If you have half an hour to learn a bit more about the characters and settings, and my comments on how I came up with them, I do recommend you give it a read. Otherwise, I’ll try my best to keep this article independent from the first.
Characters: Real-Life Reflections
Hyphen is a pseudonym based off her username (simply ‘
-’) on the NetWork, a ‘grey web’ job board similar to freelancing service websites.
Working solo, working differently
Since I was made redundant from my old workplace a few years back, I’ve been working on my own projects (such as SMASH! 2023), doing cool shit again, and earning a decent living through other various means. As a friend of mine succinctly phrased it: imagine working in 2023.
The stark difference not only in the performed work itself, but more so the amount of effort spent, between my old jobs and the present, made me question whether I could keep going on like this. Real work is always a team effort, especially when it comes to things like game development. I mean, that is my university degree!
My past gigs involved a lot of either (a) solo projects, (b) those where I was in a ‘team’ but I was still the sole worker of my direct responsibilities, or (c) those where I had to ‘step up to the challenge’ to meet the expectations of a team full of mid/seniors... except with little to no guidance or support (granted, they did try their best to keep me).
Hyphen is probably who I’d end up being if I had the lifespan of a traditional fantasy elf and lacked greater endeavours, hyper-excelling in the sort of stuff that’s ultra-specific to an environment with the right variables... which aren’t the same in our real current world. Well, that’s the reason why we have the creative freedom to think up of our own ‘story’ worlds.
Put in other words, as a character in a popular anime-style game comments,
Fiction is able to explore means of restitution that could never work in real life
She’ll be alright
You can call it whatever you like. “Positive thinking”. “Fuck it, we ball”. Or, in the words of a certain home cook, “Don’t worry, Mama will fix it”. Hyphen always has an optimistic attitude in the face of situations where little seems to be unfolding right.
I learnt of the virtues of this mentality from said old workplace. If something unexpected happens, it’s not the end of the world – there’s always another way around it. Of course, so long as these events aren’t irreplaceable by nature, such as life or scarcity.
If that holds true, then it follows that it’s okay to make mistakes, provided you learn from them. An ideal leader shouldn’t be steering the proverbial ship; they should delegate the work (and responsibility!) to their team, so that not only does the team learn from doing things, they learn from their first-hand errors. Of course, the leader is still there to prevent a major issue from happening.
To give a real life example, let’s take two franchises of amusement arcades here, both who own a gaming cabinet of the same kind. One is strict on their maintenance procedures (due to contract/warranty reasons) – limiting who can fix it, and what should be done. The other isn’t bound by that, and instead gives agency to only well established players who may resort to unconventional, yet tried and tested, ways on how to improve the quality of the cabinets. The strict franchise have consistent mid-quality cabinets that take any time from a while to forever to fix when something breaks down completely. The other franchise’s cabinet is way superior most days, rarely breaks down (due to frequent health check-ins and prompt repairs as reported by the players), and is only inferior, yet still playable, during That One Time someone tried to tweak it and messed up. Which arcade would you prefer to go to in the long run? Which environment benefits everyone overall?
Hyphen’s ‘unpredictable’ behaviour actually stems from something that really isn’t: resilience. Typically, though not always, she carries out her “Plan C” and goes from there. Theoretically speaking, to the AI, this would make her thrice as hard to catch on – yet, to Hyphen, her path to success is likewise thrice as secure. It’s a win-win.
Whilst the thing that can fail in Hyphen’s case are mainly the circumstantial outcomes of her tasks, and the workplace and arcade cabinet examples are the products, people as individuals can also be the subject of this so-called result of success or failure.
There have been moments where I’ve needed to hypothesise how other people act and behave, especially at work (e.g. conducting workshops and seminars) and sometimes in social contexts, to adjust or take actions to “steer” a situation in the desired direction. I’d say about half of this is personal experience, the other shared through discussion.
If one thinks about the future in terms of a light cone (as in the theory of relativity), according to the formula of a cone, its volume increases at a polynomial rate the larger it is (aka the greater amount of time you consider).
So, it goes that rather than thinking about the plan to the final desired outcome, i.e. obtaining said needle in an ever growing haystack of possibilities, it’s better to try for something closer instead – perhaps a desired step towards that goal, then steering as necessary.
