I’ve mentioned my appreciation for Kamen Rider in the past, and I’m now enjoying the latest series, Kamen Rider Ex-Aid. But while in the past I’ve gone in depth into Tokusatsu series and Kamen Rider and even though Ex-Aid is as good as those that came before, today I’m not going to focus on the series, plot or characters, but instead on the amazingly positive message it has for gamers and gaming.
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid combines two distinct elements into its gimmick: Medicine and Gaming. In Kamen Rider Ex-Aid’s world, a mysterious virus called the Bugster virus attacks the population. The infection causes tremendous pain to the patient and any stress worsens their condition. What the world doesn’t know, since it’s kept under wraps, is that the Bugster infecting each patient is an entity born in the world of videogames. Each Bugster is a video game character, and they can achieve complete existence by driving the disease to its conclusion, where the patient dies, becomes data, vanishes and the Bugster absorbs it.
So, the heroes this time around are doctors, treating each Bugster case and fighting the creatures infecting people. They first separate it from the host, but unless they kill it, the disease worsens, even after the separation. Each doctor is equipped with a Gamer Driver, which uses a special video game cartridge to transform in the given Kamen Rider.
When I first saw the trailers, I’ll admit to feeling some concern as I saw the gaming part as a mere gimmick. I feared they would make gamers seem like weirdos and gaming as a dangerous hobby. With the premise, making that argument would’ve been tremendously easy, after all, the disease has its origins in video games and was created by a video game development company. From my point of view, the line between a positive message about gaming and a negative one was extremely thin. I was afraid of the kind of message it would send, especially knowing as I do the impact gaming can have on a person’s life.
But Kamen Rider Ex-Aid surprised me. It has a gamer as the protagonist, someone whose passion for video games is as strong as his wish to be a doctor and protect others. Emu loves to play video games and it was a doctor who inspired that in him, along with the goal of becoming a doctor.
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid makes tremendous effort in showing the healing power of gaming and how just a simple video game can bring more than just entertainment, how having fun with video game lowers stress levels, thus improving recovery times, to not even talk about the social aspect of gaming and the profound impact it has on patients and those suffering from long lasting conditions.
In one episode, after a near call, they manage to save a young boy’s life, and what does Emu do? He visits the patient and hands him a simple handheld console, and tells him how as a child he had come close to dying, but a skilled surgeon saved his life and then gave him that exact game. It helped him heal, so he hoped it would do the same for the child.
It’s a Kamen Rider series, so of course there are fights, silly moments and some really dark ones—the first character death happens in the Christmas episode—but the one thing that never changes is that central message that games can heal people, which is why I think they went with the concept of video game bosses as the viral bodies and video games being the transformation mechanic for the riders. That way gaming is doing the healing directly, having a profound influence on the patients.
I won’t lie, there are a couple of characters who could put a negative light on gaming and video games, as they are complete weirdos that want nothing but to game and even spread the virus to do so. But one of them is a Bugster himself, and the other is the creator of the virus. But even he started from a positive point, from a desire to use the games and tech he developed and the bugsters to essentially create a “continue” system for the entire world, where death was not the end.
It’s a desire born from the fear of losing important people, but it’s also an obsession that drives the character to madness. Yet even then, he develops the transformation systems for the doctors, even helping in designing the surgical procedures they’ll need to undergo to be compatible with the Game Drivers. He might be the villain, but even in his twisted view of the world, a part of him still believes that games can heal.
Kamen Rider Ex-Aid could have easily used its premise as a shallow gimmick and perhaps even make gaming seem like a bad thing, a dangerous hobby—though that is more a western point of view considering how prevalent gaming is in Japan.
But instead the idea of gaming as a positive force is at its core and I think that’s commendable, especially when you consider that this Tokusatsu series airs during the weekend morning blocks, aimed primarily at children.
And you know, it’s an amazing show.