Wisdom in ‘AI: The Somnium Files’ Sprouts From a Hated Character

Hard truths can lead to introspection and growth

Wisdom in ‘AI: The Somnium Files’ Sprouts From a Hated Character
Ota Matsushita and Kaname Date. AI: The Somnium Files. Property of Spike Chunsoft. Source: Author.

Sometimes, a video game shocks you with a new slice of insight. As interactive art, the medium has the chance to communicate a creator’s philosophy, comments, or insights in ways that lend it even more weight. When you are immersed, the character’s discoveries are your own. A player can thus live a thousand lives. What you learn from those existences can bleed into your offline life, too. AI: The Somnium Files delivered just such a gut punch to my psyche through a reviled character, Ota Matsushita.

Spoilers ahead for AI: The Somnium Files.

Bump heads with devotion

Kaname Date, a member of ABIS (Advanced Brain Investigation Squad), works to solve a gruesome murder case. The victim’s various connections lead him to the offices of Lemniscate, a talent agency. Truth can't be far away.

Ota is more interested in his laptop. AI: The Somnium Files. Property of Spike Chunsoft. Source: Author.

In the reception area, you sit across from a young man who types away on his laptop. This is Ota Matsushita. He wears a baseball cap, a trench coat, and fingerless gloves. Although he is 24 years old, he looks much younger.

The most apparent fact is that he refuses to cooperate in any way. You find out his obsession with a Let's Play YouTuber and idol, called A-set, runs deeper than the Grand Canyon. The reason he is busy with his laptop is that he is running various sock puppet social media accounts, which he uses to attack A-set. He also swoops in with his real account to defend her from the hateful comments.

You use this information to blackmail Ota to give you valuable information. Still, even though his ruse was discovered, it doesn't make him second-guess his various life choices. Ota still continues to ingratiate himself with A-set.

A-set and Ota. AI: The Somnium Files. Property of Spike Chunsoft. Source: Author.

Dreams of a reward

During Date’s investigation, you learn Ota likes to work on his future light novel. This Japanese fiction genre often bleeds into anime and manga. One of his dreams is to become a famous writer. All the while, he spends most of his money on A-set merchandise.

At times, he also goes to the Sunfish Pocket, a maid café in Akihabara. A-set used to work there before she became an entertainer. Ota had spent so much money at the Sunfish Pocket he attained the Gold Rank client status. He is very proud of this fact.

He is sometimes at the Matsushita Diner. As the name suggests, his family runs this establishment. Often, you visit the place, only to find it deserted, except for the presence of Mayumi, his mother. Deeper secrets seem to linger there.

The Psync Machine. AI: The Somnium Files. Property of Spike Chunsoft. Source: Author.

Roadblocks ahead

Ota would frustrate your efforts on various fronts. Once, you would be close to a breakthrough, but he would hit you over the head with a wok. On another occasion, he would tase you before you could make further progress. He does this all out of blind devotion to A-set, who doesn’t harbour any feelings for him whatsoever. It’s easy to see why so many new players are vocal about their dislike for this character.

One vital element of the game is the Psync Machine. This piece of technology allows you, as Date, to venture into the dreams of a suspect or witness. Such a breakthrough makes it possible to gather pieces of evidence, although one has to do it within a time limit.

When you Psync with Ota, you realize he sees the world through the prism of the entertainment he consumes — superhero shows. Grandiose music plays while he delivers monologues in his dream world. His mind is divorced from reality.

Ota in his dream world. AI: The Somnium Files. Property of Spike Chunsoft. Source: Author.

Your questioning forces him to open up about his life. A nearby chemical plant accident, and the ensuing control measures, had driven away customers from the Matsushita Diner. Ota’s dad had to work multiple jobs to support the family. His mom also worked to bring in more money. They had to take out loans to pay off debt, too.

Ota’s parents saved enough money to send him to college. While he was away, his dad died from a heart attack, perhaps due in part to the financial stress. Ota then ceased his studies in order to become a writer.

Mayumi started to display symptoms of dementia after he dropped out of college. The way Ota immersed himself in anime, games, and the internet had been a way to escape his life. During the interrogation, he realizes how ungrateful he had been to his parents.

This story resonated with streamer bunnytails during her playthrough. Source: bunnytails.

Pieces of a dream

Being swept up in a murder investigation forced Ota to face his own past. Afterward, he resolved to find a job to support his mother, but he would still work on his novel in a part-time capacity. He did not give up on his creative aspirations.

Many players hate Ota because his story shows the uncomfortable truth of life in modern times. I was truly shocked to see myself in Ota and identify with the loneliness he felt. In my younger years, I also immersed myself in fandoms as a way to block out my own loneliness. Being so connected to those fictional worlds, I didn't take steps in the real world to deal with my loneliness, leading to my further isolation, in much the same fashion as Ota's plight.

In an age of individualism and self-actualisation, it’s easy to lose sight of the heavy burdens of loved ones. Fandoms might also siphon our attention away from the real world. We learn that small, everyday acts of kindness are often the most heroic, but also overlooked, actions in the world.


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