Both strategies sound like they’re fundamentally the same, but I think there’s a difference between visualising a specific yet flexible path all the way to the end, versus taking a few steps but roughly being aware of the end goal. One obviously will be a more optimal path, but if you consider the active effort required to ‘correct’ said path, the price may not be worth it compared to arriving at it through more ‘organic’ means.
Whilst I happened to have drawn all my lines from point A to point B, reality is, this journey is more likely unfold such that you’ll miss your targets. The most painful lesson here is that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether you have eyes on the goal; no amount of effort will guarantee getting you there.
Rather than celebrating or lamenting on the results (especially if it’s a failure after much time was invested into it), I think it’s more productive to focus on the actions that were taken. Of course, this way of thinking isn’t viable where failure is catastrophic – but otherwise, I think it generally holds up pretty well.
Hyphen’s “Plan C” is an example of this concept in action. High motivation often leads to inflexible – and predictable – mindsets, a quality that is undesirable in a world where she needs to be a step ahead of an opposing entity who has ‘solved’ how the typical human mind works.
Tae is the owner of a café slash speakeasy hacking workshop Taeswer, visited by customers from all walks of life, of which that includes Hyphen. In the café, Tae helps his customers with a variety of digital device issues and runs Tae’s Tech Tuesdays workshops. However, a secret, intricate speaking procedure needs to be performed to gain access to the hacking workshop at the back.
The gentle influencer
Tae’s manner of speech, and being self-aware of it as a personality, was inspired by an old friend (and gateway rhythm game senpai) of mine back in high school days. He’s an analytical thinker, and thus very efficient at problem solving anything, whether it be life, work, games, or social activities.
One could consider it... unconventional, yet nevertheless admirable; perhaps due to that, as a result, he’s developed the charisma to be able to smoothen over these bumps, and is always a favourite with all of our friends. This typically comes in the form of him stating a joke where someone who doesn’t know him couldn’t quite grasp whether he was serious or not.
Split groups and secret hangouts
Tae’s speakeasy hacking workshop is an allusion to the nature of these small, secret hangouts that I’m privileged to be a part of. In my case, that usually comes in the form of a get-together at a friends’ place for games and chill.
Most of these are filtered by people of similar interests, thoughts, or traits. Here are some examples, good and bad, that I or my friends have witnessed or heard about:
- You are, or used to, work at the same workplace.
- You enjoy a genre of music.
- You live near the same area.
- You enjoy tabletop games. In fact, there’s an arcade and bar that specifically caters to these people here in Sydney and Melbourne.
- You play a specific video game. It’s especially interesting to see the interactions of the same friends, of which you both have mutual overlaps, interact with those who don’t – especially when the player base of one game have opinions of those from an adjacently similar game.
- You’re all learning the same language, and so participate in the culture relating to it. It is a pretty good way to get speaking practice in.
- You have the same attitudes in life, e.g. anti-work, freedom of speech, sex positivity, etc. A friend I met at a creators’ gathering is a VTuber (whom she, of course, declines to disclose) who’s an advocate of the last of that; she says her chat easily derails into ‘sussy’ topics, which she welcomes and openly discusses about. I can certainly say she’s rubbed a fair bit of influence off onto me in my recent years.
- You engage in the same activities, e.g. sports, clubbing, pub crawls, etc.
- Or, perhaps, activities that are spicier relative to common standards, e.g. hard drugs, theft, predatory behaviour, etc. I’ve heard stories of a uni classmate who cut off ties with most of their existing ‘incompatible’ friends as a conscious decision to distance themselves.
- Arguably, the most common and toxic of them all – you condemn an individual or group. I find it funny to witness things from the inside, one way or another, eventually finding its way out.
In the last act of the story, Acetone (a mysterious group hiding within the operations of the NetWork) sneaks its way into Taeswer’s workshop and finds the right opportunity to hold them at gunpoint, then attempts to force Hyphen – whom Acetone themselves tried to scout into their shady business – into a checkmate.
Yet, one had to remember that at some point in the past, these ‘factions’ originally were people all united by the NetWork. Sure is a pretty typical dramatical plot.
