On the West Wind Brigade and Life in a Game

I love the idea of Mass Transport events – a whole bunch of people from the “normal world”, suddenly dumped into an unearthly situation and trying to adapt.

Unfortunately when you get a mass of people involved in anything you get politics, and I hate trying to write politics. Hate it. So much.

Which, I think, is one of the reasons Log Horizon makes my bunnies go “Ooo,” to watch it. Mamare Touno already wrote the politics, I don’t have to worry about them – I can just sit back and watch the fur fly. (Author also wrote Maoyuu, which is one reason I’m facepalming at reports of apparent tax evasion, oy, someone with that much economics you’d think would know better…. Ahem.)

So recently I picked up the first West Wind Brigade manga, based on the LH sidestory of the same name. And it’s interesting too – in part because at least in the first volume, it doesn’t go into any political maneuvering. Instead, we get to see the much more practical aspects Soujirou’s guild is dealing with; from “what do we eat” to “wait, the NPC we hired is a real person?” to “…We have to fight monsters face-to-face now. Eep.”

Soujirou’s sparkling at “the world is real!” is incredibly adorable. And, I think, a nice contrast to the usual “how will we get home?” shocked reactions you find in most Mass Transports (and in a lot of the LH characters). But what I find just as adorable – and very likely the key to why the West Wind Brigade hangs together – is Soujirou’s reaction to the fact that a lot of his fellow players are scared to fight for real… and he’s not.

He doesn’t look down on them. He doesn’t tell them to snap out of it.

He apologizes for scaring them. Because this is his dream come true – and he didn’t think that through. That the fighting is real. That the blood is real. And most people have a very hard time dealing with combat.

…I have to admit, I’d squee and pounce him myself. That is a Nice Guy.

And I think that’s what sets West Wind Brigade – and to some extent the main Log Horizon – apart from a lot of other Mass Transport stories. Most of the ones I’ve run across have as part of their underlying theme “you have to adapt to where you are, and you have to be tougher than you ever were as a normal person.”

Soujirou, though, recognizes that people have limits. Yes, they have to adapt. Yes, they’d better get used to the idea of defending themselves in real life. But they don’t have to do it all at once.

So… I’m thinking the trick to writing a really good Mass Transport fic, one that makes allowances for the limits of the human psyche even as it pushes them to adapt, would have to involve some of the factors West Wind has. 1) having a sympathetic character who can face the whole situation head-on, and 2) having some kind of safe place to retreat to, so at least people can sleep at night without worrying about all the scary new monsters eating them.

Anyone have any other thoughts on what might help make that scenario really work?

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54 thoughts on “On the West Wind Brigade and Life in a Game

  1. I agree with this so much you don’t even know. Everyone raved about sword art and when I watched it I was like “wtf is this harem shit!”. Log horizon though caught my eye even though I’d never heard of it and it made me so so so happy. It covers topics like freak outs over things like “this is not my face”, ” the npcs are reall”, and ” how do we survive in this world”, it was soon much more realistic it coverd economics and psychology wayyyy better than sword art ever did. And the romance wasn’t haremy! There wasn’t even much fan service! The romance that was there I supported! Like normally cannon romances make me just go “nope!” But I supported them all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Personally I like both series though I prefer SAO for a few reasons. I was introduced to SAO about two years before I ever heard of LH, and I’ve never actually managed to get around to finishing LH.

      That said no matter how much I liked the SAO anime I’m well aware that as an intro to the series it’s utterly horrid and suffers a fair bit of Adaptation Decay. The anime sadly seems to assume that you’ve already read the novels to be able to get what’s going on. Another issue it has is that it added all the tie in shorts in chronological order. Now for those who’d read the books first it’s rather nice to see everything laid out in order, but for new viewers it spreads out the original story far too much and adds in the harem aspects that didn’t exist in the first novel.

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  2. There’s a subclass of gamer rule lawyers who tend to believe that the real world will always support rules lawyering. This is not always true.

    Japan’s legal system and administrative agencies are… interesting. Also, sometimes people get bad legal and tax advice. So it’s hard to say what’s going on, over there. But since his rights management company was fined, there must have been some really bad revenue reporting going on. (Or they thought they’d found a tax shelter which didn’t actually exist.)

    Certainly in the US, it’s easy for writers to get into trouble with stuff like paying estimated taxes, or with having one good year followed by one bad year. (And self-employment tax rates really suck.) On the other hand, there is that sweet, sweet “hobby” tax rule, at least until the point where you’re making serious money. (And I wish that point will be reached by every writer I like!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, wait, there was a main topic here….

