

Hisao: “Um, what’s going on?”

Lilly: “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to explain it to you some other time.”

Hisao: “Right. I’ll see you later then…”

Lilly hastily grabs her cane and hurries out of the library, leaving me alone with Yuuko.

Hisao: “I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of this place.”

Hisao: “Did I do something wrong?”

Yuuko: “What did you do?”

Hisao: “Nothing! I was just looking for some books and then she got this fit and ran off.”

Hisao: “The most offending thing I can think of was that I might’ve looked at her general direction a few times.”

Yuuko: “Well, she is a very timid girl.”

Yuuko: “You have to be very careful around her. She can be very jumpy, I think, and she’s not accustomed to tlaking with other people.”

Hisao: “Isn’t that a bit… strange?”

Yuuko: “I wonder… It’s just how she is, I think.”

Yuuko doesn’t sound all that convincing. Then again, maybe this is just the norm around here.

Everyone has their own problems, or else they wouldn’t be here.

[Hmm. This would be better if we knew more about how Hisao is judging everyone he meets. As it is, it works, but only in that I am unsure if this is more exposition disguised as internal or just a statement about the academy itself.]

Hisao: “But how should I deal with these people? Forcing myself to act overly casually only makes me feel phony.”

[He just said “these people.” Not. Cool.]

Hisao: “Like I was supposed to be ignoring the elephant in the room.”

Yuuko fidgets, looking like she wants to say something to that, but resists it.

Yuuko: “I think it’s an elephant only if you feel that way.”

[Good.]

I guess she doesn’t have a good sense of self-restraint. It makes me smile, and she blushes heavily.

[Whoa. This is weird. Am I supposed to assume Hisao is flirting with Yuuko?]

Yuuko: “W… what? Did that sound stupid?”

Hisao: “No no, it sounded really wise. I guess you’re right. It’s more about me than anyone else.”

[Yup.]

Neither of us has anything to add so Yuukp fills the silence by shuffling some papers around.

People who have papers on their desks really llike doing that.

[Gives us something to do most of the time.]

Yuuko: “Did you find any books? I should be closing soon. I mean this library should be closing. But I have to do it. I hope that’s not too inconvenient for you.”

Hisao: “Oh. Yeah, I want some books, but I left them over there because…”

Hisao: “… I’ll just go get them.”

I fetch my stack of books from beside the beanbags where Hanako and I were sitting and return to the counter.

Yuuko: “Wow. You read a lot, don’t you?”

Hisao: “I surprise myself with that too, honestly. At least, when I really think about it.”

[“Which, honestly, isn’t very often. Becaue, as you can tell, I’m pretty awesome. I don’t need no book learning.”]

Hisao: “I had a lot of free time earlier this year, so I just kind of… started reading books to fill that time. I couldn’t do much else.”

Yuuko: “I see.”

But she doesn’t say anything else, and just checked out my books for me.

I guess this is what they call “tact.”

Holding the library books with one arm, I trawl my pocket for the key to the door.

A sudden sound behind startles me, making me nearly drop the books I’m carrying or the key that I almost managed to get into the lock.

???: “Who is it?”

I turn around to see who is talking to me. It’s Kenji. He seems to be a friendly mood, although the light glinting off his glasses in the dark gives him a sinister look.

Hisao: “It’s just me.”

This makes him pause and lick his lips nervously.

Kenji: “Who is me? I don’t know anyone called me. Are you some new guy again?”

His voice is suddenly strained and quick.

[I notice the soil on his fingers and smelled the faint whiff of dirt about him. I knew knew, right then, that he had killed someone…]

Hisao: “Yes… but we’re met before. Yesterday.”

Kenji: “I don’t think so, I would remember someone who I met only yesterday. …When was that? What day is it today?”

I try to ignore him. Is he joking or what?

[This is very bizarre. I have no idea what this conversation is about nor why Hisao is having it.]

Kenji: “Prove that we’ve met before!”

Hisao: “You live across the hall. You’re Kenji.”

Kenji jumps back, his eyes filled with an uncomprehending fear.

Kenji: “How do you know my name? Damn, this can only mean one of two things: Either we have met, and you are telling the truth, and I don’t cvan’t remember it, or you are a spy.”

[Spy. Totally. Spy.]

He pauses.

[And so do I.]

Kenji: “A psychic spy.”

[Yup. That too. All of that.]

His eyes dart around me, trying to peek into my room, although it’s hard to believe he can see anything through those thick glasses.

[“Yeah, what a nerd,” says the man holding a stack of books.]

His mood swung from friendly to manic in less than a minute.

Hisao: “I’m not psychic.”

Kenji: “How do I know that? I’m not a mind reader.”

[Also, that’s not how it works. Hisao would read Kenji’s mind, not the other way around. Of course, if they were both psychics, and blocking each others signals, then it might be true. But that would just be wild conjecture.]

Kenji points a finger in my face damningly.

Kenji: “… Unlike you!”

Hisao: “Stop that, man. We met yesterday. What’s wrong with you? I live in this room.”

Kenji: “Lies. If you think you pass as Hisao because I’m legally blind you are sorely mistaken.”

Kenji: “You don’t even look like him. I mean, the resemblance is real, real slim. Maybe at a distance, but who do you think you’re kidding?”

I want to grab him by the shoulders and shake him. Exasperated, I rub my eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

Kenji: “Stay there.”

Kenji comes closer, once careful step at a time. I stay still, lest he assault me physically, although I doubt he could do much damage even if he did.

Kenji: “Oh, wait, I see it now. Damn, it really is you.”

[What was the purpose of this scene?]

Sighing again, and then once again for good measure, I step backwards, just in case.

Kenji: “What’s up, man? You don’t look too good. I think. Something wrong?”

Hisao: “I don’t know. Just had something stupid happen to me. A few stupid things, actually. Even if you discount this one.”

[Harsh, dude. Harsh.]

Hisao: “I can’t get a proper touch on other people here, and I have no idea if it’s because of me or becuase of them.”

[“Proper touch”? What, are you feeling people up or something?]

I don’t know why I’m telling this to Kenji. It’s not like we’ve had any contact either.

Kenji: “That’s rough, dude. Yeah, I’m sorry about calling you a psychic spy and all, but you can never be too careful.

[No, you really can’t. Maybe I’m a psychic spy.]

Kenji: “It’s the hard reality we live in.”

I’m slowly starting to think that Kenjo isn’t necessarily living in the same reality as the rest of us.

Kenji: “You see? This is how it is, this world. There is no justice. You see? Even when I lose, I win, because I don’t lose the lesson.”

Hisao: “…What does that even mean?”

Kenji: “It doesn’t matter.”

He dismisses it flatly with a wave of his hand.

Kenji: “So what happened?: Why the long face? Do you have a long face?”

[Oh, I get it. Blind humor. Ha. Ha.]

Hisao: “Eh, it’s nothing. I just scared some girl off accidentally. Literally too, she actually ran away from me.”

[You know what that’s like, Kenji? Don’t you?]