Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
I walk across the plaza towards the building towering above it. It’s spring, and the flowers are blooming. The bright, pink petals of the cherry blossom tree in the middle fall off and float the air. Some land on the ground, where Chinatsu picks them up.
“Wow, they’re so pretty!” she exclaims as she looks at the floating petals.
I pass by her, ignoring her remark, and head straight into the building.
“Ah, Ken-chan, wait!” she shouts behind me. Her hurrying footsteps follow behind me as I enter the building.
I walk up the stairs and down the unlit hallway. It’s the afternoon, so it isn’t dark. But outside the windows were many tall, old trees blocking the sunlight from shining in. I keep walking, checking the signs hanging from the wall to make sure I’m headed in the right direction. Chinatsu is following a few steps behind me, looking into the empty rooms as we pass them.
“It sure is empty…”
It’s been two weeks since we entered university. All four of us – me, Chinatsu, Shinichi, and Mitsuo – entered the same university. I decided to go with computer science. Since my parents wouldn’t allow me to go to a vocational school for game development, this was the next best thing. Chinatsu’s taking animation, Shinichi’s taking Japanese literature, and Mitsuo’s taking business. I was expecting Mitsuo to take music, but somehow, he ended up choosing business.
As naturally as breathing air, the moment enrollment for clubs opened up I joined the game development club. Chinatsu, Shinichi, and Mitsuo followed suit. I’d never heard anything about the game development club in this university, but I was grateful enough that there was one in the first place.
I stand in front of the room. The sign hanging above the door says it’s room 304, the room belonging to the game development club.
“Oh, it’s here.” Chinatsu catches up and stands behind me.
She’s wearing a cute white skirt and a pastel pink top with a matching bucket hat. With her new white bag hanging from her shoulder, she already looks like a proper college girl. Meanwhile, I still look the same as I did in high school. My old green jacket over a plain white T-shirt with jeans.
I take in a deep breath and prepare to introduce myself. I need to make a good impression, otherwise they won’t accept or respect me. I go through the list in my head: full name, kanji it’s spelt with, hometown, major, and my purpose in joining the club. I pull up my bag by its straps so that I look more presentable.
“It’s quiet, huh?” Chinatsu chimes in behind me.
“What do you mean?”
“This is when the game development club is supposed to meet right? But I don’t hear anything. It’s like nobody’s talking. Shinichi and Mitsuo already texted me that they’re here though.”
I think to myself. She’s got a point. Why is it so quiet? I was so preoccupied with how I was going to introduce myself that I didn’t notice how quiet it was. Is this the wrong room? But when I look up at the sign, it definitely says 304. I decide the best way to find out is to just go in. I open the door.
“Good afternoon…,” I start to say, but my voice trails off.
All the things that had filled my mind before coming in disappear as I see the empty room. The room was not too small but not too big either. In the middle was wooden desk with six seats around it. On the far side and on my left are windows, and under the windows are mostly empty shelves with no more than a dozen books. On my left is an empty whiteboard. Shinichi is sitting in one seat, his bag on the table as he reads Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro. There’s another bag on the table but its owner is nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, hey, Shinichi-kun!” shouts Chinatsu as she pops out from behind me. “What’re you doing? Where’s everybody?”
He nods in reply to her greeting.
“Mitsuo’s gone to the bathroom,” he says, not lifting his eyes from his book.
“And the senpais? Where are they?” I ask, still looking around the room. It’s really empty. There aren’t even any posters.
“No sign of them so far. I came here first, and it was empty when I got here.”
I scratch my head. I’m pretty sure that the game development club meets today at this time, but I don’t see anybody. I put my bag on the table and walk around the room, looking for any sign of the senpais’ activity in the room. Chinatsu puts down her bag and sits down.
“Don’t worry, Ken-chan, they’re probably just running late,” she says as she takes out her phone. “Let’s just wait for them.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” I end my searching and sit next to Chinatsu, who by the time I sit down was already engrossed in her phone.
I take out my phone from my bag and scroll through the news and forums, occasionally looking up at the clock on the wall behind the whiteboard. I sit there, waiting for the senpais to come.
