Hi Score Girl and Mental Health
For this weekend’s second post I would like to write briefly about the other anime I finished watching recently: Hi Score Girl. I initially went into the anime because “anime about videogames.” Indeed many of the reviews refer to it as a love letter to 90s arcade culture [1, 2, 3], and I don’t blame them. Many of us who lived through the boom and bust of arcade fighter culture see the struggles of the protagonist trying to earn respect and we see some of our younger selves in him. But I quickly lost interest in the nostalgia trip. Instead, what kept me going through the end of the anime was the way it depicts the heroine of the story and the way that the other characters treat her. You see, dear reader, the heroine of the story, Oono, suffers from some kind of mental health condition… and no one cares. This, I argue, is a good thing.
Oono, the heroine of the story, is a young girl who loves videogames. She doesn’t have any consoles at home – her guardians forbid her from engaging in such trivialities, instead preferring her to focus on learning the piano and proper tea etiquette – but when she has time off she sneaks off to the arcade. She is a character who can master games after only a few plays. She’s the type of player who could pull off the Zangief pile driver on command (←↙↓↘→↗↑↖← + P) – this during a time when, as the protagonist states (and as I remember) most players had a hard time pulling off a basic dragon punch (→↓↘ + P). She is a character who, once she finds something she loves, will focus on that thing to the exclusion of almost everything else.
She’s also a silent character. It may not be that she can’t speak, but rather that she is overwhelmed and her speech fails her. We constantly see that she wants to communicate verbally, but can’t. More often than not, she communicates through facial gestures – frowning, smiling, giving others the “death stare” and so on. She is also not good at controlling her emotions. We see her often lash out violently at the protagonist, punching, kicking, or elbowing him for doing things like playing the game wrong. She is also withdrawn, which we see when after a period of being separated from the protagonist she goes out of her way to ignore him. She is a character who suffers from some kind of cognitive condition.
I’m not a psychologist (yet), but her symptoms as displayed lead me to believe that she either has Asperger, Emotional Detachment Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Autism, or – most likely – Social Anxiety Disorder. I’m not sure which of these conditions she has because it’s never fully addressed in the anime, and that’s what I love about it.
Oono is depicted as a character who is respected and well-liked by her classmates. She even has several classmates fight for her affections. She is the model students that all teachers like, and the way that Yaguchi (the main character, who may also have a milder version of any of the diagnoses above) treats her is no different from the way he treats everyone else. Perhaps most importantly, Oono is never handicapped in any of her tasks because of her condition. Indeed, she succeeds at everything she does (except express her feelings). This, I think, is what we need more of in terms of representation of people who suffer from cognitive disorders.
People who have cognitive disorders are often ostracized and otherized in our society. They are relegated to the outskirts of society because they’re different. When depicted in media, they are portrayed as figures who are not fully human and who have no agency. This could not be further from the truth. People with mental conditions are just as human and just as capable as anyone else – sometimes even more so. As someone who has worked in mental health and mental rehabilitation, I know that they are brilliant, dedicated, and creative individuals. When most people approach them, they don’t know how or what to say. In a recent videogame tournament, I heard one of the participants say “I don’t know what to do, should I let him win?” when he came face to face against a young man who had Asperger and Social Anxiety Disorder. I told him “just be yourself and treat him like you would anyone else.” The young man with Asperger won the fight and went on to secure 4th place in the tournament.
I have seen people with cognitive conditions paint, play sports, play music, and write better than many people without these conditions, and it saddens me that they are stigmatized.
And that is where Hi Score Girl succeeds. It’s not only a great example of what media can do when depicting characters with cognitive conditions, it also sends the message that when we interact with people who have cognitive conditions, we should treat them as we would anyone else – and they will reciprocate.
Perhaps instead of being worried or concerned, we should all be more like Yaguchi. Treat everyone the same. Oono likely appreciated Yaguchi because of that. Perhaps that’s the best way to move forward.