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APA fangirl Kanara Ty revisits her childhood experiences with video games and further discusses a particular encounter with bishoujo games.
When I was younger, I was an avid player of all sorts of games -- most notably, the immensely popular series featuring a set of Italian plumber brothers, the Super Mario Brothers. (My collection boasted every single Mario title, including the Tetris knockoff, Dr. Mario). In my younger years, very rarely did I find games that suited my interests; more specifically, there weren't any good games that were aimed at females. There were always a small number of horribly-produced Barbie-themed games with no real plot or substance. For girls like me, I became rather absorbed in video games that were aimed towards males, because my interests were tied to games that required a bit of logic and strategy, ideally with an engaging storyline with deep, likable characters. But as I got older, I wanted to find games that had a bit of a feminine touch to them. (As much as I enjoyed games aimed at the male demographic, I didn't want to fight blood-sucking zombies all the time!).
I remember as a middle school student, I often visited my local used video game store which specialized in imported video games from Japan. My brother and I looked for games that we could play together. On one particular trip, we were looking for a rare copy of the Chrono Trigger game for the SNES. Today, some consider Chrono Trigger to be a groundbreaking game in the role-playing genre, because it provides a complex experience, with multiple endings, subplots, marvelous graphics (for its time) and a unique battle system. The game went for a whopping 75 bucks, but to able to play the game on a console rather than on an emulator for a PC made the experience different -- and for us, worth the big bucks.
During our browsing, a flash of pink appeared in front of me. In the midst of all the dark colored covers, the flash of pink was what appeared to be a "girl's" game: the cover had a royal-blue haired, wide-eyed anime girl with her arms outstretched towards me, as if she was running to hug me. While the the cover's image was a bit foreign to me (and all in Japanese), I was intrigued. Not to mention, it was only seventeen dollars -- very rare for an imported game back then and even now. I inquired about the game and the conversation with the store clerk went something like this:
Me: Excuse me, what is this game about?
Store clerk: [looks at game] Oh trust me, this is not for you.
Me: Why? It looks interesting. It looks like a girl's game.
Store clerk: Oh, it is most definitely not.
Me: Really? Its for guys?
Store clerk: I guess you could say that. But you're also not old enough for this kind of stuff. Its for 18 and up.
Me: WHAT?? Its bad??
Store clerk: Yes, for you, its bad.
While the store clerk could not give a clear-cut answer about what the game was about (or perhaps refused to), I found out much later that the game I had picked up had all sorts of naughty bits and pieces that was quite inappropriate for a girl my age at the time.
What I had selected was a bishoujo game, a genre primarily popular with the otaku in Japan. These games allow a male character to interact with various female characters. Bishoujo often includes dating simulations (Renai games) and sex games (H games, aka hentai games). What's very interesting about bishoujo games is that it has the direct effect on what you may perceive the game to have. In writer Emily Taylor's article, "Dating-Simulation Games: Leisure and Gaming of Japanese Youth Culture," she discusses how males characters in Renai games tend to be sexually experienced, while female characters are far less sexually experienced, appearing innocent. Essentially, she says that this protects the identity of the male Japanese otaku. Essentially, one would assume that associating with the genres of romantic comedy anime, bishoujo games, and visual novels, would make the male Japanese otaku's feel "feminine," but instead these games serve to reaffirm their otaku masculinity -- by allowing them to take on dominant roles in the role-playing. Taylor alludes to Annalee Newitz's study of anime in America, where otakus who enjoy romance comedy anime are passively consuming animated fantasies about non-sexual romance, while bishoujo games give the otaku a direct sexual experience because they are in the role of the male character (and often able to control the female love interest).
Bishoujo games make up for a significant portion of the video game market in Japan, whereas the market for bishoujo games in North America and Europe is virtually nonexistent. Hirameki, a company based in Los Angeles, had previously worked on producing translating visual novels (interactive fiction games), but recently announced in January 2008 that they would stop producing video games. However, you will still be able to find fansubbers who work on various translation projects of visual novels. One of the more interesting visual-novel games to be released from Japan in the past decade is Thousand Arms, a role-playing game which features a dating simulation, where the playable male character woos various female characters in the game and raises her intimacy level in order to forge new and stronger weapons for use in battle.
So, will bishoujo games ever become popular in north america for guys and girls? Bishoujo games and visual novels represent one of the extreme corners of the video game spectrum, as these games incorporate elements of Japanese culture that seem to reaffirm the traditional structure of the dominating male versus submissive female. In Japan, there are also similar games for girls as well, where girls can play female characters who date various men, or have virtual boyfriends. But what is it that the girl gamer wants?
At this years E3 Expo, it seemed that there was a stronger presence of accessories geared towards females, but not as many games. Within this category, there are many games for adolescent girls, as opposed to older females. Perhaps the times have changed, have our interests molded into one? Will the industry start producing more games, where it will incorporate both? Only time will tell.
Date Posted: 6/19/2009