On NPC Gaze

I started my video game journey in earnest with Pokemon back when I was a wee demon living in suburbia. Pokemon is well-known for its clueless NPCs and how invasive you can be in their lives. Now, let’s back up: an NPC is a non-playable character in a video game. Typically they hang out in the background and only provide things to move the plot along or are just random extras. Sometimes they’re given really fun lines but for the most part they are meant to let you continue on in your own quest for fame and in-game self-importance. 

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has changed that for me in a way that I currently find unsettling and interesting. Animal Crossing is a game in which you (player and character) live on a land or island with villagers that are your neighbors and you help them out with mundane tasks and interact with them on a daily basis creating strange parasocial relationships with fictional characters. As stated, I started my journey with RPGs with Pokémon and for the most part the NPCs in any given region are pretty linear with their motivations and movements. Sure, they can walk around and move around but they rarely seem to exist outside of you. The houses don’t feel lived in, the parks don’t feel full, they are ghosts that fill a landscape for you: the hero of a Nietzschean wet dream. You walk into a house and rummage around the trash for goods and talk to someone, sometimes but for the most part, the unmoving digital eyes care little for your activities or actions. It’s perfectly normal within Pokémon to walk into someone’s home, steal their shit and leave. 

Animal Crossing is not Pokemon and I didn’t think that fact would unnerve me until I tried to leave Rocco’s house without saying anything. I had entered in the hopes of giving him a gift to build clout, I mean because he deserved it for doing nothing, and when I found him working away at his workstation, I left without acknowledging him. I was shocked to see how he reacted to that. Of course he would react and not kindly but with confusion. I entered his home and said nothing; that’s deranged and rude. But Rocco was confused and that gave me pause for the first time in my decades of playing video games. NPCs are watching me. I never worried about that until recently. I never cared about how I dressed in-game or how I behaved but now playing Animal Crossing I feel like I have eyes on me all the time. Characters’ eyes follow me when I run around; when I enter their homes and greet them they are often interrupted from a previous task. When I don’t see them, they are disappointed and when I talk to them too much, they comment on that. 

They have lives outside of me: something I rarely have had to think about for an NPC. I am part of their world, not a part of mine like most traditional narrative structure in games.My villagers are neighbors, on par and equal to me. While I am the main character, I am in many ways in service to them. I have to weed and water and pick up rocks and fill the museum and catch bugs and fish and keep the entire economy running by selling to a gaggle of capitalist tanuki. 

It created along with it a strange short of shame to me that I rarely feel in video games: most games allow players to be shameless with their dress and actions. You are the ubermensch of this world and it bends to your will. So what if I break into someone’s house in Legend of Zelda. But in Animal Crossing the characters have a life outside of you. They leave their homes, they sleep, they fish, they do things where you don’t matter; where I don’t matter. I am as much an NPC to them as they are to me. They are people creatures who truthfully would probably be fine without me sans “missing” my character and things getting full of weed because someone has to do the damn work around here. 

I’m a vain person, which is hilarious considering how low my self-esteem is. I’m image conscious even in games. I had this concern while playing Animal Crossing when Clyde, a horse I do not like, showed up on my island. I was told by friends that hitting him with my net and generally being a damn menace would encourage the horse to leave. I was fine with that, I’m used to being a sociopath in games and decided that I wanted to appropriate his land for my Japanese-themed garden on the island and proceeded to hunt the horse down mercilessly and hit him with my net repeatedly. I was then shocked to see the horse show visible frustration and sadness and when I spoke to him he said that his feelings were hurt and it was my fault

My fault?

This is a video game. This horse isn’t real. But I broke down over that. I hurt the horse’s feelings and hurt him. And while of course that makes sense because don’t hit random people with nets, for god’s sake, I was shocked that my actions had consequences. In video games, I am a lawless sociopath doing as I wish but here I did something that caused a reaction and one that was not positive. I was emotionally crushed in that moment (thanks, trauma) and I have left the horse alone for now to continue to mar my land with his existence but too afraid now to harm him. 

