Looking Forward in the New Year

I’ve never really been one for New Years Resolutions. I think it’s silly to have to wait for a certain date before you can resolve to make positive changes in your life. But I’m going to give it a try this year, because I’ve learned something about making a resolution and sticking with it, even when it gets hard. Since the mini-gashuku, I’ve continued getting up and heading to the park at 6:30 to train. Sometimes I’m joined by others, but sometimes I am not. Forcing myself to get out of bed when I’m not getting enough sleep is hard, but it’s even harder to arrive at the park and realise no one else is coming. I feel cranky and tired and bitter, and then I make a choice. I allow myself to be cranky and tired and bitter, or I choose instead to appreciate having a lake nearby to drive to, fresh morning air to breathe, friends that I’ve made (Hey, it’s Fluoropants! Oh and look, there’s Crunches Guy! And the Maltese Walkers are here again today! Haven’t seen Kid With Dog lately though) and so forth. Actively choosing to be happy in spite of how easy it is to be self-piteous is hard for me most of the time, but I’m grateful for the practice. I want to keep pushing myself, to be uncomfortable and tired and sore and still choose to smile. So for the moment at least, I’m going to keep up with my training. Who knows how long it will be for? Maybe a whole year, wouldn’t that be spectacular!


Anyway, there are a couple of things I really want to work for this year, so I’m going to list them down below. Goals change like wind so I’m not going to be overly attached to them if I realise there are more important things than meeting them. But nevertheless, here are my resolutions for 2015:


  1. Get a (mostly) full-time social work job. That means 4-5 days a week. And it can be two part-time jobs. But they have to be regular, and at least one of them has to be in the social work field. It’s time I utilise my degree and pursue meaningful occupation.
  2. Move out of home. In John Marsden’s Secret Men’s Business, one of the best books ever written for young men struggling to find themselves, he writes that it’s important for a young man to move out of his parents’ house as soon as he has the means to. Leaving the protective bubble of the nest to find out what sort of man I am, what I’m capable of, what I like and what I’m good at, these are the things that are long overdue for me. In the next few weeks, I hope to be moving in with some friends from the dojo, hopefully within walking distance of the honbu.
  3. Get my black belt. Hm…. That’s not really even a goal. It’s just something that’s going to happen if I keep training. I don’t especially feel like a black belt, but I don’t think I ever will so now’s as good a time as any.
  4. Hm… Nope, that’s it. Just those three. Two, really.


As I said, I think waiting for a particular date is pretty dumb. If you want to do something, just do it right? (Unless you have other things that you need to do, in which case do them first.) Right now, I’m learning more and more about who I am and what I enjoy. All this running and training has been a great learning experience for me. I’ve had a few job interviews and another one coming up soon. I’ve really gotten into Katawa Shoujo, and it unfailingly teaches me more about myself as I witness Hisao and his companions figure out their own identities. I am studying Japanese, I am practicing the piano, and I am doing things every day that I love. Life is good for me right now, and I’m very grateful for every opportunity and every blessing. I wish you all a peaceful and nourishing new year. Hopefully it will be a good one!


PS: Just printed off and finished this most excellent New Years Resolution page from the Secret OWL Society. I had to sign up to a miling list to get it but it only took a minute or so.img003

Katawa Shoujo: Rin’s Path

As per usual, after I finished another storyline in Katawa Shoujo (one that unfailingly brought tears to my eyes) I spent a day staggering around the house like a stunned mullet, not being able to settle at any activity or concentrate on any conversation because I was so preoccupied making sense of my experiences. To help me process the incredible ocean of emotions (I’m sure that’s a saying. Someone at some point has surely coined that phrase) and jumble of thoughts, I blurted it all out on WordPress so that I could see it and make sense of it physically. This post contains spoilers about Rin’s storyline. I thought about tidying up the post, but I think the disorganised mess I became says something about the incredible emotional impact of the game. I’ve added some pictures though, because Rin man. Rin.

(I also spent several hours re-writing the Wiki page, because whoever edited it before me was a little clumsy and didn’t do her the justice she deserved. (I also touched up Lilly’s page, but the writers before me did an excellent job.))



I just finished Rin’s storyline, and I regret to say that I messed it up the first time around. I tried to make her explain to me what she didn’t have the words for. Hisao blew up and yelled at her in the atelier and she told him to leave because art was the most important thing in the world to her.

