Recovery of an MMO Junkie and the Dichotomy of Offline and Online Life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie - reviewWhen I first saw Recovery of an MMO Junkie on Crunchyroll’s list, I wasn’t terribly excited. MMORPG-focused stories have become a genre to themselves ever since Sword Art Online became huge. However, Recovery pleasantly surprised me as a slice-of-life story that followed a 30-year-old woman who had enough of corporate life. The story itself isn’t anything groundbreaking and Moriko Morioka, the protagonist, falls into the rather tired spazzy character archetype. However, the story is solid and provides some interesting commentary about our modern life. She is a hikikomori, but nowhere near as neurotic as Sato in Welcome to the N.H.K..

Throughout Recovery, Morioka attempts to separate her real life from her online life. She plays a male character on her favorite RPG and poses as a male university student when her guildmates attempt top squeeze some personal information from her. She uses the game to escape her discontent with life and enter a world that allows her to have more confidence. She quickly finds she can’t keep her online and offline lives separate. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson of the story. Anonymity is an illusion on the Internet. As soon as you connect, there are corporate gazes watching you, even if they only see you load the browser Tor and all of its proxy bounces. Tor, if you didn’t know, is a web browser designed to make it harder for people to track you. It was intended to break through China’s firewall and other filtering systems.Everything you do leaves a trail, and it’s possible to always remain in character as Morioka discovers. Our true personalities eventually show. Online and offline life bleed into each other through social media and inevitable human interactions online.

Introvert social reaction - MMO Junkie

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this thought as an extrovert drones on.

Morioka can only keep up the role-playing for so long before coincidence and mistakes add up and her guildmates begin to suspect her gender. Luckily, her actions online help her establish friendships offline. For most of us, we don’t get to meet those we play alongside online, but sometimes, the relationships we form through our screens spill out to offline space. In fact, our actions online increasingly affects offline life. What you post on Facebook, Twitter, 4chan, Instagram, etc can hurt your career chances, depending on what you post. Companies can (and will) research your online life. From a Christian standpoint, your offline and online life should be the same. Of course, role playing is okay, but you can’t bully people on an MMO on Saturday night and be a Christian on Sunday morning. One of those yous is a lie. Online life reflects who you are inside. After all, the lack of a human face and the fact the pixels represent a stranger you may never see makes it easier to act selfishly.

Recovery touches on this fact. Morioka’s actions online better represent her true self than her socially awkward, shy real life appearance. She is considerate and capable, but suffers from social anxiety that blocks her ability to express herself. In her case, online life lets her be truer to herself than offline life. For many people, this is true, especially for introverts and those who suffer from social anxiety.

Morioka's social exhaustion and flip out

I sympathize with Morioka’s fretting over social faux-pas and social exhaustion.

Throughout my late high school and early college, I used Diablo II in the same way. I spent far too many hours playing the game with strangers and friends as a way to connect socially because of my social anxiety and awkwardness. It was in the dial-up days of the Internet. But I felt more capable in the game than I did outside the game. It was similar to Morioka’s comfort in her MMO of choice. And that comfort can be addictive if you aren’t careful. It can also give you common ground that allows you to establish connections with people you may not be able to easily connect with otherwise. This is what happens in Recovery. Morioka’s MMO allows her to connect with several people and establish ties she likely wouldn’t have otherwise. It acts as an ice breaker for conversation.

Let’s return to the idea that the online self is more real than your offline self. Online conversations appear to lack consequences. After all, you can just block someone or sign off after trolling. On video games, you often won’t see the same players with regularity. When you have these brief encounters, there doesn’t appear to be a consequence to selfish behavior such as name calling and trolling in general. When you have a void of lasting visible consequence, your true behavior can come out. If you treat them poorly, that shows how such behavior resides deep within you. If you treat them generously, that too reflects positively on you. Morioka finds a positive atmosphere on her MMO, which builds her up in the story. You see, you can never tell how your actions will impact the person on the other side of the screen. Sometimes a comment from a user named XX_PWN_you_XX can cut deeper than you suspect.

While that is partially your responsibility to let comments slide over you (easier said than done sometimes), it is also XX_PWN_you_XX’s responsibility to be compassionate too. I place more responsibility on perpetrator than victim. But in either case, behavior comes from deep within you. The less important it seems to be good, generous, and compassionate, the more important it is to be just so. Those small, seemingly unimportant events online are tests to character. They can create habits of behavior.

MMO Junkie- g!aming is life

Recovery of an MMO Junkie doesn’t pontificate these points. They are all hidden under the romance and awkward social behavior it focuses upon. You can enjoy the story for what it is–a fairly adult love story that uses an MMO to get it moving. Or you can see these interesting trends in how offline and online life interact with each other. It’s a short anime at only 10 episodes. Morioka’s spazzing grated on my nerves. I know its meant to be funny in its over-the-topness, but the trope is tired. Anxiety is rarely so overt, which is what makes anxiety so insidious, but aside from that, I found the story charming and worth a watch if slice-of-life is your thing.

