Many of us have been self-isolating for almost three months now due to the pandemic, and in this prolonged period of social distancing, many of us have also turned to video games. Often, gamers portrayed in media are not shown with respect. As individuals, they’re often shown ala “Make Love Not Warcraft” and video games, relegating gaming to a joke a pile that infantilizes the players. Thankfully, this has been changing over time with shows like Mythic Quest showcasing the levels to creating a game and being a fan of one, even from a comedic lens. That said, when it comes to romances, gaming doesn’t really come to the forefront. While the Kodansha Comics manga Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku showcases geeky love involving gaming elements, it isn’t the main fandom being examined. Then, I found Recovery of an MMO Junkie, a webtoon and manga created by mangaka Rin Kokuyō and an OVA that debuted in 2017.
As a series, Recovery of an MMO Junkie centers on Moriko Morioka, a 30-year-old successful career woman who decided to quit her corporate job and become an elite NEET and find a more fulfilling life. After facing stress at work that pushes her mental health to the brink, Moriko retreats into an MMORPG Fruits de Mer and creates a male character named Hayashi as her avatar aiming to be anyone but herself, Mariko begins her journey in Fruits de Mer by relentlessly tackling the same boss over and over just to have it end in a wipe. Then, Hayashi meets Lily, a high-level player who helps him learn the game. Hayashi and Lily becomes close friends and he joins her guild, @HomeParty.
Over the course of their time together Hayashi and Lily become partners and are inseparable. Meanwhile, in the real world, Moriko has a chance encounter with a handsome elite company employee, Yuta Sakurai. After awkward interactions and blossoming love, Sakurai begins to suspect that Moriko is Hayashi, his in-game friend. Oh yeah, he’s Lily. Over the course of the series, we get the expected josei high jinks, some secrets, and ultimately a romance between Moriko and Sakurai that is well beyond their in-game friendship.
But this romance is important, not because it’s a fun story of a will-they-won’t-they, but because it captures the power of online gaming. As we learn more about our main characters, we learn that the two of them have met in-game before, in another MMO when both of them were struggling in their lives. For Sakurai, he was facing the death of a family member, used to being alone because of bullying when he was younger, he found solace being alone. But even when you’re okay being alone, loneliness can creep in and affect you. Recovery of An MMO Junkie gets this, when Sakurai explains that “for me, MMOs were a place you could be alone, but not lonely.”
Communal play in gaming works to connect us to communities. Guilds, lobbies, squads, Discord servers, to talk in, we connect with one another and play towards a common goal. For many gamers, this offers up a vital connection to their friends and others that is for whatever reason unobtainable in real life. This is why guild-mates can wind up getting married or just becoming best friends even with screens distancing them. This connection to others is the heart of Recovery of An MMO Junkie.
What this series gets right about gaming is the heart of what it means to be a gamer. While people fight over console supremacy and gatekeep the community, the vast majority of us look for ways to bring us together. We create communities beyond one guild around gaming platforms like Discord and Twitch, we find places to fit in on Twitter, we look for how we can maintain connections, and help each other. While some people may choose to lose themselves in the game, it isn’t because they’re immature, but because they often fill the vital part of social interaction in a protected space.
For Moriko, the first time she meets Sakurai in-game, she opens up to him about work. She vents her frustrations openly instead of holding it like she had, and through this empowering act she chooses to leave her job. By leaving her toxic work environment to dive into gaming she actively chooses a stigmatized lifestyle, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what the world thinks when she logs on to Fruits de Mer. While social interactions are draining for her, the moment she gets home and logs on she feels a sense of relief.
There are moments throughout Recovery of An MMO Junkie where Miroko sits in her chair, logs into Fruits de Mer and then, like a light switch, she comes alive. As Hayashi she can be herself, she can detach from the bad, and form healthy bonds with others. This is what many of us are doing right now. We’re all lonely in different ways right now and gaming, gaming is helping bring us together. While the day may be exhausting when we sit in front of our computers or consoles, boot up our game, and log in to our characters, the hardships fall away, at least for a little while.
Gaming is about connection and as mushy as it sounds, sometimes that’s love. Recovery of An MMO Junkie is a necessary story that showcases the dynamic nature of the hobby. The series gets gamers, gaming, and the bonds we form right, making it a much watch or read for every gamer out there.
Recovery of An MMO Junkie is available to stream on Crunchyroll.