Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
Hectic. That’s the one word I can use to describe the situation. We’re one booth in an endless sea of booths, a single speck in the ocean. And every single one of those specks is rushing to get their preparations done.
Our booth, as a small team that nobody really knows, is a humble one. Several white foldable tables face the main path. In addition, we put one more table on each side, making it look like we’re behind a library desk. At the edges of our booth stand the banners. They weren’t as expensive as we’d thought but weren’t cheap either. But looking at them now, they were well worth the investment. Stylised screenshots of our game along with the title, a short piece of text, and our contact information. Our website (which we just made), Twitter, and other social media accounts. I take a moment to thank my lucky stars that Chinatsu and Moriyama are on the team.
On the table itself, there’s a computer screen taken from Shinichi’s house. Connected to a laptop further in the back, it’s playing the game trailer on loop, its sound blasting from the speakers we put on each end of the table. Right next to them are two phones, always open to the game and ready to play. For a first-time team, our display isn’t bad at all. The entire team is still setting up as I take in the view.
“Excuse me.” A stern voice comes from behind me. It’s one of the event organisers, carrying in her hand a wooden board with sheafs of paper on it. “Are you the team leader for…” She flips several pages to try and find the name. “Silverstorm?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I need you to sign here for the equipment you’re using.”
I jot down my signature. She thanks me and goes on her way. I survey the booth once again, and when I think there’s nothing else, I grab their attention with two claps.
“Is everything ready?”
“I think so,” Shinichi says as he pulls a cable. “We should set.”
“We’re good on time then.” It’s still an hour before those doors open and the crowds waiting outside can come in. You can’t hear them all the way over here, but you can if you get close enough to the front wall. How many people are waiting outside? Several hundred? No, that’s way too low. It’s more like several thousand.
I start to get nervous. What would all those thousand people think when they see our game? I’m suddenly afraid that they’ll realise for sure that we’re amateurs. From our game design, our unpolished art, our homebrew music. I don’t want to be a laughingstock. That’s probably what they’re going to do, right?
Forcing those thoughts out of my mind, I take a look around. The convention centre is divided into several areas simply tagged with a letter – “A”, “B”, and the like. But unofficially, there are “districts”. We’re in the district where most of the new, indie games are. Most of the booths around us are selling their games too, which makes me wonder whether we can get a good amount of attention today with how much competition we’re facing.
With fifteen minutes left, our nerves get the better of us. We check every single piece of equipment once again. Is the banner sturdy? Are the chargers working? Is the laptop lagging? Making a game, I can work with. I feel quite comfortable in the clubroom or my own room, typing and clicking, slowly making a finished game from scratch. But this part – advertising, publishing – I don’t enjoy. It’s necessary, but I wish I could offload it to somebody else. In a big company, there’d be an advertising division, but of course we don’t have something like that.
Suddenly, a voice comes from above. It’s the sound of the speakers.
“Announcing to all participants. The doors will be opened in 1 minute. The doors will be opened in 1 minute.”
We scramble to get into position. Chinatsu and Mitsuo are on flyer duty. They’ll be standing in front of the booth to try and get people to come using flyers. We printed out two hundred, but I doubt we’ll even manage to hand out a hundred. The rest of us stay behind the tables, ready to greet anyone who comes our way. The speakers come on again.
“All participants, the doors are opening. The doors are opening. Artfes is beginning.”
Somewhere along the front wall, we hear the door open. Immediately, the footsteps and chatter of the thousands of people streaming in reach our ears. After all these months, finally it’s begun. Finally, Artfes has begun.
It’s been two hours since the doors opened. About two dozen people have come to our booth. But that’s about it. The pile of flyers in Mitsuo’s and Chinatsu’s hands are still thick, and barely anyone’s touched the phones on the tables. I check the time on my phone. It’s almost time for lunch.
“Can you guys hold down the fort? I’m going to get us some lunch.”
They nod, and they start shouting their food preferences to me. I hold out a hand to stop them.
“I won’t be able to remember all that. Let’s make it easy. Just write them down in the group chat!”
