Well Valentine’s is done, if you’re lucky you’re still on a sugar high! Code Realize is just about to hit the ps4 market (March 30th!), and mostly I’ve been playing a whole lot of dating sims lately so I figure it’s a good time to talk about something that’s been on my mind.
I love otomes, I really do. Mystic Messenger almost got me fired. I’m not proud of it but I really should be more embarrassed by it than I am….
I’m going to keep loving otomes. I’m really looking forward to the code realize ps4 release, but can we all agree that some of these tropes could use an update.
Irina! The only reason I’m not playing Mystic Messenger right now is because it would get me fired, too! *high five* Gonna have to wait until summer…
One of my Otome gurus happens to be Shoujo (i.e. Shoujo Thoughts: Otaku Ramblings), listening to her fawn over Hakuouki or fangirl over UtaPri is not only deeply charming but has reignited my passion for Otome games. I can’t begin to explain how delighted I was that she agreed to share her thoughts on this. She keeps pretending not to be an expert but she sure sounds like one…
Without further ado – here are te less great things about dating sims:
Wait a minute, that’s not romantic, it’s abusive.
If you would indulge me, let me tell you a little story. A true one:
A few weeks ago, a group of us old college buddies got together for a girls’ and Andrew night out. Both other guys in our little friend circle just recently had babies so we’re probably never going to see them again. For some context, there were 5 of us, we’re all fully grown, educated and gainfully employed adults, who have been fairly successfully surviving on our own for a few years now.
I’m telling you this, so you can understand that the women at that table, and Andrew, are by no means naive, immature or particularly vulnerable. They are confident, independent and all around great girls and Andrews. One of said great girls who I will call J (why didn’t Andrew get an initial?) has just started dating some guy, a month or so ago. They are still very much in that intense honeymoon phase. They were texting through the evening. It was cute and nauseating. At one point we started on a subject J happens to be very interested in and she set the phone aside. Within a few minutes, it started buzzing incessantly. She responded and got back to us. This time the reprieve was 1 minute. Eventually the phone actually rang and since most of us haven’t used our phones as *phones* for ages, it was a bit of a shock.
J picked up and wandered to a quiet spot to murmur something to her impatient paramour and because we are the best friends anyone could ever have, we mercilessly teased her about it as soon as she got back. Having had a few drinks, she actually took the bait and adorably red faced threw her phone in her bag. We made it all the way to the second round of appetizers and a bit over half an hour, before the boy swaggered in and stood there sourfaced glaring at us and mostly Andrew.
Nothing much happened. Andrew is almost 7 feet tall and was decidedly unimpressed with the entire situation. J got reasonably annoyed and told her boy to go back home, that they would talk later but then she explained that he was just passionate and cared so much about her. I think there may even have been some pride in her tone. I dearly hope it’s overcorrection and that she doesn’t really think his insecurity has anything to do with her. She left almost immediately afterwards with a halfhearted excuse, never really getting the chance to enjoy the evening.
This incident was a nothing. A kerfuffle at most but it bothered me because of how common it was. Because of how obvious it was that J and the boy had been down this road before. Why would she put up with it? It was visibly not making her happy. Then I realized I had seen the exact same scenario play out in countless otomes, except in those the main character usually runs after the pathetic angsty boy and he explains he goes a little crazy because he lurvs her so much or similar nonsense and we’re supposed to think it’s romantic.
It’s not. At best it’s super annoying. At worst, it’s the first step towards potentially dangerous behavior. It shouldn’t be encouraged much less glamorized and yet, dating sims habitually represent possessiveness as somewhat desirable.
Take a title like dandelion, which is PG-13 and clearly aimed at a younger audience. Throughout the game, several suitors will casually tell the MC (who is taking care of all these ingrates might I add) who she is allowed to talk to. She never complains or argues. She isn’t dependent on these men, in fact it’s the opposite. And this is only shown in characters who’s route your pursuing. It’s meant to be a sign that they are starting to care about you!
Every dogenzaka lab title has at least one (if not all) suitor berating you at some point, for the high crime of going out for a little while by yourself. This trope is so common that the possessive jerk is even a character archetype, and one that is presented as just appealing as any of the others.
