Mister Raroo Investigates Logo[In a change of pace from his usual articles, Mister Raroo reports on an unhealthy gaming trend that has recently plagued Japan. With reckless abandon for personal health, a subculture of users exploited a medical product as a way to engage in intense competition for top spot upon an online leaderboard. Thanks goes to GameSetWatch’s Japanese correspondent Shiichi Okuma for assistance in interview translation.]

Use Only as Directed

Sometimes ideas that are sound in theory can end up having unforeseen devastating effects. This past week, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare issued a recall order for Makoto Otoi Corporation’s Happy Health Toilet Seat. In a sad bit of irony, the device, which was intended to provide a fun and interesting way for Japanese consumers to monitor their personal health, quickly led to a wave of hospitalizations for a surprisingly large number of its owners.

Happy Health Toilet SeatUsing state of the art medical technology, the Happy Health Toilet Seat examines users’ bowel movements and, by calculating numerous factors such as toxin levels, provides corresponding health data. Instead of a complicated medical readout, however, information is presented on a small LCD screen featuring a charming, customizable character that looks like something from the Dragon Quest series, not unlike Takara Tomy’s BankQuest. When healthy ratings are registered, the character “levels up” and can be equipped with new outfits and accessories. Also, users’ health ratings are updated on an online leaderboard with each use of the Happy Health Toilet Seat.

Unfortunately, a flaw in the design of the Happy Health Toilet Seat was quickly discovered and exploited by users, leading to a frantic battle for top spot aboard the leaderboard. Users found their character’s statistics could easily be boosted in accordance with the amount of solid waste they created at each session, which led to extreme overeating and abuse of laxatives by top scorers. Though Makoto Otoi Corporation attempted to solve the problem with a firmware upgrade, most users of the Happy Health Toilet Seat choose not to accept the update and instead kept exploiting the glitch.

Shunichi Okada, vice chairman of Makoto Otoi Corporation, states that his company did all within its power to combat the problem. “We attempted to issue the firmware upgrade, but when that didn’t work, we offered a monetary rebate for anyone that traded their Happy Health Toilet Seat in for a newer model with the updated software.” Additionally, Makoto Otoi Corporation ran television and radio advertisements urging users to use the Happy Health Toilet Seat as an instrument for health, but these attempts may have actually backfired and sparked more interest in competing for the top spot atop the online leaderboard.

A Look at the Leaders

According to official statistics supplied by the Makoto Otoi Corporation, over 95% of registered users of the Happy Health Toilet Seat are male. Okada suggests that this information may be incorrect. “Many women in Japan refuse to admit they have bowel movements,” explains Okada. “It is viewed as something that would make them unattractive to men.” Thus, Okada believes that surprisingly high portion of the Happy Health Toilet Seat’s users, including some of the individuals at the top of the leaderboard, may indeed be women masquerading as men.

Yumi MasayukiWith this in mind, the fact that one of the all-time top scorers on the leaderboard, Yumi Masayuki, is a female may seem odd. However, Keisuke Hamabe, writer for popular Japanese video game magazine OK! Game! Score!, states, “There is a certain type of female game hobbyist, or ‘otaku,’ that is not interested in their reputation beyond their high scores.” Hamabe, who interviewed her for an article this past June, points out that Masayuki is overweight and is afflicted with poor complexion. “She’s not the type of woman that most men would be interested in, so perhaps earning a top score is the only way she can gain respect.”

Hamabe noted that since Makoto Otoi Corporation shut down the online leaderboard, he has been unable to reach Masayuki for comment. “We tried to get in touch with her to interview her about her reactions to the leaderboard being taken down, but the phone number we have on file is no longer valid and we have not received an e-mail response.” Nevertheless, OK! Game! Score! is still planning to print an article about the Happy Health Toilet Seat in an upcoming issue, but Hamabe notes that he’d like to wait on its publication until he has input from notable users such as Masayuki.

