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This past weekend, I caught the English-dub premiere of the critically-acclaimed Japanese animated movie, Summer Wars, at Asia Society. Mamoru Hosoda’s epic was a great movie that focused a lot on how the real world and the Internet world are intertwined with each other. Watching the movie has made me wonder about the impact of virtual worlds and how they can evolve over time, which can lead to unhealthy addictions, irresponsibility, & over-dependence.
To sum up the movie in a nutshell, Summer Wars is about a eleventh-grader named Kenji Koiso, who is a moderator for a virtual world called Oz. Oz is a computer-simulated world which provides a multitude of activities for millions of users to partake in. Many government agencies & businesses are represented & work through Oz. Oz gets hacked and it leads to absolute mayhem in Japan, which Kenji is accused of. The true culprit is a corrupt AI called “Love Machine”. With the help of upper-classman Natsuki Shinohara & her large family (the Jinnouchi clan), Kenji combats “Love Machine” to protect both the real world and Oz from total destruction.
Oz reminds me of Second Life, the 3D virtual world community created by Linden Lab. Both are extremely similar in terms of how both are tied closely to the real world. Many institutions & organizations conduct business through both. Many psychologists are beginning to do studies on virtual worlds and their effects on users.
Technology is great and it does make things easier for us, but it can produce harmful psychological effects. People seem to be always in the need to be connected, 24/7. I’m sure everyone here has had moments where we freak out when the Internet connection goes down, mobile phone service dies, etc. According to an article on the psychology of technology by Jim Taylor, people can develop a sense of “disconnectivity anxiety”, where we experience negative emotions from not being connected to all aspects of our lives through technology. This ties into the movie since Japan panics when the country’s infrastructure is in complete turmoil from Oz being hacked.
Another thing is that social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can destroy people’s lives. This is because sometimes people take the first bits of information they see as truth. Internet users may post information up without going over any details on accuracy. Social media CAN ruin someone’s life. With regards to the movie, Kenji’s life was almost ruined because of a TV news report (“Love Machine” reveals his photo to everyone) that showed him as the person responsible for hacking Oz, though later evidence shows he wasn’t.
Virtual worlds are becoming more relevant because of the society we’re living in. With how crazy the real world is these days (economy, politics, etc.), why not get away from it all with a virtual persona? You won’t have to deal with the pain & pressure of being around people. With issues concerning "virtual currency" & intellectual property, we could have a world that is completely similar to Oz. There is an alarming concern over the fact that society may be slowly dehumanizing themselves if virtual worlds continue to prosper.
I like how Summer Wars emphasizes real-life interaction. You see the Jinnouchi family interacting with each other heavily throughout the film. Yes, technology can help connect people with others when they’re far away. However, nothing beats real-life interaction. You can’t replicate the feelings you have from real-life interaction when interacting in a virtual world. Face-to-face relationships might be on the way to being a lost art. It’s almost as if society is trying to promote introversion upon its members to a certain degree.
The movie could be addressing the fact that some institutions should take caution in using virtual worlds to help others. People let technology run everything without putting much effort themselves, but reality can be very unpredictable. Human beings make things go. Technology is just a means of achieving an end. There is a great moment in the movie where Sakae, the grandmother of the Jinnouchi family, motivates practically the entire country of Japan (through a landline telephone) to work extremely hard in getting things back in order after Oz was hacked.
Psychology focuses a lot on the self, so I wonder: what will happen to our sense of perception going forward? How will we perceive ourselves & others, in reality and in virtual reality (especially if the latter starts becoming more like reality)?
On a final note, I highly recommend seeing Summer Wars and I hope it gets nominated for an Academy Award. This movie is one reason why I think anime is truly a great medium for stories.