Explanation of this series and its rules can be found here.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had a significant impact on my life; it feels too close to disrespect for me to be comfortable claiming that. I didn't know anyone in Japan (although I remember being relieved when Brian Ashcraft posted that day, including a note that he and his family were fine, such is the far-reaching nature of the internet), so to call it a personal tragedy is well out of line. That's not the same as being unaffected, however.
As you may have seen in the referenced link above, there are many videos of the tsunami. Despite the vast numbers, there was one—which I admittedly I have not tried to find for this article—that stayed with me. It showed people running up a hill towards some stairs, the water close behind them. A woman fell, and the man that was with her grabbed her about the waist and practically threw her up the stairs. Hands reached out for her, helped her to her feet. I don't know if she turned in time to see the man who had been with her get struck by the water and torn away from the railing that he tried to cling to. I did not know those people; I do not know what relation they had to each other. But watching them, I felt strongly that this was very much something my brother would do for me, or for his wife. It lent a personal aspect to something that was already devastating to witness.
I followed stories of the disaster for a long time after; I still track news about Fukushima to this day. Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to hear about a good friend making contact with an elderly acquaintance she had long presumed dead. All of this is background that I bring to 9.03m.
I honestly can't remember where I first heard about the game; I do remember that I was at work at the time. Because of my persistent interest, I knew that I'd get the game eventually—the fact that they were offering the proceeds to charity just meant that I would buy it as soon as I got home that afternoon. Which I did, and then installed it, and then— Nothing. For whatever reason, I could not make myself hit the "Play" button. I knew enough about the game to understand that it wasn't survival horror, or some cheap action cash-in on human tragedy. Despite following the stories about what had happened, participating felt like a strange sort of voyeurism.
I couldn't have been more wrong. This isn't some garish tabloid people surreptitiously gawk at in checkout aisles, this is a book of memories left openly on a coffee table that you're invited to touch and look through.
The game opens on a peaceful night-time beach, everything cloaked in soft shades of blue. "Find the butterflies", I'm told, with no other explanation. I don't see any, but there is a faint trail of light hovering in the air, and so I follow it. Ahead of me I see the silhouette of a person, and I recoil as the shadow dissolves at my approach. But left in their wake is a light shining on an object that has been left behind. Upon examining it, I am able to find a small butterfly, and a name is given to me.
Suddenly the butterfly takes flight, leaving a trail of lights in its wake. I begin to understand, and follow the lights to the next solitary figure, the next object, the next butterfly. This time, my reward is the inscription on a wedding ring, what I can only assume is the promise that a couple once made to one another. Reality begins to creep in. For just a moment, I hesitate. Do I want to follow the butterfly? It all seems so personal. Am I being invasive? On the other hand, the game literally wouldn't exist if they didn't want people to see, to read, to share. I keep walking.
The shadows are not only of adults; children are there too, and they remind me of the thirty children I once read about in Kama Elementary School. Sometimes, I wonder what happened to them. These little shadow children represent them to me, and others that have never had their stories told at all. A one-eyed teddy bear left behind causes me to burst into tears.
Just when I think I can't take any more, there are suddenly hundreds of butterflies, shining like stars, hundreds of silhouettes in the moonlight. Though I don't see them, I know each one has their own story, their own things that they've left behind. As the game itself closes with a dedication, I can think of nothing more appropriate than to do the same, here.
Dedicated to the unique men, women, and children, who lost their lives, or are still missing as a result of the tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11th, 2011.