What Makes a Hero?

I’ve been thinking from a surprisingly philosophical standpoint recently, and this very question popped up into my head. Some recent events in the gaming community started turning the wheels in my head and brought about some fascinating revelations, some of which I’d be glad to share here for anyone interested in hearing the rambler’s ramblings.

For those who are unaware, there’s essentially a neo-nazi campaign going on over at Twitch. People (or bots run by terrible people) are raiding streamers, particularly targeting people of color among others, by spamming threats and other awful things in their chat. I found out about this just last night, or at least, the most recent occurrences. I’ve been aware of this happening before; this is most certainly not the first time something like this has happened. But it seems to be getting worse, and of course, Twitch isn’t doing anything about it, because it seems like they hardly give a shit, honestly.

Back to the point, when I found out about this, my initial knee-jerk reaction was to feel a mix of intense sorrow, fear, and despair. It reminded me of the sorrowful state of the world and thrust me into a spiraling feeling of dread. Until I remembered something incredibly important that I should have remembered sooner.

The whole reason these neo-nazis are acting so brazen and always have been is because they want the rest of us to fear them and to despair in their presence. Those negative feelings give them power, and that’s just what they want. The moment I realized that, I couldn’t help but laugh. It reminded me of my own strength: my relentless optimism and hope despite the terrible things we see, hear, and experience every single day. Parts of me wonder how in the world I can experience such feelings with how terrible things are and have been for a long time, and I’m sure many people reading this may wonder the same thing. Those feelings are incredibly difficult to come by these days, aren’t they? And the reason for it is because I have kept my heart softened to the hardships of life.

I feel emotions in a very intense manner, and when things bring me down, they often bring me down quite a bit. But as of late, though I still carry a soft heart, I have been steadily increasing emotional resilience. Living life with the mindset that I know who I am, I know what I can do, and the little mistakes I make will never change that. Our failures do not define us unless we let them. With that in mind, I recalled my successes in life, few though they may be, celebrated them, and reminded myself of how much there is in the world to look forward to.

There’s a lot of practice that goes into feeling this way, believe me. It’s taken weeks, if not months, of mental conditioning to even get this far. I’ve done plenty of reading about patience, optimism, and other such things to put them all to practice, and it’s paying off. Patience and practice go hand-in-hand, so once you have one, you can put the other to work.

With that preface out of the way, it brings me to the next realization I had after last night.

We are essentially in a war right now, a war of ideals being fought with words and actions rather than violence. Much like the tropes in the Danganronpa series, we’re part of a battle between hope and despair, when you really think about it. People use fear to bring attention away from certain things. Social media has made this all too easy for those who truly wish for people to sink into despair and/or nihilism. People harden their hearts to handle the terrible things they see every day instead of finding another way.

Personally, I feel like nihilism is sort of a means of running away from your problems. For some people, they feel as though it’s the only thing they can turn to in times like these. Hell, I used to consider myself somewhat of a nihilist as well; it felt comfortable to just not care about anything and remember that our world is merely a speck of dust in the endless expanse of the universe and that none of this matters. But it does.

We humans only get a certain amount of time to live. If we live in complacency of the terrible things people like these neo-nazis are doing, then things will never change. And that’s the thing—we all have to live in this world, and we have our whole lives to spend here. Future generations are impacted by what we do now, as it has always been. So why not make a better world for everyone and their eventual descendants?

Sure, there’s only so much one person can do, but even one person can make a huge difference. With that being said, once I realized that the only weapons I need in this “war” we’re fighting are optimism as my sword and hope as my shield, I felt a thousand times more confident that even someone like myself could make a difference in this world, even if it’s by inspiring just one person.