Rin is fundamentally different to other people in the way she sees the world and makes sense of her experiences. I mean, we’re all different. But she is so different she finds it hard to understand or relate to other people. That’s so difficult for her. And yet she is the same as people as well: she has feelings, even if she struggles to understand where they come from or what they mean, and she has the same yearning for connection and love. It’s easy to brush Rin off as “that weirdo” and never bother to try and deepen the connection, but Hisao did in a way that Emi didn’t: he persistently tried to understand and support her. He did it because he loved her, even if he wasn’t aware of it; all he knew was that she was important to him and he wanted to be part of her life.


She frustrated him by being aloof, by not understanding how he was feeling, by literally shrugging off things that he felt were important. He could not comprehend or connect with her, and his desperation to force a connection pushed her away. At different times they both tried to elevate their relationship, thinking it would be easier to deal with the confusion of not really knowing one another by ignoring it, kissing or more. In reality it just made it more confusing because neither of them knew what they wanted. (Hint: all they wanted was to accept and connect with one another.)

At the end, they are happy. Hisao feels that he understands her more, and that he can continue to reach out and connect with her (at least, every now and then), and that makes all the confusion and frustration worth it. Rin resolves that she is allowed to be herself: the sky, forever changing and perfect. She does not know who she is, but she’s okay with that. Hisao does not know who she is, and he’s getting better at being okay with it. (He’s trying to worry less and to live in the moment more.)


In the end, the distance between them is still there. But Rin gains the awareness that Hisao terrifies her because he’s kind to her (which confuses me) and she feels he wants her to change. He laughs it off, realising that he doesn’t want her to change, he loves her for who she is. He just wants to understand her better to that he can support her more. Rin accepts that, even though it’s scary, she’s willing to let him into her life, to be her friend (or something more).

Despite getting the bad ending early, there are still a few locked scenes. I’m not sure where to find them, but there are a few paths left that I haven’t gone down. It will be a bit of a heartwrench to replay the initial scenes where their relationship is still so early in its development, but it’ll be worth it. Just not right now – I still need time to process it. I’ll read the Wiki page on Rin’s branch later as well, and that blog that I was linked to. I’m glad I’ve played Rin’s story, but it’s the least satisfying for me because Hisao has changed in a way I find difficult to relate to, and Rin confuses and frustrates me with her difference. I find her so sweet, but she is also kind of unattainable, like (as Hisao observed) there’s a physical barrier that separates her as she walks her path of dreams and butterflies.

What a happy and confusing story.


To read my experiences of romancing the other girls, you can find them here:
Shizune and Misha
Lilly (2nd playthrough)

EDIT: I think what frustrated me most about Rin’s path was the lack of communication between the two. They just couldn’t see eye-to-eye, and so Hisao hardly ever got to understand how he was feeling or what it meant, and Rin hardly did either. I am a big fan of self-awareness, realisations and anagnorises in general. These were found in in Lilly’s story (where he realises he was always being supported by her and he never tried to support her in return) and in Emi’s story (where he realises she never lets him in and that it’s desperately important to get close to her somehow). His progression through Rin’s story feels (at least right now) like he just sort of bumbles his way through it, never really sure of his feelings for her and never trying to understand them, just being vaguely aware of them in his subconscious.


DOUBLE EDIT: I’ve realised something else that bother’s me about Rin’s storyline. Hisao doesn’t focus on his future profession – he’s too worried about his relationship with Rin. I can hardly blame him – I was the same – but it bothers me that he didn’t make any plans for what to do after graduation. And Rin’s unresolved future career worries me a little as well – did she end up throwing away a potential life as a career artist? I suppose those questions don’t need to be answered within the scope of the game – it’s something that she and Hisao will work out later (in their private time beyond the captured life on my computer screen). (It really does feel like they have lives of their own that I’m somehow privy to.)

