Game devs channel Tokyo governor’s ‘mitsu desu’ call for social distancing

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A couple of game developers have creatively channeled Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko’s* frequent “mitsu desu” calls for the city’s residents to practice social distancing.

On April 8, a state of emergency came into force in a number of Japanese regions, including Tokyo, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19; last week, it was extended to cover the entire country. However, there’s no legal mandate for people to stay home and businesses to close, as seen in some other countries—the state of emergency allows regional governments to urge people to stay home, but without any punitive enforcement. The city’s streets, bars, and eateries are quieter than usual, but it’s still not uncommon to see people gathering.

In daily briefings, Koike regularly calls on Tokyo residents to keep their distance from others and avoid crowds and enclosed spaces, a request embedded in her frequent use of the phrase “mitsu desu” (密です). The phrase itself has become something of a meme on Japanese social media, and with memes come all manner of creative endeavours, including satirical videogames.

A game developer who goes by Gunjo Chikin on Twitter recently shared one such game. Playable in a browser, it casts you as a pixel-art version of Koike as she walks through increasingly crowded Tokyo streets; clicking on the screen unleashes a “mitsu desu” move the crowd, with the goal being to maintain a social distancing safe zone around Koike. (There’s also an English version that replaces the “mitsu desu” soundbyte with a computerised voice saying “social distance”, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.)

Inspired by Gunjo Chikin’s game, @motulo took their own approach to the idea. Video from their game shows a low-poly Koike walking (and flying!) around a city looking for crowds to disperse, with the goal being to find and shut down all such gatherings. The city itself resembles New York due to the asset pack used, but it’s obviously meant to be Tokyo—a little imagination required.

Japanese president Abe Shinzō* has faced criticism—including from Koike herself—for what many see as taking too long to enact a state of emergency and for authorities’ inability to enforce it.

Despite the meme “mitsu desu” has become, the request for social distancing are still important: limiting movement and contact between people has consistently shown to be effective at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Sources: Japan Times, New York Times, @miseromisero, @motulo

*Note: As much as possible, we at Shindig try to use the Japanese name order when writing Japanese names in English, which puts the family name first. For Koike Yuriko and Abe Shinzō, “Koike” and “Abe”, respectively, are the family names.

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Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.