    Food sources. So important. And Log Horizon is absolutely correct about good-tasting food and plenty of it. My brother says food was the high point of most boot camp days, and heck, he was in the Air Force!

    Clean water and lots of it. Even more important than food, because lack of water or dirty, germy, parasite-infested water will kill you quicker. (And obviously, air would be nice, too!)

    Secure base, keeping watch, somewhere reasonably secure to sleep, not getting assaulted by monsters or the rest of the group. Not too hot or cold, or with a way to keep warm and cool off.

    Fire. Unless you’re in a high-tech future or have roughly contemporary tech.

    So okay, assuming you have all your super-basic needs taken care of, you need to start taking care of your psychic needs.

    Also fire. Log Horizon had a lot of people in a depressed daze, but not a lot of people sitting around campfires discussing life. Even if the food were tasteless, I find it hard to believe that people wouldn’t start telling stories or singing or playing games if they were sitting around a campfire.

    (Especially guys, because young guys love to play with fire. So do girls, of course, but every Boy Scout troop in the world is pyrophiliac in a way that girls don’t generally match. And pretty soon people would be trying to kill ants or blow things up, or experiment with boiling things not meant to boil. Possibly lack of craft skills would spoil some of these experiences, but I’m pretty sure “testing what cool things we can do with fire” would have been an major activity for bored adventurers. The lure of fire is greater than the risk of purple slime.)

    Games. Because you can play chess or checkers or Go with rocks, given dirt and a stick to scratch lines, or a piece of flat wood and a bit of charcoal. Tag. Hide and seek. Tabletop RPGs or LARPs. (Okay, maybe it would be too soon… but you don’t need any equipment. Imagination makes it free to play. And it would be hilarious to see people playing Boot Hill or Shadowrun while sitting in the middle of a fantasy land tavern, or walking along a fantasy road.)

    Songs. Music is one of the most powerful cultural forces, and it helps in times of hard work or boredom.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. As long as you leave off the saxophone. Saxophones are painful. (as in, my synesthesia directly links saxophone sound to pain sense)

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      2. Only barely. Guitar played as guitar is also painful (tho more itchy than straight pain, like sand/salt under my skin), but other instruments (including voice) and other senses (like vision) can change which senses are triggered and smooth it out so it’s not painful. And guitar played as piano-replacement (classical guitar) doesn’t cause any problem.

        This also affects my watching of anime. The intro music in LH is painful, while the intro music to AMG was one I memorized because it was nice.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ah, My Goddess. One of the few relationship-focused anime I’ve found that is actually good. And it even subverts a lot of the common tropes. You get all the normal shenanigans happening, but the main chars have made their choice that they’re going to be together, and that they’re going to take it slow and do it right, and they stick with their choice despite temptation.

        Anyway, I never really got a taste for Rock, so I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. I’ve got Beethoven’s Fifth, or the Mars symphony, or Ride of the Valkyries. No need for lesser stuff. Tho, I have found a few individual pieces of Rock that are good. My synesthesia just makes it so I have to sort through each of them individually and painfully before finding the few exceptions that are both good and non-painful, and that’s usually more work than it’s worth, so most of the exceptions I’ve found were incidental while watching anime.

        And, since synesthesia deals with crosswired senses, and autism wires for pattern correlation, there’s additional factors that can come into play. Some songs are fine when part of an anime, where there’s both sound and vision being used together, but I can’t stand the music by itself. Sometimes, I’ve actually found it the other way around, a perfectly good song is painful with the specific visual factors in a particular anime. And voice is another instrument, so sometimes a song is fine when purely instrumental (or purely voice), but having them both together makes it painful. Some shapes of sound are merely uncomfortable for other reasons instead of painful (like the ones that make me feel like gravity’s tipping over sideways and shaking), and sometimes I have to be careful with music because it’s pleasurable (as in, directly triggering the pleasure senses, not just being good music that I find pleasurable because it’s nice).

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      4. I’ve read a few of the AMG graphic novels; I distinctly recall the punk guy with the coat full of motorcycle tools, for one. That was awesome.

        *Thoughtful nod* There’s one particular AMV that is very flashy that I actually like, because it’s paired up with a very fitting song – “Lifeline”. Otherwise, any amount of flash in a video has me choosing something else!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. >…I have to admit, I’d squee and pounce him myself. That is a Nice Guy.>
      True but he has some buttons that when pushed send him into full-on manslayer mode.

