I love Katawa Shoujo, primarily due to its ability to penetrate an audience beyond the Visual Novel community. The hype it generated simply due to its origins on 4chan has resulted in a wide interest in its release, even from those who don’t visit 4chan but know enough about it to wonder what kind of project would arise from such a community with such a concept.
As it turns out, the concept of relationships with girls with disabilities is handled much more maturely than one would expect from an online community perceived as an Internet hive of scum and villainy. Give Four Leaf Studios a lot of credit for treading carefully and adding whole lot of care to a sensitive subject. Whether or not the lives of these girls are glorified or depicted with any sort of accuracy is left to one to judge for themselves, but personally, I feel there’s an underlying tone in the various routes and stories that fascinates me so much simply because of the fact that the characters in this game are disabled.
Enter Spoon Theory, a piece written by Christine Miserandino, which shares a personal story and an analogy about what it’s like to be sick. If you play and enjoy Katawa Shoujo, I think it’s definitely a worthy read, not just because it provides a more realistic idea of disability, but it also puts the girls from Katawa Shoujo into perspective, as well as the relationships that they have with Hisao.
In Spoon Theory, Christine writes about how, while eating at a diner with a friend, she was asked about what it is like to live with a lifelong illness such as Lupus. She responds by grabbing a large number of spoons from her table and others, and gives it to her friend. Essentially, when you have an illness or disability, you have a limited number of spoons, and every single action that one goes through in a day costs the person a spoon. Every mundane activity that requires some semblance of effort can have the largest costs in energy. Anything from making breakfast to buying groceries to even shaving one’s legs (something that seems to be a non-issue for the heroines in Katawa Shoujo) require a spoon.
People with such conditions have to be more conscious of the spoons they have, compared to normal individuals. Us healthy folk take our spoons for granted, and just go on about our day with this unlimited supply of cutlery currency, and don’t have to think about the choices we make throughout the day. The conscious choice to have to reserve your effort to do things, even though you are fully able to do them, is the a very stark definition of what it’s like to be held back by a medical condition.
“Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count ‘spoons’.”
Christine’s personal reflection on living a life of conscious choices regarding her spoons is remarkably grim, but there is a silver lining to it. After explaining her spoon analogy to her friend (and consequentially bumming her out to no end), she cheers her up by saying that the spoons that she has are more valuable to her than anything, and that by sitting in that diner with her is essentially a spoon that she used up for the purposes of being with her friend.
In Katawa Shoujo, it’s hard to see the spoons in the lives of Hisao, Emi, Shizune, Lilly, Hanako, and Rin. Because of the wide range of conditions that these girls have, they each have a different amount of spoons, and they all choose to use them on different things, things that they feel are important to them. These girls pair up with each other because they get more out of spoons that they share with each other, than ones that they otherwise have to use on their own.
When Hisao and his mate get together, the relationship takes so much more value than one between normal individuals, because Hisao uses his spoons to spend his time with the girl he loves, and the gesture is returned in kind. Upon realization of this, I fell in love with the game even more.