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Net High - The Japanese Social Media Dystopia

Typically, you would imagine that science fiction writers, regardless of medium, wouldn't take much of an interest in a futurist view of social media. In narrative terms, it doesn't seem particularly interesting, really, does it? Well, Japanese game developer Groove Box Japan would venture to disagree. Say hello to Net High, an upcoming PS Vita game based around a kind of social media dominated dystopia.

Set in the year 20XX (so far, so Japan), the government has imposed the 'Neo-Communications Act', which obliges citizens to live healthier, more active, fulfilled lives. In order to properly enforce this, the populace have all been issued with free smartphones complete with accounts for a new, government regulated social network: Tweeter (yup, two letters, that's all they changed). The more Tweeter followers people accrue, the more living allowance the government will pay them. Followers are gained by staying active on the network and publicising how well your life is going.

Rather than encouraging everyone to live better, though, it turns Japan into one gigantic popularity contest, with unpopular people left poor and oppressed, but unable to register their unhappiness, lest they drop even further down the social ladder. What's more, some people start figuring out a way to fake it, much like many people in real life use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to project an image of success when it's all just a front. The character you play as is tasked with outing these people for the liars that they are (despite being a lazy, part-timing 21-year-old himself).

The game has you trawling Tweeter to gather personal information, track down the frauds and engage in 'Explosive Comment Battles' with them. Those are almost exactly as they sound, you have to out-troll your foes and the more followers they have, the more powerful they are. Untangle their web of lies and you'll defeat them, and thieve all their followers. This isn't the only instance of Japanese fiction approaching the concept of a social media ruled future. The film Summer Wars saw the whole country governed by one massive, all-encompassing social media hub, which was infiltrated by a malevolent AI entity, plunging all of Japan into chaos.

The genius of the concept driving Net High is that it illustrates just how preposterous measuring your life by followers, or using social media to evidence how well your life is going, really is. In imagining a world in which social media presence has a direct effect on quality of life, it highlights how twisted a notion that is and turns the mirror back on people who do hold their online lives in high regard (which is a pretty common thing in Japan).

Visually, judging from the trailer, it looks as suitably colourful and bombastic as most Japanese RPGs of this type but it's such a fascinating and unique concept that it demands attention (I mean, we're writing about it and we don't normally do any kind of game coverage). Simulated or embellished social media lives are a very real and rather disturbing phenomenon, thankfully it seems as if social platforms are moving in a direction which will negative that kind of thing but speculative fiction about how far that kind of thing could reach still raises some valid, important points. The game comes out for PS Vita in Japan this autumn, no word on a Western release yet, but keep an eye out.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Net High - The Japanese Social Media Dystopia Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, July 24, 2015 Rating: 5

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