Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
“You’re joking, right?” Chinatsu asks. She asks that, but from her expression I can tell she knows it’s not a joke. She’s ready to burst out at any moment.
I don’t blame her. Not after what I just said.
“Moriyama wants to join, and you want to let her?”
Right? Even it sounds crazy to me. I can’t imagine myself from a few years ago thinking that even as a remote possibility.
“I’m serious here.”
“Calm down, Chinatsu,” Shinichi urges. “Let’s hear it out first. First of all, why?”
“Well, like I said before. Moriyama apparently has experience with Artfes. She knows how it works, how to get in. She even knows some people on the inside, which can really help us get in easier. And she has experience in parts we don’t, just like we have experience in parts she doesn’t. Maybe we can learn something.”
I try my best to avoid eye contact with Chinatsu. Moriyama is like me, a producer and project leader. But whereas I’m also a programmer, she’s also an artist – Chinatsu’s role. One of the things we could learn from her might just be in that field. But Chinatsu won’t have any of that.
“No. No, no, no. Absolutely not. I don’t care. Even if she were the daughter of Artfes’ owner himself, I am never going to be in a team with that person.”
“Okay, you’ve answered why for us,” Shinichi says, ignoring Chinatsu. “Now, what about her? Why did she suddenly say she wanted to join us?”
“I’m not really sure about that one…”
“You didn’t ask her?”
“No… We were just walking on campus and–”
“Why were you walking on campus with her?” Chinatsu says, her words pointed.
I turn to her, and I see her sitting there, leaning slightly forward, eyes aimed straight at me. Her eyes are burning. I get a feeling that if I answer unwisely, I’d regret it…
“I just happened to run into her while I was walking to class. She was lost, so I helped her get to her building.”
I turn my head and clear my throat. When I turn back, Chinatsu doesn’t seem pleased.
“Anyway, I don’t know. I haven’t asked her.”
“I think you should ask her first,” Shinichi says. “No offense, but we’re not exactly friends with her. We don’t know why she’d want to join us, and I think that’s important. She’s going to be working with us after all, if she joins.”
“She’s not joining,” Chinatsu stomps her feet.
I go out of the clubroom and sigh. I turn my head and there she is. Moriyama’s been waiting in the hallway as I was talking with the team. She’s looking out the window, playing with her phone. I approach her, and the footsteps make her notice me.
“Hey,” she calls out, putting her phone in her pocket.
“So, uh, they want to know why you want to join the team.”
“Right, I guess that makes sense. They’d want to know. Hmm… Where should I start?”
Just then, her phone rings. She quickly pulls it out and looks at the screen. Her eyes widen in surprise, and she quickly picks it up. She gestures sorry to me as she goes towards the window. I stand there waiting in front of the clubroom. Not sure where to look, I start turning my head left and right. Wow, the walls are so interesting.
“Gotcha,” I hear her say before she turns off the call.
She walks towards me and bows, bringing her hands in front.
“Sorry, something urgent just came up for a class project. I need to get there as soon as possible.”
“Ah, it’s fine. We can just talk about this another day.”
“How about we meet up somewhere after we’re both done?”
“Yeah, like a family restaurant? Maybe Saizeriya? There’s one near campus, right?”
Eh? Moriyama and I, eating together outside of campus? Cool it down, I tell myself. It’s perfectly normal for two adults of the opposite gender to meet together outside of campus and eat… right? But at the back of my mind, I hear myself saying could this be… a date? I cringe at my own conceitedness. Like heck it is.
“S-s-sure, I don’t mind.”
“Great! Meet you there!”
She turns around and runs as she waves at me. Before she goes too far, I call out after her.
She stops and turns.
“…Just in case, you know, since we’ll be meeting up later, and like, we don’t know where each other is, and like, uh, what I mean is.” Pull it together. “Uh, can I have your LINE address? You know, so I can, uh, c-c-contact you, about the d–, I mean about when we meet up.”
“Oh sure! It’s moriyoko422.”
“A-alright, thanks! I’ll add you later.”
With that, she waves and continues running, disappearing behind a corner. After no more trace of her is left, I turn around and go back into the clubroom.
I stare at our chat on my phone. I’d added her after I came back to the clubroom and sent her a message just to test. She replied immediately, and then I replied with a sticker. She replied back with another sticker. And then nothing.
I’m standing in front of the Saizeriya, hesitating on whether I should message her or not. I haven’t been waiting long. Maybe around 10 minutes? But so far there was no sign of her. Deciding not to, I open the selfie camera instead to check my hair. It’s pretty well-kempt, but there was a strand or two out of sorts. With that done, I reopened LINE and her chat. For the next few minutes, all I do is stare at the chat without doing anything.
Finally, I write a message, but I don’t send it. My finger reaches for the send button several times, but it doesn’t land. I decide to send it, but just as I did, someone calls out my name.
Moriyama walks across the street and reaches me.
“Sorry I’m late. Have you been waiting long?”
“Don’t worry, I just got here.”
“Shall we go then?”
We go up the stairs to the second-floor restaurant. Opening the sliding door, we were greeted with the usual irasshaimase and sat at a table. We both ordered a serving of paella rice along with drinks from the drink bar. After the waiter leaves, Moriyama stretches her arms.
