Japanese government commissions baffling metaverse to combat loneliness where you can't talk to anyone, enforced via a digital security guard

An image of an empty, isolated presentation room where you aren't allowed to, uh, talk to anybody.
(Image credit: Plattbus / Gather)

Feeling lonely? How does driving a little pixel avatar around in a place you're explicitly not allowed to talk to anybody in sound? Bad, probably, but that hasn't stopped the Japanese government from making it.

As spotted (and translated) by Automaton West, the already ill-fated project goes by the name of "Platt-verse", and is designed to strengthen "measures against loneliness and isolation", as per its website. Noritoshi Furuichi, an author and sociologist, took it for a spin—and tore it apart in a tweet (the following quotes have been machine-translated).

"As soon as you log in," writes Furuichi, "an avatar called 'Security' approaches you and tells you to turn on silent mode. They're watching over users to make sure they don't talk to each other."

This is confirmed on the website, which instructs users to turn off your microphone and camera (or you'll get a talking to), avoid using a name that would identify you in the real world, and to make sure you're set to "Do Not Disturb" in-game. Already off to a raring start.

"OK," reasons Furuichi, "So if users can't communicate with each other, what can they do? Like games? They can't do anything. At best, they can jump to government websites (which is not part of the metaverse). There's really nothing we can do. I don't think there's a more lonely metaverse like this anywhere in the world."

You might be wondering, 'if talking's off the table, why do you have to mute?' That's because this whole project appears to be using Gather, which is a virtual, RPG-styled program typically angled towards corporate environments. Zoom, but make it Zelda—there've been worse ideas, like releasing a metaverse without legs.

Using it for this specifically, though? That feels like a swing and a miss. To Platt-verse's credit, it does try to bring users into contact with regional organisations taking measures to combat loneliness, a chatbot that can help them find support, a reservation-free consultation service (with a pretty limited time slot, but still) and a training course for people who want to help.

However, this could've been a webpage or, well, anything other than a weird, empty plot of digital land where you need to deliberately isolate yourself from the people running around you, hastily cobbled together in corporate software. As Furuichi notes:

"It's only open from 10am to 6pm in May. I think that's probably because the 'security' are the ones who do the work. I think there are more people running it all the time. They're advertising and probably spending a lot of tax money unnecessarily."

Anyway—I don't want to dunk on the actual services offered here unduly, but I agree that this whole exercise seems like a total waste of energy for everyone involved. I think if I were feeling lonely and anxious about it, I probably wouldn't want a security officer breathing down my neck—I'd just go play VRChat or something.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.