Fresh Start

Let’s take a trip back to 2008.

I was a Japanese major in college at the time. A group of high school students from Japan was scheduled to come for a short visit later in the semester, and the professor of one of my classes set each of up with an e-mail pen pal from among them. The name of mine was Ryota Araki, although that I did not remember until I looked it up just now.

We exchanged a few messages back and forth, establishing that I liked novels and he liked American movies and pop music. When the time for the visit came and we met face to face, he gave me copies of Natsume Soseki’s Bocchan, Haruki Murakami and Shigesato Itoi’s Let’s Meet in a Dream, and Kyoichi Katayama’s Crying Out Love, In the Center of the World. In return, I gave him nothing. Not deliberately, of course; I’d simply forgotten all about the custom. But that didn’t wipe the look of disappointment I saw on his face from my memory, nor did my sincere apologies. I asked the professor if it would be possible for her to pass along a gift to him later, but as the set phrase goes, it could not be helped.

My grade in that class (a C-minus; my username on TLWiki, “I failed jp302”, is a white lie) probably had more to do with poor study habits and a game called Dungeon Fighter Online than that incident. My decision to switch majors shortly afterwards probably had more to do with a sudden impulse to do something more socially responsible with my life than become a translator, or whatever other meager jobs a college degree in Japanese might land me. But sometimes I wonder.

In any case, I’m not writing about this because the incident above is unique or particularly worthy of note in my life; it’s closer to the opposite. Ryota Araki probably doesn’t remember me or what I did. My professor probably doesn’t remember me or anything I did. And there’s no reason that I myself ought to remember this particular event. Yet it still surfaces in my mind occasionally, amongst many other trivial occurrences from years and years ago that I think about and regret to this day. Why?

I suppose one way to put it is that I have an irrationally well-developed sense of shame, and at times it feels like my entire personality is built upon it.

One exhibit is the way I handle online identities. There was a time when I was quite young where I wouldn’t be able to stick with the same name, or amongst the same online social circles, for more than a few months. When I accumulated too much karma, one might say, I’d simply have an irrepressible urge to de-attach myself from the online world and be reincarnated as somebody else, somewhere else. Eventually I escaped the cycle of virtual metempsychosis in its most literal form and managed to start sticking with each name for a couple of years, as well as drifting between communities rather than completely cutting ties with everyone I knew online. But I’ll never truly be free of the impulse, unless—or perhaps even if—I create some kind of attachment I can’t simply escape.

The catalyst for these transitions is usually some kind of event that I can find shame in remembering, whether that shame is well-deserved or not. Most dramatically, in my early teens I once posted on a forum that I would be committing suicide and proceeded to swallow a bottle of pills, which luckily did no lasting harm. (I was taking Paxil on the time, which I later discovered is known to cause suicidal thoughts, so I blame it upon that in retrospect.)

A better example might be that at present, the oldest online handle I still use is attached to a certain forum about a certain game series as one of the administrators. I have no interest in the game series any longer, and question why I ever did, since I never particularly enjoyed the actual gameplay. I was never particularly active on the forum itself (I ended up as an administrator solely because I was the one to step up and pay for new web hosting after the original host disappeared) and I don’t value many of the relationships I formed on it. Put simply, I’ve moved on. And I feel an irrational shame for ever having made that part of my identity in the first place. In the past, I would have reinvented my online identity over it; as it is, I’ve changed my handle away from that one most everywhere I still care about.

Sometimes I wonder if, paradoxically, I even seek out these catalysts. I tend to choose names based on some momentary whim that shortly afterwards just seems as if they reflect poorly on me. Take the one I use on this blog, DOZO. It’s reference to the game and anime Clannad. I don’t particularly like Clannad anymore; I’m not sure if I ever did. I don’t remember why I chose it. Maybe it was just for the momentary thrill of becoming someone new, in the awareness that I’d soon realize how poorly the name suited me and have no regrets leaving it behind for that reason alone.

Enough about identities. I’m not used to writing about myself. I tend to ramble quite badly, as you might have noticed, and I doubt anyone reading this finds it particularly interesting.

The point I intended to arrive at eventually is that this sense of shame affects my creative endeavors as well. I think of myself as a creative person, but my life has up until now been distinguished by an astonishing lack of productivity. Why it this? I started this website in 2010 intending to make a game; why haven’t I done so?

I know the answer to that question: because I would inevitably be ashamed of the result.

To make an earnest attempt at creating a game (or anything else, for that matter) without any limitations imposed by external forces—such as Ludum Dare, the only time I’ve had success by the slightest measure—would be to apotheosize my own limitations as an individual. The genre and scope of the game would be subservient to my capabilities as a programmer and designer. The appearance of the game would be forced upon it by my lack of real artistic talent. All of it would reflect my inadequacy as a self-motivationist (pretend that’s a real word) and my inability to swallow my pride and collaborate with someone capable of pursuing their own aesthetic vision, but needs help with the technical details. I’ve steadfastly refused to seek out such a person myself to assist me, both because that would be hypocritical and because I do not imagine I would have any success finding them.

Even to take the advice of Darius Kazemi’s slideshow FUCK VIDEOGAMES and just give up on the medium of video games as a means of creative expression feels as if it would be to concede defeat. That in itself would be shameful, even though at times I think some of my ideas would be far better suited to be written down as prose than shoehorned into some kind of RPG. So I still pursue the spectre of a perfect game that exists only in a fantasy where I’m a superhuman capable of creating it single-handedly.

When faux pas from years ago that ought to have been long forgotten by everyone still weigh upon my mind, how could I do something like make a game to the best of my abilities, and thus expose how meager those abilities really are? When I do make the attempt nonetheless, as I did just weeks ago in the Trials of Oryx (I probably should have tweeted about it but forgot,) I find myself sabotaging my own efforts, designing and programming things in such a way that it causes me problems later down the road and gives me an excuse to give up on the endeavor—often mollified by a promise to myself that I’ll try again some other time, starting over from scratch.

See, as this blog has reflected on an approximately yearly basis, I’m pathologically addicted to fresh starts.

In the context of the identities I was discussing earlier, a close friend once described me as such: “You make new identities because you see yourself as flawed in some way. If you don’t get it perfect, you can just change who you are and thus it’s different, a new opportunity to not be flawed, and to be perfect.”

I’ve gone beyond manufacturing identities to create new opportunities to not be flawed; as of late my fixation has been upon dates. Every new week or a new month, as they approach, gives me a chance to tell myself that things will be different this time. That somehow, mystically, the coming of November or December will be the impetus I need to change the way I’ve always been. The impetus I need to get over the irrational facets of my personality and finally accomplish something.

And maybe taking the occasion to unburden myself of all of this with a degree of candidness that nobody asked for will help, too.

So the New Year is a pretty special time for me. That I managed to go and write this is unusual enough; maybe I really can keep it up this year. Then again, I said the same thing to myself at the beginning of 2012 (and perhaps 2013, but even numbers are better) and didn’t. But it never does any harm to think positively, does it?

I wish an earnest Happy New Year to anyone who’s read this far. Let’s see if the both of us can get off to a better start this time.

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