The beauty of anime is its ability to give even mundane events a certain spectacular feel to them. It's different from a real-world film or television series in that the developers don't need a massive special effects budget to create jaw-dropping audio-visual manifestations. Kyoto Animation, the animators of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, saw fit to encapsulate this fact in the first season's thirteenth episode: "The Day of Sagittarius."
In this episode, the SOS Brigade is challenged to a duel by the school Computer Club. The challenge is a 5v5 team deathmatch in the computer club's real time tactics game "The Day of Sagittarius 3." The SOS Brigade has one week to figure out the controls and tactics which can be utilized in gameplay; however, each attempt to defeat the practice AI ends in catastrophic failure for them. On the day of the duel, all hope seems lost until Yuki Nagato finds a way to level the playing field.
What We Saw: As it was developed by high schoolers, the game interface was relatively bland and simplistic. White gridlines overlayed a gray backdrop and could be used as a reference to determine how far away a particular target was, as well as that target's direction. Scouting ships were noted as red dots, while the flagship was denoted as a large colored triangle with the reserve ship count listed above it.
All of this seems rather boring. Therefore, to spice things up, Kyoto Animation opted for a visual representation of what that playing field would really look like. And well, see for yourself.
The playing field is embedded into the dashboard of a massive ship command room contained in each character's flagship. The ships themselves travel through space delivering light shows of energy weapons which lord down on target after target. It's all stunning and exciting and really keeps the viewer interested.
Why It Matters: In 2011, Video Game High School received $273,000 in crowdfunding contributions, and in 2013, its second season received an astonishing $808,000 in contributions. This clearly demonstrates that people find the idea of watching videogames to be exciting.
Critics argue, however, that the reason videogame spectating has not become mainstream in the real world is because videogame competitions lack "narrative," something which would have happened in TMOHS if not for the epic visual representation of a great conquest by two unyielding forces. Onlookers wish to attach themselves to the combatants, an empathy which can only flourish when those combatants are subjected to some sort of danger, fear, doubt or other adrenaline-inducing rush.
Creating an atmosphere which induces danger and the like is especially important in driving the narrative. Yu-Gi-Oh! for example would never have been as popular if not for the characters being physically injured in some way every time the card game was played. Pokemon has also made steps to emulate that feeling of danger over the past two decades sometimes missing the mark but other times hitting the proverbial bullseye.
The Application: The final thing to note here is that the students were not playing this game for the sake of entertainment; there were real stakes on the line. The computer club risked four laptops on the deal, while the SOS brigade risked a desktop computer and two of their brigade members. That said, it was a clever way to diffuse the tensions which had grown between the two groups over that year.
The problem is, if there is one things high schools have a lot of, it's tension. Currently, there are very few means of relieving that pressure other than talking it out (which sadly, does not work often). Fights break out with growing intensity because the tension simply boils over.
Duels serve as a means to channel all of that aggression into a game of sport, a test of skill pitting two evenly matched sides against one another for dominance and definitive conflict termination. Virtual battlefields lead to some creative challenges, but traditional battlefields (paintball, laser tag, obstacle course races, etc.) would work just as well. It's important to remember that there must be a narrative in order for people to feel that the fight matters and is actually relevant to something. Otherwise, it kind of does come off as a bit ridiculous.
(For those who don't know me, my name is Maddy Koller, and I run a blog called WLIA: Where Life Imitates Art. This is a sounding board of sorts where some friends and I analyze various elements of artistic media for their technological, sociocultural, political and economic benefits when applied to real life. If you enjoyed the above article, I highly encourage you to check out WLIA, as we've done analyses for many great works such as Madoka Magica, Kill La Kill, Ghost in the Shell, Code L.Y.O.K.O., and Evangelion. Thank you for reading!)