In Sword Art Online, there was an arc called Mother’s Rosario. It told the story of a girl named Yuuki. Her life was a struggle from beginning to end, filled with sickness and bullying. Eventually, even her presence in the physical world began to flicker out. The only thing that kept her anchored was an experimental Medicuboid: a device created to treat terminally ill patients as well as provide them with virtual reality technology, a doorway to a world of games where they could frolick to their heart’s content.
When the time came for her to pass on, her death could only be described as beautiful. Through Alfheim Online (ALO), the final game she played, she made a permanent mark in two ways: (1) in the literal sense by defeating a Floor Boss and having her name engraved into the Monument of Swordsmen and (2) by inspiring the ALO community with her strength. In her last moments, all the players gathered around Yuuki and knelt down in admiration and prayer. This scene alone evokes such a potent image, but the reason it has stuck with me is because of how surprisingly grounded it is.
The unification of players under the pretense of send-offs and respectful mourning sounds magnificent, but you can’t help but think this is something that only happens in fiction. I’m happy to say it’s not. The first time I learned of a large-scale event was in late 2014 where the Final Fantasy XIV community gathered together to host a vigil for the late player Codex Vahlda. For the full story, please read Mike Fahey’s write-up on Kotaku. It’s a great read and a testament to how strong human empathy can be, linked loosely only by a mutual game.
I doubt this was the first player-held event in memory of someone, but I know for sure it wasn’t the last. In early April of this year, in the same game as before: Final Fantasy XIV, a funeral was held for the late player Ferne Le’roy. She had passed away due to COVID-19. Friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers came together to grieve and support one another online. I’ll leave two videos here and I encourage you to look at the comments on both. Some are from players who had interacted with her previously, giving their account of how kind she was. This Inverse article, written by Danny Paez, contains the full story of how players coordinated the funeral and I push you to go there as this small blurb hardly portrays it properly.
I bring these examples up because it shows how tight knit a community can be. Even in the face of tragedy, or perhaps due to tragedy, people band together. Before I move on to my next point though, I need to make sure you’re aware of something. In all three examples, SAO and both FFXIV stories, what transpired to cause the death of the individuals was, in some part, unavoidable. It was a matter of sickness for two, and a medical improbability for another. In the subsequent topic I’ll bring up, what brings despair isn’t inevitable.
I’ll praise what I believe deserves to be praised. At the same time, I’ll critique what I believe deserves to be critiqued.
Let’s continue with the good and save the bad for a bit later in the article. On August 31, a Vtuber by the name of Mano Aloe graduated. In the context of idols, graduation is synonymous with retirement and is usually by choice as the person behind the avatar then goes on to work elsewhere. [For example, a common occupation taken up is voice acting.]
A lot of fans showed their respect through an outpour of artwork and kind messages. However, after a graduation, all control of social accounts return to the Vtuber’s company (if applicable). Therefore, sent artwork may not get to her if only, say, tweeted at her. That’s why the community went a step forward. Kind souls over at https://manotomo.tk/ and https://manoaloe.jetri.co/#/ compiled all work in commemoration of her. Additionally, they collected any messages fans had and displayed that as well. They’re fantastic sites which encourage her return, even if not using the same avatar.
Now, you might have connected the dots already. Mano Aloe’s retirement was not by choice. She was pushed to the edge and made to jump. Through a series of rumors and a simple mistake, those who wished ill against her got their wish. Aloe debuted on August 15 of this year. A short 2 days later, on August 17, she received a two week suspension by her company for forgetting to privatize or delete a 2D model test stream. That made the day she was scheduled to come back August 31- the day she retired.
There’s an argument to be had whether this was a matter of community. I think it was, at least in part. A crucial detail is her early suspension. This suspension doesn’t only entail a no-streaming policy, but a ban on viewing one’s social platforms. Usually, I would say it’s healthier for a person to be away from social media, especially when facing harassment as she was, but it might have had the opposite effect here. Given a brief 2-day window for interaction, her image of the Vtuber community wasn’t a pleasant one. Coupled with the fact that she was doxxed and actively getting phone calls, the two week suspension’s effect was essentially cutting off any positivity that was sent her way. The following video was her apology for leaving the test stream up, uploaded the day before her suspension.
Many people blamed COVER Corporation for their lack of response to this. It’s not the first time they’ve received flack either. Another Vtuber under them, Yozora Mel, was faced with a stalker and COVER’s actions in response were slow to say the least. See Hero Hei’s videos here for that story:
I do believe this critique of COVER is justified. That’s why I’m very happy to see that they’ve released a way for the community to help them combat these harassers. Key to this though is indeed community. I discussed this previously in my first article about Vtubers, but old idol culture was incredibly toxic and not lenient. It would be unfair to call the current harassers vestiges of that age. Instead, I believe they use the guise of undertaking this old mindset to further undermine the image of the modern community.
They were able to do this because of the heavy association the modern community still has with idol culture. It isn’t my place to say they should move away from the association. In fact, many of the Vtubers do see themselves as idols. Some were even people who applied for such positions in the past but were rejected. Therefore, it would be wrong to retroactively change them. What I believe should happen is a distinguishment of new idol/Vtuber fans from the old to cement the fact that holding idols to perfection is passe.
The soul of the Vtuber community is so incredibly bright. That’s why contrast is so visible to me. Please, treat Vtubers as people. Whatever you say, good or bad, will affect them. Thank you for reading. Never forget Mano Aloe.