Saturday, 28 August 2010

Not A Game

It came from beyond the extreme reaches of our reality
It came to laugh at our naive existences

At home: A child's murder. A "fleeing teenage criminal" shot to death by police. Another unwanted baby, left at a doorstep or trash can. Elsewhere: Civil war. Terrorism. Failed states. Slavery. The drug and human trade. Suicide.

Despite the prevalence of international broadcasting, the horrors faced by and involving children don't appear to even pluck at our heartstrings, stretched taut by the weight of our own problems and (oft-misplaced) priorities. Whatever impression made eventually fades, and after a night's sleep - or as soon as the buck hits the bottom of the collection bin, it's as if it never happened.

I am puzzled by the truth that slips through my hands even as I cover my ears

When researching UNICEF for an interview, I came across the frightening statistic that every year, half a million mothers die of various reasons. Many of whom were from the African continent, and many of those die during childbirth.

I remember typing out some questions in a muted rage after that. Half a million? Each year? I can't remember exactly why. As a maternity ward nurse, Mom sometimes relates stories from work (she never mentions names). On occasion, there would be tragedies. Because I can't comprehend what Mom sees at work everyday, let alone fathom how she manages to do double-shifts on most days (she's already in her sixties), I could only imagine.

Which is why when I hear the glib, asinine, or sanctimonious statements made by politicians about baby dumping, child rape, deaths at a National Service camp, hazing or ragging, or the shooting and death-in-custody of a teenager, etc (let's not even start on the pro-lifers in the US, or the Vatican), the red mist descends, and I hear, once again, the words of a former editor: "We don't know how to treat our children right."

Similar emotions were roused recently with the opening theme to the Japanese anime series Bokurano. It opens with a rousing, haunting church hall chanting, followed by the powerful, crystal clear, church hall vocals of Chiaki Ishikawa.

The whole track is rousing, lively, powerful. Then you dig a little deeper and uncover what the series is about, what the Japanese words mean, and the song takes on a new significance. It is a sad, angry composition.

Bokurano is a sci-fi tale of about fifteen children in their early teens, who encounter a strange man in a cave who claims to be a videogame developer, and invites the kids to test the game for him, involving a giant robot and invaders from other dimensions. Eventually the children realise they have been drafted into real duels between giant robots from alternate versions of this world, and they are the pilots of the home team's machine.

Defeat means the utter devastation of the loser's world, so it's do or die. Actually, do and die - since the robot runs on human life force, the pilot expires, regardless of the outcome. Did I mention that the chosen ones are children? And that there's apparently no way they can opt out of the "game"?

Where in this thin body do I find the strength to stand?

As their numbers dwindle, the chosen are forced to grow up real quick, and search for the meaning of their lives. Time however, is short, and there's no way of telling how long they have before another of their number is summoned to battle, indicated by the markings that appear on the face and body. The fact that they end their lives as mass murderers on a galactic scale doesn't make things better.

I am devoid of any feelings
Except an impulse to destroy everything and anything
Since I can't even choose the season of my passing...

I have not watched the series, nor do I plan to - the shock would be too much. At first one is inclined to railroad the producers for coming up with something so disturbing, but how is it any different from the drama we're witnessing on the news channels?

I was told that I am but one of the countless specks of dust on this planet
But that is something I cannot yet comprehend

Like the chosen children, not all are born into nice families, environments, or completely protected from harm. There's parental abandonment, physical and sexual abuse, and after their identities as pilots are leaked, one of them is even assassinated by a paranoid government.

I have no choice but to pretend that I am a warrior who knows no fear

At times, I think I'm angry because whatever it is behind the bad news - bureaucracies, theocracies, or ideologues - seems to be laughing at our naive existences, before setting in motion the plans that reap such heavy tolls: war against terror, war against drugs, war against tyranny, war against poverty, and so on. When these "leaders" try to justify their means, that sinister, mocking laughter seems to echo from behind.

It makes me want to end everything with these hands
It's not a bad thing to uninstall

This reality is no videogame. There are no save points. No character files to back up. No extra lives, no pauses, no restarts. At times when the metaphor fits, the players go their merry way, regardless of the collateral damage incurred. Ruined livelihoods, broken families, ruined environments, failed states. Orphans, widows, widowers. Dead children. How long can such outcomes be accepted as "part of the game"?


"Uninstall" by Chiaki Ishikawa
僕はまだ何も知らない | I Still Know Nothing (2007)
Victor Entertainment
Lyrics translated by DarkMirage


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