This paper examines social withdrawal and in-game connections through the Japanese role-playing game The World Ends With You (Subarashiki kono sekai, TWEWY), developed by Square Enix for the Nintendo DS in 2007. I argue that TWEWY addresses one of contemporary Japan’s most oft-publicized social issues: hikikomori, or adolescents who shun human contact and are “socially withdrawn,” often shutting themselves in their rooms. While the game is set in modern-day Shibuya, its execution subverts our image of this bustling youth-centered district by focalizing the narrative through Neku, an introverted Tokyo teenager who shuns human interaction. This discourse on isolation continues as Neku befriends other disaffected youth and gradually comes to realize that even in the hippest area of Tokyo feelings of loneliness and belonging are on everybody’s mind.
TWEWY also features gameplay mechanisms that work as a potential intervention against social withdrawal. The game uses the Wi-Fi roaming capabilities of the portable system to reward players with in-game items if they happen to walk by another player. The game also tracks the amount of time it is physically turned off and assigns experience points for each minute players spend in the “real-world.” In these ways, I argue that TWETY encourages a form of “connective engagement” that seeks to bring together players in new forms of socio-topographical play. By relying on gameic interactions over face-to-face encounters, TWEWY is a potentially useful tool for hikikomori who play games at home or use them as a means to communicate with the “outside” world.