In her Guardian piece this week about Pokemon and storytelling, novelist Caroline O Donoghue notes that, the games are essentially road movies. You journey through different towns, dropping in on lives already in progress, stories already in motion. And like any road movie, the visitor is only ever told as much as he needs to know. There are no Super Mario-style “Find the princess!” prompts. You are asked, simply, to read the room.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve moved through Tokyo this week – not alone, as I had been previously, but still, alien in a new place. How the video games I grew up chained to all dandelioned from this country and this culture, and I, a westerner consumed them as fiction and allowed them to influence my own imagination, my own aesthetic. In the tight streets of Shimokitazawa, full of tiny bars and vintage shops, I am immediately brought to the polygon worlds I raised myself in – though this is not a place in which I am a hero on a journey, seeking a princess – I have been reading this environment, reading these endless rooms, albeit a reading in translation.
In some ways, this column has been an exploration of different kinds of alienation. The internet gives me a kind of psychic nausea – one that I find incredibly hard to shake. In talking about my relationship to my iPhone, I am talking about my mental health, about loneliness, about addiction. Miracles like the internet, like easy tech, like social media should not be such a chronic obsession: but realistically it is, of course it is, if always has been for me. Reality has never been enough: this is why I write speculative fiction for a living. However, here on the other side of the world from my home city, I have for the first time that I can remember found that reality is enough for me. I am holding back from writing too intensely about Tokyo, because I am still here and I am still processing, still loading my reading of the place. It has made me feel more curious and alive than I have in years. And as I have written about previously, I did use my iPhone almost constantly: but not as a kind of poisonous mirror or a crutch. As a translation tool, an inventory, a camera.
This is the most incredible way to experience the world: armed with a camera and a sense of curiosity.
The camera feels like the biggest luxury. When I see something I cannot understand fully, I take a photo. Buildings, signs, foods, items I like but cannot buy: in some ways my childhood and life in video games has been training me to grow my collector’s impulse. In every subway station I seek out the rubber and ink stamps hidden amongst the information kiosks and take the imprint of the space in my notebook: at once thrilled by my achievement and frustrated at the endlessness of this task. Not unlike visiting the Pokemon Center in Shibuya and realising that there are more Pokemon now than I could ever name, or ever know. That there are words for things that I don’t have: that there is no room in my inventory or on my camera roll for everything I want to capture.
This is the most incredible way to experience the world: armed with a camera and a sense of curiosity. I am doing my best to wring every pulse of joy out of it, to hold this good feeling fast: my Granny Griffin would have said to waste it would be a sin. I have been going on adventures like this one my whole life in digital spheres: and had been fooled by depression, stress, and overwork into believing that travel would never make me feel a thing again. This last few weeks I have not only felt, but learned, grown, cultivated something good and robust inside of myself, something I am struggling to name, but it is good, I am sure.
And, as O’Donoghue says, like any good road movie, I was only ever told as much as I needed to know. I came in blind and utterly ignorant with only questions and an open mind and in that spare un-story of travel, I am happy, but not satisfied. I am not finished here, though I go home tomorrow and then on to San Francisco next week. I have barely turned over a handful of pixels of this city, and I will come back again and again until I have seen them all.
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