As I walk away, I feel the vibration in my pocket as the messages come in. I reach the canteen area and take out my phone. I try to match their preferences as much as possible. But some I can’t find, and I’m thinking of asking them in the group. But that would be too much of a hassle, so I just buy something I know they’ll like. With six lunch boxes in plastic bags on both hands, I start walking back. Maybe I should’ve brought somebody with me. These bags are pretty heavy, and it’s not like people are coming to our booth…
I stop midway and realise something. Keisuke is here. But more importantly than him, his team is here. Forsaken Enigma. Among us amateur game developers, their name is legendary. They’re like TYPE-MOON before they became a legitimate company. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did become like TYPE-MOON. Although I don’t want to meet Keisuke, I’m curious to see just how great they are at events like this.
I put one of the bags down for a minute to open my phone and check the event map. I strain my eyes to find their name on the map on this small screen. Then, I find it. Forsaken Enigma. They’re in a pretty central location, not on the edges like us. I walk towards their location.
I arrive at their section. At least, I think I have. Could I have got lost? I check the map once again. No, I’m in the right area. Just as I was scanning the booths, I see two long lines in front of me. It can’t be, right? But it is. When I edge forward, it’s the Forsaken Enigma booth. There’s a line of people waiting in front of them, trying to get a chance to try and possibly buy their latest work. The ones manning the booth seem to be the younger members, but behind them the older members, the leaders, are standing. They’re different from us. Dignified, professional, serious. Everything I want to be.
“Well, well.” An all-too familiar voice approaches me from the side. “If it ain’t Hoshino.”
Keisuke approaches me. Instead of the trying-to-look-cool appearance he always does, today he’s just wearing a simple white shirt with the logo and name of Forsaken Enigma along with simple blue jeans. Just the sight of him makes me lose all appetite. I am not looking forward to a conversation with him. But then, a great idea pops into my mind. I just walk away.
He seems dumbfounded, because he doesn’t move or say or do anything for a while. Then he chases after me as if I took something from him.
“Hey, wait a minute, are you ignoring me?”
I keep going without minding him.
“Oi, oi, that’s petty, don’t you think?”
Petty? I’m pretty sure the one who’s petty is him. I mean, he always has some mean words to say to me. If you didn’t like being in the team, then just leave. You already did that, why do you have to keep saying mean words to me? With these thoughts in mind, I keep ignoring him.
“Tsk, that’s pretty immature of you. Amateurs, I guess. So, how’s your miserable booth doing? You are doing a booth right? Sorry if I didn’t notice, I didn’t see or hear anything about Silverstorm, you see.”
Well, that was pretty loud. I turn back.
“Oh, if it isn’t Keisuke.”
“Don’t play dumb with me!”
Well, that’s enough acknowledgement. I turn back again.
“Hey, hey, are you that jealous of my success with Forsaken Enigma that you’re ignoring me like this? It’s not my fault that your game isn’t good and that it’s not getting a lot of people, you know. You only have yourselves to blame.”
I’ve been ignoring him, but I still have my limit. His words are becoming more infuriating. I’m tempted to use one of the heavy plastic bags to just bash him in the face, but that would be unsightly. And most of all, that’d be a waste of food.
“Leave me alone, Keisuke,” I say gruffly. “If you don’t want to be part of Silverstorm, fine. Whatever. Up to you. You already left anyway. What are you doing, following me around just to throw insults at me like this? Don’t you have something better to do with your life?”
He chuckles. That might’ve been a wrong move. I should’ve just kept ignoring him. But I’m not that patient.
“Well, you can ignore me all you want, but I’ll keep following you.”
“Why? Why are you following me? Just leave.”
“I wanna see how empty your booth is.” He chuckles again. One of these days, I’ll bash those teeth out.
We make our way to the booth, but my pace is slower than it usually is. That’s because I’m not looking forward to hearing more insults and teasing from Keisuke once we reach it. I sigh, but there’s nothing I can do. Except maybe use the plastic bag… But I quickly brush aside that thought.
“Your booth’s pretty far, huh. Oh, right. Newbies are placed near the edge.”
He already knew that. He definitely did. He’s chuckling and smiling like an idiot, and I really really want to punch him. But his smile disappears completely when we reach the booth. Because somehow, it’s full of people. I almost drop the two bags. I don’t even have time to enjoy the surprise on Keisuke’s face as I immediately rush towards the tables to find out what’s going on.
