Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
In the end, Moriyama didn’t come. After buying the drinks, I went back to the clubroom, sat down, and waited. Mitsuo was the first to leave, followed by Shinichi and Miura. For a while, Chinatsu waited with me, even though she didn’t know who it was I was waiting for. But in the end, a call from her mother brought her home, until it was just me.
Devoid of all the noise – Chinatsu’s tapping on her phone, the occasional page flip from Shinichi, Mitsuo’s strumming and humming, and Miura’s clicking – the room felt emptier than the first time I came. Warm, vibrant light from the setting sun shone through the windows, bathing the contents of the room in a blinding orange, and casting their shadows over everything else. In my seat, the sun did not shine on me except for my hand resting on the desk. It was warm, but the silence and loneliness made me feel cool inside. The room was neither hot nor cold. It was what I think people mean when they say room temperature.
Waiting for Moriyama, my mind wandered. Being alone means you have no conversation partner, and the silence means there’s nothing for your ears to pay attention to. As for your eyes, nothing moved. If it wasn’t for the sunlight that slowly moved inch by inch as time passed, the room would feel as if it was frozen in time. If I didn’t have my team, would it feel like this? Of course, if I didn’t have my team, I wouldn’t be sitting here. But something in my gut told me that even then, I would pass everyday experiencing the same feeling in myself, regardless of my surroundings.
I don’t want this, I kept repeating to myself in my head. For everyone else, maybe what they see is ambition, that I want to achieve something. That I want to leave my mark on this world, to not be forgotten. Watching the sunlight bathe only my hand, I thought to myself that they had got me wrong. I had got myself wrong. That was the side they could see, the side I showed to the world. But deep down, that wasn’t the only thing. If ambition is my desire, then my fear is loneliness.
When the sun began to disappear from the horizon, I picked up my bag and left the room.
The next day, I arrive on campus a little later. 11 a.m., to be exact. This time, I didn’t bump into a beautiful, black-haired girl. I go to class, open my textbook, play on my phone as the lecturer lectures, and then go out. Lunch. Class. Snack. Class. Finally, it’s time to go to the clubroom. When I go through the front door of the building, a girl in a grey sweater and light blue jeans with a small beige-coloured bag on her back is standing in front of the stairs. From her long, black hair I recognise Moriyama Kyoko almost immediately. She’s reading the signs on the wall saying which rooms are on which side. I straighten my jacket and hair and go over to her.
“Hey,” I say, bringing my hand up to wave before deciding not to and putting it back down.
She turns her head sharply, as if she’s ready to do a karate kick the moment she sees me. But when she does, her shoulders loosen, and she smiles.
“Hey, Hoshino. I was just about to go to the clubroom.”
“Me too.” Idiot, that’s obvious. “Come on, follow me.”
We walk up the stairs and head down the corridor towards the clubroom.
“I thought you were coming yesterday,” I tell her, keeping my vision straight and trying to let my body be as relaxed and loose as possible. I can’t have her thinking I was expecting her.
“Yeah, sorry, I wanted to, but some things came up for a class project.”
“Introduction to C++.”
“Ah, I take that class too. Who’s your professor?”
“Oh, the baldy.”
“You know him?”
“Yeah, I take his class too. But I guess we’re taking different timeslots. So, the project must be that exercise he gave us last week?”
“Yeah, a couple of guys asked me for help, but for some reason they couldn’t understand. I tried explaining to them over and over again, but it felt like they were just staring. Maybe they’re really stupid.”
I’m pretty sure they’re not. Curse them.
“So that’s why you couldn’t come?”
“Ah, I see.”
We reach the door. As I reach for the doorknob, I realise again that I haven’t told any of them who is coming. I put my hand on it, but I freeze.
“Are you not going to open the door?”
“Oh, right, yeah, I’m opening the door now.”
Taking a deep breath, I push the door open. The scene is similar to the one yesterday, except that Chinatsu is missing. Miura and Mitsuo greet me, but their smiles fade and their hands falter as I step into the room, Moriyama behind me. Moriyama steps out of my shadow and stands right next to me. She smiles and holds up her hand, tilting her head slightly. Even Shinichi who was reading just a moment ago has lifted his eyes from his book and is blankly staring at Moriyama.
“Hi,” Moriyama says by way of greeting. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Moriyama Kyoko.” She bows.
Not sure why she needs to bow.
She lifts her head up and looks at the three of them, no doubt expecting some sort of response. But they just sit there like three statues, not sure how to react nor what to say. Finally, it is Mitsuo who breaks the silence. Putting his guitar down, he stands up. With his hand behind his head, he starts to speak.
“Ah, of course we remember. You’re the Moriyama Kyoko after all.” He laughs to lighten the mood, but it comes off awkward and hesitant. “Welcome,” he says as he bows too.
Moriyama bows back as he rises. Noticing that she’s bowing, Mitsuo bows again only to have Moriyama then rise and, seeing him bowing, bow again.
“You can both stop bowing now,” I say. This will be funny to all of us in hindsight, but right now it’s just piling onto the awkward atmosphere.
