The Playstation 2

And so the next age, the PS2. I put off buying a PS2 for ages, well after everyone I knew had bought one. It was expensive and I didn’t have the cash and furthermore, I didn’t see the reason to buy a console with so few games at launch. But as time passed and its games library grew I finally bit the bullet and got one.

The Playstation 2…what can I say about it? It had a DVD drive which I never used (we had PCs for that) The goddamn piece of junk broke down five times – oh wait I already told you about that. It’s game library was definitely smaller than the SNES and PS1, though there were some quality titles (like SRW!)

I would curse and swear at Sony a LOT over their piece of junk hardware. Due to lens problems I ended up buying a grand total of 5 PS2s (quite a strain on my limited budget!) I bought one to play SRW, and I only continued buying them to play SRW. Or so I told myself. Truth be told there were many good games on the PS2 (some life-changing ones as well) and I was very happy to play them.

The PS2 era was directly after my suicidal period, after my some of my friends had left for university. I would have been…twenty-plus by then I think.

What else happened? Life continued in a form of limbo. I still couldn’t go to school, work was sporadic and hard to come by. By now I had sort of realized that my life was very, very different from others, and that only intensified my feelings of loneliness and alienation.

Home life continued to be terrible. The fear of a relapse was always looming, and my sister and mother were running scared all the time. I was technically not “ill” (ah, the dreaded illness!) but nothing had truly been resolved. OCD was just pushed way down into my subconscious. If I had thought my mother was attached to the PhD before, now it was a full-blown obsession. She ate it, drank it, slept it. She talked of nothing else (when she wasn’t scolding us and telling us we were parasites who ought to die, that is) Even her screen-saver (it was “Get That PhD!”) I think in the depths of her obsession she probably thought that if she got it, it would Solve Everything, just like how I was going to Get Well and Go To School like Normal People.

I totally and completely became a parent and ran the house at this point. Cooking, cleaning, doing household repairs – the million and one tasks that one has to do it keep things running smoothly. When I look back and think about it now it’s staggering how many things I had to do on my own.

I remember making a business call for the first time and not knowing what to do, so I read up on it. I researched and wrote all my resumes all by myself. I read magazines on child-rearing, post-divorce family situations, first aid books, everything. This was before the Internet really took off, so there was not a lot of information on some topics, but I read and read anyway. It’s not like anyone was going to do it for me!

Meimei seemed to be always worried…worried about everything. Completely understandable. She had grown up in a family in which her parents had suddenly disappeared at six and the only replacement was a scarred youth bleeding internally from unhealed mental wounds. If I woke up she was scared that I hadn’t had enough sleep, which meant that I might have a relapse, which meant that she had to talk to me to keep me company and make sure I didn’t have a relapse which would mean that the world would have ended.

She suffered terribly (as I did) and I tried my best to shield her from everything around me (and myself) but there is only so much a twenty-something year old with severe mental illness can do. Again it’s a relief to admit that, because for the longest time I felt to do so would have been an admission of weakness. For a long time we were each other’s parent and that was something that was not only unpleasant but unavoidable.

My Dad actually tried to reconnect with us to some degree during this time and amazingly enough he was partially successful. Though he still wasn’t able to take much responsibility for his actions – he would still often talk about how “your Aunty Judy wants this or that” (first off, she’s not MY aunt, she’s YOUR wife) and how his birth family called on him to perform tasks (well, you can maybe, like, negotiate that with them?) he nevertheless tried in his own way to do what he could. As I grew up Mum’s poison from the past lessened its hold on me and I could see my father for myself – even if what I saw wasn’t always what I wanted to.

There is one game that I must mention, though. Shadow Hearts 2 (or Shadow Hearts : Covenant as it is known in the US)

At the age of twenty-two to twenty-three, I did realize that even though I wanted my life to be like SRW, it was indeed more like Evangelion. Shadow Hearts bridged that gap. It had heroism (SRW) and yet it acknowledged the great darkness in the human soul. (EVA) On top of that it was also really funny. I dare anyone to play the game and not laugh at the Festival of Man stuff.

I think Urumenauf Bort Hyuga (Yuri in the English version) was the first fictional character I truly wanted to be. I modelled my life after him. I wanted to be as strong, as compassionate, as powerful, as able to control the darkness within and use it for good. When I hit 26, my chief worry was “am I as good a man as Uru is?” “Would Uru do that?”