These feelings are difficult to come by, like I’ve said. So many people I’ve met are essentially afraid of feeling happy because every time they feel good in life, something comes around to tear that happiness down. Instead, they just let themselves wallow in sorrow and self-pity so that when that next thing comes around to try tearing their happiness down, there won’t be anything to tear down; it’s a means of self-preservation. I’m normally rather gentle about my opinions when it comes to people’s feelings, but here, I must admit that I think it’s a bunch of bullshit to feel that way. Life is a series of ups and downs, man. We’re always going to have good times and bad times regardless of your perception of life. Whenever I say this, people always say things like “well, where are my good times? My whole life has been nothing but bad times.” It can’t help but make me wonder if those people are people who have simply never smiled. There had to be something that, once upon a time, made you happy. People who say there wasn’t, or that they simply don’t want to put in the effort to make a difference, can’t be helped, I fear.

But everyone, and I mean everyone, deserves to be happy without that happiness requiring any sort of pain, either to oneself or to others. You can’t be afraid of being happy because of what might happen. At the same time, you must remember that getting these feelings takes time. Be patient with yourself and apply yourself to your practices.

All that out of the way, it brings me to the official answer to the question at hand: what makes a hero?

The answer is simple: I believe a hero is someone who has the capacity to give someone hope, even if it’s just themselves.

We live in a world where hope is scarce and hard to find. It takes a lot of strength to get up in the morning and face the world. But you know what? Every single one of you who are able to wake up in this awful world is a goddamn hero in my book. I want you to just think about that for a second. We are all amazing in our own respects, and we are capable of so freaking much. Never let the agents of fear and despair tell you otherwise. Fight this war the right way: with love, hope, and relentless optimism in your hearts so the enemy can’t get their way.

Philosophy in Dragon Quest

As shown above, I recently made the decision to revisit the Dragon Quest series after quite some time away from it. My recent obsession has been with games made by Falcom, primarily the Ys series and the Legend of Heroes series. But in my own personal life recently, I’ve been going through somewhat of a difficult time. It made me want to go back to something simpler, something I’ve been meaning to get back into but just haven’t done so.

Enter Dragon Quest. A game that had so much of an impact that it even managed to make its way into the Yakuza series. I’ve been in the middle of playing three Dragon Quest games at a time: 3, 8, and 11, though I’ve been very on and off about playing them. But last night, when I was deciding what to stream, I decided I wanted to play something that didn’t require too much thought or investment into the story. The first Dragon Quest was the first game to come to mind, and I’m honestly so happy I came back to this incredible game.

By modern RPG standards, it can certainly be seen as a bit of a slog to get through. Hell, I’m surprised I managed to make a three-hour stream out of it, to tell the truth. But something about the stresses of life bogging me down brought me back to what I love about this series most, and it’s the fact that things are tough to get through.

When I started playing again, I decided to challenge myself by getting the hero to the maximum level capacity, which I believe is level 30 in the version I’m playing. It’ll be a long road, but the longer I played last night, the more comfort I found in the idea of spending so much time getting stronger. I spent a fair amount of time fighting against weaker enemies and slowly gaining levels, but it reminded me of a quote from Yakuza: Like a Dragon that really stood out to me. “If you fight enough slimes, you eventually level up.” In context, this quote referred to the two main characters up to that point, about how they were both middle-aged men with a bit of a history and unsure how they could move forward in life given that they were both homeless, but they decided to try moving forward anyway against all odds. That got me thinking about the game and how willing I was to endure the fights, knowing that each and every battle I fought brought me another step closer to the level I wanted to be at. Then that got me thinking about how much these RPGs really reflect life.

Life is a series of struggles. We’re constantly faced with problems and adversity in general. Oftentimes, it feels like we’re never truly making progress because we’re so quick to judge ourselves that we forget progress isn’t seen. Not immediately, anyway. But every battle we face, even the smallest of battles like getting out of bed in the morning during a time when our depression is just too strong, we’re gaining experience, just like the hero gaining his own experience fighting the smallest monsters and overcoming the challenge. In such an RPG, patience is required to enjoy the game to its fullest. Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like life as well? There’s no use rushing everything, because before you know it, the game will be over. Your life will come to a close and you’ll realize that you missed so much of what happened because you were in so much of a hurry to get to some destination or another. Life happens day by day, not event by event. We’re here for the long run, just like if you decide to settle in with an RPG, so why not enjoy the journey?

