It doesn’t take a long time to change things in big ways.
I spent the last bits of July feeling more connected to Shichikashuku than I ever have. The outpouring of love from the people in the town hall, and the parents, and the staff… it was really humbling. And maybe it was just a good excuse to have a few parties. But, I enjoyed those parties a lot, and the beer was the least of my concern.
Helping the new guy get settled was also a great way to personally distill my experience. I was hesitant to show everything I knew and loved about the town, because I felt that would be both unnecessary and counterproductive. Some of the joy that comes from a new place lies in discovery. Like spoilers, showing everything wonderful about a place can mean that the surprises lost their luster. Seeing something majestic for the first time, without preconceptions, helps it feel personal. Adding my input would only hamper his process of integrating the place into his life.
Whatever I did do, it seems to have worked well enough. The new ALT is already very much in touch with the town and its people, much more so than I was after a month. I’m glad.
But I’m also glad to be gone.
Not because I didn’t like the place. Not because the job was terrible. Neither of those things are true. I wasn’t trading in a shitty lot. Things were good. But they weren’t great, and they weren’t moving in a direction, and maybe that makes all the difference.
I came back home on August 3rd, and within the week I was attempting to get this full-time game development thing started. No, I wasn’t making money. Nor was I technically accountable to anyone. Yet, compared with my life in Japan, already I felt like this movement was meaningful.
We talk about meaningful decisions a lot in game development. Giving players choice that matters to the player. It can be as black or white as a “moral” decision in Infamous, or as fundamental as choosing to go into a room stealthily or guns blazing in Deus Ex, or as basic as choosing the machine gun or shotgun to deal with a wave of enemies in a shooter. Thinking about the interactions with the game is so fundamental to enjoying a good game.
However, meaningful decisions happen in real life all the time too. They’re the ones we fret over. Asking that special someone out. Answering an interview question for a job you want. Deciding what your next career should be. Even what to have for dinner can be meaningful if you care about the result.
In my last months in Japan, I didn’t really care about the job anymore. A or B? Eh. どうでもいい。Nothing mattered in the same way. I knew that no matter how well I did at the job, I wasn’t moving up or down. There were no raises. No chance of being fired (barring I get caught drunk driving or something equally illegal). My choices at work didn’t feel as meaningful as I would have liked.
And now, they once again do feel meaningful. Like my time in China, where I felt as if my work directly affected whether or not my company would succeed, now my game development work could be connected to whether or not I would succeed at this career path.
It feels so good.
After all this lack of pressure, this drifting in limbo, I finally feel like my life is moving again. Moreover, that what I do now matters, and success or failure is now related to the actions I take.
The next five or so months are focused on game development. Things like language study and teaching skills are on the back burner (though, really, I can’t get them out of my head completely). And, being out of Japan and back in America, I don’t have as much to talk about in regards to the land of the rising sun.
But, I will still be updating this blog. There’s always more to say about Japan. Plus, I’ll very likely be returning to Japan within the next 12 months. And that will be an even more unique journey than the one I’ve previously led.
I’ve also started up a new blog, focused on my game development, and that will probably be getting the most regular updates. So if you’re interested in my ramblings about game design, please check it out.
Also, I’ve finally posted the final version of Shichikashuku II, if you’d like to play that, especially if you’d like to practice your Japanese.