A Playground of Words in No Game No Life

We are the weak, just as we have always been! Yes, nothing has changed at all! The strong may imitate our weapons, but they will never master them! Because at the heart of our weapons lies a cowardice born of almost humiliating weakness. This cowardice has given us the wisdom to escape from magic. This cowardice has given us the wisdom, born from learning and experience, to predict the future itself!

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Games are serious business, guys.

While No Game No Life never forgets to remind us of Shiro and Sora’s godly gaming skills, the show doesn’t give quite the same amount of credit to Sora’s oratory skill. If Sora weren’t so terrified of crowds and people, he’d make a good politician.

I initially found Sora’s eloquence out of place because I didn’t expect him as a hikikomori (shut-in) to have enough charisma to motivate and stir the hearts of entire armies and kingdoms. But language itself is a kind of game itself, one that Sora has mastered to a high degree.

Materialization Shiritori. Name something. If it's there, it's gone. If it ain't there, it's there now.
Materialization Shiritori. Name something. If it’s there, it’s gone. If it ain’t there, it’s there now.
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If you’re gonna go, gotta go BIG
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Not going to get much bigger than a hydrogen bomb…or is it?
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I predict that you’ll save us because it wouldn’t be any fun if we lost right away, right?

For a supposedly socially inept person, Sora has an excellent command of human psychology. Maybe it’s something that only works when he’s dealing with people in a game. It’s this intuition for understanding what makes humanity “tick” that informs his command of language. Regardless of the battle or game being played, a second game–the one of wordplay–continues in the background.

As light-hearted the bantering between Sora and his opponent is pre-game and in-game, it is arguably the more important of the two games being played out. What determines the victor in the games is not so much technical skill but instead psychological perception.

Out of all of the games played in No Game No Life, no game demonstrates this better than Sora and Shiro’s shiritori match against Jibril, a Flugel, who has a low opinion of other races, especially human beings.

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Sora: The sun’ll come up soon. Think you could just surrender?

Jibril: If you’re tired, feel free to lose deliberately. I’ve had more fun than I expected to get from a weak Imanity.

Sora: You keep saying “weak” and “mere,” and it’s getting on my nerves. Well, to a mighty rank 6 like you, I’m sure we at the bottom must look like ants. But who decided that ants are weak and powerless?

Jibril: I apologize. I hadn’t considered that you Imanity would consider yourselves anything but weak.

Sora: If you think long life and toughness gives you power, you’re the stupid one here.

Despite having lived for several thousands of years, Jibril’s weakness is an astonishingly simple one–her hubris. Simply by having had millennia to soak up knowledge, in terms of sheer volume, Jibril’s knowledge easily outstrips Sora and Shiro’s. She knows many more words and things about the world than they do. Yet this also proves to be her downfall because she knows so much. As we get older, we begin to understand that as much as we can learn and continue learning, there is an infinite amount of knowledge out there. The more we learn, the more we realize just how little we know, or will ever know. The unknown is exciting, to be sure, and its mysterious allure is what draws scholars to study it, but its depths are terrifying.

Jibril treats knowledge the way a toddler treats an iPad...abusing the touch screen, drooling, and thinking he's mastered it. Ever hear of disabling the parental controls, kid?
Knowledge isn’t a toy to be collected or tinkered with. Jibril treats knowledge the way a toddler treats an iPad…abusing the touch screen, drooling, and thinking he’s mastered it. Ever hear of disabling the parental controls, kid?

Sora chides Jibril for making the elementary mistake of assuming that knowledge, however vast, is finite. She believes she’ll win because she thinks she knows more. Yet for all her knowledge, when confronted with the unknown–with something she doesn’t know–she freezes.

You fail to fear and respect the unknown–that’s what makes you weak, Jibril!

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The shiritori match isn’t just a lesson to humble Jibril–it’s also a cautionary warning for humanity, for us. When we speak, we feel confident in the words that we use, because we know what the words we use mean and signify. But language is a slippery, mutable thing and words that comfort us or bolster our confidence can easily be turned against us by another silver tongue.

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This is all part of his secret plan to victory…aw, screw it, he just wanted to see everyone naked.

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Sora affects a persona of flippantly boredom, leading Jibril through an entertaining dialogue that presents himself as an eccentric but ultimately harmless human being. The pleasant dinner conservation–made to poor Stephanie Dola’s expense–becomes the web that traps Jibril, who falls for it hook, line and sinker.

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BOOM.

vlcsnap-2014-12-17-20h04m51s196 vlcsnap-2014-12-17-20h06m03s168The game’s fun is also a good lesson for us because like Jibril, we are drawn in to see the game not as a high stakes–blow up the universe-sort of affair but as something trivial. We are amused at Sora’s attempts to live out his perverse but “clean” fantasies of scantily clad girls and perhaps, like Jibril, even forget that this is a serious contest with the fate of humanity on the line. In other words, we learn to not be like Jibril, who is content to sit in what she perceives as her proper place, high above all others, including humanity, collecting knowledge without an inkling of just how small, how microscopic her library really is.

Just as knowledge is infinite, language and its uses are also endless. Words are capable of both clarifying and muddying meaning, are both safe and unpredictable, and can just as easily create or destroy entire universes and paradigms. No Game No Life is not so much a tournament of different games but a gauntlet of a single game–wordplay–and its infinite applications.

 

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