No Game, No Life Ep. 1: Putting NEETs to work

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Tired of real life? Wish you could just play games all day?

Wouldn’t it be cool too if you could have a cute loli sit in your lap as you pwned noobs?! Well come on down to No Game, No Life, and watch as all your NEET dreams come true!


• It’s always peculiar when shows try to translate urban legends to the digital age. Man, have you heard of the undefeated group of four players? Sure, I can buy that. Maybe these guys have treated games like a job when others haven’t. In that case, the skill disparity wouldn’t be that bizarre. But the narrator goes on to say, “Their account names are always left empty.” C’mon, you have so many different ways to convey the same sense of mysteriousness. You could say their names are just a random string of numbers. Or maybe their names are just a random string of computer symbols. Playing in an online game, however, would necessitate the fact that these avatars must all have unique IDs for the computer to tell them apart. So yeah… that’s just lazy.

• Apparently, these four are so badass that they can even beat cheaters.

• As an aside, cheating in an online game is simple to prove once the proper channels have been notified. People get away with cheating in online games simply because GMs or administrators haven’t noticed it. When you have millions of players, you can’t be watching every single one of them. For four mere players to beat 1,200 other players, however, all eyes are on them. So if GMs or administrators haven’t come out and said that these guys are cheaters, then well… they’re 100% not cheaters.

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• In reality, our mysterious four “Blanks” are just a game-obsessed brother-sister pair. And we even get a shot of an 11-year-old girl’s striped panties as a way to introduce ourselves to her character. I know I’m strapped in for a wild anime ride.

• Shiro, the little sister, wants to eat more than just white bread so that she can get bigger. Sora, the oniichan, assures her that she’s already a flawless piece of ass. That’s just great.

• The story doesn’t know what it wants. Apparently, Shiro has been up for five days straight, so naturally, anyone in her shoes would be sleepy. Sora tells her not to sleep, however, because he wouldn’t have a healer if she did. Obviously, the guy’s a loser because he values his performance in a video game over his sister’s health. But our NEET siblings are nevertheless portrayed as attractive people. So they’re sexy, but losers at the same time. Nevermind the fact that being a shut-in with a shitty diet would hardly make you a sexy person.

• Some disembodied narrator says, “The world is chaotic, unreasonable, and unfair.” You can already see where this is going. Video games are very rule-based because computers are necessarily bound by a set of algorithms. Once you learn the ins and outs of a game, there is nothing chaotic about it. Even a computer program that purports to being a random number generator can never truly be random, because this is just how computers and computer programs currently operate. Plus, video games are mostly skill-based. There have been some exceptions to this rule recently, like with Eve Online, but for the most part, interpersonal relationships are not necessary to get ahead in video games, especially if you are hardcore PVPer like our two siblings seem to be.

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In real life, you need all sorts of intangible bullshits to become the “best.” You need connections, you need to network, you need to socialize, you need to kiss ass, etc. And even then, something as “unreasonable and unfair” as nepotism can completely derail everything that you’ve worked for. Here’s a pretty telling monologue from our oniichan:

“There’s no way to know the rules or the goal, yet there are 7 billion players making whatever moves they want. If you lose too much, or win too much, there are penalties. You can’t pass your turn, and if you talk too much, you’ll be ostracized. There are no parameters and no way to even know the game. This world is just… a crappy game”

So for NEETs, especially Sora who apparently has problems with communication, life appears to have no meaning. It’s no wonder, therefore, that our two siblings choose to lose themselves in their video games where individual skill is perhaps the most important aspect of a player, and all the intangible bullshit do not matter. Still, there’s one significant problem.

Even if life appears to have no meaning, this is hardly ideal. It would be awesome if life did have meaning. Video games are, however, pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I’m going to imagine that this is a world where e-sports haven’t taken off, so you can’t really make a killing as the best PVPer in the world. So for all of our siblings’ hard work, they get nothing out of it but internet recognition for their anonymous avatars. At the end of the day, all you can ever derive out of video games is simple pleasure, which does nothing to change the fact that life has no meaning. But could you imagine a world where video games did have meaning? And not only that, a world where being good at video games would mean everything to the world? Most importantly, could you imagine a world where being good at video games was… a job?

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So there’s nothing truly different at work here. At the very core of the conflict is our two siblings’ alienation from their labor. To put this story firmly in the 21st century, however, there’s an implicit criticism of affective labor. For people with neither education nor training, what sort of job do you think would be available to our two siblings if they actually gave a fuck about integrating themselves into the real world? Well, the girl’s only 11, so technically, she’s not allowed to work, but even if she could work, what would she be doing? In all likelihood, Shiro’d probably be a waitress or a cashier, right? In this modern society, jobs have increasingly shifted towards affective labor, which is a form of labor that is primarily concerned with managing the emotional states of the people in our society. Think of how a waitress will go up to her customers and ask them about their day. It’s a waitress’s job to ensure that her customers are happy or as happy as reasonably possible.

