Friday, December 13, 2013

Sleeping Dogs & Pleasing People

"You want to be a dog, asleep in the sun?" - Peggy Jiyu-Kennett, Roar of the Tigress

"One of his students asked Buddha, “Are you the messiah?”
“No”, answered Buddha.
“Then are you a healer?”
“No”, Buddha replied.
“Then are you a teacher?” the student persisted.
“No, I am not a teacher.”
“Then what are you?” asked the student, exasperated.
“I am awake”, Buddha replied"
-Fake Buddha Quotes

The moment that most defines Sleeping Dogs for me is a single minor side mission that also is also one of the most uncomfortable missions in the game.

Your character, an undercover police officer named Wei Shen has learned that one of the women seeing him might be dating someone else. You spend the mission creepily stalking her and bugging her telephone. When you confront her, she brings up the other women in Wei Shens life and breaks up with him.

Good for her.

Wei Shen is one busy boy. In addition to dating multiple women, y ou spend most of the game alternating between missions for the police, missions for the Hong Kong Triads, and helping out citizens of the city.

 Like most games, youre being constantly sent out to do tasks for other people. What really stands out in Sleeping Dogs though is you arent doing things for one particular team. Youre doing things for everyone.

 Drive here. Beat up this guy. Deliver this stuff there. Bust this drug dealer for the cops. Beat this guy up for the crooks. Take pictures of the sunset to inspire a t-shirt designer. It feels like Wei Shen is constantly running around doing everything for everybody who asks.
You aren't just helping the crooks against the cops and the cops against the crooks. There are sub-factions within both the police and the Triads. You help one police officer at the expense of another, then turn around and help the second cop in a way that causes problems for the first. You do a good turn for one Triad member, then turn around and start working for another.
In between all that, Wei Shen is babysitting gangsters' girlfriends, participating in street races, helping merchants with insurance problems, t-shirt designers find inspiration, singing karaoke, and playing chauffeur.

Wei Shen, for all his toughness and kung fu skills, is a guy who cant say no.

And that one woman in that one mission is the only character in the game to call him on it.

I never meant to hurt you, Wei Shen tells her.

 Which is weird, because Wei Shen has been doing nothing but hurt people through the whole game. Ramming cops off the road. Kung fu kicking gangsters and smashing them into rotating fans. Due to his many allegiances, there is not a single character in the game whose trust Wei Shen doesn't betray in some form or another.

 Thats the curse of the people-pleaser. Youre so busy focused on the individual tasks, you lose sight of the confusion youre causing for yourself and others in the big picture.

Some still might find it hard to believe that people-pleasing is something that can affect criminals and gangsters. My experience is that it more common than you might think, especially those who came from a background of poverty.
Because when you don't have money or the social supports available to the more fortunate, the people around you seem like all you have. So you grow up willing to do anything to keep them happy with you. You make decisions to keep them happy in the present even if it means undermining your own future.

Consider the case of Mark C. 
Mark C. (not his real name) and I became friends through our mutual love of pro wrestling. I was a skinny, soft-spoken  nerd. He was a loud, brawling tattoo artist. Id like to say despite our differences, or perhaps because of them, we bonded. The truth is, we didnt bond because of our differences or similarities. We bonded because Mark C. bonded with everyone.

 He was the most generous guy Ive ever met. I dont think I paid for a single drink, meal, or cover charge in the time I knew him.

 Mark C. was also involved with People and Things that Do Not Like To Be Talked About On The Internet. Eventually those things caught up with him. Mark C. died a few years ago in a confrontation with the police.

 When the news article came out on the internet, a lot of people who didnt know Mark C. left comments accusing him of being a gangster, a drug addict, and an antisocial thug who deserved what he got.

 And I thought, anti-social? Mark C. was the most social guy I knew. The bonds of friendship, family, and loyalty meant more to him than any person Ive ever known. If anything, he was too social. From what I could see, his whole life was spent doing favours for people. Most of our friendship was spent in his truck, spending hours driving from one end of the city to another. Picking up his kids when their mom was unavailable. Dropping off equipment for a friend. Helping a third person move some crap into their garage.

 Mark C. spent a lot of time helping people. He helped me. And I feel guilty about it. Because I dont feel I ever did much to help him back.

Towards the end, Mark C. was going downhill quickly. When youre being pulled in all directions by all people, there is the temptation to take refuge in something that will take you away and never ask for anything back. Yes that something might be slowly destroying you, but when all you want to do is to Get Away

 maybe the trade-off doesn`t seem so bad.

 Once I went over to Mark C.`s house to help with some writing for his business and I found him hallucinating and rambling. His pupils were like pinpricks and his words were incoherent, grandiose fantasies.

I didnt know what to do. I felt totally helpless. I stayed with him until I was pretty sure he wasnt going to die and then went home.

That was one of the last times I saw him.

 Not every people pleaser goes the way of Mark C. But theres a lot in his story that I see in others, even if those others stories are quieter and less colourful. Cops and criminals are not immune, but neither is anyone else. Teachers, nurses, and social workers are who we think of primarily, but many of us have the gene whether we're plumbers or politicians, hockey players or housewives. Some of us are fine professionally, only to go home and find our personal lives unmanageable.

We care so much about helping that we feel helpless without someone to rescue. We define ourselves by the things we do for others whether its in our jobs, our families, and our friendships. Without something to do and someone to do it for we dont know who we are.

Instead of looking for people who want us, we cling to the ones that need us.

It becomes a cycle: the more we do, the more we see ourselves only in relation to what we do for others. And the more time we spend on others, the blurrier around the edges we become and the harder becomes to see ourselves. The harder it becomes to look at ourselves, the more we look to what we do to others to define us until we get to the point where without someone to tell us what to do or who to be, we feel like we arent anyone at all.

Were open-world videogame characters without a mission. We can buy new cars, new clothes, or drive around listening to the radio, but ultimately were nothing. Sometimes--just as many of us do in those video game worlds--when there is nothing to do, we start wreaking havoc, not out of malice, but just to have something to do. Just to be noticed. Just to escape ourselves.

Just to feel something.

 Towards the end of Sleeping Dogs, as the various storylines start coming together, Wei Shen starts acting from his own wants instead of those of other people. He decides what is important to him and lives by it. That`s when the game starts to feel focused and purposeful--our sleeping dog wakes up at last.

 May we all find it in us to do the same.

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