Weight of the World: But the Truth is That I'm Only One Girl
Reflections on realizing a lifelong dream of achieving genuine heroism at the true end of NieR: Automata
by Amanda Graham
AKA Atma Weapon
SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the true final end/Ending E of NieR: Automata. Proceed with extreme caution if you haven't played it and would like to remain unspoiled. I am not responsible for any frustration you experience over getting spoiled.
I have started many articles and essays with a phrase akin to "All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a swordsman" or "When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a knight" and ended some with "I became a samurai instead" or "I got my dream, and will work hard to not take it for granted" and so forth.
In all honesty, I should have started those with "All I've ever wanted in life is to become a hero" and ended with "I've yet to realize this dream" as sad as that is.
Heroism is not an easy concept to understand: it's a simple one. There's a huge difference between simplicity and ease. Everyone defines it a little differently, but essentially a hero is someone who has undergone great hardship to do the right thing instead of what's just good, usually at great sacrifice and cost and for someone(s) not themselves. Like the difference between simplicity and ease, the one between right and good is bigger than you'd think. It's also not easy. It's not supposed to be. I was fascinated by knights and soldiers and swordsmen and the like as a child, and it carried on through my whole life, and yes, I long since achieved my dream of becoming that figure, but the heroism aspect eluded me.
At first, I wanted to be well known as a hero who gave the ultimate sacrifice; for giving my life for a cause bigger than myself. I was a martyr in so many ways and would throw myself onto the cross any chance I could. I begged and yearned to serve. It wasn't until I met my current girlfriend did she snap that out of me and made me completely tear down the image of heroism and honor and glory I had and rebuild it from the ground up. My desire to die was replaced with a desire to live, while still doing great, but my definition of heroism had changed to saving the world and everyone, and if I messed it up even a teensy bit, then it didn't count and my honor would be tarnished forever.
Honor is also hard to define and everyone has a different personal honor. I view mine as all the tangible and intangible assets and aspects that make me reliable and strong to others first, myself second. Or, I did, until recently when I changed it to me first, because without me around, there can be no me to help others. It went away with my martyring tendencies. But even with this now instated, my definition of heroism was still not quite pitch-perfect. I hadn't changed it to a me first, others second habit, and without doing so, I wasn't going to achieve it. I viewed putting myself first for any reason in any situation as selfish, and that was not befitting a true warrior like I viewed myself. I had to beat and twist myself more to finally mold it into a form of honor and heroism I now find to be genuinely respectable. I'm not doing me first for me, I'm doing me first for others. In a way, it's the ultimate form of servitude that I longed to be of use by.
To achieve my new form of heroism, I would have to achieve great honor and glory for anyone, for many, for a cause or all and live and continue to live as an example to others. For the longest time, this goal eluded me.
Or, at least, I thought it had.
I recently played through NieR: Automata and the game struck me a great deal, emotionally, and the character of A2 especially struck a chord with me. I related to her survival even in the face of great loss and adversity and the need to do the deeds other wouldn't because they weren't easy or weren't the right thing, or they were just plain ol' cowardly or evil. Or perhaps scared. You can be scared without being a coward, and many people I knew fell and do fall under this category. Their fears are not unfounded, and they find themselves with little resource or willpower to deal with it. Their patience is exhausted, and I harbor no blame for them.
To beat the game to its true and final ending, you have to go through four other endings first, at least. There's 26 endings in all, all categorized by a letter of the alphabet, and only endings A, B, C, D, and E are considered "good" ends, by which it doesn't end the plot prematurely through some instance of shenanigans or happenstance. You piece the true path of the story together in those five ends, and after view A, B, and C or D (since either can be considered an end to the main plot), once you see the other one, you have a chance to see the actual final end, Ending E.
I blazed through most of the last half of the game in a day or two and the emotional gut punches from the keynotes of the story and unveiling what was really going on were hitting me harder than any game had in about a decade. Sure, I gush about how Senran Kagura is my unironic favorite game series, and it does have depressing and hard hitting parts, it wasn't meant to be that way the whole time. It wasn't since my previous all-time favorite, Xenosaga, over a decade ago, had I felt a plot hit me this hard and clutch me in its hands in a way that, yeah even today, if you ask me to talk 'Saga, I probably won't shut up for hours about what it means to me personally, since I met so many wonderful friends over it (including one of the creators itself, which is an incredible honor ). I attribute this game to wanting me to grow up well, since I had just turned 18 when the series was ending. "It made me want to be a better human being" is how I describe how it made me feel. It felt like no game would match it.