Except, the sad truth is, Acetone is based upon a few real-life social and business sub-groups whose way of going about things seem to stem from cannibalising people to fuck those individuals over. At least, that’s what it looks like to me as both an internal and external observer.
Audrey is a “soon-to-be-teenager-graduate” prodigy known for running the hacking workshop at the back of Taeswer. A rebel attack on her school a few years back resulted in her and her classmates’ deaths. However, her revival – a second chance in this world – has left her with many more questions than she wanted, answered. What were the rebels’ goal? Why her, and not her friends? Who was she, really?
The chill worker
When you think of ‘chill office space’, you’re probably thinking of a brightly lit open spot filled with standing table hot-desks, surrounds overflowing with potted plants and vines as if nature had took over, and perhaps lo-fi hip hop or atmospheric ambience on the smart speakers.
Someone, maybe even you if you’ve been in an office like this, is walking around with socks and a haori, working on their laptop lying down across a three-seater sofa. (Not gonna provide a link, as you’ll understand it better by looking up some images; however, think ‘loose kimono jacket’.)
This relaxed individual is Audrey, modelled after a combination of my hustling experiences at a programming gig, and another friend who has a library of techniques, sometimes unorthodox, in his coding repertoire.
Top ranker students that I’ve met were always disciplined and good-natured in some way, and it probably goes without saying. However, when it comes to the real world, these kinds of traits rarely correlates to success.
As already entertained, perhaps almost to an excessive extent, by ahem certain forms of media, what if this honour student was bad natured (of the cheeky or lustful kind)?
When I was in high school, there was a pathetic attempt at a ‘rumour’, being spread around like wild fire, that one of the top students in the year above us was involved in an affair with some other couple across another school. It culminated into a mob from said school to rock up to the park in front of ours one afternoon, but the numbers and intimidation game from our guys were so strong it scared them off. I doubted these events correlated, as others claimed them to, but either way – pretty wild shit if you asked me.
Frisky matters aside, to which there were aplenty, that’s not to say one can’t have a lazy attitude, be foul mouthed, jig class, or punch cones in the off-bound areas at lunch time.
Similar to gamers, or artists/composers, people need to know how to play by the rules before they can break the rules – and of course, I think this also applies at work and school. It’s just that apart from said mentioned rumour, within the scope of me and my neighbouring schools, I’ve never been blessed to see or hear first-hand of a prodigy at that level; that one student ranked 99.9th percentile, who can say, paraphrasing something I said earlier, “imagine studying for high school”.
Audrey was my attempt at creating that impression of such a rare character – a prodigy in both the intellectual and experiential sense. I pictured her as a lucky girl blessed with early adulthood, meaning all the perks that comes with that label: being released from the ‘jail’ that is school, enjoying a few drinks, maybe getting a tattoo, discovering the pleasures of intercourse, etc. Although, in reality, she’s only checked off the first, and doesn’t really care about anything save for fleeting thoughts about the last.
Karax was a classmate of Hyphen’s when they went to the same high school, and often hung around outside school grounds during lunch or when socialising with other friends. However, despite the breaking of the school rules, he is success-oriented and pays attention in class – though, this hasn’t fared him well beyond university, as he struggles to find work that would see him well off into the future. His goal is to get into a government job, something Hyphen and Audrey would eventually hope to find extremely useful in their own investigations.
Job seeking: inevitable, irrelevant work
As mentioned in the story part, Karax reflects my experience in the government allowance scheme. Here in Australia, it’s known as Youth Allowance for 18–25s and Austudy for over 25s. Its main goal is to help you get some pocket money whilst you’re studying full time or earning money from a job. Eventually when you’re on a roll with your career and you end up earning ‘enough’, the government benefit decreases (50–60¢ per dollar earned over some threshold) until it’s zero – but by then, you should be earning more than the allowance anyway.
This scheme is great to give you the boost you need to get started... but only if your career path doesn’t involve a specialty of any kind that isn’t accessible to anyone without expertise (aka, something in a degree). Usually this involves stuff like retail or customer service.
