- Sep 15, 2021
- Reaction score
(Note: This analysis includes full spoilers for the game!)
First thing after finishing this visual novel, a sudden urge to go outside and get so much vitamin C till I get sunburnt, then to browse eBay for retro PC's. Digital Seclusion tells the story of a nameless and isolated protagonist who loves his PC-9800 and pre-new-millenium anime waifus maybe a little too much, heck you might call him cringe. But he's serious about his passions, our hero spends all of his days inside his Underground Man-Esque apartment and like the Underground Man, he is burdened by the guilt that comes with free will: He is perfectly aware of his degenerate way of living, and he knows with full reason that the road traveled is of his own making and despite this, rather, because of this, he continues to embrace his lifestyle.
The rays of sun seeping into his room guilt, he knows what he is, "The prisoner can feel the coarseness of the walls. He can feel the cool rust of the metal bars. And he can view the tantalizing freedom he is being denied. But what of the man whose free will has convinced him to reject his own freedom? (...) Instead, favoring to stare at a box for all his waking hours"
This sort of suffering felt like the main problem that Digital Seclusion poses to its readers, not the cause of why such people might exist in the first place, we know that is a fact, but the observation of the normativity such humans engage themselves in, and the consequences of those behaviors.
Our narrator is guilted by the alarm that he always could or be living a better life, I even suspect he won't go outside because he feels too guilty to try a better existence, it would be too painful, suicidal, to correspond the idea that he has been disregarding and rotting away the gift of his humanity.
We've all felt this. The idea that our current lifestyle is not exactly a promising way of going day-to-day, that we should be living a very different and better life, that for inexplicable reasons was taken away from us like we were shifted into a cursed timeline instead of the future we were meant to be in. Clown-World exists, but we're all part of its circus.
Our protagonist's heroin comes in the form of the phantasmagoria the computer monitor displays, visual novels, ghosts of stories the promise the sensation of a higher meaning, he connects with their characters more than he can with humans, he found a word for this sensation, Love.
The problems with Romanticism and Nostalgia.
Romanticism was characterized as a melancholic reflection on the loss of the ethical and teleological systems that the Enlightenment displaced, the inner yearning for the lost experience, the observing consciousness wandering and never satisfied, it keeps looking for beauty in nostalgia for it feels like beauty can only be found in the world that was lost.
In the dialectics of art, romantic artists were criticized by their modernist successors for turning yearning into wishful thinking that then was turned into mere fantasies, and romantic fantasies pollute the ability to comment properly on the pertaining issues of modernity, which first starts in focusing on the real and vulnerable in order to exalt and redeem the human soul against his deserted landscape, something that romanticism can never refer, according to modernists.
And the visual novels our narrator enjoys himself in fit this description of romanticism quite well, I've never played them to be clear, so I'm going by the descriptions Digital Seclusion provides: Dating sims which despite any of their storytelling merits, seek to create a fantasy of fulfilled romance that has no referent in real life. The protagonist gives us a reason for his romantic yearnings, he couldn't find any meaningful relationships in his high school journey, worse, he found feeling closer to anime characters than his peers. So, he found himself enchanted by anime like Kanon, it awakened hope in him, he waited for years for its promise of youthful love in a character like Kawasumi, a shy, secluded, and misunderstood girl, he waited to meet someone like this. But how modernists pointed out, such a romance would never come, because it can't possibly be real with only sentimentality as its real-life reference.
He knows this, at some point, Satomi, his only friend, asks him:
"Why do you have such an affinity to these characters... They aren't real"
"That's precisely the point"
To which she realizes:
"It's the fiction... It's the fiction you've fallen in love with."
He doesn't want to love, he wants the sentimentality of love, the simulation of the union of flesh, which his visual novels serve to stimulate, those narratives serve as a vehicle for him to satisfy his fantasies. Things get interesting when one of the characters from his self-admitted tropey visual novels becomes realized.
I believe there is a clever meta-commentary: Satomi coming out of the screen to talk with him becomes a wish-fulfillment for our protagonist and in turn, we hold similar fantasies which can't be fulfilled. I would sure as heck love, however unhealthy that might be, to date any of the cute girls in my visual novels, perhaps precisely because of how little actual humanity they possess, characters most likely designed in order to appeal to a male fantasy of love.
It's not only thanks to the simulations of love that our protagonist likes his type of obscure visual novels so much, there are plenty of modern visual novels to fill that void, so why does he prefer old, untranslated, and obscure titles instead? Because they give the sensation that they are his.
"As Kanon becomes old and increasingly dated, with every wrinkle, I cherish it the more."
Waifu claiming is a meme, but the meme hides behind a very real desire, the longing for the heroines of whatever Japanese media to be ours, akin to how a girlfriend is one's own and no one else's. To possess them and yell the world: She's mine! She's mine because I know her better than all of you! Because she's so special to me, I've shared ineffable feelings with this character, feelings which no one else will ever experience or understand!
The protagonist's desire for possession is clear when he calls the Type-Moon franchise a whore (Based btw) for being "a once shy girl who became popular and forgot where she came from". He hates the idea of liking something that can be enjoyed by so many people.
I've pondered about this. I carry that sort of vice that makes fun of normie media that I will never attempt to watch (Says the Fire Emblem pfp) because my mind tends to equate popular with stupid and degenerate. I wouldn't have an issue with a movie like Taxi Driver suddenly becoming as popular as Avengers Endgame, besides the waves of pretentious essayists that will come, but I agree with the protagonist, Type-Moon being the money printing machine it is has a special kind of disgust attached to it, despite my only experience with it being fate/zero, which I saw as nothing more than edgy and pretentious nihilism (btw). I think it's the combination of what I see as mediocre writing plus popularity which gives this sense of anger thanks to perceived unfairness.
