I finally know why I am participating in ISML, and why it is so important for all otaku. It is not as a lone individual that I draw forth my will, or set my fingers in motion. But it is as a lone individual that I experience these events, and the realization of this truth is important to understanding.
It was as a joke that I first compared participation in the ISML campaign to participation in the world of budo, but I find now that it is increasingly accurate. Why did warriors fight? Why did proud samurai learn the sword? Was it merely for power? Merely to offer violence? No. The path of the sword is surely a journey of self-discovery and spiritual realization even as it is outwardly the acquisition of a skill set, and similarly the path of ISML is one of reflection and self-knowledge even as it is outwardly the victory of one’s waifu.
The samurai held the tool of force, the symbol of authority, and the embodiment of a wish for a brighter future. The sword is, to Buddhists, that which severs reality from illusion. It is the metaphysical implement for cutting through the haze of lies and uncertainty. But of course, there did not exist only one sword in Japan through all the years of internal warfare. There did not exist only one man holding the sword. Thousands of men bled and died to carve their wishes into reality, a brutal and horrific pilgrimage not made any less bloody by the fact that sometimes the most honorable intentions necessitated it.
ISML is violence. It is not the literal violence of days gone, the brightness of swift steel and the sudden flowering of blood. Instead it is the metaphorical and cerebral violence of clicking buttons and flowing electrons. The battlefields have changed. But for all that the legions are comprised of overweight anime otaku sweating at their computers, instead of lean ashigaru uneasily shifting their spears in the tall grass, it is war nonetheless.
Struggle, it is said, defines us. The hard choices we make when pressed tell us things about ourselves, things we may not be prepared to hear. This is true of the soldier who may be torn between his duty to his lord and his desire to save his best friend; it is equally true of the otaku who is torn between personal tastes in Saimoe voting and the desire to achieve some greater agenda for the good of the anime community. Is it so clear that one choice, one path, is superior over the others? It may be that we could indulge ourselves, and no one would blame us. No other person would raise a voice against it.
But we ourselves would know.