And by the way, why is it that boys (and certain girls) are completely unable to handle themselves? You know what I mean. If you’ve played any number of these, you have at some point run into a scene where your wannabe paramour will warn you that if you keep being so gosh darn desirable, they won’t be able to control themselves. Sometimes they even skip the warning. In case everything that’s been happening over the past year hasn’t made it amply clear yet, sexual harassment is not a compliment, it’s a crime…
I know these scenes are meant to convey passion and deep burning desire, but they are starting to look really out of touch. It would be one thing if they were an occasional feature, part of certain narratives aimed at specific fantasies but honestly, I would have an easier time naming routes in which such a scene wasn’t present. And that’s routes, not games! The inclusion of this type of event is so preeminent that we hardly even notice it anymore.
Not only is it just irresponsible to normalize (even excuse) this type of behavior. It seems super unfair to portray suitors as slaves to their hormones without a grain of self-control. It can give the impression that victims are at fault and people in general are monsters never to be trusted. That doesn’t seem like the healthiest way to approach relationships.
Also cornering is creepy AF, guys. Right??? Maybe I’m sort of dried up prune or something but it’s happened to me only once in real life, with someone I thought was attractive at that, and it freaked me out. Legit scary….
The situation between your friend and her boyfriend makes me uneasy even in the retelling, and to echo your sentiment, I concur that possessive behavior can quickly spiral out of control as evidenced clearly by Amnesia Memories (both the anime series and otome title); Toma is basically normal (borderline wonderful) in both the anime series and game routes, especially that of Shin. Then, approximately nine episodes into the anime series… he’s not.
In the eighth episode, Toma–loving, endearing, concerned, helpful–starts to become more possessive of our nameless heroine, but considering the circumstances present in their focal world at the time, it doesn’t alert or alarm; rather, it seems indicative of care. Of, dare I say it, potential romance. I’ll be the first to admit that I was fooled. I was loving every minute of it.
Next thing I know, girl’s drugged up in a dog crate trying to SYMPATHIZE with our yandere and I’m like… heroine. Heroine, heroine, heroine. HOW by any stretch of the imagination, is this behavior permissible? HOW CAN YOU STILL HAVE FEELINGS FOR THIS LOONATIC??
Because, she does, my friends, she does! Especially in the game’s “good ending” for Toma, when she says that Toma is commendable for keeping his childhood promise to protect her from scary thin—HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!?? HE LOCKED YOU IN A DOG CRATE AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN CALL THE POLICE. GIRL.
I don’t think that ending shall ever lose its shock value for me, and yes, I realize that the odds of a situation spiraling to the point that a man has you locked in a dog crate a slim (unless you’re into that??), but it’s incredibly telling of the phenomenon you elaborated on above. Yet, I’d qualify that we as women often associate possessive behavior not necessarily with romance, but with care.
Why is this? Is it socially conditioned? Is it inherent? Could I make an argument that it might be both? After all, is it not our parents who often impose stricter regulations in the interest of preservation and protection on their daughters compared to their sons? I know this to be true in my own life; as a daughter, I am expected to rely on them more, to rely on my husband, and they have always held lesser expectations regarding my independence compared to my brothers who are generally expected to be men and handle things on their own. My oldest brother wasn’t one to shy away from the idea of protecting me from boys who hurt me, and I won’t deny that Husband defending me in any capacity sends a shot of warmth through my heart and makes the breath catch in my lungs.
I may protest when he subtly insists on walking nearest the road traffic when we stroll, but at the same time, it’s nice to know he cares so much for me. I feel safe walking with him alone at night. I know that if someone broke into our house, he would defend us without pause. Is there not something instinctively appealing of being protected by a capable man? (Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that women can’t/shouldn’t be strong and capable as well, because that is patently untrue. Rather, I’m generalizing the appeal, you understand. Every family and their expectations are different, just as every woman’s personality and desires are different, but we all grow up with some form of social/societal conditioning, and I think that women are particularly…shall I use the word susceptible?…to this variety of influence. That is why the trope works.)
I personally see no problem with embracing the appeal of protective men, but the problem arises when otome companies and anime studios fail to recognize that there *IS* a difference between protective and possessive, and in the interest of manipulation of emotion and bringing things to the next level so to speak, they have potentially thinned that line to a frightening degree.
**** I hope you guys enjoyed this first part as much as I did!
Shoujo has published the second half of our conversation over on Shoujo Thoughts: Otaku Ramblings. This was a lot of fun and I actually learned a few things. Let us know if there are any tropes that bug you? Or that you want to see MORE of – Rawr!