But I find there is something deeper to this. The need to feel unique. An issue that has become acute on postmodernity, for several reasons, but relevant here is how modern culture has displaced all of the meaning-making mechanisms that our ancestors had, like family, community, religion, so we are mostly left with nothing more than our individuality. And despite many philosophers' wishes, free will in itself doesn't seem enough to make life meaningful for many.
It's clear to me that there is a need to allocate our lives in a sort of transcendental narrative to feel comfortable with the going on of our existence. I include myself. And the world devoid of easy systems of meaning, the shortest and most comfortable route comes in the form of nostalgia.
There are several reasons why I feel so haunted by nostalgia (And nostalgia for lost futures), one of the main reasons is how nostalgia gives life a sort of self-referential meaning (To not call it narcissistic) that seeks to validate my present, when we present our past with the sort of mythical images nostalgia provides, we give our own lives a sort of mythical meaning, a story only you can interact with.
"But doesn't it further spice up the immersion knowing that you are one of the few people in the world who still experiences these games? In a whole globe, you are practically monopolizing, and therefore personalizing the experience. It's your own personalized journey"
Our protagonist hates Type-Moon in part because of its seemingly undeserved popularity, but mainly because so many people consume it, to enjoy such a franchise would put him in a plane equal to a vast amount of people he considers distasteful, and then he can't use the consumption of Type-Moon as a nostalgic and meaning giving mechanism for its mythical quality disappears when so many people partake in interaction with the franchise. In the same vein, why you are hurt by your girlfriend cheating on you? Because she doesn't care how special you are, and in turn, she ceases to be so special herself.
Because our protagonist doesn't have any sort of meaning that life could offer in the present or future, he has to be chained to dreams of a past with a meaning that he never experienced. Manifested through old computers and video games. A feeling I suspect most of Agora Road's users have felt. I certainly came here to get a simulation of Y2K internet forums.
The protagonist tells us: "I tell myself this is what it means to be a devoted fan. To hold the same intense fondness someone might have while reminiscing about a passionate love affair they cherished from many summers past" However, he never quite seems to achieve the meaning he is looking for, so let's focus at his ultimate wish fulfillment coming to life.
(Satomi is probably not her actual name, this spirit just takes the form of whatever waifu our protagonist likes the most at the moment. To make things easier, I will just call her by the character she first takes the form of, Satomi from Pia Carrot. )
At first, Satomi is annoyed that the nameless protagonist doesn't interact with her in her visual novel, so she transforms into a character more of his liking, she goes through multiple transformations until she sticks, for the most part, with the protagonist's certified best girl, Misako Sayama. I believe her shapeshifting is key to understanding her character, she's a spirit set on capturing the protagonist by transforming into what she thinks he desires the most, as a hunter, she get's to know her prey, she interacts with him until she can get a clear view of what he wants. Yet when he sees her transforming for his desires the following is stated:
"Yet I felt that what I was staring at was all plastic. Hollow on the inside."
This recalled to me T.S Elliot's famous poem The Hollow Men. It talks about the spiritual crisis that followed after the end of WWI, specifically the inability of humans to become anything other than hollow men with the death of spirituality at the start of the 20th century. However, despite being empty inside, the hollow men wear deliberate disguises to cover their meaningless existence, they seek meaning and spirituality in a desert that only contains broken idols. The nostalgia and individualism that pushes the protagonist into secluding himself in obscure visual novels, the force that created Satomi, fits this description very well.
The protagonist is reluctant to interact or give room to Satomi in their first encounters, but as the story moves forward, he finds himself more and more captured by her company, the only company he knows, and wishes, at her suggestion, to get rid of his material body in order to consummate with her and be united forever. The fact that the protagonist dies after having sex with Satomi, seemingly devoured, gives us reason to be skeptical of the goodness of this relationship.
Satomi appears as nothing more than a spirit taking advantage of the protagonist's need for sentimentality rather than a real relationship. The fact that she keeps shifting appearances as she discovers what waifu the protagonist simps for the most is evidence for this. She gets to know her prey like a snake, it's only after several conversations of getting to know the protagonist that she is finally able to make him give up his body and seemingly devour him.
//As far as I'm aware, despite the game's menu suggesting choice, the story is linear. I replayed it again looking for hidden places to click in order to effect a change in the narrative (I clicked on the computer's buttons so many times!). After reading some reviews, it appears the story only has one ending. If it has more than the "Bad Ending" this next section might be useless lol. //
If there is only one end, it means there was never a way for the protagonist to escape his degenerate lifestyle, his life choices up until this point could only lead him to his death at the hand of his rejection of his humanity. His decision to choose the sentimental fantasy that visual novel characters offered him over facing his human nature and thus the possibility of a genuine relationship with a 3D girl, which he rejects when he rids himself of his body to have a sexual encounter with Satomi.
Despite some reviewers on the web saying that Digital Seclusion is a "love letter to visual novels", it did appear to me like the narrative was at least very skeptical of the lifestyle of those who obsess with the medium while at the same time showing immense appreciation for visual novels themselves.
You might end up loving your individual fantasies and/or a fantasy of what your live could be more than real life, and you might even indulge in that love for quite some time, but it might cost your humanity because you won't know anything other than yourself. Before he dies and after fulfilling his fantasy of having sex with Satomi the protagonist gives the last of his thoughts:
"Like a flipped switch, the previous bliss instantly evaporates, living only a residue of regret in my heart. Any and all interest I had in her has vanished. A desire to retreat into myself overcomes me."
He got his wish come true and found there was nothing but himself and his emptiness in it.
Virtual Cafe Awards