It’s 20 minutes after 1, and I’m driving to work; I start at 1:30. I know I need 15 minutes to get there, but here I am. As I walk in late, I think about why I’m here: I dropped out of college, and needed work. Then I remember how I barely got into college at all due to my slipping grades in high school. I try to think about where it all went wrong, find some singular event to blame for putting me where I am, but I also know that wouldn’t do any good. I’m to blame—my imperfections show. I’m not just the person who has decided to stop trying my hardest at academics, and a career, but also someone who has stopped trying altogether. I’ve let myself get bitter at times, say things I shouldn’t have, or given people the cold shoulder. Even though I’m just angry at myself for not being good enough in my own mind, the reality is that I’m where I’m at, here and now, and I can’t go back and change it. I can’t go back and try to do everything perfectly. It’s something of a depressing thought, leaving me wondering why I should strive to do my best, do good things . . . in a sense, chase after perfection.
Enter Zero, a character who debuted in the MegaMan X series. He’s a “Maverick Hunter”, the far-off future equivalent of a police officer who dispenses justice with a bright emerald beam saber (which is totally different from a light saber). He’s a fan favorite for his daring heroism, no-nonsense attitude, and cool-factor. Though unplayable and very much a static character at first, Zero eventually transformed as the series progressed. Though a seemingly formidable, S-Class Hunter (The next grade above ‘A’!), if we go past the surface, he’s just as flawed as the rest of us.
As it turns out, Zero used to be one of the bad guys; one of the very “Mavericks” he fights against: an enemy of humanity, violent and destructive. Worse, he is infected with a virus which could return him to this state at any time. This is perhaps a bit more dramatic, but not too different from humanity. We have the capability and the free will to do terrible things at any moment, whenever we choose. It’s not something we deal with only some of the time; much like Zero, it’s something that we’re infected with, something that we live with each and every day.
So what do we do? In Zero’s case, his initial experiences were not positive. In MegaMan X4, he is burdened by frequent nightmares of his past; meanwhile, the present holds little solace as he does battle with the Colonel and Iris, members of a rogue separatist group called Repliforce. Soon after the player defeats them, they can see the game’s ending where Zero is alone with his thoughts; the last man standing. Despite the fact that he was just doing his job to protect humanity, Zero is wracked with guilt over the loss of his friends, having destroyed them by his own hand. He begins to wallow in self-loathing, wondering if he can ever escape the terrible things he’s done. This only escalates further in the next installment, MegaMan X5, where Zero is finally defeated in battle and on the brink of death. With a grin on his face, he recollects his past memories, convinced that he is only capable of destruction and concludes that his death will set things right.
Zero quickly puts his skills to good use, pushing back against the Neo Arcadians and making life better for humanity. As Zero grows accustomed to his new life, he takes up the fight once more. He opens up, getting to know and learning to trust his new friends, almost like a family. This is the place where he belongs, because he is needed and valued. It doesn’t matter if he still struggles to believe in himself, because now he believes in them. And that belief, that selflessness, grants peace of mind. Self-loathing is still self-oriented. It’s one thing to accept your flaws, but it’s another thing entirely to let them go and to be what other people need you to be.
It can be very easy to get into this mindset. Our latest mistakes, failures and misdeeds can easily overshadow what’s important: Our value. I believe that everyone has a purpose, everyone has a role that only they can fit into, and everyone is needed. Everyone is loved. I, for one, have done countless things I’m not proud of. I’ve struggled with things like bitterness, cynicism, even addiction. And just like Zero, I’ve even thought at times that it was irreparable damage. That I wasn’t good for anyone and I should just stop trying. But just like Zero, I completely missed the fact that I have inherent value and purpose. I belong.