TRIPLE EDIT: Re-reading my previous blog post about starting a new game, I’ve come to a new conclusion. This is a novel. I am reading (so to speak) about characters interacting with one another. I am witnessing their lives and their interactions, their thoughts and their feelings. I am witnessing them falling in love. I can relate to their feelings, their thoughts, their relationships. And I can admire and fall in love with the people in the story as well as I get to know them better and better. As I spend more time with them, in the sense of “witnessing/reading their lives as they open up to Hisao”. And that is a beautiful thing, which creates very real feelings in my own heart. I am so glad this is so well-written. Hisao is not my avatar, or somehow an expression of me: he is just a character whom I can relate to, whom I am fond of, and who interacts with other characters in a story that I love.

QUADRUPLE EDIT: I’m not sure how I feel about the emphasis on the “present” at the end of Rin’s story, after they’d made love. Hisao goes on about how important it is to live in the present and not worry about the future, and Rin’s tagline is “seize the day”. Not to be simplistic, but that struck me more as Emi’s thing than Rin’s. But I guess appreciation of the importance of mindfulness and not being able to change the future by worrying about it doesn’t have to be exclusive. [Just looked it up: Emi’s tagline is “Can you stand up for yourself?” In retrospect, that is more her thing than “Not worrying about the future”, but both of them can certainly relate to it.]

I do like the recurring theme of “aliveness”, how we know we’re alive by being present, right here, not worrying about even a second later.




QUINTUPLE EDIT: Having spent several more hours on the Wiki page, I realise that understandings of friendship are actually one of the central themes of Rin’s story. She says she’s never had friends; Emi is more of a big sister, Nomiya is more of an Uncle, and Hisao is… something else. Defining that “something else” is one of the driving elements of their relationship. At first he considers himself a friend because they spend time together, they fight and make up and they talk a lot. Later she wonders whether friends are physically intimate, whether they can be lovers. Hisao struggles with this as their relationship continues to evolve in undefinable ways. Such profound commentary!

Things I Learned from Group Therapy

After a challenging student placement that saw me withdraw from university, I decided to seek out a counsellor. I attended weekly group sessions for about two years where I learned a lot about myself, the world and other people. I wanted to write down the key lessons I have learned in case I ever forget them, and in case they are useful to others. This post is the very essence of everything I have worked towards since I chose to do something about my mental health. In no particular order, here are the life-transforming lessons:

  1. It is more important to give energy than to take it. When I say energy, I mean love, attention, kindness.
  2. Don’t be so selfish all the time. Other people matter just as much as if not moreso than you.
  3. See each person as beautiful and love them. Open your heart to everyone you meet.
  4. Centre yourself when you are adrift. When you realise you are acting in a way that dishonours your most authentic self, take a breath, centre yourself, and then do what you need to do. (Be part of the Way.)
  5. Life can be tiring, but giving energy to others is invigorating.
  6. When you start to change, you meet resistance; keep changing. When your old beliefs fight for importance in your life, keep walking along and choosing your new beliefs. The more resistance, the more profound the breakthrough if you don’t give in. (There is always resistance before a level jump, a shift in energy.)
  7. Be mindful. The world is full of miracles to witness. Don’t miss out on them.
  8. One small success is worth celebrating over x amount of failures.
  9. If nothing changes, nothing changes. If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. We must change if outcomes are to change.
  10. There is a whole world outside of your head. Don’t forget the ducks.
  11. Listen when people speak, don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
  12. If you concentrate on stressors, particularly negative feelings in your body, they amplify. Focus on something else and they diminish. They rely on your attention to become important.
  13. Everyone has their flavour, even if they don’t know what it is. We are irreplacably unique, and we change the world in our own ways.
  14. You can find out who you are by cutting out the unnecessary things in your life and challenging yourself to do what scares you.
  15. Cherish life. Be aware of death; none of us can say we won’t die today. It’s better to let go now rather than kick and scream at the end.
  16. In a nutshell, all of the group therapy was about learning what was important in life and then pursuing it, rather than wasting time and energy on things that didn’t matter. No one on on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had more time to earn a few more dollars.”
  17. All people are broadcasters and receivers of energy, whether they know it or not. We affect the people around us just by what we’re sending out. Don’t be a drag on other people: uplift them, support them and give generously.
  18. We can’t stop thoughts/feelings from coming in. We can choose whether to hold onto them.
  19. It takes time for change to manifest. There is sometimes a delay in applied efforts and visible results. Don’t be disheartened.
  20. Let go of things that are not helpful. Hold them if you need to, but then tell them to someone, let them go, and don’t pick them up again.
  21. Writing or saying affirmations are a stand in time. They are a way of standing up to all your old beliefs, saying “I don’t need you any more,” and choosing to believe something different.
  22. Happiness is not a thing you get and keep forever. It is an attitude, at every moment of every day, no matter how you’d rather feel instead.
  23. Let go of your tight hold on things. You’ll be happier.
  24. That means you don’t need to work everything out. There’s no need to. It’s not your job to. It doesn’t improve your life to.
  25. Letting go of fear facilitates peace. You will never become peaceful by running from what scares you.
  26. Running from what scares you makes your fears stronger. It gives them power. Every time you get scared you have the choice to empower yourself, or empower your fear.
  27. There are three levels of becoming an active agent of change: 1) feeling without any idea what’s happening; 2) becoming an observer of one’s thoughts and feelings, and; 3) standing at the bridge of your authenticity.
  28. When you start to go into the whirlpool of stress, focussing on problems and negative feelings, the thing you need most is a slap in the face with a wet fish. That is to say, a reality check, so that you don’t keep contributing to the spiral of stress and you realise that actually things are pretty okay. (See Point 10.)
  29. Difficult people can be seen as gifts, treasures and teachers: as opportunities to learn what you still need to let go of. Thank them for it.
  30. Whenever you think of someone that has hurt you, send them love from your heart and wish them the best. It will make it easier to let go of them.
  31. When you have your head stuck up your arse, try caring about other things and other people to break the cycle.
  32. It can be impossible to project a positive future when you’re stuck in an anxious mind-set. But trust me, the future can indeed be positive and bright, even if it’s hard to imagine.

