Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
I’m lying down in my room directly under the light. It’s 2 a.m., and I’m still awake. I haven’t changed since coming back, except for taking off my jacket because it was already too warm. I had been lying down ever since I finished my regular convenience store bento dinner, hoping that somehow I would fall asleep. But I didn’t, and here I am in yet another sleepless night, my third one since talking with Keisuke.
There’s not much going on. The TV isn’t on, but I can hear cats and the occasional car pass by outside. My vision is aimed straight at the light, but the book I’m reading – Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore – stands between it and the irreparable damaging of my eyesight. Instead of the light, I see kana and kanji. But the words are lost to the wind as soon as I read them, and I find myself having to turn back the pages again and again because I read it, but I had no idea what I just read.
That’s because my mind is occupied. For one, Chinatsu completely ignored me earlier after she saw Moriyama in the clubroom. When I came back to the clubroom and tried to make conversation, she acted as if I wasn’t even there. This is the first time that Chinatsu’s ever got this mad. In hindsight, I probably should’ve informed them first before. But if I did, I don’t think they would’ve agreed, especially Chinatsu. I better make it up to her somehow tomorrow.
But there’s something else on my mind: Moriyama’s suggestion. Make a game with Silverstorm. Would they really agree to that? It’s like I’m the most motivated in the group. That makes sense since I’m the leader. But all we’ve been doing so far is join competitions and game jams. That’s something I know is pointless if that’s all we end up ever doing. Would they really be up for that idea?
I put down the book. I wasn’t reading it anyway. Instead, my mind wanders. What would happen if they did agree, and we tried? Maybe Silverstorm can become a something like Forsaken Enigma, hobbyists and amateurs developing amazing games and making a name for themselves. Maybe once we hit that level, we could even become a studio in our own right, like Type-Moon with Tsukihime and Fate.
I sit up and give myself a good slap. I’m getting way ahead of myself. They haven’t even agreed to anything. It feels conceited to just assume they’ll agree to whatever I say.
But I’ve made up my mind. Tomorrow, I’m going to bring up the idea to them. There’s nothing to lose even if they reject it. I have to try. Otherwise, I’m going to be stuck like this forever, with no future or path in front of me. It’ll be just like our regular game jams or competitions; except it’d take longer. I clench my fists and nod to myself. Then, I lay down on my bed and fall asleep – my first comfortable sleep in three days.
I make my way to the clubroom. I sent a message to the group chat asking everybody to make sure they come today. Although the determination from last night hasn’t faded, I’m nervous. I walk up the stairs and down the hallway with my heart pounding and cold sweat on my forehead.
I reach the door. I stand in front of him and close my eyes. Deep breaths. What am I so nervous about? Worst thing that could happen is they reject it. It’s not going to change the dynamic of the group. I hope. And come to think of it, how many times have I stood in front of the door like this, frozen and unable to open it? I should work on this. Can’t keep repeating it. I gather the will to lift my arm and grab the doorknob.
“What are you doing?”
I jump. It feels like my heart bursts out of my chest. I turn around to find Chinatsu looking at me with mild annoyance in her eyes. She looks irritated. She’s still upset, I guess.
“I-I-I was just about to go in.”
She doesn’t answer and just stares at me with those eyes full of malice. “I see. Then open it.”
Like a soldier who’s just been given an order, I open the door and march stiffly in. Shinichi and Mitsuo are here, but Miura’s nowhere to be seen.
“Hey,” Chinatsu calls out to them as she takes a seat.
They reply back and go back to their own activities. Chinatsu pulls out her phone. Everything seems to be normal. Even so, I can feel how stiff my movements are as I walk to a chair next to Shinichi. I’m sitting right across Chinatsu who pays me no mind at all.
