I’ve been watching an anime series called Kanon. It’s from Key, a company that makes visual novels, and several of them have been adapted into anime. Key is famous for making heartbreaking stories which even affect the most jaded anime fan: Clannad, and Air are the two others they are most known for.
In one of the story arcs the main character is a teen returning to the town he visited seven years ago, and is staying with relatives. However he has no real memory of his time spent in the town as a boy. He runs into a girl who has lost all her memory, except for the fact she has a huge grudge against him. They spar, often humorously, with her trying to get her revenge on him despite not knowing what for. All the while the main character can’t shake the sense he has seen her before. Soon, he finds out, and I’ll post the reason behind a page break if you plan on seeing it due to spoilers.
It turns out that the girl is not a girl. A long time ago, the main character tended a wounded fox from the town’s hill, and it loved him so much that she took human form and searched for him. There is a price though: in order for the foxes of that hill to do so, they have to give up two things: their memory and their life. And slowly, the girl the hero befriended slowly is losing her life: her ability to hold things, her ability to speak, remember and feel, and soon, she will lose her life completely.
Sounds cliche, right? But the way Kanon frames it is by forcing us to watch every bit of her degeneration, watching the bright, cheerful girl turn step by step into an animal before she disappears forever. It’s incredibly sad, even with some hope left at the end: one of the most painful scenes in anime is the hero trying to keep her awake because he knows if she falls asleep one more time, she will die.
MMOs just don’t move us like this.
They are shallow, grindy, parks where nothing happens. The reasons why Kanon’s scene was so powerful is because it made us care about the girl a lot, and then when the mystery was revealed, only intensified it. Nothing in MMOs resonates: we are not asked to grieve, we aren’t asked to strive against any meaningful odds. They don’t resonate to our real world-experiences. Kanon to me evoked Alzheimers and the slow horror of watching someone you love waste away.
It was also powerful because it was a slow reveal over time. Time and care spent making us fall in love with the characters and world. The world in an MMO is a placeholder for mathematics.
There is no emotional connection. Nothing happens in them to make us feel. I don’t know what the solution is to it, but there needs to be more thought to emotion and meaning in MMO worlds, even if bad ones.