So as it was previously mentioned, for my first article on Ready Players I’ll be giving you guys my opinions on dating sims as asked by one of our readers on Twitter. Let’s get stuck in, shall we?
Oh gods. My thoughts on dating simulation games? They’re an interesting genre. That’s right, not a sub-genre, a genre. Dating sims are really interesting in the sense of defining a piece of multimedia. The focus of a novel or film is to tell a story and over the last couple of decades we’ve seen games take on that story-telling aspect while keeping things interactive. We’ve also seen games with a heavy story focus ranging from the standard interactivity quotient such as Mass Effect, all the way down the scale to bordering on interactive film, as seen in games like Heavy Rain.
Dating sims usually focus on telling one of several predetermined story paths and the player can choose to take a different route if they come to a new understanding of the NPCs. Despite the angle being to simulate a natural relationship progression, dating sims are actually one of the more “information-and-response” dependant genres that gamers can find. The gameplay backbone of the dating sim is to learn as much as you can about the habits and preferences of the romantic subjects and carefully appeal to them. This can either be taken at surface level to make the game relaxing or taken at a deeper level to give the player challenges of abstract social puzzles that involve meticulously keeping notes on the traits and even schedules of the possible companions. The only other genre that comes to mind with a deeper focus on decision-making as a gameplay basis are RTS games.
The gaming community has many roles and archetypes within it. Just at the mention of the ‘hardcore and ‘casual’ titles, you can get an understanding of how shallow and deep the public pool of gaming fanatics can get. Many of these groups within the gaming community are repulsed at the concept of the dating sim. They peer down from their elevated diving boards and snicker at the ill-fitting swimwear that dating simulation fans wear.
Wait. That metaphor got a little out of hand, so let’s cut to the chase and say that they feel that the genre is garbage.
But how do the fans feel? From conversations with a few that I know of, including someone that has made the basis of their academics the study and analysis of the “Yaoi” sub-genre, these people can range from the confidently open through to the reclusive and shameful. There is no one profile that fits the dating sim fan, which means they may not be for everyone, but there are clearly different strokes of people that enjoy them
This leads me to what I believe is the purpose of dating sims within society. But first, let’s take a look at a more well-known gaming genre, the first person shooter (FPS). We think we know the archetype of the typical FPS fan, but in reality the genre appeals to many for different reasons. Some are indifferent to the gameplay but love the social inclusion of multiplayer, others live for leaderboards and achievements of recognised games, and others simply like to unwind with target practice. Likewise, there are different angles to dating sim games. Some play them as a way to explore possibilities in related multimedia (eg: Love Hina: Gojasu Chiratto Happening), to play a low-intensity yet emotional game (eg: True Love) and, of course, the outright simulated relationship experience. And that’s not even mentioning the send-ups like Yandere simulator and Hatoful Boyfriend to name a couple.
There seem to be a few things that contribute to the popularity of dating sims. The most outstanding factor to me is the impact of the information age on generation X, generation Y and, to a lesser extent, baby boomers. In a world of multimedia and social media platforms, genuine human contact becomes secondary to academics and employment for so many people from both western and eastern culture. So as a result of this, it would appear that they find the simulation of the relationship experience more preferable, even just as a short-term solution, to meeting someone and settling down.
Another thing that I think makes dating sims popular in comparison to other genres is that most breadwinners (or the term that developers use; target markets) have little free time and prefer games that can be played in short bursts, as opposed to games that require a long commitment of their time.
This can be seen further in the transition of quality dating sim franchises moving onto smartphone platforms, such as Love Plus, most likely as a result of developers recognising their market.
I’ve played my share of games across nearly every genre, but I personally don’t find dating sims have reached the point where I want to play them, especially if I had a significant other. I do feel that some dating sims are just interactive erotica. Even if the ‘down and dirty’ component is removed from them, I would feel that if my partner was infatuated with a romantic interest in one then I would parallel that to cheating. But outside of my personal preference, if a single person wants to find convenient way to fill the hole in their heart while life is busy, then more power to them.
That about sums up my thoughts but if you’re interested in looking at some further ‘reading’ on the genre, check out these videos from the Game Theorists;
If you’re keen to read more on the topic of time-poor gaming, keep an eye on Ready Players. I’ll be looking to touch on topics such as the popularity of e-sports like Rocket League and MOBAs, as well as hits like Undertale and Goat Simulator.
Until then, see you guys around!
– Joshua ‘TinyCat’ Kinsela