Coming from a low income household, my parents recommended me sign up for Youth Allowance the moment I graduated high school. There were still a few months between the end of HSC and the start of uni, so rules say I had to look for work.
Luckily, I managed to land a job on my first application doing housekeeping at a hotel in the city, because I thought “ooh five star hotel, damn that sounds cool”. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) Still, grinding a D-tier pay for a B-tier job on the weekends, and studying uni full time, four subjects per semester, I was able to enjoy “free” money that I could put towards the education fees.
By the second and third year, I switched to three subjects whilst continuing with my housekeeping job, though with less shifts over time since I wanted to focus on my studies. As three subjects classified as part time study, I no longer was qualified for the various discounts that the eligibility criteria of a so-called student could enjoy. More importantly, this meant that to keep my allowance, I had to either be in a job or looking for one – but that’s okay, since I’ve always had my hotel job.
However, there’s always that nagging thought at the back of my mind thinking I could’ve been better off using my computer skills somewhere else in a job that’s more relevant for me... but then, I’d have to risk sinking an unknown number of hours into job seeking, which could eat into my time better spent studying instead.
At that time working at the hotel, I thought I’d be a better fit working as a drinks attendant than housekeeping, so I applied for a Responsible Service of Alcohol license and got one. Unfortunately, there were no positions available that suited my uni schedule, so I ended up looking in other places.
My next two jobs at two separate bars (one prominent, one less well known, both also first-try first-hit applications) proved to me that the hospitality job dynamic, for me, was cringe as fuck – and that I was the luckiest when I was doing a chill job maintaining already clean VIP rooms at the hotel. Though, after the bar gigs, I was practically not considered an employee at the hotel any more given how long it’s been since my last shift.
By my final fourth year of uni, I was cleaning up the remaining subjects left due to the part-time load. One of those subjects involved me looking for an internship associated with my degree, i.e. game development. I was reminded of that time my analytical friend (the one mentioned earlier that Tae is modelled after) introduced me to a potential workplace years earlier. During then, they had a sole game developer who worked on projects in Unity3D. However, by the time I enquired about the internship, he was wrapping up to leave.
I stayed anyway given the opportunity was there, but as the internship was unpaid, it didn’t qualify as a job to keep my allowance going. So, for the first time in years, I could finally experience the infamous job seeking quota of twenty applications a month that everyone was raving about. As per the standard, I was assigned to a job provider – an office of specialists who you must report to and attend the venue in-person for a certain amount of time (for me I think it was two hours, twice a week) to look for work.
The (skill) issue here is that, for me, five applications a week is practically a full-time job if I was to be on my S-game. My cover letters had to be customised per business, quadruple checked, peer reviewed, addressed to the hiring manager by name, which required extensive Google searching and stalking LinkedIn, printed, then given in-person instead of leaving it to a digital system, which I was taught was a lazy cop-out move. I had three different versions of my résumés to cover different industries to keep my mixed bag of past experience somewhat relevant.
By far the worst part of being on an allowance is that the rules state that if you or the job provider lands a job offer, you must accept it. That is, if I’ve been trying to apply for jobs like IT or game dev, but the job provider beat me to an offer for a warehouse packer... tough luck – I’m doing the packing job. Can’t say no to it, otherwise I lose my allowance.
And that’s actually what happened – I was packing ingredients for a home cooking delivery company for about three months before I insisted on a different role that would make better use of my computer skills. Eventually, they spun up a QA/QC division where I could put together a cloud-hosted spreadsheet to speed up a paper-and-calculator process. Far from programming, I know, but still a push in the right direction nonetheless. Baby steps.
Several months later, I gave verbal notice to the food packing company that I’d eventually want to move over to the company that I had finished my internship with, since it aligned better with my career path of getting into IT.
...And thus marked the end of receiving an allowance, as the IT job paid me significantly more than the threshold. An accumulation of incorrect decisions, sitting on the fence, and the lack of risk taking caused me to lose almost four years of my life doing work that had practically nothing in relevance to the thing I originally studied for. That’s the real price of accepting government benefits.
All of those experiences were what I had in mind designing Karax – someone who’s forced to look for work so that they can pay off their uni fees on the government allowance, but consequently also forced off their desired career path to do so, with no useful help. However, the difference between me and Karax is that he’s able to see this compromise earlier on, correcting his path sooner than later. He could’ve done a student program, or internship at a proper company.
