I have a problem. If I’m going to blog about SAO, I should blog about my thoughts about it, not fall into the trap of just responding to other people’s criticisms of it. However, I hear that the big criticism of this episode is that it’s psychologically unrealistic, and as someone who has written about her own struggles with OCD and panic disorder before, that’s just….ugh.
I haven’t actually read most of the blogs that are tearing this episode apart though, because if I do I will probably get pissed and have to cut a bitch. Then after cutting a bitch, the sight of a knife may send me into a panic attack, then I’ll never be able to cut up peppers again, and it’ll all just be very tedious and annoying. So I am not aware of the specific arguments that people are making about this episode; just that Sinon’s PTSD/panic attacks are apparently “silly” and “unrealistic” or whatever. I SHOULD read these blog posts so I can better assess their merit; I’m not going to. Sometimes, I have to protect myself, you know? Those peppers aren’t going to cut themselves.
Some context. My husband has read the source material, so he knew about Sinon’s situation going into this season of SAO. He warned me about it beforehand, basically giving me a personal trigger warning. I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of trigger warnings in the way they’re typically used (which is a subject for another day), but in this case, he knows that seeing someone have a panic attack on-screen can be very uncomfortable for me. Since I knew that it was coming, I didn’t find watching the episode that difficult and I did not have a panic attack; but it’s worth mentioning that I could have. One of the things you learn in treatment for panic attacks is that you could have a panic attack at any time, and you just have to learn to live with that uncertainty. Even something as silly as an anime episode isn’t safe.
Like Sinon though, I have more specific triggers, which I’m not going to write about again, because I really don’t feel like upping my risk for an attack right now. Really, I should be constantly exposing myself to the things that set off my attacks in order to get stronger, and sometimes I do, but that takes a lot of courage; I can’t do it every single day. I’ve fought hard so that some of the things that used to scare me no longer do (for instance, stepping on cracks in the sidewallk; I used to have to avoid them, OR ELSE), but I haven’t forced myself to face everything; I probably never will.
That’s why I was so impressed by Sinon continuing to pick up the gun, alone no less, knowing what was going to happen. I would never have the courage to face my biggest fear alone; the successes I have made, I take credit for because I worked hard, but I also had the support of my family. The idea of repeatedly facing my biggest fear alone, with no one to back me up or even call the hospital if things got really bad, is terrifying to me. I was blown away by how strong Sinon was that she could do this. It was far, far more impressive to me than her in-game acts of badassery from episode 2.
It did occur to me that if Sinon is strong enough to repeatedly face her biggest fear, you could make the argument that she “should” be over it already. If she truly has been picking up that gun over and over again, alone, she’s really doing the best thing she can do to extinguish that fear. But the thing is, I haven’t conquered some of my fears yet, even though I’ve been trying for years (albeit not as bravely), and I haven’t even killed anyone. So calling Sinon out on not having dealt with this yet would be a pretty egregious pot-kettle situation.
In terms of legit criticism of the episode, I guess the incident that led to Sinon’s condition could be seen as unrealistic and/or overwrought. However, for me personally, if I can believe in elaborate VR games where you can actually eat food and smell the air, I can believe that an armed robbery happened even in Japan. Just because gun violence is extremely rare in Japan, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist– or more important, that it couldn’t exist in a speculative future, which is what SAO is.
You may notice that I’m referring to what Sinon has as panic disorder as opposed to PTSD; I’m doing that because she very clearly has panic attacks, so it seems accurate. I’m not a psychiatrist, but as far as I can tell, the definitions for these things all bleed into each other and share a lot of common traits. But if you want to insist that what Sinon has is really PTSD, and thus my experiences with panic attacks are TOTALLY DIFFERENT, go ahead: explain to me how that works in the comments. I’m all ears.
In any case, I’m glad that SAO is dealing with this issue. I’m glad that they’re showing a character who has psychological problems but is clearly not “weak” by any stretch of the imagination; that’s very rare in entertainment, and I certainly did not expect it from this franchise. I’m also glad that Sinon is clearly the main character of this arc; Kirito has basically been on screen for two seconds in the last two episodes. I don’t hate Kirito the way some viewers do, but I think it says a lot that even in what is clearly Kirito’s world, this is Sinon’s story.
There are other things of interest about this episode, like the fact that what Sinon’s doing depicts the opposite side of the “video games encourage real violence OH NOES!” worry. Instead of being made more violent by the game, Sinon is using the game as a form of therapy to gain a measure of control over the real-life violence she has experienced. Instead of being passively manipulated by the game, she is putting the game into a context that is useful to her, and that’s an angle of the video game violence debate that I never hear about; that the player isn’t necessarily a sponge who just soaks up whatever the game dishes out, but can take charge of how they process the game information, and taking charge in that way can allow for psychologically healthy experiences that are very difficult to replicate “in real life.” But that’s an issue for another day; today, I’m just pleased that an anime is tackling these topics at all.