      Not sure if you’ve read the second volume of West Wind Brigade but let’s just say he ‘deals’ with the PKers after they target his guild.

      To quote his scanlated speech:
      “So how does it feel? To be hunted and Killed? It is unfortunate that I have to resort to PK to stop PK. But you leave me with no choice, right? Until you stop your PK, I will come after you and kill you, over and over and over. However many times it takes. Pardon me, Kiri-sute gomen.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. >And I had heard about his bloodthirsty streak. There’s a reason he picked the name Soujirou, after all…>
        There’s a taste of his streak during the Akihabara Murders in the second LH anime though I never saw it as a true Blood Knight mentality.
        .
        In a way the guy’s a lot like Keshin as you described him in Witchy Woman:
        “Sweet as he is, deep down, your brother’s like ‘Sai. And Battousai doesn’t have a lid. He’s got a safety catch.”

        Nice guy but if you truly make yourself his enemy, he doesn’t have that many limits regarding what he’ll do to you.

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      2. Personal Headcannon: SAO and LH take place in the same ‘world’ and Sojirou is a SAO Survivor which would explain why he wasn’t freaking out like everyone else. He was also a clearer and on the Laughing Coffin raid, which would give him a serious hate for PK’ers and a legitimate reason to consider killing them a justified response.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. *Blinks*

        …That would be so cool….

        Of course, it’d mean SAO happened at least 3 or 4 years before the Apocalypse, to give Souji enough time to be in Debauchery Tea Party and the 2 years after it broke up. Still, neat!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Dice. Soldiers have been dicing for a very long time.

      I’ve partly outlined a project that somewhat matches the description. The main character plays GURPS, by preference Tactical Shooting because that is what his damage is. He has every GURPS product on his smartphone. He ends up running a DF campaign for the ragtag band of heroes he leads.

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      1. Yup, and you can carve dice pretty easily. I pretty much died laughing when I saw the Roman dice towers they’ve excavated, and the many game boards from Roman army towns. (They played this game that was sorta like backgammon, with three lines of six letters replacing three lines of six spaces. And this allowed a lot of poetry and humor, including a tavern advertising its menu that way.)

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  4. A Long Time Until Now is an interesting case, even if the cast may be too small to count as mass.

    Increase in scale moved makes everything else more difficult.

    Most common movement is from an area with infrastructure to support the population to one without. At least lower capacity, and probably different skills needed. Like dumping semi-pacifist semi-vegetarians who have never butchered an animal in place where they would need to do a substantial amount of hunting.

    Police. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is 1 in 200. One thing I like about SAO is that it doesn’t have fifty police for that ten thousand, and consequences arise. Police can arrest people, but need consent to operate, and to keep people confined. If that culture isn’t there, they cannot operate.

    I’m more Tunnel In The Sky than Lord Of The Flies, but the older population has non-trivial impact on the younger.

    1. What does the population look like? 2. What are the skills? 3. Where do they end up?

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  5. One of the bits you’ve mentioned that caught my eye was Souji’s whole ‘this is a dream come true’ thing.

    I know one idea I’ve been tossing around for a while is related to that (and my version of your reasons for writing A Net of Dawn and Bones). Everyone responds to the revelation of creatures that go bump in the night with terror, and/or disbelief. But… I’ve always though that – once the initial ‘oh god I’m gonna get ate’ has passed and people get a chance to calm down and breathe for five minutes – my first thought would be ‘magic is real. That’s amazing. Anything is possible.’ And a feeling of hope.

    This is an entirely new force with new rules that you know next to nothing about. And yeah, okay it can be dangerous and more than dangerous. But being careful and testing the bounds of what’s possible and what’s not, saying ‘how can I work with this and what I already know’… it’s possibility in maybe its ultimate form.

    To me that’s inspiring. After living a life in a world where you know the rules and what to do – to a greater or lesser extent – to get from day to day and there are no sweeping changes and for so many of us so little personal power to solve problems we see in the world around us and effect change? The idea of a personal force you can learn that has completely unknown limits is fantastic.

    I think this isn’t touched on enough in a lot of urban fantasy or in ‘taken to a magical world’ scenarios. Too often it’s just treated as a new aspect or set of rules the creator likes that get to be stapled on and then spoon fed to the characters by whatever ‘in-the-know’ mouthpiece the creator chooses. Granted, that’s a convenient and quicker way to get to ‘how would it change the world if everything were the same but people could do X’ and that question is often central to such works.