Playing Dragon Quest last night brought about an entirely new appreciation for the game as well. The more I played and took my time to admire the artwork, the simplistic gameplay, the music, and the writing, the more good I saw in it all. People often talk crap about the Switch ports of the Erdrick trilogy because they’re just ports of the mobile versions of the game, but when I was playing last night, I saw so much love put into the game. Every second I played, it felt like I was playing something big, despite the game being decades old. It made me feel the same magic and wonder I used to feel when playing video games as a kid. It also made me learn something new.

The original Dragon Quest features a single playable character: you, the hero. As such, it can be believed that the story is about this sole hero saving the princess and striking down the Dragonlord (or joining him if you choose to get the bad ending). But as I played, it made me think of something. You encounter so many people on this rather short journey, so many others who may not be fighting directly beside you, but are helping you nonetheless. Townsfolk with gossip that proves to be a helpful hint, shopkeepers willing to give you better equipment to keep you alive on the battlefield, the sages who wish to ascertain your skill so they can assist you in your quest to defeat the Dragonlord, and the king of Alefgard, a man beset by grief from the loss of his wife and the kidnapping of his daughter, but he still remains strong because he knows you need him to be; he knows that his kingdom needs him to be. For how simplistic the original Dragon Quest is in its story, it has so much humanity and heart to it that I feel I’m seeing for the first time every time I play the game again, and it’s beautiful.

This realization of our hero’s journey made me think of life once more. How often do we feel isolated and alone in our aimless wanderings through life? Probably pretty often for a good majority of us. Social media doesn’t help that feeling all that much. Despite the word social being in the name, I feel it’s anything but that. It drives people apart and makes us feel even more isolated or inadequate. But in truth, we always have people in our corner. People who make the ingredients for the food we eat and keep us sustained, friends and family who may not always clearly have our backs but are watching out for us, people we don’t even know sending their wishes into the ether that those who feel alone may understand that there are people who care about them. We aren’t as alone as we often feel. Whether we’re aware of it or not, there’s someone there for us, hoping and wishing the best for us.

All that being said, you can probably tell that the original Dragon Quest is already proving to have a massive effect on me despite only being three hours into the journey. I’m more than okay with this, and I’m happy to continue this journey tonight. I hope you were able to get something of value from reading this, and if you wish to catch future streams live, I stream as frequently as I can on my Twitch channel.

Philosophy in Persona 1

If you’ve played the beginning of Persona 1, you should be at least somewhat familiar with the seemingly out-of-context quote that shows up right at the beginning. It’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently, and I really appreciate the message behind it. At least, what I think the message is.

To provide context, the quote, which was said by a Chinese philosopher named Zhuangzi, goes something like this: “Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly. At the time, I was only conscious of my happiness of a butterfly. Soon, I awoke, and was myself again. However, I wondered, was I dreaming I was a butterfly? Or am I now a butterfly dreaming I’m a man? However, there is a clear distinction between the two, and that is the transformation of the physical.”

I may have butchered the quote itself, but that is more or less what the quote is. You get the general idea. Every time I think about this quote, it makes me rather happy, strangely enough. I think it’s because of what I took away from the quote, particularly the last part. The fact that the distinction between the two is the transformation of the physical. To me, this indicates that regardless of you being a butterfly or a human, you are still yourself on the inside, which I feel is quite fitting for a Persona game. Aside from that, the other thing I took away from that is the fact that he felt his happiness as a butterfly. My interpretation of this is that it’s very well possible to feel the same happiness as humans that we would simply fluttering around like butterflies. It’s a good mindset to have. We as humans are so bogged down by the world around us, by the minuscule problems that snowball into much larger problems that cause us to crash and burn that we simply forget happiness, or actively choose not to be happy because we’re afraid that feeling happy will backfire on us. However, something important to remember is that bad things will always happen. But if you’re spending all your time being grouchy and upset simply in preparation for these bad things to happen, you’re gonna miss all the good times that come along.

To me, this quote sort of indicates that. We as human beings can be as happy as we would be fluttering as free butterflies. It simply takes putting ourselves in that mindset, I feel. I know it’s not that simple, but it’s certainly something I’d like to put into practice myself to see if I can find more personal happiness within.