There are so many scenes from the game that affected me so deeply – him transforming into Amon to destroy Rasputin’s airship, Kallen confessing her love but being rejected because he already loved another (namely Alice…those two! Alice and Uru should go down in history as the Romeo and Juliet of video games) him talking to Albert Simon in the garden of his mind. The latter tries to kill him and he leaves his soul resting in his childhood memories. Talk about forgiveness.

He taught me about responsibility above and beyond the call of duty. At around this time I realized that my sister was terrified by my relapses and no one was doing anything to help me or explain them to her. So I dragged myself out of the darkness and told her (based on my admittedly limited knowledge at that point) what was happening and what to do. That she should run and hide and that I wouldn’t blame her in the least if she did. Like Uru I fought to contain the darkness within and use it for good even when it wasn’t my fault that I was saddled with it in the first place.

He didn’t NEED to save the world. He just did it because it was the right thing to do. When he discovered the man who had sent his father to probable death he beat him around the head but then stopped because he realized that the latter had a son of his own.

He smiled not just in the face of danger, but of madness and death as well. (he literally goes insane in Shadow Hearts 1 and only comes back from it with Alice’s help) He was something to shoot for where around me there was only darkness – more to the point, he taught me that you could fashion that same darkness into a way out. Don’t fear your dark side, use it. It will only consume you if you let it. And if you have the strength and the love within you, you will pass through into something greater, a passage to dawn in which all shadow is transformed into light.

Such was the power of Shadow Hearts 2 that I can remember playing it while afflicted with OCD…and to this day I cannot remember what it is that I was worried about.

My ex-boss (you know, the asshole who fired me for no good reason) actually translated the game, and it was a pretty good translation. Of course at that time I was more than a bit torn up about it. I believed that I should have been the one to translate it – after all, I certainly loved it a lot more than he did! Or so I thought at that time.

It had the ill fortune to be released at the same time as Final Fantasy X (which is about the WORST time you could choose to release a JRPG) but I believe that it still enjoys a (deserved) cult following.

Once again I played way too many games to recount them all, but I have to mention Xenosaga. Coming on the heels of Xenogears, it was a pretty important game to me as well. Xenosaga is always the “go-to” game I use as an example when people can’t believe that games can be that spiritual.

Despite the increasing lack of attire on KOS-MOS as the trilogy progresses (to be honest I’m not a big fan of that) she is actually Mary Magdalene, reincarnated thousands of years later as a cyborg hybrid. Yes, that Mary Magdalene.

Combining sources as disparate as Nietzsche, Freud, Jung (and of course) Neon Genesis Evangelion (the creator even said it was a directly influenced by the anime) Xenosaga brought me many insights into life, the cosmos and my role in it. Its sheer amount of conceptual depth is quite overwhelming – it’s not often you see a game (or fictional work for that matter) which combines the Jungian model of self with medieval alchemy and then relates that to the Old Testament.

For years whenever I could not trust, I would remember chaos turning to ask Wilhelm whether or not he could believe in humanity just a little. When I was deep in pain I would remember Shion’s embrace of KOS-MOS from behind in those golden fields of wheat, before she remembered she was Mary. The ending song echoes in my memory even now. If not today, then maybe tomorrow.

You know a game is important when it appears in your therapy, and Persona 4 did. At the end of the day we have to face what we hate and deny and dislike about ourselves the most, lest it overcome us. The Shadows in the game make this pretty clear, and the normal battle theme is even “I’ll Face Myself.” Out of all the characters in the game Rise resonated the most with me (strange because I typically hate Japanese pop stars) especially when she sat down and apologized to herself for denying all the aspects of her nature.

Any others? I’ll just make the list quick. Okami, one of the most beautiful and yes, spiritual games ever created. I think just playing it through makes you half-Shinto. The way the flowers bloom and the water gushes forth in bright streams when you cleanse an area of evil makes me happy every time I see it.

I’ve played over ten “Tales of” titles but the one that stays in my memory the most might be Tales of the Abyss. Luke’s journey from asshole to semi-decent human being to eventual savior of the world was not something you saw every day. Having always wanted to be my own person but being unable to really do so, his tale struck a chord deep inside me.

It’s during the early part of this period (my early twenties) that I think I shook off some of my laundry list of mental illnesses (depression, OCD, trauma, PTSD) and actually got involved in certain things. Cosplay, for instance. And singing. Not many opportunities for work or career advancement, but I grew in many other areas instead.

