Love is Like a Good D&D Campaign: Advice on Relationships

As a general rule, I try to avoid discussing love and relationships on this site. This is an anime and manga blog first and foremost, and trying to dispense human advice on a regular basis would be too off-topic for my liking. However, I’ve noticed that there is an increasing sense of hopelessness, anger, and frustration among guys who feel alone, and attribute their loneliness to either structural issues about society or unchangeable flaws in themselves. I want to help, and my hope is that anyone who feels themselves teetering on the edge of destructive hate (either for themselves or for others) might consider otherwise.

When I was younger, I had convinced myself that I was inherently unattractive, that I was somehow lacking an inherent “it” factor that everyone else around me possessed. It was lack of confidence, a lack of looks, a fear of my own awkwardness—anything that fit my internal narrative. Whatever the “rules” of attraction were, they deemed me less than adequate. If love is like a video game, then I felt as if I was missing a controller to even begin to play.

However, I came to a realization long ago: attraction is only predictable to a certain point, and one’s ability to navigate uncertainty and empathize with others is what leads to genuine love. Indeed, if love is a game, then it’s not a video game RPG where you can level up, grind for the best equipment, and ensure success—it’s more akin to running a classic tabletop RPG such as Dungeons & Dragons.

In D&D and other games of its kind, the basic goal is to go on some kind of adventure, and the role of the GM (game master) is to oversee the journey. They provide a setting and a continually evolving story in the hopes of giving players an enjoyable experience. However, a good GM eventually learns that different people have different ideas of what it means to play a tabletop RPG. Some want to be heroic dragon slayers. Others want to explore the culture of the world. Certain players love to analyze the game mechanics themselves and optimize their characters for maximum effectiveness. Some might even love performing their character for an audience. Everyone has their own yardsticks for what is a “good” campaign, and the GM ideally works with the player(s) so that it feels more like fun than work. In other words, the “rules” of what works are subjective, and will vary not only from person to person but even sometimes from one moment to the next.

Human relationships are a very similar phenomenon. Some prioritize looks more than personality, while others might be the opposite. Tall and willowy might be one person’s ideal, while another might prefer hairy and burly. Shy and contemplative might win one heart, but fail to reach those who seek the bold and the daring. There might not even be a single ideal for a given person, and some don’t even realize what they truly want until they see it. Trying to see if there’s a mutual attraction is akin to figuring out what a player wants out of their D&D sessions—it’s a feeling-out process that involves understanding individuals as individuals. Yes, there are broad patterns of human behavior, but it’s the differences that become especially important. In other words, love might appear to be a rigid game beholden to codified rules, but all that really exists is a bare template that can be molded according to what the people themselves want. That foundation provides an environment for free-form interplay and reciprocation between those willingly adapting themselves to each other, and who want to create a shared and greater sense of enjoyment.

Sex and relationships aren’t “goals” to be achieved or a box to be checked off, or milestones that one must pass in order to graduate into true adulthood. They’re also not going to instantly repair whatever problems exist within yourself. Relationships can heal the pain inside, but it’s not about fixing what’s broken—it’s about people helping each other rise to greater heights.

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Hanasaku Iroha: Takako and Enishi

With a large portion of its cast being teenagers, Hanasaku Iroha has a good deal of interesting romances, but none are as cringe-inducing as the one between the young master of Kissuisou Enishi and the business-minded Engrish machine Takako. It is by far one of the most awkward relationships I have ever seen portrayed in fiction, and just seeing them interact with each other makes my face contort like I’ve been sucking on a whole lemon, but that’s also what makes it so fun to watch.

Enishi and Takako’s relationship is the kind where you know it looks different from their perspective compared to an outsider peering in. To them, it must be this wonderful thing where two people grew to love each other, but to everyone else (and that includes both viewers and the other characters in Hanasaku Iroha), their displays of affection induce a reaction similar to witnessing a 15-car pileup on the highway, only with a happy ending.

Because of all the awkwardness though, their romance comes off as strangely beautiful. The ideal partner is not someone who is perfect, but someone who can appreciate the real you on a deeper level, where they simply see you in a way no one else possibly could. This looks to be the case with Enishi and Takako, though I feel like the best reaction you could hope for from someone looking at the two of them is, “They seem to be a match for each other… I guess?” Then they make a face like someone just farted. it’s territory that no one wants to dwell in for too long, lest they come out more monster than man.

If I had to guess what Enishi sees in Takako, I think that her somewhat odd fashion, slight overuse of makeup, and frequent use of English phrases all speak towards a woman who is dedicated to success, able to perceive a goal and then do everything to reach it. Though it is really awkward to see her in action, that’s not how she looks in his eyes, and just the fact that he’s able to appreciate her because of (as opposed to in spite of ) the way that she presents herself in turn makes Enishi appealing to Takako.