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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The Potentially Positive Influence of Public Relationships in the Starcraft 2 Pro Scene

The release of Starcraft 2 last year has caused something of a boom in competitive video gaming, referred to in the community as “ESPORTS.” More and more, professional gamers around the world are becoming stars, and along the way the fact (or impression) that they’re “nerds” is celebrated; to be a nerd is to be smart and talented and even handsome. Made prominent is the idea that nerds can be attractive to the opposite sex, that these (mostly male) keyboard athletes have an appeal attached to their passion and drive for victory.  This is not a new concept, as is evident in the gigantic Korean Brood War scene and the fact that based on the screams of the audience you might assume that it’s John Lennon playing from that soundproof booth. However, a major difference is that while Brood War shows its players as owners of large female fanbases, competitive Starcraft 2 is showcasing couples far more prominently, both inside and outside of Korea.

Whereas Brood War pros will avoid answering the question of significant others (or will mention girls they once dated), Starcraft 2 pros seem much more willing to admit that they are seeing someone. Moreover, Starcraft 2‘s has what can be described as “power couples,” well-publicized relationships where both individuals are a part of the scene. Evil Geniuses captain Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson and Miss Oregon 2011 Anna Prosser, Startale captain Kim “RainBOw” Sung Je and his fellow teammate Kim “aphrodite” Ga Young, player/caster Trevor “TorcH” Housten and WCG Ultimate Gamer Rachel “SeltzerPlease” Quirico, Terran Emperor Lim “SlayerSBoxeR” Yo Hwan and actress Kim “Jessica” Ga Yeon, all are major examples of the public relationships that populate the Starcraft 2 community.

Part of this may simply have to do with the higher average age of Starcraft 2 pros vs. their Brood War counterparts. Where 20 might be considered an aged veteran in Brood War, some of the most talented and well-known Starcraft 2 players are approaching or even past their 30s, and with that comes possibly a sense of maturity and stability. It is also well-known that dating is frowned upon for Brood War pros for fear that it might distract them too much from the game, and no such taboo exists for Starcraft 2. While there are prominent married figures in Brood War such as Choi “iloveoov” Yun Sung, BoxeR’s former teammate and one of the most dominant players of all time, and Kim “January” Ga Eul, manager of the team Samsung KHAN, neither of them were active players when their significant others were made public. The “sex appeal” of the young Brood War player seems to be more along the lines of a K-Pop star whose relationship status is intentionally ambiguous to draw in more fans.

The reason that I am pointing all of this out is not to foster gossip about who’s dating who or to draw attention away from the games themselves, but to posit the idea that perhaps that seeing these relationships can potentially promote a different kind of lifestyle image for the nerds of the world. Rather than being a hit with the ladies, the professional nerd can be a hit with the woman of his life. You, yes you, can find a woman who will not only condone your geek lifestyle but will understand and actively support it. More than just an aspiration, the power couples of Starcraft 2 provide concrete examples that this is an attainable goal.  What is also clear, especially from the examples given above, is that these couples are not together solely because of an individual’s skill when it comes to their game of choice, but because of their character. In this way, progamers may act as role models in more ways than one.

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.

Post from the Past: “Ogiue’s Perspective or Why Sasahara is a Giver”

Note: Fellow anime blogger Pontifus recently posted his thoughts on re-reading Genshiken, wherein he discusses in part Ogiue’s developing feelings for Sasahara. This reminded me of an old post I wrote about the subject, pre-Ogiue Maniax, and I thought that it’d be good to share with everyone.

Keep in mind that this post is originally from 2005, two years before the start of this blog, and so not only had the Genshiken manga not quite finished yet, but my writing is a little more unrefined than even back when I first started Ogiue Maniax. I was considering refining it but I think I’ll let it run as is. I still think it makes a good point of just how Ogiue would start to fall for our main man of the Modern Culture Society.

——

In Ogiue’s fantasy yaoi world, Sasahara is viewed as an aggressor. This seems to run contrary to what we’ve seen of Sasahara’s character. Ohno seems to agree; she finds the idea of Sasahara being a “giver” to be unusual. And why shouldn’t she? She has known Sasahara for years now, and he has generally been a very passive individual and easily seen as spineless.

However, Ogiue has not known Sasahara since his freshman year and initial awkwardness. Ogiue initially meets Sasahara when he is Genshiken’s chairman. And while Sasahara is still fairly passive in general, there are moments where Sasahara is “uncharacteristically” aggressive.

