Game by Ewen Cluney
Hikikomori is a single-player role-playing game about the Japanese phenomenon of young adults socially isolating themselves from everyone else. Now I’m an introvert, but a socially-dependent one, hence all the board games and role-playing games. In this game, we’re talking about the life of someone who can barely bring themselves to go outside, gamifying social anxiety and personal issues. It dials up these kind of experiences and lets us talk about this phenomenon. As with anything like this, hopefully it’ll be respective of mental illness and of the things involved with this. So unlike The Plant, I’m going to show you the journal of Hanori (named after Agasha Hanori, one of my favourite NPCs in a Legend of the Five Rings campaign). This Hanori is not a good person, there are trigger warnings for sexually violent concepts.
Hanori is an office drone on long-term sickness from his workplace. He is a major train enthusiast and met a true friend in Hanoshi who lives in an apartment at the bottom of his building. Hanori’s workplace have stopped paying his wages and his parents are funding him for now. He has sunk into his obsession with train simulators and a small model set which stretches through his tiny living room. Hanoshi’s been concerned about the fixation being too much but is willing to help out where necessary. Hanori watched a lot of lurid horror as a child and gets turned on with sexualised violence. Not rape, he’s often quick to attest to nobody in particular, but more theatrical violence. He knows that this shouldn’t be acted on at all and that it’s healthy to get these impulses out online either through hentai or video game mods.
You pick one trait and randomly roll the other two, so what I’ve done here was I picked a real friend for Hanori and rolled; obsession (randomly determined to be trains on a table) and his perversion (which is recommended to be something which grosses the player out, I have a massive fear of injections and am horrendously squeamish about gore, so that felt like the right thing for Hanori, it even feels unpleasant writing his justification). Shiba Hanoshi was the partner in crime of Agasha Hanori, so I’ve named his real friend Hanoshi.
Along with those three traits is Hope which is always worrying to see quantified as a stat. All of these start at 3d10 and depending on the actions Hanori takes, will be rolled against each other or outside influences. I wasn’t quite sure where to start with Hanori’s apparently eventful seven days, so I decided to start off with him going outside, socialising with Hanoshi and then privately indulging in his perversion once his friend was gone. You take three actions a day which can’t be the same one repeated, hence these choices.
DAY ONE – DIARY ENTRY
I went outside for the first time in a week. I barely made it out of the apartment. The train station’s only two blocks away, just out of view from my window, but I went there and felt the breeze of trains going past. I couldn’t stay there long though and went back to meet up with Hanoshi, who lives at the bottom of my apartment block. We chatted about trains for ages. I chatted about trains. We both met at the convention so I know he’s as into them as me, but he’s got a lot of other things going on. He was texting his girlfriend while I showed him the new DLC for the simulator I’ve been hooked on.
Later, once he was out of the apartment, I locked the doors, turned the lights off and let Steam slowly tick through updating everything of mine while I had a search for some new images for my porn folder. I didn’t even notice when the million updates were complete and only realised how long things were going on when I heard the noise of the people next door getting up. I needed to sleep.
What happened here were three actions. Going outside required a Hope roll of 25 or more. I just scraped by with 26 and got a result which would have helped with any physical health issues if Hanori had any. He didn’t though. He attempted to share his obsession with Hanoshi and got a fairly indifferent result with no actual changes. The final action was where he indulged his perversion and overdid it; downloading several gigs of images, losing a point of Hope, adding a point to his perversion.
DAY TWO – DIARY ENTRY
I woke up later than normal, understandably given everything that had gone on. I just lay amongst the model trains running around my floor, watching them circle me. After a while I had to switch them off. There was a knock at the door, so I hid until they went away and slept some more.
About three or four in the afternoon I met up with Hanoshi and tried to show him some old maps I’d found online of the local train station when it was first built. He didn’t seem all that interested sadly. Maybe he had something else on his mind.
Then… I went outside again. I didn’t expect to, I’ve not been outside two days running. Not for as long as I can remember. I saw a woman talking on the phone and walking towards the station. I decided to follow her. I’d read this comic online where a guy does this. I wasn’t looking to do anything, I really wasn’t. I should have tried to push these thoughts out of my mind. She walked up the steps towards a platform, heels echoing through the empty station. I kept following her and got real close. I didn’t know where she was going but I could tell she was pretending the person she was talking to was still there. Her voice wavered and it felt odd knowing I could do that to someone. I was right behind her, fists clenched tightly enough to make half-moons. She turned around and I punched her in the face. I could see blood running from her nose just long enough before she punched me back. I tried to say it was an accident, but that’s when she pepper sprayed me. I ran blindly back to my apartment and cried on the floor. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a bad person. I didn’t want to do anything, it was genuinely an accident.
That escalated quickly. The first action surprised me in being a result of a 10 on the ‘do nothing’ action, but then Hanori hid so I didn’t gain anything positive or negative. Sharing an obsession with his mate didn’t go well but didn’t actually lose him anything. Then came the bad action. I went for ‘Suppress perversion’ as he was trying to sort himself out. I botched it and he went out with a view to actually perform his perversion, succeeding more than he’d like. I had to have a good think about this. I felt he wasn’t too far gone yet but was teetering. I couldn’t bring myself to go further than that at this time.