It’s been an hour and fifteen minutes. I’m pretty sure if they were coming, they’d be here by now, is what I think. Shinichi is still reading, Chinatsu’s fallen asleep, and Mitsuo – who’s come back from the bathroom – is strumming on his guitar. I tap my fingers on the table. It’s been an hour and they’re not coming? What sort of game development club is this?
A few minutes of waiting follow. Everyone’s still doing what they were doing. I can’t take this anymore. I abruptly stand up, sending the chair sliding backwards a bit. Mitsuo stops strumming and looks up at me while Shinichi doesn’t respond. Chinatsu wakes up and screams.
“What just happened?!” she asks around, her brown-dyed hair a mess as she looks left and right before locking onto me.
“I’m going to go find the head of the club,” I announce as I walk towards the door.
“Eh? How are you gonna do that?”
“I’ll ask at the administration building,” I answer her, not looking back as I open the door and leave the room.
“Wait for me!” Chinatsu scrambles for her bag. “I’ll come with you!” She comes up running behind me.
We leave the building through the door we came in from. We pass the courtyard with the sakura tree in the middle. A bunch of girls are taking a photograph in front of it. Chinatsu stares at them as we pass them. We make our way across the campus, going past hundreds of students and buildings to reach the administration building. Inside, I go to the offices and ask about who the head of the game development club is.
“The head of the game development club…,” the spectacled lady behind the computer mutters. “That would be Rakuyama Eijiro, a third-year student.”
Rakuyama-senpai, I repeat the name in my head.
“Do you know where we could possibly find him? We’re prospective club members, but nobody’s come except us.”
“It says here he’s also a member of the basketball club. Maybe you’ll find him at the gym building.”
We thank her and go out the building, heading straight for the gym. As the gym comes within our sight, Chinatsu walks up next to me.
“So… once you find Rakuyama-senpai, what’re you gonna do?”
“I’ll ask him why the hell he’s not at the clubroom.”
“Okay… but you should keep your cool.”
I keep walking, my steps brisk and full of suppressed frustration. Chinatsu leans in towards me.
“Ken-chan, calm down.”
We ask for Rakuyama-senpai from the basketball club member standing at the door.
“Rakuyama?” He turns around and scans the room before shouting. “Rakuyama! There’s somebody here for you!”
A tall, lean guy turns his head and looks at us. That must be him. He’s in the middle of the court, dribbling a ball. Seeing me and Chinatsu, he passes the ball to his teammate and starts to walk towards us. With buzzcut hair and in a red and white basketball uniform, he looks like a rookie professional basketball player. His eyes are sharp and his face narrow. As he comes closer, I notice just how much taller he is than I am.
Rakuyama-senpai stands in front of me. No, towers over me is more accurate. He’s a good one and a half head taller than I am. He looks at me and Chinatsu with confusion, not knowing who we are. The basketball club member that had been standing at the door left, leaving us alone.
“Can I help you?” he asks, wiping the sweat off his brows and heaving.
“Yes, that’s me. Is there something I can help you with?”
“We’re prospective members of the game development club.”
His eyes widen in surprise. Why exactly?
“Oh, wow, somebody actually joined?” He chuckles. “We didn’t even hand out posters or do anything at all.”
“When are you coming to the clubroom? We’ve been waiting for more than an hour.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Four of us.”
“Wow, well, gotta say that’s surprising for me. Nobody joined last year after all.”
Chinatsu and I look at each other. Nobody joined last year? I look back at him.
“What about the third years like you, senpai?”
“Ah, about that…” He scratches the back of his head. “We don’t really do anything at the club anymore. Not since our first year I guess?”
“Huh? What do you mean you don’t really do anything?”
“Well, how do I put it?” He’s rubbing the back of his head like he’s not sure what to say. “Like, we joined in our first year because it seemed fun. I joined up with my friends from high school. We didn’t seriously make any games or anything. I think it was more just a place for us to chill and talk.