As society progresses, a lot of real, honest work can be done much more efficiently and cheaply by robots. As a result, human laborers are either alienated from their work (because robots are doing all the hard stuff) or no longer needed. Those who are no longer needed are shuffled into affective labor to manage the mental states of the workers who are being alienated. It’s the one field that robots won’t be making much headway anytime soon, though we’ve already started imagining what this would be like (see: Her). In any case, for two siblings with no education, training, or communication skills, neither of these avenues are an option. They’re probably not smart enough to compete with the ever-shrinking pool of laborers that get to work with robots, but because they lack communications skills, they wouldn’t make very good affective laborers either. So our protagonists face a double-whammy of alienation. All they can do is hide away in their video games, which, again, works by managing people’s emotional states.

Finally, we arrive at the anime’s central premise: what if video games themselves could have meaning? What if video games became more than just pleasure machines? What if you combat your labor alienation through video games instead of simply using video games as a way to ignore your alienation? Our story is simply about putting our two siblings to work. Despite being NEETs, they ironically get jobs without realizing it. It doesn’t matter if their work actually produces nothing of practical value in the real world. What matters is that it has meaning to them, and as a result, our siblings no longer feels alienated.

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• Our siblings are then thrown into Disboard, a world where being good at games means everything. One of the world’s central rules is that “[a]ll conflict in this world will be resolved through games.” Not only that, every conflict is heavily regulated and moderated “by designated representatives with absolute authority.” All cheating is punished, so the world isn’t “chaotic, unreasonable, and unfair.” Well, as long as the cheaters are caught.

• It’s pretty amusing to me, however, that we see giant chess pieces on the horizon. Chess is so iconic even though most young people don’t give a shit about it anymore. Honestly, you would never think of chess if video games are ever brought up as a topic. But what else can you stick in the background to convey to the audience that our siblings have been transported to some sort of game-centric dreamworld? What is more universally iconic than chess despite the ironic fact that it is an uncool game to most of the video gaming generation?

• So fittingly enough, our siblings come upon a human kingdom where the next king is being chosen through a poker tournament. We then get to see dramatic card-drawing to make poker seem like an exciting spectator sport (yeah right). This is definitely a comedy.

• But then our hero cheats. The real world being unreasonable and unfair should hardly be a problem for Sora then. It all comes down to the fact that he has difficulty relating to other people. He can’t manage their emotional states to his advantage.

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• After just spending a day here, Sora already wonders why anyone would want to go back to the real world. Well then…


The color palette in Disboard is an eyesore (I’m aware it’s a stylistic choice but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like looking at it), and our protagonists are both rather unlikeable. At the moment, Sora seems bitter and cynical, and Shiro’s just another boring Rei-clone. It’ll be interesting to see how the story will get us to sympathize with the two siblings. Maybe it won’t even bother to! Still, there’s interesting subtext to be discerned here, but I wonder if this subtext’s limited to just the first episode and the first episode alone. For now, I’m tentatively interested in seeing what else the show has to offer.


23 Replies to “No Game, No Life Ep. 1: Putting NEETs to work”

  1. It has some gorgeous designs but I agree the colouring of the alternative world doesn’t translate well into animation. But hey, the preteen cameltoe was far more defined than in the manga. Yay HD. For fuck’s sake.

  2. Honestly, I liked the episode. I wasn’t much annoyed by the things you mention (by the way, couldn’t you maybe get a blank username in games that don’t guard against it if you use invisible characters rather than blank spaces? ⁣And if there’s one thing online players never stop doing is complain about other players “cheating”, even when they clearly couldn’t). The loli panty shots, ehhhhh. I honestly don’t want to imagine who exactly is turned on by that. Oh well.

    Anyway, while I think your analysis of the problem with emotional labour – and if it was only that, every job interview for even the shittiest job ever will require you to be “confident” and “self assured” and basically full of crap – is spot on, I’d say the brothers aren’t meant to look like they’re stupid. In fact, the brother is actually skilled exactly at manipulating people apparently, his detachment is more because he’s probably a borderline sociopath, while the sister looks like some kind of analytical genius. And it’s not necessarily videogames here, it’s games – after all we’ve seen them play more chess and poker than random MMORPG #9001. I’d say that the good thing with games is that they make competition simple and relatively straightforward – even the world of infinite possibilities of a chessboard is not even close to the infinity of choices that you can have in real life. A world constrained by rules is a world you can get a grasp of, one you can feel like you can control better. The brothers’ weakness is mostly that they need to know that there is a calculable way to victory before they can take a road of action at all.

