Life | Gaming

What Graduating is Actually About According to ‘Sable’

A poignant coming-of-age tale serenaded by Japanese Breakfast

The Ugly Monster


Credit: Raw Fury

You spend the first 17 years in this life getting acclimated to the world, from how your body works to how you interact with the environment and with other people. Little did you know this is just the beginning. It’s your very own introductory tutorial. You learn the controls, the mechanics, and the rules that the world works under.

You then spend another 5 or more years finding your place in the world, exploring what you can and can’t do, what you like and don’t like. This chapter of your life, which may take less than a decade or span years in double digits, is what Sable is all about.

Credit: Raw Fury

There is a liminal period in everyone’s lives. It is where we walk a road of trial and error, where failure is justified and falling feels more like gliding. It is this in-between time, after learning the ropes but before truly living, that Sable concerns its characters with. It is a time of freedom and exploration; picking a path, not quite committing, wearing masks, and finding what fits.

In this journey of self-discovery, every failure and doubt leads us closer to our heart’s true desires. After learning what the world is, before stepping out and actually living in it, the next step is learning who you are as a part of that world.

In the game, this is a ritual that every youth must partake in, called Gliding. The name is befitting for a tradition that is all about getting carried by waves, floating to and fro whichever way the wind blows.

You pack your bags, ready to go abroad or just away, and you look back at the home you’ve known, at the people who’ve raised you and the familiar faces who’ve made your every day. You say farewell to them, to your family, knowing you’ll meet them again, but baptized by change, it won’t be quite the same.

The game starts in the pre-liminal stage, or separation, where you leave the community you’ve grown fond of. The character you play, a girl named Sable, is for all intents and purposes an avatar for the player.

Sable wears masks, and in the course of her Gliding finds new ones that could define her in her adult life. These masks are analogous to passions or occupations in the adult world. She (you) could be an entertainer, a guard, a machinist, or even Batman (or this world’s equivalent of him). Masks can be an allegory for survival and making meaning in the face of the alien. It is to identify with a tribe and be a part of something bigger.

Apart from giving identity, masks also permit performance. They let us act things out until we figure out which part we like playing. You meet people who wear these different masks all around the map. In talking to them, they may tell you why they chose to be who they are, to do what they do. And perhaps they may persuade you to take a similar path if your heart approves.

In the end, however, it is up to you which path fits you most. Only you get to decide how you can contribute to the world and what you want to get out of it.

You meet plenty of different people along your journey, but they can never follow you. They have their own lives now. They’ve gone through their own Gliding, and though some even miss their lost days they don’t have the privilege to wander anymore.

You read about someone who spirals after believing in a higher power, who loses their way in the path. You pass a retired vigilante, who chooses to let go of his path. You find different people with different vocations tackling different problems, and you learn more about what calls to you. You learn that it’s different for everyone, but everyone helps each other out, that everyone plays a part, and that Gliding (graduating) is just a casting call.

You’re auditioning parts for yourself, and you’re judging which one works best.

Each time you meet people, they have something to share — about themselves, about the world — stories that you can use to decide later on about your own life. And those are what follow you.

But there is no pressure in your forthcoming decision. As it is sometimes repeated by other characters, your choice is something inevitable that will happen eventually. The pressure often comes from within, an internal urge to prove something.

The people you encounter are there to help you choose your path, not to stay with you. This makes every encounter bittersweet and all the more lovely. As the old proverb states, it is the journey that anyone should concern themselves with. The destination is a matter of course.

You take their stories with you, their regrets and woes, all taken into account for every act you do. Whatever you do with your life, you will always partly do in all their names, every life you’ve touched and who’ve touched back.

Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner after him said that liminality is a rite of passage’s middle stage, where you are no longer who you were before the ritual but also not yet your complete integrated self who has undergone metamorphosis, therefore existing in limbo. Graduation ceremonies are even included as examples of such experiences, when you are no longer young enough to need someone else’s direction, yet too young to commit to your own.

Whether you go through university or drop out, drifting from job to job, you’ll be guaranteed to meet a colorful coterie of people who slowly show you what you want. Without realizing it, they whittle down the infinite possibilities and future prospects — that may at first seem suffocating to you — into something imaginable.

The game externalizes the ceremony that all of us play in our heads, a eureka moment where we decide what we want to do with our lives, where a forking road no longer looks confusing.

Credit: Raw Fury

After quite an exhilarating adventure alone (but never truly so), an indeterminate amount of time that feels too brief yet long enough, you return for the post-liminal stage called reintegration.

You come back and are greeted by your family. There’s the little sibling who misses you but tries to hide it, the grandparent who cooks you the best food that’s unavailable elsewhere, and all your friends awaiting your anecdotes. They tell you you got skinnier after all that travel, but they can’t see the change inside, how differently you carry yourself, the subtle shift in your shoulders. Only you can feel that.

When you first left the small community you called home, a song by Japanese Breakfast swelled, opening up the world to be more than the tiny village you knew. Then at the end, when you decide on the mask to define you, when you finally decide to define yourself, another song from the band starts.

But this time the song is intimate instead of grandiose. Michelle Zauner’s beautiful lyrics stave off doubt and carve determination: You play a part. And if in time you found that you’ve doubled back. Learn to rely on a future you made. In which it gets better.” Instead of showing off how big the world is, Zauner’s soft voice now shrinks it down.

All the sublime places you’ve explored, everyone you’ve met, the vertical vistas and winding roads, become possible. The dreamer becomes confident and what once were crossroads give way to one path that only you can walk.

You pass back from the threshold with the knowledge that — stripped of everyone you know, of the place you’re familiar with — you can find your own beating heart pointing the way forward. You’ve done all that, did what a younger version of you may have thought impossible, which means you can do more. You’ve inspired someone’s poetry, saved another’s life, been kind, and been handed kindness in return.

You learn that maybe growing up isn’t knowing all the answers, it’s asking the right questions and figuring out your own answers to them. Graduating is difficult. Sometimes coming back is as painful as leaving, as returning from somewhere also means you’re leaving that place and time.

Coming back is another form of letting go. It is an end, an end to a lot of things, of childhood perhaps, of dreams. But the road always forks, and whatever you choose next only you could’ve chosen it. Choosing is always an end to possibility. It is one for the sake of many, but it is something everyone must do in the course of their lives.

I first started playing this game back in university. After a while I realized what it was about and opted to stop playing until after I graduated. I did and finished the game right after. Sable highlighted all the conflicting feelings of every grown-up youth that is lost, and free, and needs reassurance that those two things aren’t as scary as they sound. How can you be afraid when the graduation (Gliding) ceremony is serenaded by Japanese Breakfast?

The game consoles me and shows that life is heartwarming, and any choice we make in it is beautiful because they are never made in isolation. They take into account all the experiences of our pasts and all the people we’ve crossed paths with.

The game itself becomes a liminal ritual that lets me work through my own feelings of doubt and being lost. It helps me find my own way and discover what I want. A good work of art can help people work through their feelings in life. And Sable’s successful Gliding, choosing her mask, her confidence in her future, make me confident in my own future path after graduation.

With what I’ve been through, I ended up choosing the only mask that makes sense for me. Being lost is a privilege for the free. Everyone should enjoy it while it lasts, every twisted dead end and frightening turn. Maybe falling can be graceful when you finally learn to lean forward and let the waves take you. When you know it’s not always about the landing, sometimes the greatest joy lies in gliding.

Credit: Raw Fury



The Ugly Monster

Chronic dreamer. Self-proclaimed poet, writer, and artist. Lover of art in all its myriad forms.