Thoughts on Humanity

This is a bit of a random thought I had in the middle of the night that I decided to document. These are all just purely my thoughts and not meant to be taken TOO seriously. I hope you find some sort of entertainment or something from reading it.

It’s often that what we see of people is a result of their background, the environment they were raised in, etc. Though there are also those who deny their upbringing in order to either be a better person, or to overcompensate and rebel.

The human mind is a complex thing, and if I intend on getting back to writing about more personal stories again, I need to think about humans more. My lack of human interaction is likely the cause of my downfall with writing, so let’s break humanity down based on personal experience and observation, starting from the basis of it all: our brains.

Our bodies, essentially, are vessels to carry our brains. Our organs and limbs are machines made to carry out our brains’ bidding. Even though our brains are made very similarly, we’re unique in the fact that our brains are entirely different from one another. The knowledge we have, the behavioral patterns we inhibit, our speech patterns, our comprehension of language, and the way in which we interact with the people and world around us are all completely different from one another based on the kind of environment we were raised in.

These environments are affected by a number of factors, internal and external. Internal factors would be the behavior and thoughts of those they were raised around, causing a massive chain reaction spanning generations. External would be things like quality of life, amount of food and water and exercise, things that are more tangible. Taking these things into consideration, you may predict how someone would turn out to be depending on these factors.

However, there’s another unique thing about our brains, and it’s our ability to adapt based on the most current knowledge we’ve retained. Someone who was raised in a racist household could very well adopt a racist point of view, but if they are influenced young enough to understand that such behavior is wrong as it brings harm to other people, they can deviate from the norm that was established by the generations of people in that household who held racist values based on things THEY learned back when they were younger.

All these behavioral patterns have a cause and effect. Some could be as simple as learning new information and changing behavior based on that, and other times, people can simply choose to change because they’ve grown tired of the people they’ve become. The possibilities for the human mind are endless. It’s rather miraculous, really, when you consider our potential. This is why our mindset affects so much about us. If the thing controlling our bodies isn’t functioning as it’s supposed to, then our bodies will inevitably feel side effects from this.

Before I digress too much, let’s get back on track. The human mind is affected by a lot throughout life. I can only imagine what the human mind was like back in the days of our Neanderthal ancestors, in which survival was the primary objective. Back then, I can’t imagine emotions were a big deal. All that mattered was that they avoided fights they couldn’t win and they would do what they could to live another day. We eventually evolved to learn the ability of foresight, and being able to make predictions according to the information available. This improved our chances of survival.

As we made more and more advanced forms of technology, our priorities shifted. It became less about survival and more about other things, like trying to live more comfortable lives. This is still a struggle for many. But now, we live in an era where survival, though important, isn’t our first priority. Life is more about living, not just surviving. It goes back to the Hierarchy of Needs. As long as you have your base needs taken care of, you can focus on the higher tiers of priorities.

Something I want to think of, a little less on the concept of writing and a little more on a personal level, is how our minds react to mental health issues, and how adaptability may help.

I suffer from depression. Sometimes, it gets so bad that I even have thoughts of putting an end to my own life. But when I consider the heroes I see in fiction that I admire, I think about everything they endure and the fact that they go through it all without succumbing to their mental problems. More often than not, their determination stems from the need to deviate from the norm, which they view as a bad thing. I feel like the modern days we live in is something to be discussed. It’s a society in which problems are glorified. It’s a contest to see who has it worst. This mindset weighs on society as a whole. There needs to be a balance. It’s okay to be upset about your station in life, but if you feel that it’s a contest between you and others to see whose life is harder, that will eventually weigh on you and will make your life even more miserable. I think part of us WANTS to be miserable, perhaps for attention, or comfort. We feel that being happy is dangerous, because whenever we’re happy, bad things happen that ruin our moods.

What if I said that it’s not as superstitious as we expect?

