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.
• 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.
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?
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.
• 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.
• 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.