I look at the plastic bag lying on the floor next to my feet. They should still be cold. Is right now a good moment? I’m not sure what to think. Miura isn’t here yet, but I feel awkward. The atmosphere isn’t comfortable. What’s worse is that it seems I’m the only one feeling that. They seem to be acting normally as far as I can tell. I look at Chinatsu, but she doesn’t even lift her eyes towards me. Usually when I do that, she realises. It’s not that she suddenly doesn’t realise. She’s doing it on purpose. This heavy pressure on me (that I probably put on myself) is unbearable.
I reach down and open the bag. I take out three drinks: everyone’s favourites. I put them on the table one by one. Then, I push each one towards the intended recipient. They cast their eyes on the bottles standing in front of them before looking at me.
“What’s this?” Mitsuo asks, confused.
“It’s sort of like an apology, I guess. How do I say it? Moriyama asked me if she could come, and I said yes. I didn’t even ask of you guys. So, it must’ve been a surprise. I should’ve asked everyone’s opinions first. This is our club after all. Even if I am the so-called president. So, anyway, I thought that I’d apologise. But just saying it felt cheap. So, uh, I bought these. My treat.”
That might just have been the sentences with the most fillers and uhs and filler words I’ve made in my entire life.
“Man, you didn’t have to,” says Mitsuo with a warm smile. But he’s the first one to reach out for his bottle. “Well, thanks for the treat.”
He opens the bottle and chugs it down like he hasn’t drunk anything for days. When he pulls it from his mouth, the bottle seems much lighter. From where I’m sitting, at least half is gone. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and sighs with satisfaction.
“Man, that is good,” he says, before he continues drinking.
Shinichi says thanks as he takes his. He turns to me as he’s opening the bottle. “What about Miura?”
“I got his,” I say as I tap the plastic bag.
Chinatsu stares blankly at the bottle. She’s biting her lip. That means she’s not sure whether to forgive me or not. After seeing that face, suddenly I’m not so sure myself. Isn’t this just a bribe? But besides saying sorry again and again which gets more annoying and less sincere the more I say it, this is the best way I could think of.
I bend down and reach into the plastic bag again. I pull out a set of puddings. Custard. Chinatsu’s favourite. I put it on the desk and push it to her. Her eyes widen and her mouth gapes. If this were an anime, she’d be drooling right now. She looks at the pudding, then to me, back to the pudding, and back to me. This goes on for a while. In the end, she sighs and takes the pudding. She pulls out one, opens the top, and takes a bite. She’s practically squirming with joy as she tastes it.
“I’m sorry again, Chinatsu.” I say again to her, bowing my head.
“Fine, I forgive you. And not just because of the pudding.” She takes another bite and continues to speak with a mouthful of pudding. “But you really should’ve said something. It wasn’t fair that we didn’t know anything. We’re your teammates, you know? And we’re the members of this game development club. If it was any other person, I honestly wouldn’t mind it that much. But it’s her.”
Her own mention of her seems to have galvanised her stomach, because right after those words she takes several bites in quick succession. She’s stuffing her mouth with pudding that she looks like a squirrel with acorns in its cheeks.
“Yes, ma’am, I fully realise my mistake.” I bow so deeply that my head touches the desk, the upper half of my body is shaped like one who’s doing a dogeza. “I won’t let something like that happen again. I’ll definitely ask.”
She nods with satisfaction. But I’m not sure if it’s satisfaction with my apology, or the pudding…
As they enjoy my treats, the door opens to reveal Miura. He’s slumping and sweating.
“Evening, everyone…” His voice too is weak. “Sorry, I’m late.”
“It’s fine,” Chinatsu says in between bites. “Did you have something in class?”
“Yeah, a team project. Had to take care of it before I came here.”
As he sits down, I put his drink in front of him.
“Sorry for yesterday.”
Miura is surprised. He looks at me and then smiles.
“It wasn’t a problem.” He opens the drink and drinks it as I stand up.
“Alright, now that everybody’s here, I have an announcement to make.” It’s not really an announcement, but I don’t know what exactly to say.
Everyone turns their attention to me. I’m standing in front of the whiteboard. I clear my throat and look straight at them.
“What if we made a game?”
