Friday, July 20, 2012

.hack//Sign: How not to respond to a depressed kid's first success

.hack recap: Bear has come to the conclusion it may be necessary to track down Tsukasa's player in the real world, Mimiru has said she's going to give up and forget the whole thing, with a certain lack of certainty, and Tsukasa has been told to do whatever he wants, and not be afraid.

(I recommend actually buying .hack//Sign since my words don't really do it justice.  One can get either the DVD this episode is on, or the full series as a set.)

.hack//Sign, Episode 3: Folklore, Midpoint-16:05

We return from the mid-episode intermission to Tsukasa happily running through barren wastes with his Guardian, which he talks to like a loyal dog, ending with:

Good boy. Now we can go anywhere.

This is a major change, while we last saw the Guardian for a few seconds earlier in the episode in Aura's domain, the last time the Guardian went out with Tsukasa was when it felt the need to appear and attack Mimiru at the end of the previous episode.

It notably did not follow commands at that point. It notably did not act tame or well trained at that point. Tsukasa had no sense of power over it, and when he told it to stop it didn't. Bear and the Guardian began to attack each other. Then... well we still have yet to be told what happened after it failed to stop. That's being saved for the end of this episode.

That confrontation with Mimiru and Bear was also when Tsukasa first became aware of the Guardian's true power. The Sliver Knight, defeated by the Guardian in its first appearance, hadn't just been killed in game: the player was knocked unconscious and suffered from memory loss in real life.

Mimiru was very vocal in saying that that wasn't acceptable, and Tsukasa agreed.

At that point the idea of being able to take the Guardian anywhere would have been unthinkable, it had tremendous power to do very real harm to actual people, and it was beyond any means of control. It would protect Tsukasa, as it saw fit, but not listen to Tsukasa. It was a problem that needed to be solved and a dangerous thing that needed to be made safe.

Tsukasa appears to have done that. He definitely thinks he has done that. And that, in itself, is a major accomplishment. Before it was the case that innocent people might be knocked unconscious and suffer from memory loss just by playing a game. Now, it appears, that will not happen again. Tsukasa has fixed the problem and is justifiably happy about it.

And with that we change scenes.


This will be a Mimiru and Bear scene and before I get into the details I want to point something out that seemed to have failed to register with my last post on the topic. It was in my mind, but sadly that doesn't always mean it gets communicated.

When I compare Tsukasa to the hypothetical drowning man of the Ethic's 101 “What is your responsibility?” question, I think that's an apt if incomplete comparison because the peril is seriously on the level of drowning.

Inside the game Tsukasa may appear to be just a random jerk, and one's responsibility toward any random jerk is not that great. But once one learns that Tsukasa is trapped in the game, that changes everything.

If Tsukasa's consciousness is in the game then it isn't in the real world. We can think of this in terms of the list of things the BT cited as reasons that it isn't possible to be unable to log out by reexamining the question as whether it's possible to stay logged in all the time.

She said you can't be logged in all the time because people need to do things.  She talked about work/school and sleep. Here's two she didn't list: eat and drink.

Tsukasa's consciousness has been trapped in the game for about a week at this point, not completely sure how long, I'm guessing eight days but there's a margin of error on that guess. Definitely less than ten, but more than that cannot be said with certainty.

That means that Tsukasa's consciousness hasn't been taking care of the player's body for about the same amount of time. And no one in the game knows where that body is.

This is probably, “How long before someone dies of dehydration?” time.

Now we, the viewers, saw someone unconscious on the floor who may or may not have been Tsukasa (spoiler: it was) discovered and in the presence of EMTs at the end of the first episode so, especially for those like me who have seen enough to know that that person was indeed Tsukasa, we know that death by dehydration is probably not likely. We can assume that Tsukasa's player's body is in a hospital being supplied with water and vital nutrients.

Those in the show cannot. They do not know what we know, and that means that Tsukasa is on Schrodinger’s deathbed. He might be on the verge of death at any moment, he might be taking a nap.

