John Harju

At the beginning of our Sci-Frights brainstorming sessions, I discovered a very niche narrative theme shared among a thread of animes that I had been getting into at the time.  I don’t know if it is an actual genre, but it is a thought experiment that happens much more frequently within Japanese fiction than of the USA, and it is something that always fascinates me.  I refer to it as The Suffering Game, and to be completely transparent, it really isn’t my title either. It was the name of an arc in a D&D podcast I came upon (but wish not to publicize any more than it already is).

The settings are always the same, but the question is always: “Is it better to suffer to benefit someone else or have someone else suffer for your benefit?”  As we are in spooky season, some of you are indulging in the Americanized versions of this with your Saw and Escape Room movies, and if those are your jam, then there is a world of anime shows that will be right up your alley, but, for our purposes today, we will be talking about the show Danganronpa: The Animation.

In this show, we find 16 super high school level students trapped in a special high school for exceptional students and being told that they will be spending the rest of their lives there unless someone graduates.  The stipulation for graduation is to be the last person standing or murder someone and get away with it.  The catch is that if you murder someone and are caught, you are executed, and if the rest of the class fails to convict the correct person for murder, they are executed.  In the end, there is a struggle between hope and despair.  Suffice it to say I picked the easy assignment this month.

The students have varying stages of amnesia, with some remembering everything and some remembering next to nothing, and there are double-crosses and betrayals galore, but the question remains: is it better to suffer to benefit someone else or have someone else suffer for your benefit?  In the end, as Christians, this decision was already made for us as Jesus suffered and ultimately died for our benefit, as long as we allow his willingness to suffer for us to be the solution to our suffering game.

In the show, one of the main characters must allow themselves to be falsely accused and suffer the death of the condemned to allow the others a chance to figure out the answers and escape the suffering.  The key to this salvation is to have faith in the plan and allow it to happen.  Because they were willing to experience the punishment for others, everyone else was able to be set free, and ultimately, this is the same message we bring to the world: Hope has won because someone was willing to face execution so that we may have deliverance.

So, as you are playing your own suffering game, allow me to ask you this:  you may know about all of this and have found the way to exit your suffering game, but are you helping others find their way out of the suffering game as well?