This article was originally published in Area of Effect magazine in February 2018. A collection of those writings from the magazine have been collected in Area of Effect: Wisdom from Geek Culture, which we encourage you to pick up. Meanwhile, we hope you’ll read the article below, about Kirito (Sword Art Online) and introversion, which fits this week’s theme of loneliness we’re focused on heading into the Easter holiday.
Kirito is the ultimate introvert. Trapped in the world of Sword Art Online (SAO), an immersive game in which each player’s consciousness is transferred into an RPG world, Kirito chooses to go it alone. It’s a bold decision to make because in SAO, players are unable to log out and when they die in the game, they die in real life. Most players decide to band together into parties for survival, but the naturally shy Kirito keeps to himself.
He’s also an elite gamer, so any players teaming with him are likely to slow him down. Early on, he helps a new player named Klein learn the basics of the game, but when the newbie explains that he’s part of a larger group, Kirito abandons him. It would be too difficult to survive, much less complete the game, while helping that many players. A short time later, Kirito participates in a group effort in which players pair up to defeat a common enemy. He fights alongside a strong player, Asuna, but leaves her immediately afterward, despite acknowledging her talent. At this point in the game, Kirito is still focused on his individual journey, and doesn’t even consider teaming with Asuna, despite how strong their tandem could be.
Though Kirito is strong, he isn’t arrogant. On the contrary, he’s trying to do the right thing and help as many people as possible. With his skill, defeating the game and releasing all the players from this purgatory is a real possibility, so why not continue to level up on his own, especially when it feels comfortable?
As an introvert, I feel similarly, especially in the workplace. I used to work for a very small government agency. At first, the only employees were a part-time administrative assistant and myself. I managed every project we did with full control: I could shape the process and product how I saw fit.. The control I had was comforting, and that was key for me.
There’s something greater on the horizon if we’re willing to open up, help others, and deny ourselves.
Kirito likes that sense of dominance, too, but he also understands what I later came to realize: there’s something better than having all the power in a situation. There are benefits to becoming part of a team.
I developed my own “party” at work, hiring new employees and taking on a more administrative role, delegating responsibilities to the new staff. It was difficult at first, not only because I still wanted to have my hands in every aspect of the agency, but because there was a learning curve for the new employees. They didn’t do as good a job as I did. They weren’t as efficient. They didn’t use the methods I thought were best.
But long ago I told myself that I would be a manager who prioritized my staff and in doing so, we would achieve our agency’s goals. Now I only had to put my beliefs into practice. It was not easy to let go, but I patiently guided my employees as best I could, and ultimately, they surpassed me as project managers. The staff did a better job than I did, not only because of their talents and commitment, but because we created an environment in which we valued each other’s opinions and understood that together, we could accomplish more than any of us could alone. It started with denying my impulses and really, just deciding to love them.
Kirito learns this same lesson. Although the party he initially joins ends in disaster, falling prey to a trap, Kirito doesn’t stay shell-shocked forever. He reconnects with Asuna later on and although the two are at odds at first, they come to care about one another and eventually “marry” in the context of the game. Kirito remains worried that he can’t save all those around him and especially Asuna, but he still teams with her, Klein, and others as they battle increasingly more complex foes. He has to put aside his worries, pride, and even rationale, and trust in those around him. As he does so, Kirito becomes stronger and stronger, and together his growing party—through Sword Art Online and later MMORPGs the group plays—accomplishes seemingly impossible tasks both within the games and in real life.
Kirito and I discovered that the safety of staying within ourselves and keeping a strong grip on our tasks can only take us so far. There’s something greater on the horizon if we’re willing to open up, help others, and deny ourselves. Loosening our grip on a situation doesn’t mean we’ll lose—instead, it might just lead to a victory we never could have otherwise achieved.
We encourage to pick up a copy of Area of Effect: Wisdom from Geek Culture, which contains similar writings to this about anime and all sorts of other nerdy topics. Also consider checking out The Mythmakers’ Guild, the place to go for aspiring writers!