“Hey,” I call out to Shinichi. “What’s happening?”
“Great timing, Hoshino,” he says as he picks up a flyer. “We’re getting swamped here, can you help us out?”
“Yeah, of course, of course.”
As I hand out flyers, I catch a glimpse of Keisuke behind the crowds. He’s scowling, annoyed at the fact that we’re doing far better than he thought. Maybe not as good as Forsaken Enigma, but far better than he wanted. Not too long after that, he just left, sulking. I could almost picture him muttering to himself. Meanwhile, I’m tired and overwhelmed, but I’m happy. As I answer the questions of the visitors, and hand out flyers and describe the game, I have a huge smile plastered on my face.
Turns out, somebody had recognised our team members. He was someone who often joined game jams. But we don’t pay much attention to the losing teams, and he never one. But it turns out that he was a big fan of ours. All that commotion, and the fact that he spread the news to his friends, made a lot of people come to our booth. And people, seeing how many people were gathering at our booth, started coming too out of curiosity. Since it’s a mobile game, people didn’t need to buy anything. They just needed to download it on the app store. We got at least 1,000 downloads by the end of Artfes.
And today is that day. After the visitors have gone and the doors have closed, we start packing everything. We have until tomorrow to clear out, but everyone agrees we should clear out by today, so we don’t have to think about it anymore. Once that’s done, we start heading towards the door.
On our way there, by chance we run into Forsaken Enigma who’re doing the same. Keisuke is carrying a large box out with another team member, and our eyes accidentally meet. But he looks away as soon as possible. I smile, knowing that we managed to exceed all his low expectations. He must be feeling pretty embarrassed right now.
We walk out and onto the street, carrying our equipment. Everyone’s in a great mood. We decide that once we’ve put our stuff, we’d meet up again to eat some yakiniku. I’m hungry just thinking about it. As we’re walking towards the road, Mitsuo slides up to my side.
“Hey, Kenji, nice work,” he says.
“Nice work to you too. The music was great.”
“Thanks. That went far better than we thought it would, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, sure did. Should’ve seen the look on Keisuke’s face.” I laugh out loud, and he does too. Once he settles down, he starts speaking again.
“Anyway, I’ve thought about it. I think I’ll be leaving Silverstorm soon. There’s no point in me staying if I don’t feel motivated, right? I’d just be wasting your time.”
I almost stop in my tracks, but by sheer will I manage to continue. I knew this moment would come. I’d almost forgotten it with how hectic Artfes, but now it’s finally here. And there’s nothing I can do.
“Alright,” I say with a heavy heart. “But we’ll still be friends, right?”
“You bet. And if you ever really need help with music, you can still contact me for that.”
I stop and put down the box I’m carrying. I hold out my hand to him. At first, he just looks at it, but then he grasps it and shakes my hand.
“Thanks for everything, Mitsuo.”
“You too, but hey, I’m not leaving right now, okay? Don’t go all teary-eyed right now. And we’ll still hang out. But right now, let’s just think about yakiniku! I’m so hungry.”
I laugh. “Yeah.”
He runs over to the others who’ve reached the crossing, waiting for the red light to turn green. Before picking up the box, I turn back to the convention centre.
What we achieved wasn’t something big. It wasn’t something grand. But we did what we wanted, and we did our best to do it. The real fight is from now on. But this Artfes, this small step in my path, is just the first part of my journey. With the success here, somehow I’ve come to have faith. That someday, I can reach far greater heights too. The journey starts from now on. And with my team, whoever that may be, I can reach it. I can. Even if in the end I don’t, I’ll try with every single last ounce of effort I have to reach it.
Because life’s like a game. But it’s not a zero-sum game. Keisuke’s win doesn’t mean my loss. My win doesn’t mean his. Each of us have their own game to play. And from now on, I’m going to play my own game seriously.
“Hey, Ken-chan, we’re crossing!” Chinatsu shouts after me.
I turn back and see my team. Chinatsu. Shinichi. Miura. Even Moriyama. And Mitsuo who’s crossed the road. And I smile.
“Coming,” I shout to her.
Picking up my box, I take my first step into my new journey. I don’t know how hard it’ll be, or how long it takes. But knowing all that, I still take my first step.