That very much complicates the dealings with him in terms of responsibility, but even if we can assume he's not about to drop dead, he's still trapped inside the game. He's someone with a serious problem on his hands and that means he's not just random person the various characters happened to meet.  Feeling a sense of obligation toward him can't be compared to feeling it toward any random jerk.

And yet, in the game, the only place any of the other characters have seen him, he doesn't appear to be in immediate danger (no matter how much one might intellectually know he's in trouble), and he does appear to be a random jerk. So cutting him loose could feel like cutting off ties with random jerk.

Which brings us back to Mimiru's declaration earlier in the episode that she's going to give up and forget the whole thing, which was immediately followed by statements of concern and frustration regarding Tsukasa.

If Tsukasa were just the random jerk he appears to be, I have little doubt that she could follow through on that. But he isn't. Mimiru is the one person Tsukasa has confided in, she's one of only three people who currently know the extent of his problems. Tsukasa isn't just random person. He's random person in trouble, and from that Mimiru doesn't have it in her to walk away. That's my argument at least.


In the place of mountain and cloud, Mimiru is looking at a baby grunty which licks her (with its unbelievably giant tongue) with enough force to knock her off her feet, at which point Bear shows up.

When Bear asks about the situation Mimiru initially thinks he's talking about why she's been knocked to the ground and she responds with her usual light and cheerful tones, when he points out it he means why she contacted him, he tone drops into something less... good.

They walk to different place to talk, and begin one of the many conversations where the participants don't look at each other, Mimiru steps to the edge and speaks into the empty space, Bear stands behind her and listens:

I heard from him. He's asking if he can see me again but I don't want to see him right now. If we meet, we'll probably get into another argument.

So, first off, she's downgraded from never dealing with the situation again and acting like it never happened to, “I don't want to see him right now,” (emphasis mine) and furthermore she's not just ignoring the message, she's trying to make sure Tsukasa isn't left hanging. She's telling the only other person in The World, who actually gives a damn about Tsukasa what's happening.

Second, she's downplaying the problem somewhat. The last argument they got into was problematic for reasons well beyond it being an argument. It ended when an impossible monster materialized out of nowhere and started to attack her and she and Tsukasa could do nothing to stop it. Said impossible monster had just been established to be capable of physically hurting someone in the real world.

Which is to say, last time went beyond the bounds of a game and put her into actual real world danger. (Though the monster never tried to use the attack that would have done that, but she has no way of knowing that.)

Bear: So you want me to go instead?
Mimiru: *turns to face Bear* You got it! That's the idea. Can you do it for me?

Mimiru cheers up when Bear asks that, and turns on a bit of charm in hopes of getting him to say yes. Beyond that, I'm just breaking in here to point out that her method of not leaving Tsukasa hanging is to send a surrogate. Bear's method of not leaving Mimiru hanging is the same, by the way, but I would argue that Mimiru has better taste in surrogates.  (Even though it doesn't work this time.)

Bear: I understand. But am I really the right person?
Mimiru: You're not as good as me, but I think it'll be all right.

Bear's question is a good one. Tsukasa doesn't like Bear very much. Then again Tsukasa doesn't like anyone that much. The last meeting began with Tsukasa being pissed off that Mimiru brought Bear with her.

Mimiru deflects around all of this by responding with superficial arrogance, but it's there to hide something else and Bear sees through it:

Bear: You can't think of anyone else, huh?

There is no one else. At this point, early in the story, a grand total of three people know what Tsukasa is going through and that leaves Mimiru with the options of Bear and BT. Bear cares about Tsukasa's situation and wants to help. BT doesn't give a damn.

It doesn't matter if Bear is the best choice, he's the only choice. And Mimiru has another reason:

Mimiru: Besides, you were with me.

We flashback to the appearance of the Guardian, the flashback ends when it sends it's first shot toward Mimiru. Close ups on each of their eyes, and then Bear notices Mimiru's hand, clenched into a fist.