First, is the scene where Haraguchi comes back in volume 5 to give Genshiken “advice” on their doujinshi. Sasahara tries to get along with Haraguchi as much as he can, politely saying that while Haraguchi’s advice is appreciated it is not needed. Eventually, as Haraguchi continues to press on in his unique annoying way, Sasahara decides to turn it around and asks Haraguchi outright to teach him everything. Ogiue reacts to this. So does everyone else. They’re all taken aback by Sasahara’s sudden decisiveness and the way he has shut down Haraguchi. At this point Haraguchi turns to Madarame asking if it’s okay, but Madarame points out that Sasahara is the current chairman. I believe this is moment is what gets the ball rolling.

Next, is the scene where Sasahara and Kugayama are arguing over the status of Genshiken’s doujinshi they are making for Comifes. Ogiue is seeing Sasahara yelling loudly and demanding that Kugayama actually stay on schedule, and this further reinforces her perception of Sasahara. The real killer, however, is the moment when Ogiue awkwardly suggests that she could do more work to make up for it. To make a stand against Kugayama, Sasahara says to Ogiue that she doesn’t have to do anything. In fact, they can just use a bunch of sketches from Kugayama’s sketchbooks.

Ogiue becomes silent. Then she starts crying.

This has more to do with the fact that she had put her heart on the line, and Sasahara’s words were probably interpreted by her as, “Sorry, but you’re not good enough.” The main thing is that Ogiue has now directly felt the aggressive side of Sasahara, and it has her in tears. It has made her feel vulnerable in a way up to that point we have not seen of her.

From these two examples, it’s easy to figure out why Ogiue thought of Sasahara as the giver in Sasa-Mada when she sees Sasahara pulling Madarame’s tie. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knows that lying underneath Sasahara’s normally gentle nature is someone who can be very active and commanding. And while she doesn’t even initially think this outright (she believes her own drawing of an aggressive Sasahara to be “impossible”), from her personal history with Sasahara, she had no reason to discard the idea.

——
Thinking about how much more happened after I wrote that originally, I think my initial thoughts hold up pretty well. The Sasa x Ogi romance arc reached its climax, with the two of them actually becoming a couple.

Ogiue’s view of Sasahara as “pitcher” comes from the fact that he has a quiet, gentle confidence about him.  It might not be a strong, hyper- masculine or ever-present confidence but it’s still there. It really shows by the end, and I think this contributes significantly to not only the feelings Ogiue develops for Sasahara but also Sasahara’s eventual success in winning her affections. For Ogiue, who had been searching for a way to reconcile her passion for manga and yaoi with her own self-doubt and sense of shame, Sasahara becomes what she needs, providing just the right amount of emotional support.

Man, Genshiken is awesome. Just thought I’d remind you of that.

On Relationships in Genshiken

Genshiken walks a dangerous line by having almost all of its members end up in romantic relationships throughout the course of its run. I have seen the occasional criticism from both English-reading and Japanese-reading people that perhaps the tale of Ogiue is too idealistic, and that at that point Genshiken moved from being a realistic portrayal of otaku to being a sort of wish fulfillment for otaku. While I think that there is a good deal of optimism within Genshiken, I don’t think it’s unrealistic for these incredibly hardcore otaku who comprise Genshiken to have boyfriends and girlfriends, for one important reason: All of them put effort either before or during their relationships.

Saki and Kohsaka are the most normal couple by far, but Saki’s acceptance of otaku has largely to do with her interaction with Kohsaka. They got together fairly simply, and largely due to physical attraction, but the fact that they stayed together through 4 years and their interactions when on-panel show that a lot of progress is made that we are not immediately aware of as readers.

Tanaka and Ohno, even disregarding the anime’s interpretation of how they got together, have a relationship that was fostered through continuous friendship and time spent together. Tanaka not only has good qualities about him, but he has shown these good qualities to Ohno.

And finally Sasahara and Ogiue. While I understand very well the difficulty of a relationship with someone who is into primarily boys’ love, I also understand that Sasahara and Ogiue make a concerted effort to understand and support each other. The entire build up to Sasahara alone with Ogiue in her room was made up of sweat and tears and painful amounts of soul-bearing. And even after that, they know that a relationship isn’t that easy, but to them it’s well worth it.

Otaku being in relationships with attractive individuals isn’t unrealistic, but being in relationships without putting forth any effort IS unrealistic. I’m not saying that romantic relationships are a must for otaku, but then again I am. Otaku are people too, after all.