    1. I’d say the brothers aren’t meant to look like they’re stupid.

      I don’t remember saying they were meant to look stupid. What is this in response to?

      1. “They’re probably not smart enough to compete with the ever-shrinking pool of laborers that get to work with robots”

        ^ That. They clearly are smart enough. They probably could become programmers or something like that if they wanted to. They just don’t give a fuck.

        1. Not smart enough here means they don’t have the education. It has nothing to do with their IQ or intellectual capabilities. I’m not calling them stupid, but at the same time, I wouldn’t call them smart. Maybe they’re clever. Maybe they’re fast learners. But I’d have a hard time calling them smart. I guess if you want to quibble with my semantics, I could have used the word “uneducated” instead. After all, I’m just working off of the “education” part of NEET.

          1. Yeah, but if there’s a field where you can educate yourself well through the internet, it’s informatics. I work with programming and though I DO have a PhD, all my knowledge in this specific field is self-taught. With these guys’ brains it wouldn’t be hard to do. They probably could find ways to make a living with that. Hell, they could make a living with GAMES – they could be professional character farmers and sell experienced and geared up MMORPG characters to noobs with money. That’s a thing in this world. If you can play 4 characters at a time, that well, non stop, you could definitely do that.

            1. I’m not disagreeing that these two could probably educate themselves enough to integrate themselves into society. I nevertheless think you’re harping on something I never said. This boils down to semantics. But slice it any way you want, the fact of the matter is that they are uneducated by Japanese standards. The passage you quoted from me is just emphasizing their barriers to the workforce.

              1. Uhm, yeah, it’s no big deal really. All I wanted to say with that sentence in my comment was that what’s crucial to their condition is not their lack of skill but their conscious refusal of the world’s rules. Which is actually probably what you said too and we’re just arguing over different ways to interpret the word “smart”. Case closed.

                1. All I’m saying is that capitalism in 21st century increasingly shifts the labor force towards affective labor, which is stacked against NEETs, especially our NEETs, because it requires interpersonal communication skills that go beyond being manipulative and reading people.

                  Can these two become elite programmers or engineers if they wanted to? Sure. Do they want to? We both agree that they don’t. Where we seem to disagree is that I’m fine with calling them unskilled and uneducated in the time being. Maybe I’m just tired of lazy or unmotivated nerds calling themselves smart if only they could simply apply themselves. I think that mentality is a crock of ego-stroking bullshit.

                  I may seem defensive, but I tend to get people jumping on my ass for every perceived mistake. It’s a conditioned response.

                  1. Hmm, no, don’t worry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just use “smart” as a general term for intelligence, while what you call “skill” would be for me the sum of intelligence AND the education needed to put it to work.

                    But in the end, if you carry your reasoning out to its logical extreme, it turns into saying that people should just accept as the world is and if their own skills/mindset don’t fit the world, change that – which clearly isn’t the case. I don’t like self-indulgent behaviour either, but I don’t like the way our current society has of marginalizing all but a very well-defined set of skills either (this doesn’t just involve ‘nerds’. Anyone with ‘humanities’ related skills in fact often gets the bad end of this stick, while tech-related professions are relatively profitable). It also ties in with the fact that that “affective labor” is nothing but a facade to corporate entities that more and more behave like sociopaths. So feeling a sense of disconnect towards the hypocrisy of being rejected by a society for being cold and manipulative only because that society likes to hire empathic, friendly people to put them up as the nice face of a cold and manipulative entity is rather understandable, and I can see that it can result in outright refusal of the world as a whole.

                    Mind you, I don’t think this is in any form consciously included as part of the themes of this show, which is probably going to be just game-action at best, and otaku bait at worst. It’s more of a meta thing, about why something like otaku/NEET culture even exists. It is an expression of unrest, and I think blaming it entirely on nerds being lazy is not much different from blaming poverty on the same thing. You can be born with a lack of money, and you can be born with a lack of social skills: both conditions are out of your control but are severely punished by our current society.

                    1. I don’t like the way our current society has of marginalizing all but a very well-defined set of skills either

                      Which is all fine and well, but none of these marginalized skills are on display here so I’m not sure what you’re gunning at exactly. The closest we’ve come to a useful skill is Shiro’s analytical ability to play chess, but even then, that’s still pretty esoteric. This spirited defense of our NEETs would be a lot more understandable to me if they were likeable characters with aims that go beyond pleasure-seeking because the world isn’t fair to them.

