I stopped playing Ghost of Tsushima over a year ago after completing Act I, realizing how much more there was to see and do. Open world games have become increasingly vast and dense with ever expanding boundaries and content to ridiculous degrees, which has been a prevalent discussion with other titles, too. The promises of greater and grander adventures are a core part of what appeals to us as humans with all that is new and different to keep us busy and stimulated. That’s why I was so struck by a side quest in Ghost of Tsushima that encourages the player to reflect on this desire, and how it causes people to forget what and whom we can leave behind and neglect—particularly family.
Jin Sakai is a samurai fighting to repel the Mongol invasion of the Japanese island Tsushima. After most of his fellow warriors are wiped out, he devotes himself to refining his skills and building morale by saving and uniting his people. Players never stay long in any one place since there are settlements to restore and captives to save. Names of people and places become a blur as you fight and forget because Jin keeps his focus on the big picture. He has to live in the present and future. He does attend to specific individuals’ needs, but he’s a nomad at heart. A controversial pariah. A true ronin.
However, we all come from somewhere; we all are connected to someone. Jin confronts his roots by claiming his father’s armor in his home village, and while he’s there, you’re introduced to his childhood caretaker: Yuriko.
One of the first things you do before obtaining the armor is visit Jin’s father’s grave and reflect on their relationship. Small quests follow where you fend off some enemies and obtain a new weapon, but half of the time, there are little to no eventful objectives. You’re forced to walk and ride on horseback more slowly than usual. Yuriko asks Jin to sit with her alongside lakes and in cemeteries a few times, but he says, “We should keep moving.” He, like most players, has particular destinations in mind as means to ends—and the game obliges this with nearly all the main and side quests. But when you’re with Yuriko, she asks you to be still and linger. She constantly brings up old memories of Jin and his parents, whether sad, amusing, or joyful. She cares for his family’s cemetery and her ancestors, but Jin has places to be and people to see. “Enough of the past. We can meditate again. After the war.”
I’ve longed for independence for several years and finally attained it last year by moving out. I love my family, but children are meant to strike out and establish themselves in the world, even when that means less time spent with family. Shifting relational dynamics can be best at given times to adapt to other’s present priorities and life circumstances. However, distance naturally erodes the strength of ties. It’s impossible to be as close with anyone as much as you could living with or near them, so it’s been easy for me to forget to stay in touch with family when there’s so much I need and want to do for myself, my friends, and my church.Our responsibilities and goals can make us lose touch with the wonder that is creating and preserving family. Our roots are tangled with those of others, and we shouldn’t forget this by nourishing them with care.
Embodiment and novelty contribute to a thrilling and rewarding adventure. New people and new places are forms of adventure. But you can always have too much of a good thing at the expense of other good things. Living for new experiences is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean the past should be ignored just because it’s familiar, old, and seemingly mundane.
My mom has thousands of photo prints she developed during my childhood nearly each time we went to retail stores. She used to give out family photo calendars each year to relatives, lovingly crafted with themes and birth months dedicated to respective family members. Some of her favorite activities have nothing to do with doing anything, but simply being together by going out for long rides and walks. She cherishes the memories and presence of family in a way that stuns me, which reminds me of my beloved grandfather, who—before his passing—made every effort to invest in me by telling stories of his childhood, sending letters, and eating together. He knew, and my mom knows, the importance of preserving memories and how best to invest in family. With the times I’ve visited my mom over the last year, she has often said that our time spent together never feels like enough.
After displaying signs of dementia, Yuriko leads Jin to a gorgeous cliffside looking over Tsushima. She mistakes him for his father, but Jin does not correct her this time, allowing her to think of him as such. She recounts once more how her greatest memories were spent with him. Not as a mere caretaker, but welcomed as a part of the family. When she asks Jin what he sees on the horizon, all of the sights he describes remind her of the love she has for his family, and how she often thinks of and prays for them. One particular place Jin mentions is a castle where his father was often stationed.
Yuriko: “I wish you weren’t there so often.”
Jin: “Why do you say that?”
Yuriko: “You have many responsibilities. I am grateful for the time we share, but I always want more.”
She passes away peacefully shortly thereafter.
Our careers, interests, and social life can pull us away from family who might hold us closer than we realize. Our responsibilities and goals can make us lose touch with the wonder that is creating and preserving family. Our roots are tangled with those of others, and we shouldn’t forget this by nourishing them with care. Or if those roots are a source of hurt, digging them up is a part of healing through reconciliation or acceptance of what cannot be changed. And if those roots have to be disentangled, or they are truly unknown, family can always be found in friends, churches, and more. These are never easy things to do, and can take years to find, but what can be reaped from them is lifegiving.
Yuriko says, “The strength we need is all around us,” when she meditates with Jin. Joy in life does not solely depend on what is before us and what lies ahead, but also in what (and who) is behind us. We should always remember where we come from, and who loves us, and who helped us get to where we are. Yuriko reminds me of how grateful I am for my family, and how essential it is to not only be with them in the present but to preserve their legacy—to remember their impact, influence, and sacrifices. This life of mine is not my story alone, but one that has been written and enriched in a shared, grander narrative.
All that I need does not only lie ahead, but all around me.