Going about life pretending like you belong, painstakingly emulating social rituals to create the illusion of being connected with people will require a lot of effort, all of which will eventually go to waste because sooner or later you will slip and that illusion will fall apart which will bring you back to the place where you’re made to realise how fundamentally separated you are from the people around you. With technologies like the internet, video games and a near infinite supply of streamable content, typical drugs of the Hikikomori, it is easier than ever to shut yourself out. You can give up on life in a way that is a lot more palatable to society while it might not be all too different from the more traditional ways of putting an end to your existential nightmare. Closing yourself off to the ways of a hermit is much easier and more inviting. And coming back to the world after having realised the fact that you’ve spent most of your time trying to bury yourself can be a little bit intimidating. Perhaps you feel there’s no hope, but maybe, from the hole you’ve spent digging your entire life, sometimes you find the courage to look up to wonder what it would be like to belong.

The social domain is a playground reserved for higher sapiens. With their unrelenting charisma, the people with words will practically distort your perception of reality to serve their resolve. They will falsify any truth and fortify any lie. Your idea of right and wrong itself will begin to dissolve because they will always be armed and ready to conjure a combination of words that reify a different version of reality that suits them. Put simply, they will grab you by your hair and rub your face in the mud while their friends cheer and laugh in amusement after which everyone will walk away as if nothing happened and you won’t be able to do anything about it. You will be made fun of, you will be the butt of every joke, you will be bullied, you will have no status, position or respect and that girl that you’re seeing who’s grown to like you a little bit will sooner or later come to realise you’re not a suitable mate. You will be cast aside, you will get a lot of meals alone and nobody will care about you or your pathetic existence.

For the uninitiated, this can be an intimidating space to enter, like walking into an arena hopelessly unprepared, staring at a fire-breathing monster ten feet taller than you. But just because it’s a space you’re not familiar with, doesn’t mean you can’t learn and get better at it. If you feel that you have it in you to give it another chance, understand that it is only a game and like every game, it has rules. Rules that create depth and complexity, both of which can be understood and solved, in time and with patience, through play. Nobody gets to start with a thorough understanding of the complete ruleset. At first you will only know of a handful of rules, some of which might even be wrong. You will be working with an incomplete understanding of the system, which is what will make every challenge initially appear as though it’s next to impossible, when in fact it isn’t. If you don’t know the rules, simply ask someone because remember, everyone is playing. There is no weakness in asking for help. If you can’t surround yourself with people who know, then seek them out. If you are unable to find help, then just learn by doing it. Experiment. Try everything and fail often. Poke and prod to explore the extents of the system and consciously test your understanding of it to further develop and improve it.

While knowing the rules is important, you won’t get far without skill. That comes in time with practice.

Be calm, let go of anxiety, give up anger and don’t be afraid. Try to approach the situation with some amount of patience, don’t rush, observe, keep some distance and avoid immediate confrontation. Take your time to read the room, identify your opponent, try to understand their patterns and keep your guard up. This doesn’t mean you have to be passive. Some amount of aggression is necessary. Look for openings to land a strike and back away carefully. Be vigilant. Know your limits and don’t stretch yourself too much. Know how fast you can move, how quickly you can strike and try to bring the opponent into your frame so you can exert more control over the dynamics of the encounter.

With practice, you will begin to notice you are not nervous anymore. You will be more confident and develop a kind of heightened awareness that gives you the upper hand in engagement. You will learn about patterns that were previously invisible to you, slowly revealing the simplicity of the system that once appeared intimidating and complex.

With experience, you will learn that your opponents only pick from a limited arsenal of tricks and moves. You will see their telegraphed attacks coming from a mile away after you’ve learned to identify them, which will make you better prepared for when they finally land, giving you ample time to plan exactly when and how you want to deal with them. You will react on instinct without having to think.

With exploration, over time you will collect a variety of different tools always at your disposal to help you tackle more difficult situations. You will discover new techniques to effectively confuse and distract your opponents, allowing you to buy time to either try a different strategy or flee unharmed. With the help of these aids, you will approach every encounter with some degree of leverage making further exploration of the playing field easier and more inviting.

And after the long and arduous process of trying and failing over and over again, you will eventually become better. The world will realise you are now a more formidable opponent, they will intimidate you, they will yell and scream at you and they will throw everything they have at you, but you won’t even have to blink because you will know your enemies better than they know themselves. They will move even faster to try and put you down, they will come at you with giant clubs and flaming scythes and they will try to surprise you with clever new tricks but it won’t work. It won’t work because at that point, you will flow like water. You will be untouchable. Like a ghost you will fade in and out of combat, effortlessly dodging, sliding and quick-stepping around a fury of deadly attacks, all while staring back at them, patiently waiting for your window of opportunity, one that you will have predicted minutes in advance. In the heat of battle, as your opponent haphazardly struggles to land a strike, you will finally appear behind them, wrapped in exotic armour, blessed with godlike abilities, armed to the teeth with power-ups, ready and in position to unleash a charged attack on their weak point. And before they can even turn around to notice, you will land that critical hit to leave them disabled and claim your victory.

It will be glorious.

But getting there won’t be easy. You will try and fail countless times. It will be difficult, you will make mistakes, you will embarrass yourself and the world will laugh at you. You will get further only to slip up and get struck down at the very last moment. You will blame the game, you will say it’s not for you, you will explain how it isn’t fair. It will be painful, you will get angry and you will want to quit. But in that moment of failure, when you are lying on the ground bruised and humiliated with your face in the mud, know that it will be your choice to either admit defeat or find the strength to stand back up and try again. Because if not this time, then perhaps in your next attempt, you might finally slay that demon and level up.

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