Friday, November 25, 2016


Anybody who’s delved just a little bit deeper into Japanese pop culture beyond watching anime, reading manga, and playing videogames would be aware of their existence. Many would say the best way to explain this gaming genre to a mainstream western audience is to go “’Choose Your Own Adventure’ meets love story/rom-com/etc.” This is the quirky and technically romantic world of “love/dating simulation” games, a genre that’s somehow taken the world by storm, but really has massive popularity in its native country of Japan, where its growth actually owes much to the contemporary Japanese social mindset.

CNN reports that as late as 2014, the market for videogames that are of the “romance” genre has reach $130 million, mind-boggling to most laymen observers but perfectly sound when taking into consideration the state of social interactions between millennial Japanese. For this age group, close interpersonal relationships have been proving difficult, unwieldy, and even undesirable. An astounding 44.2% of Japanese women between the ages of 18 to 34 have been discovered to still be virgins; the males are just as worse. They long for romance and intimacy, but have been turned off somewhat in real life due to certain expectations in Japanese society. Hence they resort to simulated love in romance games, leading to their market’s unbelievable success.

First appearing in the 1980s, videogames with love as the subject soon got the attention of lonely Japanese gamers. They’re roughly divided into two classifications: “bishoujo” (pretty girl) wherein the player assumes the role of a male trying to get a girlfriend out of a selection of available beauties, and “otome” (maiden) which is the reverse, a female MC surrounded by scores of hot guys from whom she could choose her perfect match.

Bishoujo games have gone places both mundane (Konami’s “Tokimeki Memorial” series) to fantastic (Type-Moon’s “Fate/stay night”) and also mainstream (Atlus’ “Persona” games starting from “Persona 3”). It even made international news in 2009 when a Japanese man “married” a character he romanced in the Nintendo DS game “LovePlus”, also from Konami. Otome games are just as ubiquitous in Japan, mostly exemplified by Voltage Games, which churns out a multitude of titles as Android and iOS apps, starring a girl as the player’s avatar, in situations surrounded by handsome men of different personalities.

Their games have been a hit in both Japan and the US, and their market model: free-to- DL gamewith paid additional content, “story chapters” and even intimate sex scenes at $45 a set. And Japanese consumers are eating it up, seeing game lovers as an easy alternative to real life, if a 2015 survey showing 40% of single Japanese 20-30- year olds of both genders saying no to having a real-world romantic partner.

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