In his paper Guan van Zoggel asks if we can consider Japanese dating simulation video games as serious games. He relates the popular dating sim LovePlus for Nintendo DS to the historization of the concept of "techno-intimacy" within the Japanese society. For further contextualization of the field he theorizes the audience at which dating sims are aimed. Using Mary Flanagan's, Hector Rodriguez's and Ude Ritterfeld's theory on serious games as his theoretical framework, Van Zoggel argues that Japanese dating sims can indeed be considered as serious games.
It’s Sunday and I meet her at the harbour. The sound of waves in the distance and seagulls above my head when I meet her. She’s wearing a white shirt and slightly darker turtleneck, a pink tank top beneath it. As usual, she’s also wearing her pink ribbon in her hair. We’ve known each other for about a month and started dating last week. We decided to stop by at a café near the beach when she asks whether I often date girls. I have to admit that she’s my first real date, after which she teases me by calling me teacher. She giggles. At sunset, we take a stroll along the shores. She looks like a model with the setting sun and sparkling sea behind her. Once we’re in front of her home, she blushes and rhetorically asks whether it was a real date. Before I can answer, she waves at me and runs towards her home. Upon entering my room, I receive a text message from her. ‘It’s already bedtime for me, so good night. You better get to bed early, too, okay?’ I smile and wonder where this is going.
This excerpt could have been from a diary, but it actually is a description of an event from the dating simulation video game LovePlus, developed by Konami and released for Nintendo DS in 2009. In this game, players fulfil the role of a second year transfer student, whose personality is determined by blood type and self-reference.12 After finding a job at a family restaurant, joining the library committee and train at the local tennis club, he becomes engaged with three female characters, of which each one is associated with one of the previously mentioned activities. In my case, I happen to get along best with the timid classmate Manaka Takane, who excels in schoolwork and tennis, but has never been to a fast food restaurant before.
The „gameplay‟ of LovePlus can generally be separated into two sections. I use single apostrophes here to indicate that there is no actual „play‟ in the traditional sense of the word to speak of. Advancing the story requires the player to tap the screen to select an option or scroll through narratives and dialogues. During the first section of the game, he player has to boost his personality (athletics, intelligence, sensitivity and charm) by engaging in various activities, such as preparing for next day‟s lectures or attending at a committee meeting, to be able to converse and eventually impress the female characters. The goal for this first section is to have a girl confessing her love to the player, which has to be achieved through conversation, walking home together, exchanging text messages and numerous dates, of which one described above.
Once a girl confesses her love and the player indicates this feeling is mutual, a kiss follows (again by tapping the touch screen) and the credits roll. The girl asks the player to save the game before the start of the second section, where the aspect of dating simulation is taking to a higher level. The game allows the player to choose between „real-time mode‟ (in which the game‟s clock matches the Nintendo DS‟ clock, and thus advances in real time) and „skip mode‟ (one day in the game equals a few minutes in real time, like in the first section of the game). In „real-time mode‟, the player has the ability to call his girlfriend during classes to meet her afterwards to talk, often literally via the Nintendo DS‟ internal microphone, and schedule a date, at which the player has to attend in real-time. The goal of this second part and ultimate achievement of LovePlus for the player is to maintain a healthy relationship and eventually marry his favourite girl.
What is remarkable about LovePlus in comparison with other dating simulation video games (hereafter: dating sims), is that although it follows the conventions of visual novels during the first section, similar to any typical dating sim, it innovates within the boundaries of dating sims by emphasizing what is called „techno-intimacy‟ during the second section of the game. As this statement may require some contextualization, I will shortly discuss the history of, and subgenres associated with dating sims before focusing on the definition of „techno-intimacy‟ in relation to LovePlus and other video games and toys. During the conclusion, it is my attempt to answer the following research question:
Can we consider Japanese dating simulation video games as serious games?
About the author
MA New Media and Digital Culture student Guan van Zoggel obtained his Bachelor degree in Japanese Studies from Leiden University and now seeks ways to create a scholarly bridge between Japanese cultures and new media studies. Currently, he works as an intern for the Modern East Asia Research Centre. In this paper for the course Serious/Game/Play, he explores the boundaries of serious games in relation to Japanese dating sims.
1 The protagonist in LovePlus is male and the game itself targets a male audience, therefore I will refer to „the player‟ as male.
2 At the beginning of the game, the player can choose whether he would like the protagonist to refer to himself as ore or boku, both generally used by males to refer to themselves, albeit ore is considered slightly more boastful.