“Otsukaresama,” I say to her after what seems to have been a hard day of work.
“Finished your project?”
“Yep! It was a lot of work though.”
A few moments of silence follow. Moriyama is playing on her phone, and with nothing else to do, I do the same. The waiter finally arrives with the food and places our meals on the table. I go to the drink bar to fetch both of our drinks. When I get back, Moriyama’s taking a picture of her paella rice.
“Itadakimasu!” With that, we dive into our meals.
“Hm?” Moriyama’s stuffing paella rice into her mouth.
“Should we talk after we eat, or while we eat, or…”
“Oh, right, we came to do that, right. Let’s talk while we eat.”
“Why I want to join?”
She puts down her spoon and goes into a thinking pose, resting her cheek on her hand as she looks up at nowhere in particular.
“I’ve never had a team, you know.”
“What do you mean?” She’s had numerous teams. I mean, they kept changing, but that was still a team.
“Not literally. Of course, I did have a bunch of teams that I went into competitions with. But for some reason, they never stuck together, you know? I never had my very own team. A group of people that I could always rely on, that I could lean on to.”
“None of those teams from before? At all?”
“Yeah. We always split after a few competitions. Nobody’s really stuck with me since my first time joining those competitions. But that’s the complete opposite of you. You’ve been with this team since the beginning, and you’ve stuck together. I always thought, ‘Ah, how nice that would be.’”
“So, that’s your reason?”
She nods. “And of course, I want to help you get into Artfes. I want to help you reach that dream of yours.”
“While I appreciate that, I can’t help but ask why you want to help me that much.”
“Hmm…” She goes into thinking mode again. “I’m not so sure of it myself, but maybe because that’s kind of inspiring? Like, how you’re chasing your dreams right now.”
“Are you not doing the same?”
“What do you think?” She smiles.
“I thought you were doing the same, whatever that dream may be.”
“Not true,” she says as she grabs a spoonful of rice. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Another moment of silence. But it’s not as awkward as the one before it. Instead, I’m thinking about a lot of things. A lot of people, even Moriyama, seem to not know what they’re doing with themselves. Is that just how people at our age are?
“When I saw how close you guys were, and how you were able to do the things you wanted to do while being in a group, I thought maybe I could experience that too. I joined some clubs on campus, but they never really clicked. Maybe because I didn’t actually enjoy it.”
“With my ‘teams’, I was having fun doing what I wanted but I felt alone. Then with those clubs, I didn’t feel alone, but I wasn’t having fun. I sort of just exchanged one part for another. So, I want to experience both. See how it could be. And it seems like your team’s really fun. They look like nice people.”
“I guess the guys do look like nice people.”
“And Chinatsu-san too.”
“I’m honestly surprised you could say that after what happened.”
“I don’t fully understand why she doesn’t like me that much, but I guess to a certain extent it’s natural to hate a rival, isn’t it?”
“You hated me too, didn’t you?” She smirks.
“Kind of.” I hated her, yes. But mixed with that hatred was curiosity and interest. Somehow, the more she beat me and the more unreachable she seemed, the more I became pulled towards her.
“Well, that’s my reason.”
“Got it. I’ll go talk about it with the others tomorrow. I’ll message you once we’ve made a decision.”
“Thanks. But it’s alright if they don’t want me. I understand. And I’ll still help you with Artfes however I can.”
“So, that’s her reason.” I’m standing in front of the team like I usually do, with the whiteboard behind me.
I explained Moriyama’s reason for joining – that she wanted to help us because she felt inspired by how hard we work, and also because she wants to try experiencing what a team like ours is like. I didn’t tell them exactly how Moriyama felt. It felt like she was pouring her heart out when she said all those things, as if those things were things she’d kept in her heart for a long time and did not disclose easily. Having heard that, everyone’s thinking hard on the explanation I just gave.
Everyone, except Chinatsu. She’s sitting in her chair, her face as solid as stone, her expression unchanging just like her opinion – that Moriyama has no place in this team.
Mitsuo seems fine with it, but I doubt he’ll be the first one to say it. That’s not the type of guy he is. He just goes with the flow, and as much as possible tries not to rattle the nest. Miura probably agrees too, but he’s probably mindful of his position, especially since Chinatsu obviously doesn’t want Moriyama in. Compared to everyone else, he’s new here, and he knows he hasn’t contributed anything much yet. With that position, he wouldn’t feel he had the right to say his thoughts on something so controversial.
So, only Shinichi was left. Shinichi’s serious and sees things rationally and logically. He won’t agree if there’s no benefit for us. And out of everyone, he’s the one that’s still thinking. His eyes aren’t focused on anywhere in particular, whereas everyone’s gazes are floating around the room or to the faces of the other members. Excluding Chinatsu, of course.
Shinichi nods to himself, and everyone’s attention goes to him. He doesn’t move his eyes, but he nods once again, as if confirming whatever he was thinking of. Finally, he looks up.
“I think we should accept her.”
Chinatsu jumps out of her seat as she shouts her disbelief. Her eyes are filled with rage.
