Let me introduce you to a mini documentary about young Japanese hermits called hikikomori. Hikikomori live in seclusion stretching months, even years, without a proper occupation. Movies and video games comprise their daily life, and they do not have a social life outside of the Internet. How do they become like this? How can Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory help us to understand the inner world of hikikomori?

Hikikomori are people who have rejected the outside world or external reality. What Freud teaches us to think about “reality” is not really about whether something is subjective or objective, rather, he thinks reality as an “obstacle”. In his psychoanalytic theory, humans primarily seek pleasure and organize their activities around this goal. But in many moments in life pleasure isn’t readily available, so the individual must work his or her way around and has to directly manipulate the external environment in order to secure the source of pleasure. Following this thinking, we are all the time living in our own fantasies until a problem arises, that’s our point of contact with the world, which is reality.

Narcissism is another keyword in his theory. Let’s take narcissism as “love for oneself”, and define love as “an individual’s relationship with a source of pleasure”, that means the narcissist takes oneself as the source of pleasure. It is well-known that Freud is all about sexual pleasure, and I think he’s right about auto-eroticism of the human body. Auto-eroticism means we can generate sexual pleasure just by fiddling with our own bodies (e.g. masturbation or day-dreaming). And since our bodies are immediately available to ourselves, we don’t have to deal with the external environment at all to experience pleasure. This is why narcissism is dangerous because of the self-sufficiency of the body which grants “labour-free” pleasure to ourselves, causing us to lose incentive to come in contact with the outside world and other people.

I think there is a weighty element of narcissism in hikikomori. And the contemporary media environment supports this personality trait. When movies, video games, and convenient store foods can satisfy their need for pleasure, why take pains to deal with reality? Reality is painful, because work demands labour, just as walking strains our muscles. The documentary addresses this as well, attributing the cause of hikikomori to parental negligence or violence which is broadly tied to high society expectations and intense competition. Parents, who out of ignorance or pressure abuse their children to “succeed”, puts too much of a dose of reality to their children early on, and the intense amount of pain causes the children to avoid dealing with reality later on and become hikikomori. They prefer to live in a sheltered existence where all is pleasure and no pain, often out of fear.

Switching gears to McLuhan, if media technology is extension of the human body, then should we think movies and video games as auto-erotic, narcissism-inducing machines that ultimately have the effect of isolating individuals from the outside world?