Though senior citizens in any culture are more often than not technophobes, technology can be a great ally for them. From therapeutic robot pets to video calls, new technology and media can potentially improve the lives of the elderly, arguably even more than younger people. They don’t often welcome new tech with open arms, making those that do popular outliers. So, a VTubing project named Meta Grandmas will pique anyone’s curiosity.

What is a VTuber?

VTubing is a relatively new media trend that originated in Japan. Kizuna AI is considered the first VTuber, having coined the phrase in 2016. The neologism stands for “virtual YouTuber,” so VTubers are basically YouTubers interacting via a virtual avatar. These are not animation videos, but often the person is talking and moving with real-time motion capture technology displaying their avatar. VTubers typically never show their faces.

Since 2020, VTubing has exploded in popularity, beyond both YouTube and Japan. It coincided with the global pandemic when many people were cooped up at home and subsequently tried to make it big online. Japan, however, remains the VTubing hot spot with thousands of active VTubers, VTube idols and specialized agencies to represent them, such as Nijisanji, VShojo and Hololive to name but a few.

Elderly Japanese Vtuber

Meta Grandmas

The Meta Grandma Project brings together real grandmas with an average age of 80 years, chosen from an audition of over 60 elderly applicants. “It’s a project to foster unique grandmothers who have a surplus of energy into becoming popular idols in the world of the Metaverse,” the Otagroup behind the project stated in a bilingual press release.

The first member to debut was Hiroko from Hiroshima, who is currently aged 85. “I was told by my ‘idiot grandchild’ that I could become an idol,” she is quoted as saying. Just 10 days after her debut at the end of 2022, the YouTube channel garnered over 30,000 subscribers. That number has since risen to over 50,000.

In March 2023, auditions for more VTuber grandmas were held, with an age requirement of 75 and above. Currently, Hiroko is also joined by Hamako from Yokohama, Hanae from Saitama and Kaoru from Fukushima. They review products and make travel videos just like any VTuber or YouTuber. They also had their first virtual live performance on September 18, Respect for the Aged Day in Japan.

Meta Grandpa

The same company behind the Meta Grandma Projects debuted a Meta Grandpa in November this year. The 100-year-old Hiroki was not plucked from anonymity, however, as he was already a main character on his grandson’s YouTube channel, which has a whopping 319,000 subscribers. Sadly, due to various health and personal reasons, the heartwarming grandpa-grandson duo went on a hiatus soon after. They mentioned a possible return in 2024.

elderly Japanese vtubers

Meta Joys in Meta Life

Despite the popularity of VTubing in Japan, the medium leaves a bit of an uncanny feeling. That’s particularly the case if you are on social media for the authenticity of it (real or perceived) and the chance to hear from real people. On the other hand, isn’t everyone hiding behind a curated, edited persona? In Japan, where privacy laws are incredibly strict and people are avoiding showing their faces online at all costs, VTubing is a way to have an online presence with less anxiety. And with so-called “pretty privilege” seemingly ruling who’s the most popular online, VTubing can be an equalizer. If you can get past the strangely odd feeling.

Unlike cases of online influencers misleading their followers about their identity (there was a notorious case of a middle-aged man pretending to be a hot young biker woman), these elderly VTubers wear their age as a badge of honor. They lead with honesty, so you can enjoy their stories without wondering who they are in the back of your mind. In fact, they don’t need the avatar to be relatable or beloved, as the popular YouTube channel with the 100-year-old grandpa shows. However, the virtual avatar is a good option to have in case some elderly prefer it.

Above all, the opportunity to present themselves in a virtual space feels the most poignant. The elderly are often lonely, living in remote areas or unable to go out due to to health issues. Technology like this gives them a chance to play, socialize and share their life wisdom, instead of feeling like they are being left behind.

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