At once, everyone looks at me like I’m an idiot. They’re even glancing to each other, thinking to themselves “Is Hoshino alright?”. I probably should’ve phrased it better.
“That’s not what I meant. What I meant was what if we made an actual game? Not for a competition, not for practice. Just, making a game. To sell, and for other people to play.”
Their bodies were leaning forward, but now they relax back onto their chairs. Relieved that I haven’t gone crazy, no doubt. They look at each other but say nothing. Everyone is thinking hard by themselves.
“Anyone got any questions or anything…?”
Shinichi raises his hand slightly.
As expected of Shinichi, giving a short yet loaded question.
“Well, I’ve been thinking. We’ve joined a lot of competitions, right? And for the most part, we’re one of the best.”
“Except against Moriyama-san and her team,” quips Miura with no guilt on his face.
I smack him on the head.
“That’s beside the point. But yeah, we’ve got a lot of experience. And game development, in the end, isn’t meant to be just about competitions, right? It’s meant to make a game. A game that people can play, and hopefully that we can live off.”
Shinichi puts his rests his chin on his hand, while Mitsuo and Miura listen. But nobody beats Chinatsu’s intensity. She’s looking at me serious eyes and furrowed brows, like she’s heavily thinking about every single word that comes out of my mouth. She’s crossing her arms, and once in a while she’d nod along as I talk.
“Let me say it clearly.”
I take a deep breath and clear my throat once again.
“I want to make a game with everyone. Together.”
The directness of those words makes me blush. As I stand there in front of them, waiting for their answer, my face is redder than it’s ever been. They don’t reply. Each of them seems to be deep in thought. I look to Shinichi and Chinatsu. They’ll probably be the first to answer or ask another question.
But my expectations were wrong. Miura stands up and raises his arm. He’s smiling from ear to ear.
“I think that’s a great idea! I think it’d be really awesome, and fun too.”
“I don’t know… Can we really do it? I mean, winning a competition’s one thing, but making a game on our own like this is another. Like, competitions have clear guidelines and judges, right? We know what we’re supposed to make, generally. But we don’t have any experience making something like this. So, I’m just feeling a little unsure…”
Chinatsu brings her fingers together. The points she makes are true. We’ve never had any of those experiences. I bet we’ll meet a lot of problems. Besides just making the game, there’s also advertising it and publishing it. Those are probably hurdles that we can’t even imagine at this stage.
“Even so, I want to try. I don’t want to have finished college in the game dev club, in Silverstorm, without ever having released a game. Without ever doing anything more than just joining competitions.”
Chinatsu stares at me with wide eyes and turns away, thinking once again. Mitsuo is the next one to talk.
“It’s fine, isn’t it? I think it can be pretty fun. And yeah, just like Miura said, it would be pretty cool. I mean, how many people have made their own game, you know? I’m in, bro.”
Shinichi nods. “I agree. After all, we are a game dev club. We’re supposed to develop a game. And whatever happens in the future, I think it’ll be a good learning opportunity. I’ll join.”
I turn my eyes to Chinatsu. She’s the last one. Honestly, out of them all, I want Chinatsu to do this with me the most. Without her, we’d have no artist. But most importantly, she was there when we first made Silverstorm. She was there every step of the way. And this, I think, is the next part of our path. And I want her to be there too.
“Come on, Chinatsu! There’s nothing to lose!” Mitsuo was goading her.
“Yes, Chinatsu-san!” Miura joins in.
She looks unsure. She turns her head down and closes her eyes. I call out to her.
She looks up at me.
“Won’t you join? We’ve been together since elementary school. We were two of the original members. You were here from the beginning. I want to continue with you. It’d feel so different without you.”
Chinatsu turns red and shakes her head. No?
“O-o-okay! I’m in, I’m in! I-I-I’m in, okay?!”
Everyone breaks into a cheer, and I’m smiling too. I’d be lying if I said I’m not excited. But I feel happy and relieved too that it went better than I expected. And now, it was time to start the development of our game.