Breaking the trend of 9-to-5
At my last workplace, I had the rare (for an IT role) luxury of being able to flex the working hours a bit. I was ‘Team 10-to-6’, and I certainly wasn’t alone in that group, of which there were a few in the office of about twenty.
Some time later, the company managed to find a client for me with working hours that I considered the dream: I was to coordinate with a team of overseas programmers who were eight hours behind us. 10am start is now 2am; 6pm finish is now 10am. Call me crazy, but for someone who lived in an outdated block of units on a main street with no air con or soundproofing, these hours couldn’t be any better.
The funny part is that despite the programmers situated a third ways around the globe, the actual client that the website is built for is only a ten minute walk from our office. The idea was that us developers would get to action in the night outside of client business hours, then test and deploy before the client gets back to work in the morning with new features. There was a one hour window (9 to 10am) that overlapped, so that I can answer any last minute questions before signing off.
Therein lies the issue of working non-standard hours (or really with anybody where times don’t overlap, e.g. international teams): for every hour that differs, that’s two hours of non-coordinated time lost. Say for instance, two people who work 9–5 and 10–6: the first person loses an hour of teamwork from 9–10 because the second person hasn’t arrived yet, then at the end of the day, the first person has to clock off at 5, leaving the second person by themselves until they finish at 6.
It gets a bit more complex, though still calculable, how much coordination exists in a team when there’s more people. That’s explained in the diagram below (again, which I hope makes sense).
The main takeaway, at any rate, is that an individual is doing everybody a much bigger favour by sucking it up to the 9–5, than they are not doing so as a benefit for themselves.
Still, for me, there’s just something inherently bad about a 9am start. In high school, getting up at 7am every day took a huge mental toll given my study schedule, where I’d usually go to bed at midnight. Every morning felt like shit. University was significantly better, because I could sleep in until 10am and be refreshed. Fast forward a few years to the COVID lockdowns, as we transitioned away from having an office to mandatory work from home – I would often wake up at 9:57 for a 10am standup. Every minute I could fit in not being awake until it was time, was an investment into my energy for the rest of the day.
Of course, none of this matters if you’re a freelancer – you get to work on your own terms, and there’s no manager to be your mother. Hell, you even have a choice to choose what to accept or not. Such is the life of Hyphen and Malley (another fellow NetWorker).
The point that I wanted to emphasise here, is when you need to go in the other direction. The freedom granted with “pssh working hours, lmao what’s that”, then moving back to “ughhh normie 9-to-5”, is something that I feel I will struggle to come to terms with for a while.
I think more companies should consider pushing hours later for workers. 10-to-6, or even 11-to-7, for those who would benefit energy-wise from them (i.e. not parents), would go a long way for productivity. Some bigger businesses have 24/7 office hours for degen-hours workers, where their brains may only start to begin turning their gears well into the afternoon. I hear it’s doing incredibly well for them.
As for the rest of us, let’s not even get into the topic of post-lunch food coma...
At that time at Serv8 where Karax (and the visiting Hyphen) were waiting in line, Seneira was just a complete stranger, a customer one position in front. That completely changed after someone else in their same financial and situational position, disgruntled, had stormed out with a temper, saying a few things that hit a spot in Seneira’s nerves.
The government service customer standard
This so-called disgruntled customer is such a common sight in any location related to government service, that it’s a full-blown stereotype. There’s not much I can really comment on this myself, since others would have explained it better than I ever will – just look up ‘Centrelink’ on YouTube, and you won’t go wrong with any of the skits on there.
The errors of judging by appearances
Whilst Seneira didn’t get much story time, I still established early on in my story planning that her race, the Aucylix, were ones whose appearances were not to be underestimated. The females were physically smaller, similar to elves. This trait naturally includes the effects of food on Seneira’s figure: her requirements are significantly higher than most would expect for her size.
I’m thin, quantitatively speaking, and find it incredibly difficult to gain weight (unless, according to a dietitian, I eat an excessive amount – like, five dinner-sized meals a day, which sucks). Maybe it’s the exercise, the dance games; my metabolism. A combination of multiple factors working together. I dunno.
