Craving Intimacy in the Near Future of Tokyo 42

While games today keep trying to get closer, Tokyo 42 intentionally opts for a perspective that’s further away.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on June 26, 2017

Nothing recharges my batteries quite like hushed intimate moments. My son has recently started doing this thing that might be my absolute favorite: he climbs up on my lap and rests his head on my shoulder. Or when he climbs up on my face and kisses my whole nose with his mouth. Or when he lifts up my shirt to blow raspberries on my belly. Contrast that with Tokyo 42’s five thousand foot view.

"Maybe we’ll lose our humanity even more, becoming overly familiar with cold removed faceless loneliness."
In Tokyo 42, you only ever get to see anybody’s face on your phone, where you’re tasked with clearing your name of suspected murder charge—by killing lots of people for hire. This absurd fix comes through your new friend’s face on your phone with a winking assurance: Don’t worry, your new life of assassination is socially acceptable since everybody’s on nano-drugs that ensure a respawn if you accidentally die (as long as you remembered to take your meds).

This assassination gig should include a lot of close encounters, I think (not that I’m qualified to say). But when I think of a murder weapon, I think of how close one would need to be to a human being to take their life. You’d have to really see that person—sense them with extreme closeness. You’d have to turn-off your sensitivity to the very notion of this person’s humanity, becoming mentally and spiritually “distant” to them. To all of this, Tokyo 42, says “duh” and never lets you even see your mark’s face when staring them down the barrel of a sniper scope. It’s all just dots and lines being drawn on some kind of topographical version of the world. For this reason, my favorite weapon is the most intimate sort: a katana. But even this tool is only usable from the Tokyo 42’s hyper-distant sky-view, robbing any sense of closeness even with sneaky katana assassinations. While Tokyo 42 has the look and feel of a Blade Runner Lego Set (from a child’s perspective), the game embraces cold, distanced future. Everybody feels far away, even when standing next to you. An essential mechanic is your Assassin’s Creed-style crowd-stealth button: punch that puppy and your disguise-charge makes sure you look like just another face in the crowd. Incarnation—the very act of embracing our physical humanity—gets tossed out of Tokyo 42’s window with the most convenient part of the game’s design: fast-travel. At any moment, you can instantly teleport anywhere in this sprawling open-world Tokyo without loading. It’s perfect if you hate travel time, but now there’s literally no down time to process any of your own existence.

Tokyo 42 may take place in far future full of flying cars, but it feels too much like today—at least for my comfort. I’m reminded of my own crushing sense of loneliness in crowds, or the way that most of the real faces I see are on my phone. While games today keep trying to get closer, Tokyo 42 is the one who’s intentionally opting for a perspective that’s further away. Perhaps it says something more cutting: maybe we’re actually a more distant people, who only prefer more intimate games because we’re so removed from down-to-earth relationships? The game says to me, “Maybe we’ll lose our humanity even more, becoming overly familiar with cold removed faceless loneliness.” I really don’t know if Tokyo 42’s designers set-out to craft a critique of our current world, or just really wanted to make a bright shiny game in the vein of the original Grand Theft Auto, but I find myself cherishing my face-to-face time with my son.

About the Author:

M. Joshua Cauller makes unique player-centered indie game trailers when he's not exploring games' redemptive qualities. He can sometimes be found away from his computer (if you're patient). You can follow him on Twitter @mjoshua or check out his trailer production work at

  • Samuru

    Great article and interesting game. Yes, I think that, most of all in cities, people are very distant. I live in a large city myself, Miami, and it feels like that all the time. Very lonely, unfortunately.