Another self-imposed mini-gasshuku

Unfortunately, the gashuku that I was so yearning for was postponed for this year. In lieu of the much-needed training, my friend and I committed to meeting in a local park, practicing taiji and going for runs together (sometimes joined by another member of the dojo). Every morning last week we met at 6:30 or 7am and practiced the form and its applications, as well as going for a run around the lake (between 1.6-4.8km depending on how many laps we did).


The first morning was fantastic – my body felt fine, and I felt utterly invigorated by the early morning air and bright light. There ducks and moor hens and ibises and so many people walking their dogs, it was hard not to enjoy the atmosphere. The second morning was a bit harder – my legs (so generous the day before) had cramped up pretty badly from the running I hadn’t done in a year.  I tried not to complain about them, but it was hard for me not to share my pain with others. They continued to carry me despite their protests, and the third morning was a little easier, and by Friday they weren’t hurting at all. I realised that at some stage during the week my default setting had become “tired and sore”, and so I lost the urge to complain. It was tremendously liberating not to feel the need to draw attention to how hard things were for me, because that was just what life was like, nothing extraordinary about it. I realised that sometimes it’s good not to be too comfortable.


That initial week of training having passed, I’ve resolved to continue, at least for a little while. I have to say, I’m a bit addicted to that rush of endorphins when I’m flying through the park at a full sprint, the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, the air fresh in my lungs. It feels like being alive. And that is a wonderful thing. I’ve discovered it’s much more enjoyable to run with company, because running by myself allows you to focus more fully on how sore and tired I feel, and how maybe I don’t need to run that extra lap, and how annoying the bugs are in my face and so forth. Zombies, Run! certainly helps, but nothing beats company.


I don’t know how long I’ll keep up my schedule – I think the lack of sleep is starting to affect me a little more than I realised – but I’m enjoying it for the moment so I’ll keep at it. If you ever feel like joining me, meet me at Tomato Lake at 6:30am. Don’t be square!

Katawa Shoujo: Emi’s path

This is not a well-written or edited piece. I was originally writing it just to get the thoughts down on paper, so to speak, but I thought I might as well share it in case there are other people out there who are interested in KS. It also contains spoilers about Emi’s storyline, if that’s important to you.


I finished the second story arc of Katawa Shoujo last night, this time engaging in a romance with Emi. It is still very much a visual novel, but I must concede that, having the perspective of completing the game twice so far, there is a definite focus on picking a girl and developing a romantic relationship with her (i.e. it’s a dating sim). However, that does not detract in any way from the masterful characterisation of each member of the game’s cast, including Hisao.