An NPC’s gaze can be powerful, more so than I ever assumed before. Now, I am paranoid, anxious and scared with so many virtual eyes on me. It has affected how I dress, act and move in-game and now has me wondering if I’ll ever view NPCs the way I used to again. 

The Strange Calm of Car Crash Compilation Videos

I have been watching a lot of very easily bingeable media and one thing I really like are compilation videos: they can be hours long and I don’t have to skip around and they provide consistent noise; something I need while working either at my day job or the myriad of other projects I’m a part of. What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a very strange sort of serenity in watching the world at its most chaotic: during car crashes.

There are countless hours of dashcam footage from cars all over the world. Some of it records aliens, meteors, space launches, ghosts and most importantly: car crashes. Car crashes scare the hell out of me; like most people, realistically. I’ve been in a few accidents but very few actual crashes, to which I know I am quite fortunate but my anxiety around cars has stemmed from a pretty nasty accident I got into when I was just starting to drive. I’ve never felt entirely safe or secure in the car, especially if I’m driving; it’s still one of my least favorite things to do. I much rather be a passenger and let someone else do the driving. I never found it freeing, relaxing or anything; it’s always been a chore to take up with a sacred solidarity because as someone operating a car, you are in fact in control of a two-ton death cage careening at high speed. When I was in driver’s education, the deadly aspect of driving was really hammered home and that’s a fear I’ve taken with me some 15 years later. And to be perfectly honest, dash cam culture is a fascinating look into people who trust no one (valid) and record everything; sparking some interesting conversations about surveillance culture, consent to be filmed and just what is one to do with literal hours of footage.

But in my hunt for content that I rarely need to engage with as a means to minimize distractions in a world full of them, I’ve found dashcam footage from car crashes, brake checks, road ragers and more and; well, let’s talk about it. 

Car crashes are horrifying but much like train crashes; it’s hard to look away. A mangle of metal, a tangle of tires, a barrage of bumpers. It’s all a horrid and profane symphony and honestly, some of them are just beautiful. The force required to turn a car into a crushed soda can is immense but also can be so random. I’ve watched hours of crash content and the things that have caused accidents are vast and capricious: just like the things that can endanger real human life as well. 

I noticed something odd, though, when I would watch these crashes often during hours-long segments as some means of horrible crunching white noise: I would relax. My body would ease, sag into the sofa, I would become at ease and let out a held breath. I could finally be rid of the tension held in my shoulders and just let a small wave of endorphins and calm crash over me. I could finally relax and it immediately caused a dissonant type of concern for my brain chemistry and my sanity once I came back to my senses. When I realized that such a thought process was not only not normal but also a little worrying, I started to examine just what about literal disasters was so damn soothing to my anxious brain. And that was the key; there it was: my anxious brain. 

Anxiety is a perversion of the brain’s typical defense system and desire to shield our flesh prisons from danger. The world is a scary place and if you think of our ancient ancestors, the upright apes, they were surrounded by threats to their lives from literal giant eagles to sabertooth cats and direwolves. Being anxious and weary of the world around them was a vital aspect to survival; it was the unwise that ran ahead into the option field that got yoinked out of existence by a giant bird. Anxiety is a fear of the unknown in every facet of the word and a sense of dread about a threat that one cannot see or feel yet. It’s being on edge about the car that could hit you or the person that could kidnap you. It’s the call that might be about the death of yet another family member or the fear that one mistake at work will end your entire career and leave you homeless and destitute. That’s what it’s like living with anxiety; it’s all build up with no climax, it’s constantly living on a razor’s edge waiting to finally fall and never actually falling. 

I’ve been honest about my struggle with depression and generalized anxiety and I realize now, I’ve had this condition for most of my life. There’s something about facing loss and grief so early in your years and experiencing trauma that leaves the mind on edge and hypervigilant. My mind is always assuming that if only and if I had just would be enough and could have in fact changed the directory of my existence despite the futility of such thinking.  

