Saturday, 4 April 2015

Hikikomori

I know how you feel mate...

































We all possess a kit-bag of tropes, and I'm no exception. The number of times I've chucked my hand in that bag to grab a ready-made simile and pulled out Ouroboros (the mythical Greek snake that swallows its own tail) doesn't bear counting. It's just such an easy analogue how prone I am to disappearing up my own arse.

I may have an addiction, you see, and as part of the first step to recovery I have to acknowledge that I have a problem: that problem, dear readers, is Ouroboros- and I promise not to do that again, though over the next few hundred words or so that's going to be tricky: I'm going to be writing about how a lifestyle slowly approaching that of the Hikikomori led me to play an anti-social role playing game (a solo adventure) about a hikikomori, and how that kind of led by various steps to me setting up this blog and then writing about how I assumed a lifestyle akin to a hikikomori which in turn....

Hikikomori: the phenomenon is well documented but probably deserves a brief summation here before we proceed. After all, in spite of making only a passing reference to RPGs this post already resembles a fantasy blog thanks to the esoteric terminology and oblique references to mythical beings: some clarity is in order. Hikikomori is a Japanese word that literally translates as "pulling inward": it refers to the social phenomenon of young people (usually- but not always- young men) confining themselves to their rooms. It also refers to the individuals themselves: thus, a socially withdrawn Japanese young person could be described as a hikikomori This story at the NY Times gives a broad overview of the phenomenon in addition to providing some social context.

Late one night, several months ago, I was aimlessly browsing the web in search of something to do. I suddenly had a flashback to a conversation with a friend a month or so before, in which he had mentioned an exceedingly weird video game RPG that takes place inside the dreamscape of a mute Hikikomori. Typing HIKIKOMORI RPG into my search engine of choice did not return the anticipated result, but something else caught my attention: a game by Ewen Cluney of Yaruki Zero Games. I'd been looking for a video game but instead stumbled upon a pen-and-paper RPG that I could play by myself, the rules of which are free to download here.

It's more a writing exercise than anything else, requiring only a copy of the instructions, a pen/pencil and some paper (or some other means of recording a diary and keeping a track of stats), and a pair of ten sided dice. The concept is simple: you play the role of an isolated hikikomori keeping a journal of seven relatively uneventful days in their life, You create a Hikiomori by rolling for a stat called "hope" and then randomly determining a few traits (including "obsessive hobby", "delusion" and "health problem"). Each day you must determine how the traits act upon you by rolling on a table and then record the results. You then decide what actions to take that day (including "do nothing" "overcome a trait" or "go outside"), the results of which are rolled according to how many dice you have for your hope stat.

Once all the random results are determined, it is then up to you to turn this into a coherent narrative to be logged in your diary. Here is where the game truly shines: unlike other solo games (I'm thinking specifically of the Jackson/Livingstone Fighting Fantasy series of my early youth) you are not being rail-roaded through a set narrative, instead the dice provide narrative themes which you must flesh out. There's something oulipian (and I'll be talking more about the Ouvroir de littérature potentielle on this blog in due course) about this which I love. I kept a record of my seven day game in a word document, which I'll post up on here as soon as I can.

The game is really a series of seven vignettes, concluding at the end of the imaginary week. There's no clear criteria by which victory is defined: at the end of the week, the character may have elected to end his own life, rejoin society... or remain in the same situation. In the words of the the game's author, Ewen Cluney:

"If you want your character to get out of his rut and rejoin society, or stay the same, or kill himself, or whatever, you can try to steer him that way, but a lot of stuff will come down to how the dice fall. The real game is turning all this nonsense into coherent writing."
The game was a really fun exercise, and is worth investigating if you are interested in the concept of potential literature (especially constricted potential literature). It certainly reinvigorated my (long-dormant)  interest in pen-and-paper RPGs, and got me thinking about the role players (not role-players) can have in determining the course of a game's narrative, beyond perfunctory dice-rolling whilst being rail-roaded through a pre-determined campaign scenario.

Incidentally, I did eventually find the video game my friend had recommended: those of you familiar with it will not need me to tell you that it was Yume Neki (let me google that for you). I confess I was somewhat underwhelmed, though the discovery that it had been made with software freely available online convinced me to start working on my own game using RPGM-Y2K3, and I'll be posting more about my forays into game development on any post thus labelled.

So: social isolation induced boredom led me to find a solo game online about social isolation, which in turn led me to a renewed interest in an activity in which I am unable to participate in due to my social isolation. I'm sure you realise that the irony is not lost on me, even if I haven't used the word Ouroboros more than once. twice. more than three times... 

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