Miura then stands up and introduces himself and bows. This time, however, both only bow once, thankfully. Shinichi doesn’t stand up as he introduces himself. But after they introduce themselves, Shinichi keeps looking in our direction, holding his book open on the page he was reading.
“Right, that’s everyone–.”
Hold on, there’s somebody missing. The room’s lacking the brightness and freshness it had when it wasn’t all just guys. And there’s also the distinct lack of clicking noises from a phone.
“Where’s Chinatsu?” I ask, looking around to see if her bag is here.
“No idea, man,” Mitsuo says as he sits back down. “She hasn’t been here since we came.”
Maybe she got delayed by classwork or friends. Well, it doesn’t matter. It might be better that she isn’t here. I don’t know what sort of trouble would occur if Chinatsu met Moriyama. Hopefully, Moriyama will have left by the time she comes. When I look back at them, they’re all looking at me. They’re not saying a word, but they don’t have to. I know exactly what they’re asking me in their heads, through their eyes: what is she doing here?
“So, turns out that Moriyama goes here too.”
“Here? By here, you mean our university?” Shinichi asks.
“Yeah. What a coincidence, huh? I couldn’t believe it myself when I literally bumped into her yesterday morning.” I chuckle, but nobody else does. Why did I have to do that? Clearing my throat, I continue.
“She said she wanted to see the club. So… that’s why she’s here.”
Alternately looking at her and the others, I raise up my arm and point to nowhere in particular.
“Well, here it is. The game dev club, I guess.”
She looks around the room, her eyes wide and sparkling in amazement. Although I can’t quite understand what it is exactly that’s amazing in this dull, empty room, I’m a bit relieved. What if she came here with all these expectations, but didn’t get them? That’d be pretty embarrassing.
“It’s so clean!”
Thank goodness I cleaned up yesterday. Thank you to Chinatsu too.
“So, this is your home base, huh?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“We don’t do much here though,” Mitsuo explains in a friendly tone.
“That’s true. This is where we mostly hang out. We’re only busy when we’re near a competition, like Urayama last time.”
“The rest of the time you do nothing?”
She looks around the room and at each one of us in turn. It seems the gears in her head are grinding, before she looks at me with a face that shows her confusion and curiosity.
“Where are the seniors?”
“Tell her, Kenji!”
I tell her about that senpai that Chinatsu and I went to see on the first day. What was his name again? He’s so unimportant that I don’t remember. But what was it again? Nope, not a single syllable comes to mind. I tell her about how the game development club was basically dead. As I explain these things, she listens intently to me, looking directly at my eyes – which is making a bit nervous, forcing my eyes to wander.
“Is that so?” She nods slowly to herself. “So, who’s the club president?”
“You’re looking at him,” Mitsuo says, pointing at me.
“You?” She asks. “Wow, Hoshino-san, so you’re the club president?”
“That’s right. Not that I do much. Actually, I don’t do anything presidential at all.”
“That’s cool, and not to mention interesting. You’re basically free. There’s no pressure from the seniors.”
“Yeah! We get to do anything we want, whenever we want!” Mitsuo exclaims loudly.
After a few minutes of chatting – mostly between me, Moriyama, and Mitsuo –, we’re interrupted by the creaking sound of the door opening.
“Sorry, I’m late!” Chinatsu announces as she comes in.
But she doesn’t. When her eyes behold Moriyama, she freezes. Her surprised expression quickly turns to hostility.
“What is she doing here?”
She shoots me a sharp glance. I can feel daggers coming from her, and cold beads of sweat from my head. I gulp.
“Well, that’s, you know, funny story, so, uh, like.” Am I stupid?
“Spit it out.”
“Yes, ma’am. My apologies.” I bow my head. “Turns out, she goes here too. I bumped into her yesterday morning. She wanted to see the club room.”
Even though my summary’s finished, I don’t dare to lift my head, but I do lift my eyes. Chinatsu was looking at me with disbelief, and something else too. What is it? Don’t tell me, she hates me? Is that disgust? What would you be disgusted with me for? Before she stares me down further, she turns her attention to Moriyama.
“She’s the one you were waiting for yesterday?”
“You were waiting?” Moriyama asks me.
I look at Chinatsu’s face. Her face is showing her emotions clearly: anger, hatred. She’s basically fuming.
“Are you done?”
“…Mostly, yes. I got to see the room and I talked a bit with–”
“Then, could you please leave?” Chinatsu cut her off. She stepped aside in the doorway to make way for Moriyama to leave.
“Hey, Chinatsu, what are you–” I stop mid-sentence, seeing the determination in Chinatsu’s eyes. Once those eyes appear, there’s no convincing Chinatsu otherwise.
“It’s fine, Hoshino-san,” she says to me, as if reading my thoughts. “I’ll leave.”
She turns around to face the three who had been silent for some time now, watching what was happening.
“It was nice meeting and talking with you all. See you later!”
They all wave goodbye at her hesitantly. She turns to me.
“Thanks, Hoshino. See you later!”
With that, she turned around and walked straight out of the door past Chinatsu. As they did, Chinatsu looked towards the room while Moriyama looked straight ahead so that their eyes didn’t meet.