We set up these false expectations for life, that being happy is dangerous. It’s far easier to feel sad or angry or upset in general when so many elements in life bring us down. Our brains feel some sort of satisfaction from that comfort of feeling upset. Also, I know from experience that I’ve avoided being too happy because of the people around me; in the past, I’ve been afraid to appear happy because they are quick to try to shut your happiness down. Perhaps out of jealousy, or the desire to have other people be miserable along with them. There are more factors, I’m sure, but I feel it can be broken down to that.

The point of all of this is that regardless of how we feel, bad things will always happen. With that in mind, it makes one wonder: why aren’t we all just sad and down all the time when bad things are essentially destined to happen? Because on the flip side of that, good things will always happen too. Maybe not as soon as we’d like, but they do happen. However, based on the world around us, we find it easier to remain disappointed at all times to prepare for the bad times so that our happiness isn’t shut down when it happens. But this is what comedy is for. It’s putting the things that make us sad or upset into a different context that brings us laughter. I feel like if we had a better sense of humor as a whole, we would be better prepared for hard times. It would allow us to see more hope in the darkness, I think. But what would I know? It’s almost 3AM here while I write this and I can’t sleep, so I may just be delirious.

These could just be reassuring thoughts to myself, but I feel like it has some truth. We take life too seriously, when, in truth, we’re all still children in the bodies of adults not really knowing what we’re doing. With that, we let the uncertainty in life stress us out, and that stress becomes sadness, or anger, or any other number of negative feelings because it’s easier for us to fall to those negative emotions instead of finding the happiness out of it.

Although, there is another factor to this, I think. It’s also because we don’t allow ourselves to process our emotions enough. I have a problem crying because I was raised with the societal mindset that men shouldn’t cry, and despite my new mindsets on life, the fear of appearing weak if I shed tears remains within me. I can only cry if I’m alone, unfortunately. It all goes back to humanity affecting each other’s brains.

With that being the case, I feel like it’s a simple addition equation. For the most part. We need to learn to process our emotions in a healthy, non-self-destructive way, so our negative emotions don’t blow up and harm ourselves or other people, and we need to learn to take life less seriously. This is why I feel comedy is so important. I’ve never been a big comedy writer, but the concept of joking about life, both the positive and negative, lightens the heavy feeling I have in my heart.

Bringing this back to the concept we were supposed to talk about, that brings me to numerous often-seen character stereotypes seen in fiction. We often see the kind of people who bottle up their emotions until they come out and explode. We see the kind of people who cope with negativity through jokes. We see the kind of people who can’t stop crying about things but are often the first to comfort people who can’t cry. They are stereotypes because we see these patterns quite a bit within human brains, and I feel like the reason the most fascinating stories feature the most diverse cast of characters in terms of mentality is because we see these unlikely groups come together and interact. Especially in the day and age of a pandemic, these stories draw us in, since it gives us a strange sense of completion, since everyone in the group usually represents something different about the human mind.

Well, I’m gonna stop this rant. I’m getting tired and it will likely devolve into nonsense if I keep it up for too long. I hope that perhaps you may take something from reading this. I don’t know all the answers; these are all just my own thoughts, and I want to get into the habit of documenting my philosophy, especially when it comes to writing.

Final Fantasy IX – Not Just a Game, But an Experience (Spoilers)

Final Fantasy IX is a game I’ve had quite a history with. It was the first of the 3D Final Fantasy games I played almost a decade ago, and I’ve always enjoyed its charm. But for some reason, I could never beat it. It was typically external reasons. The first time I tried, my PS1 broke and I could no longer play it. The second time was on someone else’s system, so I didn’t have enough time to get to the end. The list goes on. I’ve had multiple versions of the game over the years, but was never able to beat it for some reason.

Until yesterday, that is.

For the past few months, I’ve been playing the Switch port of the game. It was really quite nice, given the fast forward function makes level grinding significantly faster. There were a few glitches and my game crashed multiple times, but through all the struggles, I finally made it to the end of the game yesterday. I knew how it ended because I used to be obsessed with Final Fantasy stuff online, so I learned much about the plot of games through reading about them, but it was the first time I got to see it firsthand. It’s quite rare for me to beat a game I’ve never beaten before, as it takes me years to get through one, but anyone can tell you that there’s a big difference between just knowing how a game ends and experiencing it for yourself. The feeling of happiness and accomplishment that came from beating this game I’ve been trying to beat for almost 10 years was indescribable.