To my surprise, Emi was not just a chirpy, clumsy girl who liked running. She was a profoundly deep person who had experienced severe trauma, losing her legs and the person she loved most in the world. To protect herself, she forged the belief that she was strong enough to get through life literally on her own two feet. This is one of her unshakeable core beliefs. Coupled with it is her reluctance to let other people close to her because she’s afraid of losing them. The very fact that Hisao (and the others that love her, including Emi herself) are aware of these beliefs is a remarkable testimony to his powers of empathy. (In fact, that’s one of the things I love most about this visual novel. That it’s so well-written the characters themselves are not always aware of what’s going on, and the readers aren’t necessarily either. There is so much self-discovery to be found, every realisation, every anagnorisis is brilliant and satisfying and enlightening.)


What I hadn’t noticed to quite the same extent is that Hisao grows, as well as the girl he is romancing. In this iteration of the game, he chooses to watch his diet and look after his heart by running consistently (without recklessly pushing his limits). Later, at Emi’s Mum’s house, he is conscientious of how much he is eating and whether it’s healthy or not. The Hisao that romanced Lilly would never have paid attention to that kind of thing. He has grown into an entirely different person. For better or for worse is not possible to say, just different. And I really respect that.


One of the things I find most difficult about the game is how much I love each of the girls. I’m so happy for Emi because Hisao taught her to open up, and forever changed her life for the better. But I mourn not being friends with Hanako and Lilly, and improving their lives, too. It’s pretty profound commentary that we all actively and passively influence the world around us. It makes me wonder what sort of person I want to be, and what sort of change I want to bring into existence around me.


To read my experiences of romancing the other girls, you can find them here:
Shizune and Misha
Lilly (2nd playthrough)

Gamergate and what it means to be a gamer

In an unprecendented slew of blog posts about video games, this one’s been sitting on the back burner for a little while. I know I’m late to the party, but I want to talk about Gamergate, and what it means to me to be a gamer.


So first up, what is Gamergate? That’s actually not so easy a question to answer. It started off simply: one female developer made a video game, and she copped a lot of flak for it. A rumour was started that she had been sleeping with people in the gaming industry to get publicity for her game, and this (probably false) allegation caught on like wildfire. Lots of people joined in to deliver some truly terrible harassment, even going as far to coordinate flaming across social media. Her phone number and address were shared publicly, and she was forced to leave her house due to the overwhelming number of death threats (and worse). This raging hatred soon spread to other prominent gaming women, including the feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian.

Some people realised that all this misogyny was not a good look for the gaming community so they turned the focus away from “women deserve to be discriminated against” to “corruption in games journalism is wrong”. On a surface level, people supporting the #Gamergate movement advocated for higher levels of ethical standards in game journalism. But generally speaking, most of the conversation happening around the hashtag Gamergate continued to be impassioned expressions of discrimination and hatred, generally directed at people like Zoe – small, independent, crowdfunded devs, not big game companies.

#Gamergate became so big of an issue that Intel gave into their demands and removed advertisements from a website that Gamergate was criticising. (This concession to their demands made it seem like Intel was supporting them and they eventually apologised for appearing to take sides with them.) Whilst normally the best way to stop a troll is to ignore them, it seems this is not possible as Gamergate supporters demand to be heard by forcing people to listen under threat of violence. Anita Sarkeesian’s recent talk at a university was cancelled because someone threatened to start a mass shooting if they let her speak. It’s one thing to ignore a troll, but it’s quite another when they start shoving guns in your face demanding recognition.

There’s still a lot of confusion about what #Gamergate supporters actually want, or how to go about getting it. There’s a lot of contradiction in what they’re fighting for – some want more equal representation of women in games, others insist that over-representation of women is unnecessary. They’re arguing that not all gamers are young white men, but at the same time they attack gaming sites for discriminating against young white males who are supposedly the “primary audience”.


At its heart, some would say that #Gamergate is about straight white men struggling with their insecurities in a world that no longer revolves around them. They hate having games deconstructed to reveal the existence of a privilege that they’re happy to overlook. The fact that these conversations are happening at all is deeply threatening to them. The Guardian comments that we live in an age of radical feminism, where sexual consent is being reframed, women are being more fairly represented in media and that violence against women is no longer publicly tolerated. Men have felt deeply insecure about this for many years now, and Gamergate seemed to tip many people over the edge. In a way, it is a soap box that allows men to yell for a while to let everyone know that “I am still important!”