Automata came in and trounced it pretty soundly.
Whether you prefer Ending C or D is up for personal decision (I choose C myself for personal reasons) but once I did, my friends all immediately told me to go ahead on to E as soon as I could. All I knew about it was that it'd come at a rather unique cost for a video game: to get this ending, I'd have to sacrifice my save data somehow. I was hesitant since I wanted to get everything. My friends assured me to do E anyways, as it was best experienced just fresh off C/D. Just purchase the trophies I needed off of the in-game achievement shop and not worry about doing it manually.
I had no idea what I was in for.
The assistant Pods came up during the credits saying now that the YoRHa's true task was complete, all data pertaining to their existence and black boxes was going to be wiped out, as per programming. But over the course of the adventure, they did something unexpected: they developed will. They stopped and questioned the decision, and knew only one person could override their programming to "save" 2B, 9S, and A2.
They looked at me and asked me. The player. They knew I'd been here the whole time and approached me.
"Knowing that, do you still wish for them to survive?" I was asked.
Would I override the final command and "save" the memories of the heroes?
Yeah. Okay. You asked me, Atma, to do so. You knew whom I was, and I thought to myself, just a tiny bit, maybe they had learned whom I was as an individual throughout our game. At this point, it felt possible. So I nodded and said yes, my body tensing up, heart racing, thinking in silence as the decision waved on screen and I hit the override command.
A tiny ship came on screen. I could move and shoot. A slow, ominous digitized tune played in the distance. I knew this song. It was the game's theme, only different, like the sounds of dying code were ebbing through it. The beginning of the credits came and did something unexpected.
They attacked me.
I had to attack back. They gave me no choice. The game itself was threatening me, telling me not to ruin all these wonderful peoples' hard work and let the story end as it was meant to. If I was going to override the creators and coders, it would be me up against hundreds, nay, thousands. Would I have what it takes to kill the code off itself, the creators and artists, the musicians and producers, the executives and voice actors, one by one in order to have my way and save the day?
Well, honestly, if you have to ask me, I have only one answer to that.
I wish that someway
That I could save every one of us
But the truth is that...
...I'm only one girl
Cue the fucking chorus.
"I feel like I'm losing hope, in my body and my soul..."
The absolute final battle for truth and destiny and override with my will over all of theirs began. They knew I'd been here the whole time, too, waiting for me to get here and stand up to them, to dare to defy their creation, and they were ready to absolutely crush me. I began my fight, and for a while, I held my own, far longer than I thought I could when I was killed.
The game asked me "GIVE UP HERE?"
"And the sky, it looks so ominous..."
Like hell I do. We're doing this. It's just a small setback. I jumped back in and got about to the same spot again where I died and, well, history repeated itself, they got the best of me.
The game asked me "DO YOU ACCEPT DEFEAT?"
"And as time comes to a halt..."
I'm Atma. I don't know the meaning of defeat. I'm going to fall down seven, stand up eight. Basic samurai philosophy. Which is good I'm so tenacious, because they got me a third time.
The game asked me "IS IT ALL POINTLESS?"
"Silence starts to overflow..."
It's as if they knew exactly what to ask me to set off my stubbornness and determination and just fueled me on. I got back up, swinging, only to be knocked back to the start again.
The game asked me "DO YOU THINK GAMES ARE SILLY LITTLE THINGS?"
"My cries are inconspicuous..."
No, but you're really starting to piss me off. Especially since you killed me again, somehow, and even easier than the last time. Was it pointless? Was it right?
The game asked me "DO YOU ADMIT THERE IS NO MEANING TO THIS WORLD?"
"Tell me God, are you punishing me. Is this the price I'm paying for my past mistakes?"
Okay, this was just getting out of hand. This world has meaning. We all have meaning. -I- have meaning. I am not disposable. None of us are. But you sure like to trash on me because I fell again.
The game asked me one last time "GIVE UP HERE?"
"This is my redemption song. I need you more than ever right now..."
I said no, because what I hadn't mentioned is during this whole sequence, I started seeing messages. Words from people. Real people who had played the game, who had gotten here, who were encouraging me with various phrases, saying I was needed and that victory would be mine if I kept trying. Nothing was impossible for me. People I never met, will never meet again, who cared because they knew how this felt.
"Can you hear me now?"