I am interested in the control scheme for the game. I wonder, for example, how it handles clenched fists. It seems like it could be the tightness of your grip on the controller determines the tightness of your grip in game. Gripping the controller really tightly while your character has nothing in zir hands would result in character having a clenched fist.

I don't think that Mimiru is using the clenched fist emote, so it would have to be something else, something that worked without you consciously realizing it was working. A similar thing would be in place for expressions, which the game also appears to generate from the player, in that case I assume a camera to get the player's expressions.

The show is set in the future (now past if you look up assigned dates, but I think it still pays to think of it as The Future) and I don't think that it's unrealistic to believe that a game could be collecting enough info in various ways that you are able to get a detailed sense of a player's emotional state based upon their avatar.

Anyway, I was distracted be the interface.

Bear: *trying to put on a light tone* Where do you want me to go?


Meet the church-cathedral-thing. It'll be an important place.

After warping in (which leaves him outside the church) Bear takes a moment to emotionally prepare himself and enters.

Tsukasa smiles when the door opens, then his expression drops when it turns out to be Bear.

Bear: Sorry, but I've been officially sent by Mimiru.
Tsukasa: She's not coming?
Bear: She said she didn't want to fight with you.
Tuskasa: She hates me?

So there are some things that I can comment on as, “This is a sign of depression,” and some things I can't because I really have no idea. Jumping to the conclusion that someone hates you because she didn't come when you called one time probably a decent bet it's related to Tsukasa's depression.

The way he's sitting, hugging a knee into his chest, letting the other leg hang, looking down and away from the person he's talking to even though said person is right in front of him, shoulders drooping, generally looking how I would look if you put me there... No idea whatsoever. Has there ever been a study of the preferred body positions of depressed and not depressed people?

Regardless, Bear tries to point out that maybe Mimiru doesn't feel that way, maybe it's all misscommunication, Tuskasa largely ignores that, but then comments that something isn't a problem anymore.

He's talking about the Guardian, no longer a threat to innocent people. The major problem that Mimiru vocally spoke out about at their last meeting has been solved.

Bear doesn't understand, because Tsukasa used very vague language, and thinks that maybe Tsukasa means he can finally log out.

After saying, “No,” in the same distant and dejected tone he's been using the entire conversation, something changes. He finally looks at Bear, his tone picks up:

You wanna see?

He doesn't get an answer, but it doesn't matter. He gets to his feet, he summons the Guardian. Bear is not impressed.

It's alright. Look.

He is first reassuring, then almost excited. An extremely muted excitement, but I think it's there in the, “Look.”

And then the Guardian shoots out a small tentacle that harmlessly falls into Tsukasa's hand.


There is no evidence that DVL asked or ordered Tsukasa to contact Mimiru this time. His last command was to do whatever he wanted and the first thing he wanted to do after establishing to his satisfaction that the Guardian was under control was to let Mimiru know that.

He was hoping to show here that she doesn't need to worry about something like what happened to the Silver Knight happening again, which she expressed strong feelings about, and she doesn't need to worry about what happened to her ever happening again because the Guardian is now under control.

He wanted to tell her, to show her, that her concerns had been addressed. She'd been right to think these things were horrible and those horrible things will not happen again.

Tsukasa has accomplished this thing and he's ready to share it with the person who expressed the most desire to see it accomplished in the abstract, and has a strong reason to personally want it accomplished.

Bear: What's “all right”? “See” what? I don't get it, boy.

Bear responds with a combination of incomprehension, anger, and condescension. Remember what I said about Bear and Mimiru not being Manic Pixie Dream People? Remember how I promised that they'd be human and fallible and said that they occasionally fuck up?

This, right here, is the start of a massive fuck up.

Tsukasa has spent his time so far alternating between fear and iritability, he's been down to the point that even Sora could notice his depression by seeing him from a distance from behind for a short time, he's had absolutely nothing good happen, and has been surrounded by problems and threats and so forth.