And I can relate. When I first watched Anita’s video on Damsels in Distress: Tropes vs Women in Video Games, I didn’t want to hear that Zelda, my favourite series of all time, was promoting discrimination, disempowerment and outdated patriarchal values. Part of me just wanted to say “Shut up. You don’t know anything. This game is amazing, I’m allowed to love it if I want to.”

But while I felt hurt, challenged and insecure (because my core beliefs about something I love were being criticised), I was also able to process it and respond maturely. While I found her critique to be uncomfortable, she had every right to say it, and I could recognise that at least part of the reason it made me uncomfortable was because I knew it was true. She opens her Damsels in Distress video by stating that it’s not only possibly, but perhaps necessary to both enjoy media and be critical of its subliminal messaging, and she does a damn fine job of deconstructing things I had taken for granted for so long. It opened my mind and changed me for the better, rather than causing me to dig my heels in wave guns around (literally or figuratively).


Part of the fallout of the Gamergate movement was that various gaming sites published articles calling for an end to the term “gamer”. The essence of the articles was that fewer people wanted to be identified as a gamer, now considered a negative term, and that games should be for “people” rather than any one specific identity.

I myself have never sat comfortably with the label of a “gamer”. When you buy a product from Nintendo, they invite you to register it on their website and fill out a short survey. One of the (extremely simple and binary) questions is: “What sort of gamer are you? Casual – Hardcore”. For a long time I put casual, because I didn’t spend 8 hours gaming every weekend, staying up all night doing marathons, raids and tournaments like some of my friends. But then I realised that most people who identified as casual gamers were the ones who just played candy crush or tried out Space Invaders that one time.

When I did start identifying as a gamer, I wasn’t always sure what that meant. My “gamer” friends seemed to be completely different; some would play for hours a day, others for hours a month. I became reluctant to be associated with certain types of gamers – like people who exclusively played Call of Duty and yelled obscenities at each other all night long. The definition of what a “gamer” is seems to be in constant flux, with #Gamergate drawing so much attention (mostly negative) to the issue, now moreso than ever.

The word “gamer” is just another label to describe part of who I am and what I love. Just in the same way I don’t feel the need to tell people that I’m learning Japanese, I study karate or that I wear glasses, I don’t feel any need to describe myself as a gamer. Rather, I’m just someone who enjoys gaming, and to whom video games are an important part of life. I cherish that which I love about games, and I celebrate games that teach us to be better human beings.


The nature of the gaming world is changing, and for the better. Although they might apparently be the primary audience, young, white, straight males are losing their battle to remain the majority. In fact, according to a recent study, there are more adult women who play video games than teenaged boys. What’s more is that the average age of gamers is now 35. As gamers age, so do game-developers, and in many cases when devs release more of the same thing, it is well received by people who loved its first iteration. (Just look at The Legend of Zelda – Miyamoto-san has never changed the formula and has released game after game to wild success.) Yet there is also an increasing market for indie games which are more accessible and welcoming to a wider variety of audiences than they ever have been before. The Gamergate movement is still alive on Twitter and other places, and its hard to say what will happen from here. But at the very least it’s given me something to think about in terms of who we are (as “gamers”) and what we’re really fighting for.

Traditional martial arts techniques in a tournament setting

Over the weekend, my good friend Rob participated in a free style tournament, the same one that I entered in his place earlier this year. He fought commendably, and Leo, his opponent, was a very tough dude. Leo had an unrelenting approach, had a knack for catching legs, and was exceptionally good at preventing Rob from taking him down (which was one of Rob’s main strategies when we were training for it). But Rob handled himself well, using some very impressive flying knees, strong counter punches and a few expertly done throws. Rob’s smile never faltered, even when he was exhausted and in pain, and both of them were gentlemen, repeatedly touching gloves before engaging and giving each other deep bows and big hugs after the match.