“Don’t worry, that’ll change once you finish high school.” “Finish uni.” “Once you get a car.” “Once you reach x years old.” No claim was ever correct – yet, and I am very much still the same.
So it’s natural that a pet peeve of mine is when people look at my appearances and assume I don’t eat enough. That’s okay, though, because many of them, genuinely in acts of kindness, have tried to help me out on this... enough times, that I’ve established template responses to decline offers for food if offered. The problem that this causes is a catch-22: to them, it looks like I’m declining because I don’t want to eat, when to me, it’s because I’d rather not rope in another victim on this issue.
The issue in question is best explained as an example. One workplace offered me free breakfast at a local café every certain day of the week as an incentive for coming in earlier to work. They took their word back the second week.
Way back in the early 2000s, I think I recall health standards stating 20 was the optimal BMI for adults, and anything above was starting to veer into the danger zone; 25 was considered obese. Now, decades later, 25 is the upper end of the acceptable range, and 30 is obese. Putting aside the fact that BMI ranges were still being figured out back then, and that it isn’t exactly a great indicator of health these days, obesity is starting to affect more people in the world, and I can’t help but feel it’s playing some influence in skewing the image of what’s acceptable. Being just a few kilograms under a standard range brings more sympathy from people compared to someone thirty kilograms over, to which they won’t bat an eye.
Kinda funny how my family’s connection of friends think about the topic of weight.
Me? I’m a hard pass on the heart risks, thanks.
That’s all I’ve got connecting what I’ve managed to cover in the NaNo project that relates to my past personal experiences. It was certainly a trip down memory lane!
Now that that’s been discussed about, the final thing to share (that I’m personally most excited about) is the meta-process of what I’ve actually discovered during the month of November.
If you’ve read my previous article about NaNoWriMo in general, you’ll know that I like to keep track of my progress with a spreadsheet that crunches the numbers. This year, I’ve increased the data points from 30 (daily) to 720 (hourly), and noticed a few things by doing so...
 Of course, thinking up of two additional backup outcomes for each scenario that occurs in one’s life isn’t practical or really that much useful, but the idea is that by doing so, each decision you do eventually make is a conscious act, rather than a spontaneous one.
 Synonymous with ‘awkward’, but in this context, that term would be a hyperbole and have negative connotations. There’s nothing bad about it, but it’s definitely there.
 I say that because no real dux potential would ever risk anti-social behaviour that would stand out as obvious grounds for suspension or expulsion.
Of course, both are equally punishable, but the difference is that the effects of violence are visibly and immediately obvious to everyone; engaging in bondage or nutting in someone... certainly less so. That said, a true chad genius wouldn’t be fazed by this sort of punishment – it just gives them an opportunity to use that off time to study more at home.
 We had a girl rock up to maths class one morning with hickeys, to which the teacher held nothing back to roast on her about it.
 Unless you have the skillz to 100% speedrun or you cut corners (to which many have been fired as an attempt to keep on time), it’s not worth it, due to the way they ‘count’ hours. Long story for some other time.
 To this day, I still have the key to my locker, which inside had my work shoes, on top placed a mysterious note with a riddle, left to confuse the hell out of whoever was eventually going to open the locker with the spare key to clear it out.
 It seems, in 2022, that changed to a points-based 100pts/month system, so that it could account for other career growth activities like actually working, studying a skills course, attending job mentoring, etc. A job application attracts five points, so it still sums up to the same quota of twenty a month.
 A sad thing I’ve heard about student programs are that apparently a lot of students do their ‘obligatory six months’ at said financial or consulting company, then yeet when they’re done – all because the company name on the résumé is what matters to them the most. Kinda shitty, if you ask me, but experience is experience.
Whether the jobs they did were actually relevant to their IT degree, I don’t know, but what I do know is that it’s definitely something better than packing food or housekeeping. And for a damn better pay, whilst we’re at it.
 This was also the same workplace that tried to open an unrestricted coffee tab, and sign up to a weekly subscription of boxes of Kinder Buenos. Guess how long it took before they reneged on those ideas.