    But in a transport scenario or sudden Urban Fantasy reveal it’s very easy for people to get overwhelmed. And panic and other responses can too easily lead to despair. And despair kills. I think it’s important in any scenario with a heavy presence of despair for there to be one or more characters who look at the new environment and see new possibilities. Because characters like that – when they don’t just tell everyone else ‘too bad, you gotta live with it now’ – when they try and get other people involved and to see the possibilities they are teaching hope and fighting despair. And belief that survival is possible is more important to making it than almost anything else.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Believing you can make it is indeed one of the most critical components. Even if it’s just, “Okay, I don’t know how I’ll get out of this, but maybe I can make it out of the crevasse to get a look around…” And go from there.

      Yes. I would love to see someone going, “…We have magic. We have magic. I am so learning how to do fireball. And dancing lights. And invisibility….”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Y’know I was reading a fantasy novel earlier today and a bit of it reminded me of this and I realized something I hadn’t noticed before.

        One of my favorite bits in What Comes Around is when Alan, Aladdin, and Morgan are all getting ice cream and talking and Aladdin thinks about how Simon as a teacher may change the world more than Sinbad ever did. And I realized that this is why I like that so much.

        It’s this funny kind of observer effect where Simon is teaching hope like I mentioned here, and Aladdin is realizing that, and just how important that is.

        I guess that’s probably one of my favorite things about Sinbad, Alibaba, and even Aladdin. They look at bad situations and no win scenarios and they say to themselves and others ‘okay. What can we do now? How can we work with this?’ and ‘What new possibilities does this open?’

        Even if Alibaba is an anxious pessimist, he’s always thinking of ‘What can we do Now?’

        I wonder if that’s a defining trait for Kings.

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  6. This is why Digimon Season 1 has its place as “Top Show” for me. They actually address this! …sort of. On a small scale, at least, since we’re talking 7 kids and not a whole city.

    The kids are NOT required or forced to fight. Mostly because they’re Ordinary Elementary School Students, but also because it’s their Partner’s job to do all the fighting. The kids are explicitly told, “We’re not asking you to do the impossible. We’re asking you to be the cheering section helping your ‘mons with The Power of Friendship and Courage” and the other five Cardinal virtues.

    The kids actively grow to become more involved with the fight, within reason*. But nobody forces them to be more active. The Digimon are more than willing to take care of all their needs (food, safe place, general security). They Are Not Alone — and that makes all the difference.

    Plus the plot overall was decent. There’s a reason I joke, “Pokemon knows how to make a game, but Digimon knows how to make an anime!”

    *If you want a dose of crazy, Google “Marcus punches VenomMyotisom”. It’s not part of Season 1, fortunently, but does showcase what the kids DON’T do.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Fair warning: The dub does require an appreciation for bad puns (Polly want a cracker, indeed…). And an honest assessment shows, rose colored glasses notwithstanding, it hasn’t aged as well as it could have. That being said, the sub is up on Crunchyroll under the title Digimon.

        Not to be confused with Digimon 02 (the second season), Digimon Tamers (S3 or “Serial Experiments Lain: Kids Edition”), or Digimon Frontier (or WTF just happened?), all of which is also up on Crunchyroll.

        Also, should anyone want to look up fics… Beware: This fandom has /the/ most number of shipping wars out of any series I have ever seen, bar none. Start with TV Tropes Fic Rec page and proceed with caution.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. For me, the thing that really makes a mass transport situation is that there are people who don’t cope- in SAO there are suicides and people like the kids in Sasha’s church, in Log Horizon there are the ppl sitting in the streets desolate, the Knights of (?)Morpheus, and there is debate about how to handle the people in Akiba- (?)Shizuka of Serenity wants to support them, an unpopular move with his guild mates due to the perception of these people ‘leeching’ off their guild mates- a problem discussed at the Round Table, with no easy answer.
    The simple fact that some people adapt easily, some take a little more time, as CQ said- and some people don’t. And that effects other people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Almost all (non-sue) stories involving transport (mass or otherwise) have the “can’t handle it” part, even if it is usually only the main character or some of his close associates. SAO and LH were different from the norm in that they actually had large portions of the population having trouble with it, instead of ignoring them as background and thus not worth dealing with directly. But just showing the people who can’t cope isn’t really all that special, even if the degree was. What makes them interesting is the way they show that even when many couldn’t cope, and some could cope, they also show the ones for whom it is everything they hoped for. The ones who are having to figure out how to handle the difference between their joy and pleasure at their new situation, and other people’s barely being able to cope with it. The contrast is what really makes it interesting.

