Bofuri: I Don't Want to Get Hurt, so I'll Max Out My Defense begins one night as Kaede Honjō reluctantly accepts her friend Risa's invitation to play the hit MMORPG NewWorld Online. Not only does Kaede hardly play games herself, but she also has to learn the ropes alone while Risa studies for her exams. Little does she know, however, as she turns on her VR headset for the first time, that her lack of experience would become her biggest advantage in a genre ruled by convention. As Kaede unwittingly climbs the game’s leaderboard of pros and veterans, I found the NewWorld community’s enthusiastic embrace of her unusual playstyle to be all the more satisfying, as it provides a model and aspiration for the inclusive communities that our online worlds could one day be.
The videogame isekai genre of anime captures our curiosity about the vivid and often dangerous worlds of our favorite games through plots depicting the transportation between “our” world and a fantastical one that obeys the laws of and tropes of RPGs. While finding a way home may be the ultimate goal, it’s not necessarily the story’s focus as the protagonist, usually an ordinary (male) teenager, struggles to adjust to the harsh expectations of their new life, learning about their unique talents in the process.
Through exploring this parallel world from an inexperienced gamer's perspective, and without any life-or-death stakes, Bofuri subverts the genre and pushes us to consider new ways we can enjoy games, rather than appealing to our imagination of a life inside them. When Kaede creates her avatar in NewWorld, she decides to don a shield and invest all of her stat points into vitality, simply because (and as the full title states) she doesn’t want to get hurt. Though seemingly sound logic, we quickly realize its impracticality as Kaede is stuck moving at a walking pace and struggles to deal damage against even the weakest enemies. Luckily, the game accommodates her playstyle, as players can acquire special abilities by repeating certain actions (i.e., defeating enemies with a shield) or completing quests. But perhaps more significantly, Kaede is constantly encouraged by friends who also play the game however they want.
For example, even though Risa has experience as a competitive gamer, when she finally joins Kaede in NewWorld she decides to adopt an unorthodox build as well, going for what seems most fun instead of merely sensible. Meanwhile, their friends Kanade and Iz prefer non-combat activities, like solving puzzles for secret items and crafting weapons and armor. But even as Bofuri centers Kaede and her friends, it often reminds us that their openminded approach to the game and other players is atypical, just like it would be in our world. Every time Kaede asks a stranger for help, they seem baffled that she would approach them. When she lends a rare item to a new friend, he privately observes that she’s too trusting, as there’s nothing stopping him from running off with it. Later, Kaede runs into two girls who are unable to find others to play with because of their extreme stat build. While Kaede eventually becomes known all throughout the NewWorld community, her every action stands out so much that she becomes the subject of message boards as early as her first day of playing.
Despite their initial confusion, however, other NewWorld players eventually come to support and appreciate Kaede, won over not only by her unexpected success, but also her sincerity. Even NewWorld’s moderators, who go as far as weakening Kaede’s uniquely-acquired abilities in the game’s first update, learn to accept her unconventional ways as they realize that many players have joined the game in hopes of following her footsteps. Kaede represents a shift towards a more diverse MMORPG community replete with creative new approaches to gaming, and it seems that NewWorld is ready to embrace that change as well.
Could we expect the same from our own online communities? As our digital spaces are manufactured to become more polarized – as long as our animosity thrives as a commodity between businesses – it is hard to believe that the worlds of MMORPGs would somehow be less susceptible to the same tribalism and distrust. On the other hand, phenomenal examples of inclusivity exist all over the internet, whether as open-source code, free classes and tutorials, community-maintained wikis and beyond, so I wouldn’t put it past resourceful MMORPG players to manage their worlds similarly.
In other words, it’s difficult to give a convincing answer either way, which only goes to emphasize how far we are from a world like Kaede’s. Though a good start towards a more complete response would be to actually play an MMORPG, and hopefully get a sense of what’s changed since my high school summers!