Japan and the Language of Flowers

“If I were asked to explain the Japanese spirit, I would say it is wild cherry blossoms glowing in the morning sun!”
— Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801)

Japan’s flower language isn’t as well develop as the West’s. Japan’s stories and theatre focused on humanizing plants as opposed to using them to convey emotions and messages. Victorian Europe took the language of flowers to an extreme, but Japan had its own set of symbols. Because anime has developed into an international medium, I’ll examine both Japan’s flower symbology and the West’s flower language. You will see both styles mixed in anime. 

Japan’s Language of Flowers

chrysanthemum seller in Japan c. 1890

A chrysanthemum seller in Japan, ca. 1890, photographer unknown, via Photographic Heritage

During the Heian period, the symbolism of flowers took off, appearing in noh, poetry, and the world’s first novel. However, Japanese language allows for an identification between human emotions and nature that English doesn’t really allow (Poulton, 1997). In Japanese culture, natural phenomena has a spiritual life and power of its own. Noh showcases this in its more than a dozen plays that feature a flower or tree revealing itself as an incarnation of a god or Buddha. Various folk stories feature trees and flower spirits that can marry humans and bear children. The Willow Wife is one of my favorites. This aspect of Japanese culture remains unique. We don’t find many European stories that allow plants to be Christian saints or to marry humans.

Hanami, or flower viewing, was popular during the Heian period. The cherry blossom became a favorite, representing the fleeting moments of life. But each season had its own flower. And not everyone loved the sakura. The poet Saigyo found his hermitage invaded by visitors wanting to see a nearby tree’s blossoms (Poulton, 1997). He doesn’t refuse them when they visit, but he grumbles about it in a poem:

The cherries’ only fault: the crowds that gather when they bloom

Despite its popularity, the cherry blossom wasn’t the most important flower. Chrysanthemums became the symbol of the imperial house soon after they arrived from China. The flower became the imperial crest and the throne of the emperor was even named after it: the Chrysanthemum Throne (Lombardi, 2014). The flower meant the opposite of the cherry blossom: it represented longevity and power as opposed to transient beauty and gentleness.

While most flowers associated with Japanese women, the chrysanthemum directly associated with men. In the story of The Chrysanthemum Spirit, a young woman falls in love with a handsome courtier. She eventually finds out he is an autumn flower–the chrysanthemum–that took the shape of a human. The story “uses visual and poetic imagery traditionally associated with women to reframe reproductive potency in male terms (McCormick, 2013).”

Murasaki and Floral Characters

Japanese women with cherry blossomsWhile shapeshifting flowers remained popular in noh and traditional stories, Murasaki took the idea and converted it into indirect story telling in her Tale of Genji. The novel tells its story indirectly through what is left unsaid and it’s imagery. It’s a difficult read because of it’s layers. Murasaki used various flowers to represent character personalities, future events, themes, and more. She relied on the reader to put everything together.

Murasaki weaved the names of flowers into chapter titles to suggest the events that will happen and the characters associated with each chapter. Flower included: evening glory, saffron flower, hollyhock, orange blossoms, lavender, morning glory, plum, cherry blossoms, carnations, and many others. She gives many of the women in Genji’s life the names of flowers. They act as shorthand for the character of each woman and stand in for her.

In one scene, Genji and a woman named Yugao were having an affair. Yugao was a common flower at the time. It blooms only at night and dies soon after. During their trist, Murasaki makes repeated references to a blooming yugao, foreshadowing Yugao’s early death just a few scenes later (Kido, 1988). Murasaki makes other flower references to foreshadow Genji’s other affairs and the fates of each woman. Even Genji’s fall from grace can be seen in these flower symbols. Centuries later, Charlotte Bronte would adopt the same technique for her work.

The Victorian Language of Flowers

A flower is not a flower alone; a thousand thoughts invest it.

During the Victorian period, women often became amateur botanists. They began developing a complete language using flowers, but early dictionaries often contradicted each other (Engelhardt, 2013). Many of the definitions extend deep into history, such as the idea olive branches symbolize peace, roses symbolize love, and so on. Although the Victorian period saw codified symbols and expansion of the language, most of the floral code date to medieval and Renaissance literature (Rothenberg, 2006; Engelhardt, 2013).  But Charlotte Bronte and George Eliot used the symbols to construct a language fairly similar to Murasaki. Jane Eyre used flowers as sexual codes and to describe characters in shorthand as Murasaki did. For example, during a scene when Jane and Rochester take a walk, flowers appear throughout the description.  Engelhardt (2013) drops the emotional associations and meanings of the plants during the walk:

…edged with box [stoicism]; with apple trees [temptation], pear trees [comfort], and cherry trees [deception] on the one side, and a border on the other, full of all sorts of old-fashioned flowers, stocks [lasting beauty], sweet Williams [sensitivity], primroses [first youth; if evening, inconstancy], pansies [thoughts], mingled with southernwood
[jest/bantering], sweet-briar [I wound to heal], and various fragrant herbs. (249)

According to Engelhard (2013), Bronte seems to use the flowers to reveal the feelings of the lovers and of Rochester’s mysterious behavior in the scene. He is tempted (apple trees) to open his heart after years of being a stoic, but he realizes this would require deception (cherry trees) and ruining Jane’s beauty (stocks) because of her inexperience with love (primrose) and her sensitivity (sweet Williams). So Rochester jokes with her (southernwood) and hopes he will heal the pain of his marriage to Bertha (sweet-briar).

Victorian era coupleMost of the time, people used flowers to express embarrassing feelings, on par with what Bronte outlines with Rochester. In these floral dialogues, a lady or gentleman would ask a question or express an emotion by showing a flower. The other would then respond with their own flower. Flowers can be combined to form entire sentences, and the color of the flower can shift the meaning. So to carry Bronte’s illustration:

pink rose + cherry blossom + pink rose = desire to be educated in passion.

Pink roses have three meanings: desire, passion, and joy of life. Cherry blossoms equate with education. So the combination can also mean passion to be educated in desire, which still has the same general meaning.

Flowers and Their Meanings

Because the meanings of flowers were in dispute throughout the Victorian period, you may encounter some dictionaries that contradict what I list there.  As with any language, time and use can change the meanings of words.

 
References

Endresak, David, “Girl Power: Feminine Motifs in Japanese Popular Culture” (2006). Senior Honors Teses. 322. htp://commons.emich.edu/honors/322

Hoffman, Michael (2012) Sakura: Soul of Japan. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/03/25/general/sakura-soul-of-japan/.

Kido, Elissa (1988) Names, Naming, and Nature in the Tale of Genji. Literary Onomastics Studies. 15. Article 4.

Lombardi, Linda (2014) Chrysanthemums are more than just a symbol of autumn. Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/10/27/national/chrysanthemums-just-symbol-autumn/

McCormick, Melissa. (2013) “Flower Personification and Imperial Regeneration in The Chrysanthemum Spirit.” In Amerika ni wattata monogatari-e. Tokyo: Perikansha.

Poulton, Mark. (1997) The Language of Flowers in the No Theatre. Japan Reveiw. 8. 39-55

Rothenberg, David (2006) The Marian Symbolism of Spring ca. 1200-ca.1500: Two Case Studies. Journal of Musicology Society. 59 (2) 319-398.

Anime Virtues: Quiet Confidence

Some characters in anime provide good examples of quiet confidenceI’ll admit it’s odd to associate quiet confidence with anime. After all, anime teems with loudmouthed, impulsive heroes. However, if you look beyond protagonists, you will see the strongest type of confidence: quiet confidence. Why do I consider this type of confidence the strongest type? Well, confidence describes the state of being self-assured and comfortable with who you are. This lets you act decisively and stand up for those decisions. Most people in the United States associate confidence with ego. Ego has little to do with true confidence. Ego involves a self-focused world view.

Egotistical people look at their selves and what they can prove, achieve, or gain. In many cases, this involves being loud or opinionated (like my articles on JP!) in order to draw attention to themselves. This proves their self worth. Confident people lack the desire prove themselves. They don’t need to. That isn’t to say all loud people lack confidence. Personality types play a role. Loud confidence proclaims a goal to others. It doesn’t necessarily seek to feed to ego (but it can), but rather to combat the disbelief others have for them. Look at Naruto. He loudly proclaims he will become the leader of the Leaf Village. He announces this as a way to combat the stumbling blocks in his way. Many resist his goal, so he challenges them with his announcements. This isn’t to prove he can achieve his goal as much as a method of moving forward with that goal. His antagonists see his statements as bluster and disregard him. And this disregard leaves them open for him to attack their expectations and beliefs.