I think that comes from the fact that you played through the game to thee end yourself. You experienced the same hardships as the characters in the game. You saw their emotions as the story developed, you were there with them the whole time. So to finally see the story come to a close brings a sense of satisfaction and, well, closure. I feel like that’s obvious to most people who play games, but to someone like me who never really gets that chance due to procrastination or what have you, it’s like a new realization. After beating it, even my girlfriend encouraged me to start beating more games I’ve been wanting to beat over the years to get that feeling of accomplishment and closure with all these games I’ve started but never finished. With that, I’m on a bit of a journey, though that’s all beside the point. I want to talk about my experience with Final Fantasy IX.

I’ve seen the beginning of this game so many times that I basically have it memorized. I don’t know if it’s a poor attention span or what, but that’s typically my Achilles’ heel when it comes to video games. I start these games over so much that I get bored and eventually procrastinate, making it to where I just never make progress. (That’s why I haven’t beaten Persona 5 Royal yet.) It’s also well-known that the combat speed in Final Fantasy IX is incredibly slow, especially when compared to the rest of the series. That’s a big part of why it took me so long to finally beat this gmae. However, once I got past that and just dealt with it, I started enjoying the game much more. When you play a Final Fantasy game, you’re usually in it for the story and characters, not the gameplay. (Though I do have a fondness for turn-based RPGs as a whole.) With that in mind, I appreciated the game more. I took more time looking at my surroundings, I read the dialogue with mindfulness, taking it all in, and just enjoying the music as a whole, adn I found it was far more enjoyable than I ever anticipated.

On top of that, reaching the end of the game was quite a trip. All the numerous storylines you’ve seen throughout the game coming together at the end was amazing. The last time I got to Disc Four of the game, I was still 14 years old, so seeing the endgame as an adult was like experiencing it for the first time. I’d heard that the ending feels rushed, and that the final boss doesn’t really make much sense, but when I played it myself, I feel like it worked well. The only part that felt rushed to me was the final dungeon itself, Memoria. It was relatively short, and while you did get some nice drops of lore, it felt rather vague. Perhaps that was intentional, because everything after Memoria no longer felt rushed to me.

I finally got to the two fights preceding the final boss. The first one was a fight I never won as a kid, so when I beat it, I was nervous but excited at the same time. I was ready to take Kuja on. I had a bit of trouble, but I had an incredibly solid team at the same time, so I took him down with relative “ease,” if you can even call it that. When I beat him, I wanted to stop for a moment, but I pressed on, ready to take on the true final boss, which is a character not technically mentioned at all throughout the game, which is why I feel people think it makes no sense. But it made sense to me. To me, the final boss represents death and the fear of death that many of us mortals feel. Beating the boss does not mean putting an end to death, but it’s like a symbolic fight where you cast away your fear of death and choose to live without that fear. That’s how I saw it. You come face-to-face with the fact that you will indeed die someda and when the fear of it comes up, instead of letting it consume your days alive, you fight the fear, telling it that you know it will happen someday, but there’s literally no reason to fear it. Especially when you still have life in you.

Final Fantasy IX, to me, is a game about that existentialism, the knowledge that you will die, but it’s okay. Right here and now, you’re alive. While you have this life, don’t stress out about the inevitable. Instead, just live. Don’t just survive: live. We’re not meant to live in fear, sadness, or anger. We’re not meant to be alone either. Love people. Love yourself especially. You may be your own worst critic, but if you were to ask your friends, if they are good friends who see the real you, they’d probably say you’re pretty damn great and are deserving of life. Like Zidane says to Kuja at the end, no one in the world is useless. So if you feel that way, that would be your emotions lying to you. I could just be getting preachy, but these are my honest feelings after having seen the whole game firsthand. Final Fantasy IX has an amazing message, one I think everyone needs to know.