Despair is a paralyzer, an eliminator of the good possibilities in order to make one waste away. In despair, there is no possibility of hope. The trauma of COVID has caused a severe decline in mental health all around the world due to isolation, fear, and death being one breath away. Despair in Atlus’ medical simulation-visual novel hybrid Trauma Team (2010) is instructive due to the paralysis it brings, and how hope transforms suffering people, allowing them to become their old selves again. All the protagonists—CR-S01, Hank Freeman, Tomoe Tachibana, Naomi Kimishima, Gabe Cunningham, and Maria Torres—all face their moment of despair and come out by hope just as they were, or in some cases better than before.
According to the game, a doctor’s duty is to save all that they can save. Hank Freeman has his moment when he tries to believe in humanity after a friend is shot by a criminal at the mall—a man who has succumbed to despair because another hospital told him that a tumor in his spine is inoperable. The criminal jumps off of the railing. The crowd of mall-goers wants Hank to leave the criminal to his fate. The cruelty of his fellow man forces him to cry, “Do villains deserve to die? If you take someone’s life, is it right to have it taken? Please, let me believe in humanity.” He then operates on the man, excising the inoperable tumors, because not operating on someone one knows that they can save, instead of taking the risk that they may not be saved or that the hospital could get sued, is how the man lost hope in the first place. Similarly, Gabe lost his hope and decided his work was pointless after he couldn’t directly save his son.
After it is revealed to the other protagonists that he was accused of killing many people in a bioterror attack, CR-S01 loses hope in himself and is ostracized from his community. CR-S01 is an amnesiac and cannot remember if he participated in the attack or not. To essentially plead ignorance, as CR-S01 did, is to deny one’s past actions, effects, and traumas. He then learns via his FBI agent guard that his wife, a teacher, was at the attack, and that she tried to save the lives of her students. The past is gone; it can never be undone. But it can be forgiven, if one refuses to run from their actions and responsibilities.
Tomoe decides when to choose between her friends, who make her happy, and her family responsibilities—to prepare for her succession to the head of the Tachibana clan. She initially chooses her friends, but the more time she spends with friends, the more she loses her clan’s ideas of the path of honor. After nearly being killed in a bus crash while trying to locate survivors, Tomoe decides to stop running from her responsibilities, to return to her family and work toward following the values she was raised with.
There is a limit to how much one person can do. Maria believes that she can best accomplish this by being a prideful, determined lone wolf. Maria wants to be a hero after saving another girl in her orphanage. To Maria, being a hero is to be perfect. Save every life you can, no matter the physical, mental, or emotional toll you place on yourself. If you accept help, you risk looking like a fool. It takes a maritime accident and a bus crash, with Maria forced to deal with the emergency alone, unable to transport patients to the hospital, for her to reach a realization: that to ask for help is not a sign of weakness, that being a hero is not saving everyone on your own, but rather leading a team to save as many as you can.
Naomi, a forensic scientist who can hear the last words of the dead, has her moment after a girl named Alyssa runs off with a bomb disguised as a teddy bear, which was addressed to Naomi. Before the incident, Naomi described herself as an eventual corpse, due to a disease she suffered in a previous game in the Trauma Center series. She only had months left to live. This flood of passion and guilt consumed her while she heard her cellphone ringing, a clear sign that Alyssa would die. However, CR-S01 said that he would save Alyssa, and he did. The guilt from the explosion, combined with how powerless Naomi felt, transforms her into both a mother and a human, seeking to apprehend the bomber.
We have responsibilities to ourselves and to others that we cannot shirk: as citizens of our countries and of the world, as providers to our families, as teachers of a younger generation, as saviors of lives in more ways than the medical. Despair paralyzed the doctors in Trauma Team just as COVID-induced despair paralyzes us. Many have shirked their responsibilities because of the strain that COVID has placed on them. The strain has not left us; we will have to cope with it by working and not giving in to despair. After all, despair will deny us the possibility of a better tomorrow, negate our hopes for the future, and prevent us from believing that we deserve the better world.
In the words of CR-S01, “May this disease pass from this world.”