That’s why car crash videos felt so good to my brain that is already constantly braced for impact and prepared for the collision of metal and flesh. My brain finally registers that the crash has happened and I can finally let go of my breath and relax. Once I’m free from the fear of the crash coming I can then move on and process the rest of the trauma. In this instance, with just videos, I can come back down and recognize the damage done and gawk or gasp accordingly. 

I did talk to my therapist about this and he mentioned wanting to see the dopamine release that clearly I’m getting from this via MRI and I agree with him. I’d also love to see the obvious chemical reaction I’m getting from watching literal car crashes. I’m sure it’s likely a little scary to admit but so is living with general anxiety. 

A Record Breaking Year

Guys, I’m floored. I’m genuinely floored. I’ve been blogging for years now and this year, I’ve hit so many milestones that frankly, I’m just humbled and shocked and surprised. So let’s go over a few of them. I hit 200 followers, managed to reach 11,000 views with just 3,000+ of those happening this year. I have been blessed to have 6,000 + visitors to this humble blog.

I’ve never been one to care about blog traffic in this way. I’ll mention milestones mostly because it’s just sort of fantastic to me that my work touches that many people. But these numbers are truly motivating, truly fantastic and honestly, I couldn’t do it without all of you.

So from the bottom of my heart: thank you.

I’m going to continue to do my best to provide content worthy of your attention.

Sincerely,

A.

Sunshine Blogger Award 2019

Firstly, I’d like to thank Bloom Reviews for nominating me. I’m honored and flattered. Since essentially everyone I’d like to nominate was nominated with me, I suppose I luck out a little bit. But for the sake of being a good sport, I’ll answer the questions!

What was the scariest movie or show you’ve ever watched?

  • I don’t scare easily because I’m usually just N O P E but Paranormal Caught on Camera or pretty much anything that deals with ghosts or hauntings or the paranormal. I don’t deal well with cryptids, aliens, ghosts or the like as much as I am fascinated with them.

Are there certain genres of TV shows or books that you stay away from or hate reading? Why?

  • I don’t much care for romance or YA. It just bores me and since my back story reads like a comic book protag, most cookie-cutter stories are just a slog of a lack of problems and a lack of depth.

Who was your first celebrity/character crush and why?

  • First Crush in Anime was probably Lord Sesshomaru or Master Naraku from InuYasha as far as celebrities…Ryan Phillipe. First celebrity female crush is Eva Mendez

What was one show your parents hated you watching but you watched anyways?

  • Probably Cow and Chicken or something like that. My parents let me watch pretty much anything. My aunts disliked me watching anime of any kind.

I’ve recently gotten addicted to podcasts, do you have any recommendations for podcasts or other talk shows you enjoy listening to?

  • I’m going to go ahead and say my podcast: Unfortunately, Required Reading but I’ll also say: Lore, What You Missed In History Class, Welcome to Night Vale and The Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know.

I’m currently relaxing on vacation right now. What’s your favorite summertime or beach read?

  • An Illustrated History of the Marquis de Sade.

It’s starting to get towards the end of summer. What’s one aspect of this season that you look forward to the most? Vacation? A certain event? Warmth?

  • Summer is usually time for me to go to convention but I do like going to the sea and mostly getting to celebrate my birthday.

Conversely, Fall is pretty much upon us. What’s one thing about the season you’re really looking forward to?

  • A lack of sun.

Tell me about the style of your blog and why you picked the color, banner, and subject matter that you did.

  • I chose the sakura blossoms because of what they mean to Japan. Japanese culture and anime have always been huge influences on me. The colors are a mix of my struggle to embrace the fact that I quite like girly things while also in my real life being somewhat gender neutral. The subject matter fits in my name. It’s me, actually. Which means it’s all the things I love: anime, film, comics, feminism, representation and more.

What about blogging drew you to make your own blog?

  • The freedom to write whatever I want.

Is there anything about content creators in particular or contention creation in general that you find annoying or frustrating?

  • I think finding the balance between giving people who do love what I do a way to support me monetarily while not feeling like a shill or a cheap writing prostitute. I don’t mind the idea of accepting Ko-Fi donations but things like Patreon make me feel a bit uneasy likely because I feel a bit lacking as a creator.