And now he's had his first success. He's made it so bad thing won't happen again, in fact his next line is:

It won't happen again. Don't you understand?

With the dub making explicitly clear he's referring to the attacks. There was a problem and he fixed it. And he's feeling good about that. He's engaged, for the first time he's actively present in a situation in a way that doesn't involve anger or fear.

He succeeded, he made it right, and he wants to share that positive with other people. He called up the person who spoke out most about it being wrong so he could share with her that he fixed it, and when she didn't show he tried to share this success with the person who did show.

A piece of advice: If you should ever find yourself face to face with a depressed person, teenager trapped in a video game or otherwise, who has had only one success in their life, and they're trying to share the positive experience with you, don't be dismissive and insulting.

Bear: You contacted Mimiru just to say that.
Tsukasa: *enthusiastically* Well, isn't it great?

Apparently not because Bear responds with more dismissiveness, the centerpiece probably being:

Is this really good enough for you?

and continues until Tsukasa gives up and warps away.

Carrying on with how not to respond to a depressed person's only accomplishment, saying it's not good enough is going to be at the top of the list of things not to do.

Now Bear has reasons for his actions. The last time he saw the Guardian he did not have a good time and seeing it again immediately put him into a negative place. Before that he misunderstood and thought Tsukasa might be saying he was able to log out which meant he was thinking about things on a level of solving the one big potentially life threatening problem that is his primary concern so in comparison training the monster doesn't seem as good in comparison.

He's knocked off balance by the entire conversation and he's not able to put himself into Tsukasa's headspace.

So I think his failure to respond in a good way is pretty understandable.

At the same time, he just tore down Tsukasa's one and only accomplishment. He took the only thing that made Tsukasa express good feelings and dismissed it entirely. He discouraged Tsukasa from reaching out to others with his, “You contacted Mimiru just to say that,” bit, and generally speaking he was more or less an ass when Tsukasa needed support and encouragement.

He probably needed something along the lines of... um. Attempts have shown that I'm not good at writing encouragement. Something that incorporates the idea that what Tsukasa did was good and impressive, and the idea that it means he really can improve his lot or something like that.

Getting the Guardian under control might not be the biggest deed in the history of deeds, but Tsukasa needed someone to tell him, “Good work.” What he got was Bear being, quite possibly, the biggest jerk Bear will ever be.

I'm not sure if that's because the events surrounding this were just right to push all the wrong buttons on Bear, or if instead Bear learned from Tsukasa's abrupt departure which he clearly didn't see coming.


As Bear leaves the church he bumps into Mimiru.

Mimiru: I couldn't just sit tight, so I came.
Bear: I've failed

Bear, yes you have. And this is probably where I end my argument that Mimiru can't give up on a person in trouble.

When she said she was going to cut him loose it was when she couldn't find him, and thus it really wouldn't be reducing his odds of getting through his trouble much anyway. Even then she couldn't really give up, waffling back and forth between declaring that it wasn't her problem and expressing concern for his well-being.

When he finally contacted her she didn't ignore the message, she read it, decided she didn't have the spoons, and then rather than just let it sit tried to do as much as she could to help by sending someone who did have the spoons.

And now, we find out that even that wasn't enough for her, she had to come herself.

She can't give up.*

Bear, meanwhile, is considering other avenues:

I may have to talk with the Crimson Knights.


I maintain that this functions like a Jackie at the crossroads kind of thing:
When it comes to it, this kind of moral crossroads is rarely experienced as a difficult dilemma. A choice must be made, but that choice will almost always by based on the kind of person making it — based on the character and habits and practice that have shaped that person up until this moment of choosing.

It's not the same because the decision does take time, there is waffling, there is difficulty, but the reason that the ultimate choice is inevitably going to be to not abandon a person in need is because of the character and habits and practice that have shaped Mimiru up to this point.

Her past choices have led her to be the kind of person that can't give up on someone in trouble.


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