Near Death Experience

The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare released a report this past month about the Happy Health Toilet Seat that estimates that as many as 15% of the product’s nearly 150,000 registered users were hospitalized for health issues related to misuse of the toilet seat so as to take advantage of its high score glitch. While thankfully there were no reported fatalities, one particular users, Kenbo “kappa78style” Suzuki, was so close to death that he considers himself luckily to be alive.

Kenbo Suzuki “Near the end, I was out of control,” Suzuki confesses. “I would gorge on food throughout the day and take laxatives so I could use the toilet more often and boost my score.” Suzuki became a fixture at Jonathan’s Restaurant in Hajaruku, where he would eat pork katsu and ice cream parfaits numerous times throughout the day, only to rush home to use the Happy Health Toilet Seat. “Sometimes I didn’t make it to my apartment in time and would have to use a public restroom. I would become angry because I felt like I wasted what could’ve been another boost to my score.”

Suzuki’s efforts paid off, as he was the longest-running first place user on the Happy Health Toilet Seat’s online leaderboard. However, as he was soon to find out, his fame almost cost him his life. His heavy use of laxatives was wreaking havoc upon his digestive system, and his body was unable to absorb anything nutritionally-valuable from the food he ate. “I was either eating or using the restroom,” Suzuki explains. “I barely slept because I was worried that if I let up I’d lose my place on top of the leaderboard.”

Eventually, Suzuki’s poor nutrition caught up with him. Suzuki states that his mother found him passed out on the bathroom floor of his apartment. “She got worried when I didn’t answer my phone for a couple days, so she came to my apartment,” recalls Suzuki. “I woke up in the hospital and didn’t know what had happened.” Suzuki’s doctors explained to him that he was so poorly nourished that he was within hours of death, but even then he was disappointed. “All I could think about was checking the Happy Health Toilet Seat leaderboard to see if I was still at the top.”

After nearly two weeks of nutritional rehabilitation, Suzuki was released to his mother’s care. He still regularly attends counseling for his addictive behaviors, but he believes he is doing much better. “I’m trying to live my life day by day and make the most of it,” states Suzuki. “Life is too short to throw away on trivial things. I’m happy to realize that now.”

An Unhappy and Unhealthy Future?

Despite Makoto Otoi Corporation’s efforts, the company estimates that as many as 60% of Happy Health Toilet Seat owners are still using the device. In addition, Keisuke Hamabe notes that a fan-hosted server for the online leaderboard is potentially in development. “I don’t know if it’ll actually happen or not,” states Hamabe, “but there’s been talk on a few gaming message boards of keeping the leaderboard alive. There are some users who just don’t want give up their months of hard work.”

Shunichi OkadaStill, as is the case with any trend, chances are that the number of Happy Health Toilet Seat users will continue to diminish over time. Makoto Otoi Corporation’s Shunichi Okada remains optimistic. “Even though it was tragic what happened, I believe that soon the Happy Health Toilet Seat will be nothing more than an unhappy memory.” Okada also points out that Makoto Otoi Corporation has a new health-monitoring toilet seat in development, one without the online leaderboard component. “We want our customers to be healthy. That is our top priority.”

OK! Game! Score!’s Hamabe, however, is not quite as optimistic. “The Happy Health Toilet Seat has a rabid core of fans,” explains Hamabe. “In Japan, there are hobbyists that cling to their favorite products for years.” Hamabe points out the high number of Famicom enthusiasts who still hold regular tournaments within their small but passionate circles. “Even though the total number of users may drop, the most dedicated members of the Happy Health Toilet Seat community are here to stay.”

Whatever the future holds for the Happy Health Toilet Seat and its strange but loyal group of fans, it is interesting and possibly even refreshing to see the Japanese government stepping in to actively assist Makoto Otoi Corporation in assuring the health of its customers. Though government involvement in the regulation of video games and other related products is a touchy subject, Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare consumer relations official Shigatsu Baka feels there is no other solution. “It would be foolish to ignore the health of our citizens,” explains Baka. “In the end, it is the Japanese public that matters most of all.”

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. In addition to writing for GameSetWatch, Mister Raroo irregularly writes content for his blog, Moments. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com.]