Now Loading opinion Tech

Cute Or Creepy? Now You Can Order A Perfect Robot Homemaker

We all love to spend time with our favorite video game characters, but what if, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you could have them live in your house? Well, this possibility might not be too far away. Vinclu Inc., a Japanese tech company, is working hard to make this a reality with their Gatebox project, describing their vision thusly:

The reason why we develop Gatebox is not because we are just pursuing entertainment or convenience.

We want the characters be naturally in our daily lives and spend relaxing time with us.

“I want to live with my favorite character.”

We dreamed of such world and we started this project.

Their vision for their project is a weird mix of cute and creepy, and needs to be see to be believed. Take a look.

Your future lifestyle, according to Gatebox:

Waifu In A Box

Love at first sight [Vinclu Inc]

There’s a lot to unpack in that trailer. Our young salaryman lives with a hologram character, who’s a tiny cute girl with a bouncy personality. The hologram girl incorporates aspects of a Siri-esque digital personal assistant. She’s an alarm clock, weather app, and calendar. She’s also an interface for smart home technology, and can be programmed to turn appliances on and off. But it’s clear from the trailer that she’s also the salaryman’s virtual girlfriend, with her affectionate demeanor in the home, and also with the sweet text conversations with her owner. So this app isn’t just a perky personal organizer — it aims to fulfill needs that are traditionally met through human contact, such as affection and emotional support.

A Cure For Loneliness?

‘Special Teatime’ [Vinclu Inc]

‘Live with your favorite character’ is pretty universal wish-fulfillment, but so far Vinclu, Inc. appears to be focusing on a very particular wish, that of a wife or girlfriend as a submissive homemaker. Though the advertised character, Azuma Hikari, is definitely sexualized in appearance, the personality is geared to highlight a kind of childlike playfulness and innocence. And I can’t be the only one to which the whole package comes off a little creepy or unhealthy.

Communication Issues [Vinclu Inc]

Sure, a caring companion who gives emotional support without having any emotional needs of her own might sound good in a instant-gratification kind of way, but doesn’t seem like it would be very satisfying, nor does it indicate a particularly deep understanding of the mutual give and take required of mature relationships.

I’m not saying that we should all strive for an emotionally mature relationship with a glorified smartphone app. But some phrases used by the company are throwing up some of my cyberpunk dystopia red flags like: ‘Enjoy a life with someone while still retaining your freedom’ and ‘Just be careful. If the owner comes home too late the character will feel lonely.’

Although this can seem like weird sci-fi, video gamers aren’t strangers to the appeal of this kind of make believe. Take a look at the popularity of games like The Sims or Animal Crossing, for example. Even Skyrim, with the Hearthfire expansion, gets in on the ‘playing house’ game, with the Dragonborn settling down (kind of) with a wife and kids.

In this case, Gatebox is just the natural progression of this kind of game. It breaks down the 4th wall and brings the domestic fantasy into the real world in a way that must be pretty appealing to someone who’s the right combination of lonely and overworked. And of course, there would be a lot of different characters to choose from eventually, some hopefully not so narrowly targeted to a specific male fantasy.

Throw in a personal organizer and domestic chores and you have some seriously exciting new technology. It’s already available to pre-order in Japan and the US. But I don’t know if I can get behind it. Watching that last trailer, I just want to yell ‘Goddamnit, Salaryman. Don’t let that souped-up Tamagotchi manipulate you, she can’t actually watch anime!’ As someone who enjoys fantasy and make-believe, I know that’s not the point. But as someone appreciates the emotional maturity hard-won through relationships with real people, it still rubs me the wrong way.

This article originally appeared on video games magazine site NowLoading.co. The site is no longer online, but I’ve uploaded a few articles from my time as a staff writer there (2016-2017) here as portfolio samples.

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