We struggle to tell the difference between loud confidence and egotistical bluster. Not to mention loud confidence gets annoying fast. Quiet confidence, on the other hand, is non-combative. It doesn’t challenge. It prefers to be its own thing. The quietly confident don’t talk about goals. They do them. They skip the combative stage of the loudly confident. The quietly confident fly below the radar and work against the noisy norms of modern society. Because of this, quiet confidence is mistaken for being passive, submissive, and weak. Quiet confidence resembles water. As Bruce Lee states:

You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Water appears passive and submissive, but it is not. It can cut steel when focused. Quiet confidence shares this power. Jesus spoke of the quietly confident inheriting the world. He used the word “meek,” which is read today as being a doormat. But meekness is a state of humble confidence in ability, your own and God’s.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:5

One of anime’s best examples of quiet confidence also comes from Naruto–Hinata. At first, Hinata lacks confidence altogether. She doesn’t begin her journey until Naruto inspires her with his loud confidence. You see, quiet confidence needs watered to grow. Naruto shocks her inner seed, but Hinata must water it. And water it she does throughout the series. Hinata lacks the physical power of Naruto and others, but she has her own inner strength. Several times throughout the series she takes on challenges she cannot hope to best. She does this to protect Naruto and others she cares for. It takes confidence to face certain defeat. In fact, it takes more confidence to face certain defeat than a reasonable chance at victory. She must have confidence in her beliefs–and her faith in Naruto–to risk her life time and again. Yet, you don’t see her flaunt her confidence. She remains soft spoken compared to her comrades.

Mild spoilers ahead. Later on in the story, her quiet confidence provides an anchor for Naruto. When he loses his confidence early in the story, when he has to fight Hinata’s powerful cousin, she helps him rekindle his flame. Late in the story, she becomes his partner in life and in combat. During the Fourth Shinobi World War, she encourages Naruto’s confidence after many of his allies die, and she also fights beside him, sharing some of his chakra. She grows into quiet confidence through her faith in Naruto and her faith in herself.

How Do You Develop Quiet Confidence?

Hinata doesn't have confidence at first. If you watch Hinata’s progression, she moves from a quiet, shy girl who doesn’t think much of herself to a quiet, confident woman who is willing to risk her life to protect those she loves. The journey to quiet confidence takes time. In American society, people mistake quietude for being a doormat. Quietude is a personality trait quite different from shyness. Shyness comes from a lack of self confidence–usually confidence about social skills. Quietude, on the other hand, values silence and words. Quiet people prefer to use words sparingly and meaningfully. A Zen saying comes to mind: “Do not speak unless it improves silence.” Quiet people feel secure in themselves and with silence where other people find silence uncomfortable. In fact, silence can be used as a weapon because so many find it uncomfortable. Typically. those people need silence the most. Silence allows us to order our thoughts and learn who we truly are, and that requires us to face our ugliness. Any wonder why most people today want to avoid silence and self reflection?

Okay, so quiet confidence requires us to use words sparingly and well. They should be used to uplift others or take a stand. Faith in your beliefs underpins confidence. You need to understand who you are and what you believe. Hinata understands she is far from being the strongest shinobi, yet this doesn’t stop her from making a stand for what she believes in: persistence and self-sacrifice for those she loves. Later in the series, she even gives up her career to be a mother and a sanctuary for Naruto when he needs to escape the challenges of his station.

Loud confidence often takes the lead. Quiet confidence takes a background role. In American culture, the background role appears to be inferior. However, an army can’t march and fight without background support. You see this with Naruto as well. Without Hinata’s background support and confidence in his abilities, he would have failed at key points in the story.

So how do you cultivate quiet confidence?

  1. Become comfortable with yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses and accept them.
  2. Learn to use words wisely. Speak less, but speak with more meaning.
  3. Learn to be comfortable with silence.
  4. Support others. Kind words of encouragement go a long way.
  5. Know what you believe in, why you do, and stand firm when challenged.
  6. Be patient. Confidence takes time to develop. It is a practice.

Knowing your limits and accepting them doesn’t mean you don’t try to improve. Hinata knows she cannot be as strong as her comrades, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to be as strong as she can be. Develop both your strengths and weaknesses, strive to be better rounded. Focus on your strengths in order to achieve mastery. Focus on your weaknesses in order to enhance your strengths. Most of all, be patient and gentle with yourself. I have a habit of being harsh and unforgiving with myself, and while it motivates me, it also grinds me down at times. You will have setbacks, but the effort (not the end result) matters.

Hinata develops quiet confidence throughout the seriesOften, we get too set on making it to some destination, and we forget to enjoy the journey. Some of my best experiences when I travel is the journey and it’s discoveries. When I visited a cavern system with my brother, for example, we stopped at a charming small town library and passed through about 15 different tiny towns. The caverns were nice, but I remember the towns and that library more fondly. If we had focused on our destination, we would’ve missed them. Personal journeys work the same way.

After a certain point, you will realize you have achieved quiet confidence without knowing it. But that doesn’t mean the process ever stops. As your roles in life changes, such as Hinata becoming a mother, the process will begin again.

Hinata provides a good role model for the shy and the quiet. She embraces her quietude but overcomes her shyness. She becomes the most important supporting character in the series. Because supporting roles enable to hero to do their work, she becomes one of the most important characters in Naruto. She also becomes the most important person in Naruto’s life. That is the strength of quiet confidence.