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      1. It actually struck a chord with me because I run into this problem in real life. I’m actively looking at everything around me with the mindset of “what would happen if I got caught in such a situation? how should I prepare?”, and most people find that strange. Things like training the habits necessary, such as actually looking up (and using peripheral vision, and reflections, and etc), and even in the areas that I can’t train in normal life still learning how to train myself so that if I do find myself in such a situation I would know where to get started. From my experiences growing up, and from the difficulty I already have with this, I’m pretty sure I’d be one of the ones going “this is great!” and having trouble empathizing with those who are really not able to handle it. (even if I do understand intellectually both that they exist, and how their minds have to work to have such problems coping)

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  8. Good thoughts in general. One thing I loved about Log Horizon was that, after the initial crisis, there were people who started poking at the world to figure out just what had changed and what was possible. It didn’t gain significant momentum without infrastructure, though, which brings us to your point about having a safe place.

    I’m another one who would, in a similar situation, squeal with delight over magic existing, and being manipulable by people, and integrated into the world, and how magical flora and fauna could adapt to extreme environments, and what that would mean for ecosystems in general, and what about the microorganisms? Once basic needs were met, the hardest part might be deciding what to study first. (I definitely appreciated the mention of dissecting dungeon monsters in What Comes Around.)

    I suspect that the proportion of people who react with delight instead of despair would be increased among any group of speculative fiction fans. A sentiment I’ve often heard is “The real world is boring.” What happens when you realize that you’re living in the world of your daydreams? Boring, however, can seem very attractive when you’re running for your life (hello, Rincewind), so it may take time.

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  9. A Not Fun aspect of Mass Transport (also why I no longer enjoy zombie survival planning) is everyone who suddenly no longer has their medications. SOA just transported brains and LH transported people into “native” bodies, but something like Island in a Sea of Time or Ring of Fire Mass Transport, eep!

    If the SHTF in my town, I have friends and family that include elderly with blood pressure, etc meds, diabetics with insulin, pregnancy-induced diabetics, and bipolar, agoraphobia, anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD folks. Out of 21 people, we have 5 non-medicated people (not counting allergy meds), 3 kids, and 3 babies/toddlers. I regularly go SCA/historical recreation camping with 15 of these folks, so I know we’d be fine for a week with supplies, but no medical supplies is pretty much a week to a year death sentence (the folks with depression/bipolar have had their brains try to kill them before and very much appreciate their meds!).

    Our priorities would be to get to a place that has a stocked pharmacy and refrigeration ASAP. We could maaaybe make insulin from pigs, dogs, or even freshly dead people (EEW!), but A) dangerous and most people would rather die and B) we definitely can’t make the other meds. A medication replicator and/or Healing and Mind Healing magic would be Very Appreciated if we ended up with a setting with magic/sufficiently advanced tech. S. M. Stirling’s “solution” to handling plot complexities like that is to nobly kill off anyone who needs meds or might slow the heroes down, but I don’t really like that plot device for Reasons.

    On a more fun note, I think a big part of a Mass Transport would be the culture(s) of the folks who get transported, or the seed cultures of the folks who take the lead. Anne McCaffrey’s Freedom books are one of my favorite survival series, where basically a bunch of Jaffa transport loads of human and alien rebels to Planet Australia and leave them with no supervision and crates of knives, ration bars, cups, and blankets. The people who are able to take care of themselves and then start helping others form the core of the new culture. It has a lot of US military but enough civilians to keep it We’re All in This Together rather than We Protect the Noncombatants. Satoyama definitely had a point about cops! Figuring out a way to hold and punish folks who immediately started taking advantage of others in that situation was a big part of the series as well.

    Things to thing about: are you transporting a whole town/city/country (they could bring their own organized trash pick up, police, military, etc yay) or more of a human (and/or other species) geographically mixed salad? Do you have trained or experienced survivors, people with book smarts but no experience, or complete newbies? Do people bring domesticated animals with them? If not, how soon do they start domesticating/taming things?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a bunch of problems with S.M. Stirling beyond that; I’ll spare you my rant on the Drakon… ahem.

      Yeah. The actual consequences of an Apocalypse for even those of us with something as mild as allergies are pretty sobering. Anything more serious than that – I definitely want healing magic available, or the book would be too depressing to write!

      Definitely some good points there. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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