“Why should we even consider accepting her? What reason could you possibly have, huh?! Why would we need her?”
“We don’t need her,” he calmly replies. “But it wouldn’t hurt either. If we want to enter Artfes, considering that she has experience, she could be a great asset for us. She would know the ins and outs of it, as well as having insight into the process of application. Furthermore, she herself is a skilled person. That’s obvious from the fact that she kept defeating us, year after year.”
This is Shinichi’s true self. Cold, logical…
“Also, you mentioned that you didn’t know how to do the visual effects we wanted, right? I think she has the skillset to cover for that.”
Chinatsu’s turning redder than the pink clothes she’s wearing.
“What? Did I say anything untrue?”
“Well, you didn’t.” I have to act before this gets worse. “But your wording was…”
I turn to Chinatsu.
“That’s not what he meant, Chin–”
“Shut it, Ken-chan.”
Her attention was fully on Shinichi.
“Are you saying I’m not good enough for Silverstorm?”
“You’re imagining things. I said no such thing.”
“Oh yeah? Then what did you mean?”
“You’re still our primary artist. But there are some areas in your field that you aren’t very good at yet. And from what I’ve seen in her games, she seems to be good at those.”
“Since I’m the artist, I’ll handle it. Everything.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if there were two? And perhaps you could even learn something from her.”
“Why would I want to learn from her?!”
“That’s enough.” I stand in between them. “Shinichi was just expressing his opinion, Chinatsu. And he’s not saying she’d be your replacement. She’d just help out. You’re still Silverstorm’s first and primary artist. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
She backs off.
“Now, how about we get back to our discussion?”
Chinatsu turns around and sits back down. Shinichi turns his attention to the front, along with everybody else.
“What Shinichi said was true. Especially the part about Artfes. We have no experience in this kind of thing.” I continue, watching Chinatsu’s expression as I talk. “So, let’s just vote.”
“I don’t think we need her. We can get by on our own.” Chinatsu says.
“Maybe we could. But I want to make the best game possible. I’m really serious about Artfes, and I want us to do our best. If we have someone who understands Artfes, that’s one load off our shoulders. We could focus more on the game. We’ve been making games for years. I don’t want to let any of that go to waste.”
“Alright, let’s vote on it. Those who agree to let her join, please rain your hands.”
Shinichi, Mitsuo, and Miura all raise their hands. I keep my hands to my side, and I look at Chinatsu. She’s looking down, and her hands are crossed.
“You really want to make it to Artfes huh, Ken-chan?”
“Yeah.” I replied firmly.
“There’s no other reason for letting her in except to just help us get to Artfes right?”
“Yeah. You’re our artist, and that won’t change.”
Slowly, she raises her hand until finally, the votes are complete. I raise my own hand and bid everyone lower their hands.
“Alright, that settles it.”
I go out to bring Moriyama in, but before that I walk towards Chinatsu. Her eyes are watery, and she looks up at me as I come. Her eyes are saying she’s not sure why I’m headed towards. I lean down to her ear.
With that, I go out of the room and invite Moriyama in.
“I hope we’ll be able to work together well,” Moriyama says. She’s bowing at each one of us. Even towards Chinatsu, who doesn’t respond and instead stares at her with a cold, stone-faced expression.
“Welcome. So, let’s get straight to the point. What do you know about Artfes?”
“Ah, sure. Got any markers?”
I hand her the black and blue markers. She turns around and starts drawing on the whiteboard. As the image starts to form in front of us, it looks like a diagram of steps, with each process connected to the next by an arrow.
“Alright, so there are several steps we have to go through,” she begins. “First, there’s of course registration. This is just filling out forms. We can do this one online. However, we need to submit a proposal.”
“Like an actual document?” I ask.
“Yes. They provide the template on the website. We have to fill in what it is that we want to showcase there. Name, type, description. But we also have to show them. In this case, we have to show them our game.”
“Wait, what if it’s not finished yet?” Mitsuo asks. “We’re going to take some time making this one, right?”
“Don’t worry. The registration is still three weeks away. We don’t need the full game. We just need a presentable prototype. We either send the prototype itself or make a video, sort of like a trailer. But I think we’d have a better chance if it was the actual game prototype.”
She moves her fingers, now pointing at the second step.
“After waiting for their reply, we should get an email notifying us if we’re accepted or not. If we are, then we get to planning for our actual booth. We have to explain how our booth is going to be like and what equipment we need. Again, this is mostly done online.
“After that, there’ll be the Technical Meeting. This is where we actually have to go to a specified location. There, they’ll explain about the event. The rundown, the locations, contact information, emergency procedures, and a lot of other stuff. Everyone who’s been accepted will be there.
“A week before the event begins, they usually open the doors of the convention hall for us to start setting up our booths. So, we can go in at this time and start setting it up. After that, it’s just waiting for it to open.”
She turns to us and smiles.
As nobody’s answering, I stand up.
“Alright, then. We know what to do. We have three weeks, right?”
“Then, let’s get to work. Let’s make a prototype that’ll sweep them off their feet.”
With that, everyone pumps their fists in the air and shout out a battle cry.
Our battle was just beginning.