“But you know how it is. We were in different majors. Even if we weren’t, we would meet new people. And so slowly we drifted apart. We started hanging out with our other friends. Like me here with the basketball club. Eventually we stopped coming to the club altogether. I don’t know why the university still keeps the club alive if it has so few members. But hey, if you guys are joining, that’s great!” He smiles at us.
I can’t smile at him. If they didn’t want to make games, then why the hell did they join the game development club?
“So are you coming to the clubroom or not?”
“Eh, why would I? I don’t really have that much interest in game development. I used to, but nowadays, not so much.”
“Then what about us?” Chinatsu asks, looking up at him.
“Ah, go ahead. Feel free to do anything you want. Ah, but there’s the application forms, huh? Well, if you need me to sign them feel free to come here and call me over. Tell you what, how about I make you the head of the club instead?”
He’s pointing at me. I stand there confused with my mouth slightly open.
“Me? But I’m a first year.”
“That doesn’t matter. I mean, what’s the use of having a head like me who’s off doing basketball, right?” He laughs, but only he does. “So, I think it’d make more sense if you were the leader. What do you say… Um, sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
I clench my fists and look down. When I decided to enter the club, I was expecting other game developers as passionate at me. People I could work with, learn from. But turns out the club is like this? I can’t even say that the club exists. I’m frustrated. I’m really frustrated. After what seems like ages, I look back up at Rukayama-senpai, a determined look on my face.
“Hoshino Kenji. I’ll do it.”
Chinatsu immediately turns towards me. Rukayama-senpai smiles at me.
“That’s great! Good to hear that. I can finally let go of this head of the club thing. I’ll head over to the administration building after this and inform them. I have to head back to practice now. Thanks, and good luck.”
Not sure what we’re being thanked for, I say thanks back and tell him good luck as well. Chinatsu and I walk out of the gym and go back towards the building where the clubroom is. Neither of us say anything as we walked past the view we had just passed moments before.
“Hey, Ken-chan, is this really okay?” Chinatsu walks up next to me again. “Like, having no senpais around?”
“We’ll be fine. We’ve been fine for the last five years.”
Ever since that day when we lost to Moriyama’s team, things haven’t been the same. We kept losing competition after competition. Suddenly we weren’t known as the champions in town anymore. And every time we met them, we’d lose bad. But not anymore. We’re in college now. We’ll show them. I’ll show them. I’ll build up the game development club from the ground up and lead us to victory and renown. We won’t just be winning competitions – we’ll make games people will want to buy and play.
In the clubroom, Shinichi, Mitsuo, and Chinatsu sit at the table facing me. I’m standing in front of the whiteboard, where I had just explained to them what happened and how the game development club is basically ours.
“Man, didn’t think that could happen, did we?” Mitsuo asks as he sips soda.
“Will we really be okay like this?” Chinatsu asks, her eyebrows furrowed in worry.
“Don’t worry,” I say to them loudly and puffing out my chest. “As head of the game development club, I’ll lead us in building this club from the ground up! We’ll make our club the most well-known university club in the entire city – no, the entire country. And it all starts today. And instead of a setback, this is an advantage.”
“Huh, what do you mean, Ken-chan?”
“Don’t you see? Without senpais, it’s only us! We’re in charge of the club. We are the club. So, we’re in full control of it, and we can do things as we see fit. It’ll just be like how it’s always been, just the four of us.”
“Yeah, that sounds great!” says Mitsuo, raising his soda can like he’s giving a toast.
I turn to the whiteboard to write on it. When I pick up the marker, I find out that it’s dry. I go around the room looking for the box of markers before finding it at the back of one of the bookshelves. Taking out a blue marker, I go back to the whiteboard and start writing.
SILVERSTORM, I write in big letters.
“Alright, Silverstorm! Today begins a new era for us, from today onwards our comeback begins!” I pump my fist in the air.
Chinatsu and Mitsuo joins in, raising their hands and shouting. Shinichi too, although he doesn’t look up from his book, his face is still bored, he only raises his hand a bit, and his shout is more like a grunt.
“Alright, then, first off-” I start to say, but a knock on the door stops my words.
Everyone looks to the door as it creaks open.
“Excuse me… Is this the game development club?”