I feel my stomach churl. This doesn’t feel right. It feels rude. My breathing quickens. I clench my fists and run out of the room after her. Reaching her side, I catch my breath and follow her pace.
“What are you doing?” she asks me, not stopping.
“I’ll walk you a bit.”
“Sorry about Chinatsu back there.”
“It’s fine. But why does she hate me so much?”
“To be honest, I’m not really sure. I thought she hated you because you kept beating us. To be honest, even I hated you for a while.”
“That doesn’t sound fair.”
“I know it doesn’t. But that’s just it. Even though I knew, I couldn’t help but feel it. It’s human nature. And anyway, I hated you, but not anymore.”
“Why do you think her hatred is any different from yours?”
“Because it’s so intense. Maybe she cares about winning for our team even more than I do. I honestly don’t know.”
“You never asked?”
“It’s not something that comes up in daily conversation, you know?”
We walk back through the hallway and down the stairs without saying a word. The atmosphere feels heavy, but I wonder if it’s just me or if she feels it too. My heart’s tugging at me, feeling guilty about what just happened. Did it offend her? She seems fine, but who knows what she really feels inside. I try to make conversation, but the weight in my heart and the heavy atmosphere keeps all my words stuck in my throat. Maybe tired from my lack of sleep and the tension, I yawn.
“Didn’t get enough sleep again?”
“Yeah, I was awake until around 2 or 3 in the morning.”
“Still thinking about what he said?”
I think about it for a while. Was I? Maybe. But was that just it? I’m not sure.
“Yes and no.”
“It does relate to what he was saying, but it’s not really what he said… or something. Do you get what I mean?”
She shakes her head vigorously. “Not a clue.”
“I am thinking about my future. And his words probably triggered it first. But I’m not thinking about it because it bothers me. How to say this… It’s not that his words specifically bothered me. It’s more like what he said made me realise something: that I don’t have a plan.”
“A plan for the future?”
“Yeah. What I’m going to do after college, what I want to do now even. It’s all really vague. I know I want to do something related to games, but I don’t know what. And what about Silverstorm? What’s going to happen to it? Are we just going to keep joining game jams? What he said was exaggerated, but it’s true that just winning game jams isn’t going to get us anywhere. Not that we’re winning anyway.”
She smiles wryly.
“So, I’ve been up thinking about that. Where do I want my life to head to? What do I do now? I’m afraid that if I just let it be and see when the time comes, it’ll be too late. That I will have wasted so much time I could’ve better used towards that goal. That really keeps me up at night.”
At nights, I just lie on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and endlessly think for hours on end with no conclusion.
“So, what do you want?”
“Uh, like I said, I don’t know.”
“No, I mean like, it doesn’t have to be clear. It can be really vague if you want. So, what you want is something to do with video games?”
“Okay, and what about Silverstorm? You mentioned it, but I don’t see how that’s relevant to your future. What is Silverstorm to you? And what do you hope to achieve with it?”
I think for a while. We’re standing not too far from the front door. I don’t remember when we stopped walking, but now we’re fully engrossed in our conversation here. What is Silverstorm to me? What do I hope to achieve with it? It’s true that it doesn’t seem that connected with my future. But why did I make this team? Was it just to win? Because my dreams from back then are too far from reality. How can a team like this make it into a big studio? That’s a dream. But lacking any other answer, I give as my answer what I originally wanted to do with it, childish as it might’ve been.
“I wanted to make Silverstorm into a big company. A company that can produce titles people want to play. I wanted to do that with Keisuke and Chinatsu, and with Shinichi and Mitsuo too.”
Saying it out loud actually feels pretty embarrassing. Unhinged, over-the-top, cheesy dreams like that are what elementary schoolers and cringey middle schoolers say, but here I am, a college student, saying it in front of this girl who’s my rival.
“Then how about making a game with them?”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly as I said,” she says, her eyes twinkling with excitement at her own idea. “You want to keep Silverstorm alive, and you want to keep doing something related to games in the future right? So, how about you try and make a game with Silverstorm?”
“We make a lot of games though.” I’ve lost count of how many game jams and competitions we’ve joined.
“I’m not talking about competitions. I’m talking about making a game to sell.”
“Huh?” Of course, I’ve thought about that. But somehow it feels like no one’s going to jump on that idea. Lately, I’ve been getting the feeling that they’re just following me. I’m not sure they’ll agree to something that requires time, effort, and commitment. “I don’t know. I get the feeling they might not want to do that.”
“Have you asked them?”
“You can’t really know unless you ask them.” She smiles brightly at me and stares at me in expectation. Her wide, beautiful eyes are staring right at me.
I turn away and clear my throat.
“I guess so.”
“Well, tell me how it goes later. I’m going for now. Bye!”
She rushes out of the building before I can say anything. Tell me how it goes later. So, it’s okay if I talk to her more? My heart feels lighter somehow. As I climb up the stairs, I see my reflection on the window. I’m grinning like an idiot. Stop it.
As I continue onto the next flight of stairs, I stop. Tell me how it goes later But I don’t know her contact details at all.