I stopped being that little nerdy Asian kid who only played games and read books and came into my own in a variety of ways. I became more confident, assured (especially socially) and grew more aware of my own inner strength. Though the ghosts of the past continued to howl very loudly indeed.

I continued my aimless wanderings around Singapore, trawling the many shops to find pirated games, anime CDs and weird and interesting books. In many ways this was a repeat of the PS1 era, just on another system. Friends and I continued to discuss games and continued to haunt the arcades. I went over to houses to play Guilty Gear way into the night. I hung out with friends, sang karaoke and messed around with this and that, doing what I could to have fun and avoid the constant pain at home.

And so in and around the PS2 era I turned twenty-one. My 21th birthday was a repeat of my 18th, except that I was on fewer antidepressants now.

The transcultural elements of my life assumed a different shape at this point. No doubt you’ve noticed that almost all the examples of games I’ve quoted till this point have been without exception Japanese games.

I think at the end (and I only realized this in my late twenties) it was the intensely spiritual nature of Japanese games that drew me to them. Not that Western games lacked for spirit. But they were at that time (2001 to 2009 onwards) more focused on plot and setting than theme and character – something that is slowly changing today. It was other things as well. I preferred the exaggerated stylistics of anime and Japanese games to the more realistic approach that Western media took. I liked Bad Girl Good Boy romantic pairings – which were (and in many ways still are) easier to find in the East for some reason. (perhaps due to a more conservative society, it comes out in their media? But I’ll keep my sociocultural musings to a minimum.)

I was also enough of an amateur psychologist to see other connections. Part of it was obviously a strong attachment to the language because of a lack of other things in my life. I was a prisoner of this feeling of Japanese Media Good, Western Media Bad for a lot of my young adulthood – and because of my other hangups I felt that I had to explain and understand and categorize everything for it to be valid. I couldn’t just say, for example “I like Japanese games more because I like Japanese stuff more in general” – I had to have Good Reasons for it.

I don’t think I was really ever a weeaboo, or whatever they were called back in those days. My love for the language and my interest in the culture and country went deeper than that. Japan always has had a special pull over people and I don’t think I was an exception, but I didn’t really know what it was that I felt.

Deprived as I was of any sense of stability at home, things got pretty haywire in my self and in my mind. My search for identity, transcultural nature and inner pain all got tangled together and came out in all sorts of weird ways, including the above. I liked Japanese stuff while at the same time feeling much closer to the USA culturally. And living in Singapore, which was an Asian country which was supposed to be my home but that I couldn’t really understand. While dealing with abusive parents. It was a confusing and difficult time for me. And people wonder why I liked Evangelion so much.

But it’s hard to separate these things into their component parts. I often wished that I had a Centrifuge of the Soul and Mind (like some kind of D&D artifact) that could spin to sort myself out, to make sure this thing went into this hole and that piece slotted into that. But that would have just been my hyper-rational mind speaking. Life isn’t so simple or cut and dried.

I longed for the US, though I could never really admit it to myself. It was only natural. My time there was really the last time I can remember being happy and when my family was together. I was so sick and tired of Singapore – its hidebound ways, its emphasis on money, everyone being so fucking conservative all the goddamn time. People always asking about school and work and the JLPT, opening and reopening wounds that had never closed. Are you going to study? Are you going to work? Like there wasn’t anything else in life.
I was probably right, all things considered, but I had no means to go back. I’ll talk about that in a later chapter.

The Playstation 2 era (as I think of it) spans maybe the entire Book 3, from when I was 22 to 29. It was a longer period in my life because I bought it late and continued to play it even when the Playstation 3 came out. I would say that it ended around 2011 or so.

If the PS1 era ended with Resistance Line, I could say that my twenties were best summed up by Shinjitsu no Yukue. (The Whereabouts of Truth)

Many times I felt like the last lines of the song, that even though I screamed so loudly, it was somehow so quiet that my voice would fade away and disappear. I stumbled through illusion and reality, truth and falsehood, seeking what lay at the end of sadness and beyond.

I sought truth but it was denied me. I searched endlessly in twilight for answers, only to be betrayed – much as Haseo was. But like him I sought a resolution outside of the parameters of the game, beyond all that I knew and had been taught. Because someone was smiling gently at me.

The longing to know the truth, the understanding on some deep level that there were secrets and things that had been kept from me forever. That was much of the journey from twenty to thirty.

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