This was originally supposed to be a post about my time with Yukitheater, a program that allows people to watch anime together in a virtual movie theater using their own in-game avatars. Unfortunately, Yukitheater doesn’t work terribly well with Macs, so I often found myself staring at blank screens. The result is that, as I write about Yukitheater, I can only largely talk about it in a conceptual sense, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
One of the classic dilemmas of the internet (or communication in general, one might say), is that the more convenient it becomes, the easier it also becomes to avoid actually interacting with others. Where once anime clubs and gatherings at friends’ houses became the default way to watch something, streams and downloads are right at our fingertips. Of course, I’m hardly the first person to write about this, nor do I think this is the fall of civilization. If that were the case, we’ve been falling since the dawn.
Fans of anime and other media do not necessarily just take this lying down, and so the idea of the “simulwatch” was born, where people will each individually load up a movie or an episode, synchronize their watches Parker Lewis style (am I dating myself?), and then use voice chat, Twitter, or some other social platform to talk. Twitch thrives on this model as a streaming service, and Nico Nico Douga with its scrolling comments is exactly in this spirit as well, except that it plays with the idea of “real-time.” Yukitheater, as well as its predecessor, Garry’s Mod’s “Cinema” mod, are examples of trying to transform the simulwatch into a more immersive experience by creating a visual setting (the theater), and allowing for virtual avatars to run about and hurl popcorn (or whatever) at each other.
As someone who was an avid internet user in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the days of web rings and fifty billion search engines, Yukitheater seems like something of that era. More specifically, it feels like the kind of program people would have dreamed of back then amidst aspirations of “virtual reality” and the simple wonder that was talking to people on the other side of the world. If this were 14-year-old me, I would have been downright addicted to something like this, and indeed I spent many hours talking with people I never knew in real life about video games, anime, or whatever topic interested me.
While this might seem like an argument against Yukitheater as a kind of resuscitated relic, the relative anonymity it provides is something that I believe is sorely missing from today’s internet. When I grew up with the web, I saw it as a place where I didn’t necessarily pretend I was someone else, but I could step away from my life in school and with family. I could explore, and I could get away. Currently, however, the internet is more often than not an extension of one’s own existing reality. Facebook just gets you talking to people you already know. Rather than escape bullying by going online, the bullies can now follow you there. Although I have not used Yukitheater extensively, it appears to me to be an environment from an older time when one could indeed use the internet as an escape.
Yukitheater isn’t exactly a new idea. In many ways, it feels very much like Second Life or other similar online environments. I’m also likely projecting a lot of my own values onto Yukitheater, and so I’m aware that much of what I say is both subjective and subject to personal experience. A lot of things can go wrong with something like it, and I’m not even talking about the semi-frequent crashes (perhaps a symptom of Mac incompatibility). Still, I do find it fascinating that, in an age where the anime club no longer provides a “necessary” service (showing anime that is hard to find) with the communal aspect attached to it, now fans are actively seeking ways to connect with each other. Maybe this, more than anything else, is what defines one of the great generation gaps in anime fandom.
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