|Good day to you, madam. And yes, holding your|
arms like that shows off your female-ness.
Although it has been 4 years ago, I still feel a bit awkward about playing dating-sims for my bachelor thesis. When I started, I wanted to know the full scope of Japanese game genres and when I was in Japan I found dating-sims were almost everywhere. At first I was amused by how it all seemed to be designed for pussies. While we in the west see conquering women as a very muscle-masculine task, the Japanese dating-sim player has to find his feminine side. The graphics are usually drawn in pastel colours and the music is all high pitched, happy bouncy as if a horde of clown bunnies are going to declare world peace. I am NOT exaggerating. If you were to show a dating-sim to a unknowing western person and ask what s/he thinks is the gender of the target audience, s/he'd probably estimate it would be for girls.
|Just like a dating-sim, initially this picture looks innocent|
The problem with dating-sims is that they are psychologically downright stupid in the way that characters are portrayed and how the developer imagines what the player thinks. Most of the time you do nothing but reading what is happening. Maybe you walk around a bit in the world, but I was mostly translating the text while in the mean time being ear-raped by the music that had long lost its comical aspect. If you are to strike up a conversation with one of the characters, the conversation will just roll out and you are mostly left with just 3 choices: engaging, neutral or repelling. When I interviewed Japanese people about their opinion on dating-sims, the lack of choice was one of the main complaints.
|Taking a (sort of) girl to a flowergarden|
1) Flowers are beautiful, aren't they?
2) You're not the flower type, are you?
3) Are those edible?
And, yes, the only right answer was number 1, the most soulless, easy-going, slime-ball answer of all. The other two just made the girl angry. I got curious and polled my female friends on their opinion on these lines. They unanimously told me their reaction would be the exact opposite, as number 2 would just be teasing and number 3 is plain hilarious at such a moment.
I admit I don't dislike all dating-sims, some are even fun to play, like the Sakura Taisen series. Sakura Taisen has quite well developed characters and besides dating girls, you fight monsters in a giant, steam-punk battle mecha. The good part is that Sakura Taisen isn't the only dating-sim with variance and depth. The bad part is that Sakura Taisen isn't the only dating-sim featuring the very under-age girl. The very under-age girl seems to be one of those standard characters that just HAVE to be in the girl line-up. Anime fans might also know such characters from Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina.
|The kid from Sakura Taisen 3. To you she might|
look cute. To me she's fuel for nightmares.
Although they might be horrible, I do understand the presence of dating-sims in the Japanese culture. It's not there because the Japanese would be a bit loopy, it is there for the same reason we have candlelight/harlequin pockets and girly magazines. The target audience, in our case 15 year old boys, has an insecurity or need for 'warmth' and dating-sims can provide it. It's not weird for boys to want to try girls in a controlled environment, practically every boy has been there. It does become weird, however, if one goes about taking these games seriously. I've only given a few examples, but the cheesiness and effed-up-ness that is portrayed as normal can get much worse than I described. If you ever find yourself playing a dating-sim, realise that most Japanese find these games revolting too. Furthermore, make sure there are no pointy objects lying close by, especially blunt screwdrivers.