While I was helping Rob train for the fight, I lamented that I never used any full blocks during my previous bout. Rob disagreed and said one of the first things I did was a classic gedan uke (low block). We ended up watching the video, and I noticed a few instances where I executed traditional blocks (though they were abbreviated for efficacy). Our teacher, Shihan Dan later went through the video of Rob’s fight and took screengrabs of many of the instances where he applied taiji principles or classic karate techniques. Without wanting to take away anything from his recent victory, I was inspired to go through my own video and do the same.

It is very heartening to me to see that, on some level, I have learned appropriate ways of defending myself when attacked in a variety of ways. So here are some screenshots from my fight of when I applied “blocks” successfully.

Chudan uke with gedan uke from Seiunchin kata

Chudan uke with gedan uke from Seiunchin kata

Soto uke

Soto uke

Wave hands like clouds

Wave hands like clouds

Reverse brush knee from Shisochin kata

Reverse brush knee from Shisochin kata

Gedan barai

Gedan barai

Teisho uke and bong sau

Teisho uke and bong sau

Knifehand strike to the body and teisho uke (from wooden dummy drill)

Knifehand strike to the body and teisho uke (from wooden dummy drill)

Parting the wild horse's mane

Parting the wild horse’s mane

Gedan uke (both primary and secondary blocks)

Gedan uke (both primary and secondary blocks)

Converting wing block into punch

Converting wing block into punch

Knee check

Knee check

X-block, from Sanseiryu kata

X-block, from Sanseiryu kata

How Katawa Shoujo is making me a better person (Lilly’s Path)

I’ve just started playing a game called Katawa Shoujo, and it’s been a source of immense joy to me in the past couple of days. Katawa Shoujo is essentially a dating sim – but wait! No need to close your browser in disgust, hear me out. Unlike most dating simulators (I assume – I’ve never played a real one), the goal is not to pick a girl, learn as much about them as you need to get close to them and have sex with them. Katawa Shoujo distinguishes itself with an incredibly well-polished story, deep characters and profound morals. It’s actually a visual novel with a dating sim gloss, and it is exceptionally well-made.


Every single frame of this visual novel has been lovingly crafted. There is a range of (extremely well written) music as backing tracks to various events and types of conversation. The diversity in the songs is staggering, each painting a type of scene or emotion – I seriously wouldn’t mind buying the sound track just for the pleasure of listening to it. The cinematography is also commendable, and there are some very clever shifts in perspective and visual effects as cutscenes play out or scenarios change. What makes it so well-produced are the little things like how quickly a character moves across the room, or how the edges of the screen go dark when Hisao, the protagonist, is experiencing chest pain. But what I love most about the game is the utterly stellar writing. The script is just incredible, and every utterance (of Hisao and everyone he interacts with) is perfectly characterised. Charmingly, there’s a distinctly Japanese flavour to the writing. I wonder if the game was written in Japanese first, or if (cleverer still) it was written deliberately to sound like it had been translated.



One of the things that continuously humbles me is how sensitively the game handles the issue of disability. Katawa literally means “crippled” or “disabled”, and the game/story revolves the life of high school student Hisao Nakai. Quite suddenly, Hisao goes from having a normal school life to experiencing an extensive convalescence in hospital and a plethora of new medications just to keep him alive every day. He’s forced to withdraw from his current school and enrol in a high school specifically for people with disabilities. He really struggles with the identity that has been thrust on him, the label of “disabled” and what it means to go to a school designed specifically for “people like him”. But he also struggles with how to relate to the other students that he meets, and what to think of their disabilities (obvious or otherwise). For instance, when he meets a deaf/mute girl, he isn’t sure whether to look at her or her translator when they’re having a conversation. When he sees someone who is quite badly burned, he immediately looks away from the burn site and then isn’t sure whether he’s making the issue worse by pretending he didn’t see it. And speaking of seeing, he keeps accidentally referring to beautiful sights and colours when talking to someone who is blind, and he sometimes comes across as insensitive. Katawa Shoujo genuinely acknowledges disability as a real thing, and more importantly it focuses on the people behind them. It even overtly says so – several times throughout the game people advise him “not to make an issue of [a disability], and it won’t be”.



As you play the game, you meet different people and you form friendships with the other students at the school. The branches of the game come in the form of choices, which are extremely subtle. Small decisions lead down different paths – whether to push harder during exercise or take it easy to rest your heart; whether to go to the library to relax during time off, or go for a walk in the sunshine. These choices equate to whom you spend more time with, and consequently whom you develop deeper relationships with. I didn’t even realise I was making the choices until I retrospected. (I’m making that a word.)


