Fukuoka support group using metaverse to contact hikkikomori

Come join the Bedroom without leaving yours.

Although it doesn’t make the headlines as much as it once did, the problem of people refusing to leave their own homes, known as ‘hikkikomori’, persists. It’s a problem that only gets worse over time, as the parents who support them age and lose the ability to do so, or worse.

One group committed to finding ways to rehabilitate these people into society is JACFA in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture. However, their mission is not easy and according to JACFA, about 80% of people who contact them are hikkikomori’s parents rather than the people themselves. And even then, meetings are incredibly difficult to arrange, with some consultations taking place at opposite ends of a closed door.

It stands to reason, given the question at hand, therefore JACFA tried a different approach and set up Fukuoka’s virtual support room, known as “room” for short.. As the name suggests, this is a help desk that exists virtually within the SecondLife metaverse-like platform, with everyone taking on an avatar of their choice.

A promotional video for the Fukuoka Virtual Support Room

It was a totally new business, and the band didn’t really know if people would respond to it or not. However, not only did the hikkikomori join in, but JACFA was surprised at how well they started to interact when using a virtual alter ego.

As a test of the room, on July 13, a “swap meeting” was held and 20 staff and hikikomori participated virtually. Normally, recluses would suddenly talk to staff voluntarily and introduce themselves with nicknames and activities such as quizzes. The young guests of the Chamber also shared their impressions of it, such as “I could be relaxed as an avatar” and “I was able to talk more than with people face to face.”

Admittedly, it’s still a long way from reintegrating into society, but as a tool, the hall has not only facilitated communication between support staff and hikkikomori, it has accelerated it. By opening the lines of communication, more work can be done to get these people out of their homes.

In addition, education and training can also be organized on the Metaverse platform, helping JACFA in its end goal of securing employment for these people so that they can become self-sufficient. Based on the results of trial events like this, they hope to have a full program in place by next year.

Source: Fukuoka Prefecture, Nishi Nippon Shimbun
Top image: YouTube/特定非営利活動法人JACFA
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Virginia S. Braud