I raised my sword one last time, pointed defiantly to the end. The world was finally relying on me, after all this time, and I wasn't about to let it down. The hero had entered the stage at last, and she was me. Only Atma could do this, and everyone on Earth would know this day, it was me who didn't give up and lead my army to victory. I would now raise thousands of voices in unison as the world united with me and got ready to hold me on until the end.
"'Cause we're gonna shout it loud!
Even if our words seem meaningless
It's like I'm carrying the weight of the world
I wish that someway somehow
That I could save every one of us
But the truth is that I'm only one girl"
Yeah, the song is right about something. The truth is that I'm only one girl. My heroism meant that I could only go as far as one person could, and that to ask for help was no selfish act, to put me first and my survival key so I could get to the end, and everyone else had come to realize that on this journey too, and came to my aide, forming a shield around me and firing all they had, bravely protecting me as I charged forth to the end I so sought to create and override the creators on.
But every time one got knocked down, I saw a message I didn't expect to see on this journey, or, well, most journeys.
"(x)'s save file was lost."
....D-did someone out there, in this world, sacrifice their save data to be my shield, their grave marked by their hard work, all of it gone to the ether just to make sure I got my wish, my happiness? Did I matter that much to this world, to the people whom I'd never met, never would again, and were now dying for me by the dozens? Did they come to the same moral I did at the end that none of us are truly disposable, and that someday we'd look back on this and say it was worth it for the happiness we were creating, the characters we were saving?
I wasn't alone. I wasn't meant to be alone. None of us really are. And that's why the truth is that I'm only one girl, but combined, there's nothing we can't help each other do.
And so this one girl fought on, the weight of the world on her shoulders at long last.
"After all the laughter fades
Signs of life all washed away
I can still feel a gentle breeze
No matter how hard I pray
Signs of warning still remain
And life has become my enemy"
The song goes on and on in its choruses, a long song, a long fight, in which all I could do during it is shake and cry my biggest most heaving sobs and watch as sticky globs of snot ran down my chin uncontrollably, not even able to wail or scream, only choke and gag. And at the end, exhausted, I had come out victorious, and on the other side of death, there is life. I had saved the heroes, and in return for my brave act, I was asked but one simple thing in return as payment for all this.
But first, an inquiry before they asked for my payment. Did I have anything I would like to say to other players out there in the world, whom may be struggling as I did, to cheer them on and make sure they don't lose the hope the game so desperately tried to make me lose?
Yeah. I do.
And then my bill came in. It was time. The Pods spoke to me again.
"You, Atma, faithful player of this title, have lost your life multiple times to make it this far. You have faced crushing hardship, and suffered greatly for it. Do you have any interest in helping the weak?"
"Selecting this option enables you to save someone somewhere in the world. However, in exchange, you will lose all of your save data. Do you still wish to rescue someone - a total stranger - in spite of this?"
.....I thought of the others. They did it for me, not knowing who I was. It would be selfish of me not to, and we know by now that's the last thing I want to be.
"The person you save will be selected at random. As a result, this person, who cries out for help even as we speak...may be someone you intensely dislike. Do you still wish to help?"
"You worked so hard to unlock Debug Mode and Chapter Select...but they will no longer be available to you. Do you...still wish to help?"
"You may not receive thanks for your efforts. Some may say that your efforts are purely for show. Do you still wish to help?"
"And you are truly - TRULY - sure about this?"
"...Very well. In exchange for all your data, I will convey your will to this world."
And with that, over 80 hours of hard work went down, slowly but surely. I sat motionless, just slow, heavy breathing as I looked and saw it all taken from me. The cost I pay to live a hero and help someone.
"Maybe if I keep believing
My dreams will come to life...
Come to life"
What this all made me realize is that in my own life, outside the game, I had long already achieved being a hero in the way I had finally formed. I had saved countless friends from themselves or other pain, I had made people feel safe in a world full of fear and uncertainty, that women wanted me and men wanted to be me, that I was a role model and inspiration, that my never-ending determination to do the right thing in small ways had amassed into something bigger than myself, that I was larger than life at long last and had become a figure known for genuine chivalry and glory and honor. I was nothing less than an absolute a folk legend in living modern day, a champion to the people.
I was a hero at long last.
And all it took was the weight of the world on me.
After all, I'm only just one girl.
But look what that one girl can do when she really, really wants to.
And you can, too.
I know you can.
"Some wars never end. In spite of that, fight for what's important to you!" - Atma, USA
Deleted her saved data on Jun 7, 2017 AD
Lived on, not died, a hero at last