Intimate Fantasies: an Ethnography of Online Video Gamers in Contemporary Japan

Intimate Fantasies: an Ethnography of Online Video Gamers in Contemporary Japan
Mattias van Ommen


Young people in Japan are more likely to find their place of belonging—“ibasho”—in online spaces than they are to find it in school or workplace communities (Japan Cabinet Office, 2017). As one such space, Japanese online video games have experienced rapid growth, but little is known about the players of such games (Picard & Pelletier-Gagnon, 2015; Takada, 2017). My central research question is: what is it that draws young people in Japan towards these digital, online spaces?

In my dissertation, I argue that players develop what I call “fantastic intimacy”—appreciating fantasy content as separate from offline social identities, yet using the fantasy game world to seek out genuine human connections that easily bleed into offline relationships. Specifically, I look at Final Fantasy XIV, a popular online video game part of a globally successful Japanese franchise, with over 200.000 current and over 1.5 million past users in Japan. I conducted participant observation from Spring 2016 until Summer 2017 in both virtual and physical worlds. After developing rapport with players, I interviewed 34 players in Japan. Just like fantastic intimacy itself, then, ethnographic methodology in Japanese virtual worlds is predicated upon digital fantasies becoming a focal point for rapport building, before it is possible to expand the relationship into the physical world. From a focus on fantastic intimacy, I explore related issues such as: gender diversity in gaming communities; romantic encounters online; offline themed spaces; shifts in player-avatar relationships; and affective expression in online communities, among others.


Mattias van Ommen

Defended in


PhD defended at

University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Cultural Anthropology


Social Sciences


East Asia


Art and Culture
Gender and Identity