                      But in the end, if you carry your reasoning out to its logical extreme, it turns into saying that people should just accept as the world is and if their own skills/mindset don’t fit the world, change that – which clearly isn’t the case.

                      Uh, I’m not saying that at all. I’m merely saying that our siblings are unskilled and uneducated, which is why they are social outcasts. Nowhere did I say that the blame lies totally with them. The entire point of my post is that Disboard exists to resolve the inherent alienation in our NEETs by putting them to work on their own terms. My intent was to analyze the anime through a Marxist lense. I have no idea where you’re coming from with this idea that I somehow think our NEETs should conform to the real world and its harsh expectations. After all, I’ve personally railed enough about both East Asian’s heavy emphasis on an examination system and its salaryman culture throughout this blog’s existence.

                      Anyone with ‘humanities’ related skills in fact often gets the bad end of this stick, while tech-related professions are relatively profitable

                      Yeah, well, I’m not passing judgment here on the fact that they are NEETs or that they lack real world skills. I do a ton of writing — and I often go on tangents about ethics or Marxism — so I obviously value the humanities. But let’s face it, the world at large does not value anything outside of the STEM fields very much. And in pointing this out, I’m merely being descriptive, not prescriptive. You seem to think I’m advancing these same views, or, at least, your comments seem to imply as much. True, I do not like these characters, but I’ve done my share of defending NEETs and hikikomori elsewhere on this blog that I do not feel the need to defend such unlikeable characters. I simply refuse to call them smart just because they can play games very well.

                      It is an expression of unrest, and I think blaming it entirely on nerds being lazy is not much different from blaming poverty on the same thing.

                      I think you’re overreaching. I’ve said no such thing. Let’s face it, a lot of lazy nerds like to call themselves smart, but they simply never amount to anything because they either procrastinate or don’t apply themselves. My comment was targeted at people that kind of mentality. I hesitate to label nerds smart just because they display a certain level of potential, because without applicability, that potential is ultimately meaningless. At no point did I say that all NEETS are simply lazy.

                      If you want to rail against NEET haters, you can do so elsewhere. I’ve had to deal with enough people misconstruing my arguments throughout this blog that I’m not going to suffer it here.

                    2. I think you’re really reading my comments as much more aggressive towards you that they are meant to be, so I’ll just stop here. I’m not railing against NEET haters nor I consider you one, I was just trying to frame the whole issue in a social context. Your answers have been overly defensive, I really didn’t mean to twist your reasoning when I said “taken to the extreme”. I am aware that’s not what you’ve said, I only meant it as a way to highlight, by contrast, where do people of different beliefs come from.

  3. The blank username is a pun on the siblings names (which obviously doesn’t translate over to English). 空白 (kuuhaku), which means blank, splits into 空 (sora) and 白 (shiro), their actual names. I agree with the above that Sora is actually very skilled at reading and manipulating people, but his own behavior (outside of games) is rather sociopathic. We’ll also find out next episode that the two siblings have a much more glaring weakness that requires them to be together at all times.

    1. I agree with the above that Sora is actually very skilled at reading and manipulating people

      I don’t believe I’ve said otherwise.

  4. The premise is quite good. Socially inadequate chap with probably no real world skills increasingly trapped in his own make believe world of online games. However, the points you make are very valid: the game creators can always change their rules, the system itself could have cheats built in, cheaters can and will game the system to their advantage and so on. So the theory that the online world is rigid, unchanging and regulated is absolutely false.

    1. The premise is quite good.

      I think part of my hesitation here with the anime is that I don’t think it’ll care too much about the social commentary in the long run. When that happens, all we’ll have left is a pair of NEETs dominating in some gameworld.

      1. Well, that could be fun too to an extent, in the way an anime like Kaiji is fun (though Kaiji has its own form of implied social commentary too in a way, what with its continuous representation of what you’d call lumpenproletariat). It would require some good knowledge of games though.

  5. @e minor i have to say the sister is pretty skilled too in the level of the brother becouse as it said in the episode she defeated the chess gamemaster lot of times and it look like she can see who cheat by read or do somthing

    1. Who said they were unskilled at games and being manipulative? I said they lacked broader communication skills, which is something the anime itself asserted.

  6. Can I say that, apart from the “you’ve got a perfect body already” line at the beggining (which could be interpretated as a joke anyway), at least in this episode theirs looked like a fairly healthy normal brother-sister relationship? The relationship, that is; not them as individuals.

    Something that caught my attention now, and I didn’t notice in the manga: the 9th statement might not cover the 10th, so maybe things won’t be just fun and giggles all the time.

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