But what I love most is that this game never gives the feeling that the goal is to have sex with a girl. While it is a dating sim, and it makes no apologies or disguises about its nature as a game, Hisao is not a jerk. He is a human, funny and humble and shy and insecure, just trying to fit in to a new place and make sense of his life which has been so radically changed by his diagnosis. There is never an overt focus on male gratification – in fact, there is an option to turn off all the adult content entirely. What is important to the game is forming relationships with the other students at the school, and not just for the romance. Holy shit, right? Who would have thought that you can be friends with girls without needing to have sex with them? I love that even though I’ve pursued one particular path of romance, I still spend time with the other girls whom don’t necessarily get along with my paramour. Just because I’m in a romantic relationship with one person does not preclude me from a friendship with her best friend, a studious relationship with people who don’t necessarily like her, a vague admiration of the girl who does sports etc. I still have multiple important relationships that do not revolve around the possibility of sex, and it’s awesome.



These relationships are the core of the game, and each of the characters is entirely unique. As well as the self-evident difference of their disabilities (the blind girl is obviously different to the girl without legs), they have incredibly real personalities that distinguish them from one another. I could say “Girl A is courteous, thoughtful, considerate and deliberate, while Girl B is rash, spontaneous, energetic and funky”, but it would be unfair to limit them to just a few adjectives. Each of the characters have lives and personalities as varied as my own, and it’s impossible to acknowledge the entirety of who they are with just a few words. I genuinely care about each of them in different ways, and that is no mean feat.


What’s more is that Hisao inspires me to be a better person. As he learns more about himself and what’s important to him, he makes choices again and again about the sort of person he wants to become, and he grows into that person throughout the course of the game. At one point he starts getting up early (despite the cold and sleepiness) and tries going for runs in order to look after his heart. Leading up to exams, he deliberately chooses to lock himself away and study rather than spending time with those close to him. And even though he’s still trying to find his own feet, he goes out of his way to be help his classmates who are struggling with their workload. Each of these seemingly innocent decisions reflect his growth as a person, and it inspires me to be a better, more authentic version of myself. This week I’ve started setting my alarm to get up earlier every day so that I have more time to study Japanese. I’d like to use my allocated study time to research other things I care about, and maybe even learn Braille. Maybe I’ll start going for runs in the early morning as well. [EDIT: And indeed I have!]


Less obvious than changing my behaviour, Katawa Shoujo has also started changing the way I think in many other ways due to the profound lessons that it carries. Most recently, I was reminded that school and work aren’t the be all and end all of life. I remember how fragile health is, and therefore how precious each moment is. Consequently, one doesn’t have time or energy to waste on things that aren’t important. The game reminds me that pain exists in everyone’s lives, and that we must teach ourselves to cope with it rather than moping in self-pity (that most pernicious of diseases). I have been shown again and again not to judge a book by its cover, and to see all people as equally incredible human beings. The game has made me realise that sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone who cares about you is the reassurance that you’re okay, a smile that “makes their worries go away”. It’s also taught me the (sometimes difficult) lesson that we are all individuals with our own lives, and sometimes we need to honour ourselves and our dreams, even if it takes us in different directions from our loved ones.



It is no small exaggeration to say that, quite apart from the ridiculous amounts of joy I’m getting from playing it, this game is changing me for the better. I’ve played it for about four hours, and I think I’m only in Act 3 (of 5). I’ve only explored one possible storyline so far, and so I can’t wait to replay it from start to finish, making different choices and developing different kinds of relationships with new people. This is a game which I can see myself playing again and again, just for the pleasure of it. I am heartened by the knowledge that there is quite a large fan base as well, and I’m looking forward to jumping on the forums after the first playthrough and obsessing over it with other people who have played it. (A quick glance showed one of the forum topics as “What weapons would the KS characters choose?” Sounds like my kind of place.)


Well, I’m going to stop blogging here so that I can keep playing a little before bed. If you’d like to play it yourself, it’s a free download, lovingly made by passionate people. I highly recommend it!



To read my experiences of romancing the other girls, you can find them here:
Shizune and Misha
Lilly (2nd playthrough)