DAY THREE – DIARY ENTRY
I did nothing this morning. I just sat in the bath. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything for hours. Eventually I cleaned my face and was still a little raw from last night. I asked Hanoshi to go outside with me to see if I could get some medicine and try to feel better. It was difficult but with him there I managed to get through the crowd. Thats three days in a row. The less thought about yesterday the better. It was an aberration, a lapse. I’m fine now. This is what people should be like.
Hanoshi himself though… we had some problems. He explained to me that he was never much of a train person and he was only at the convention to pick some things up for his kid brother. He stuck around me out of pity and helping out a person in need instead of a shared fixation with trains.
So after last time I felt that ‘do nothing’ was about right after the previous events. I relied on Hanoshi to help Hanori go outside which reduced his perversion by one. Phew, he’d gained a few points on day two. Finally sharing the obsession led to Hanoshi’s revelation which wrecked the obsession by two dice.
DAY FOUR – DIARY ENTRY
Nothing. I tried thinking about whether Hanoshi was right. Maybe he wasn’t. I don’t know. I don’t want to think…
I’m beginning to feel a little paralysed with what I can and can’t do with the actions to deal with what Hanori’s doing and do him the least harm. His perversion is the biggest stat, his friendship is okay but not great. The obsession is tiny now, as is his hope.
DAY FIVE – DIARY ENTRY
Doing nothing in the morning’s almost like a tradition. Out of bed but unable to bring myself to act. Hanoshi’s girlfriend dropped by and tried to ask about how things were left with the pair of us. I nodded and tried to pay attention without staring or coming off as creepy. I ended up looking at the floor and she left. I sent Hanoshi some abusive texts about making his girlfriend come and see me instead of him. We met on a fire escape and talked about things. I think we’re okay, he was having a rough time with his relationship and our conversation yesterday was mainly anger about other things.
I decided to go onto my PC and delete a bunch of my porn files. I ended up getting a bit into them and found myself walking to the front door. I chickened out. I can’t do it again.
The friendship roll was a risk but surprisingly positive. Things were looking a bit better. Suppressing his perversion felt like a good action after gaining a bit of hope. Sadly I rolled poorly.
DAY SIX – DIARY ENTRY
I woke up and decided to get everything out of my system, watching some hentai over breakfast. Coloured sugary loop things with water as I forgot to ask Hanoshi to get me some milk. I wanted to get up and see if I could do anything. I couldn’t. I shouldn’t do these things. It’s fine if it’s just on the internet, that’s the rule I set for myself.
I asked Hanoshi to help me go outside and managed a few minutes. It was cold and crowded, I wasn’t keen on it. I got home and fell asleep on the floor again. My hand was over one of the trains and it left an indentation in my flesh.
A short day with nothing harmful or horrendous. The fear from Day Four’s snookering of Hanori’s moves has diminished. I do wonder if maybe there should be some kind of mechanic to make things escalate each time to stop the cautious gamer moves I’ve been doing. I decided to go all out with the last day.
DAY SEVEN – DIARY ENTRY
I texted Hanoshi and told him I wanted to get rid of some of my models. He helped me pack them up and donate them to the kids a few doors down from him. They always seem to be at a loose end. They were thrilled and let me help unpack them. I spent most of the day playing with the trains and the kids. It was like looking at me from the past. I couldn’t leave it, not for hours.
The flat felt empty without the trains. They were holding me back, making me childish. I wouldn’t bring a person here, I wouldn’t bring a woman here. I sat on the carpet and looked at the light patches where the plastic and metal tracks had been for so long. The ghosts of the trains were still here, as was the noise of them from outside. I looked at the station and tried to think of other things. The woman was there, the one from the other night, a tiny speck in the darkness lit only by the streetlights. I walk to the table and my laptop, meaning to watch something, but I know it’s suspended from yesterday morning, I know the sights which will only encourage me. The blood, the skin. I think about it, despite trying not to.
She’s alone out there and will be gone soon. I take the tape and a wrench from the toolkit under the sink. If I can make it out of the building by myself, I’ll be prepared this time…
I hate Hanori. That’s probably easy to tell. He’s one of the least pleasant characters I’ve written in a game. He’s sympathetic despite his horrible qualities. His social issues have festered and corrupted over time. You can tell that he’s a person with feelings and issues, with things which he could resolve but his own issues and the reaction to them have got worse over time. I rolled on the final table to see what happened, hoping for a positive or negative extreme.
I guess it’s the most realistic change. Maybe he’d crack and order more train sets online. He’s too pathetic to follow through on his violent fantasies towards women, but maybe he’d get caught and suffer the repercussions eventually. Nothing changes though, so there would be no real escalation or redemption.
Now I’m an introvert, but a socially-dependent one, hence the gaming habits. I am no authority on the subject we’ve covered today, I don’t know how accurate I was in my portrayal of Hanori and his experience, but it was an interesting exercise to go through and made me start to look into hikikomori. If you want to know about the phenomenon, you may want to read the following articles which will be far more informative than I was:
FINALLY, AN ALTERNATIVE
Hikikomori is a very specific subculture of people with social anxiety. An entry for the Golden Cobra LARP contest has a three player LARP called Just Lunch by Heather Sillsbee, which explores social anxiety over a conversation with three people. It’s not really recommended for people with heavy amounts of social anxiety for triggering issues, but looks like a worthy exploration of the subject and at the very least an interesting read about it. You can find it here.
Hikikomori is a free single-player RPG which can be found here and the blog of the designer, Ewen Cluney, is here
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Yikes. The whole stalking and punching thing made this seem a lot more like a psychopath simulator.