A long time ago, back when I thought visual novel was just a fancy way of saying comic book (I was confusing it with graphic novel it seems), I heard of a mysterious thing called a “dating sim”. I have never played one, or even seen one, but from the name alone I immediately started to judge it, and judge it hard, along with anyone enjoying such things. Because I’m a dirty hater!
If you’ve interacted with me in any way, you may be thinking to yourself “but Irina, you’re both lazy and kinda pervy, seems like the perfect good time for you!” And you would be correct, except I didn’t know that at the time.
First let’s just say that the name fooled me a bit into believing these were exclusively relationship simulators rather than naughty games. You know, rom coms, not the x rated stuff. Had this occured to me at the time, the entire thing would have made much more sense. I pictured something a bit like a tomodachi but in virtual boyfriend/girlfriend mode where you have to get them gifts and talk about your feelings instead of feeding and cleaning them. And that’s kinda what they are, except…
Just to be clear, if today I could download an app where I had to chat with and virtually take out adorable anime characters, I would be all over it. I would probably need to quit this blog to do that instead. Mystic Messenger almost got me fired a few years ago as I was running out of meetings to not miss chat rooms, and I didn’t even like those guys that much…
But I’m much wiser now. All those years ago, it sounded like something you do instead of going out to a bar and meeting an actual cute someone. I didn’t get it.
Ok present me again has to interject that 8 times out of 10, I would much rather stay home and play an otome than drag myself out to a bar… this is really turning into an Irina judges her past self, post. Sorry about that folks.
Ok last try. I never had anything against the notion of a dating simulator but it sounded like the last thing that would interest me personally. As a rather unromantic individual I just couldn’t see the appeal of simulating those situations. I still don’t get much out of passively watching romantic situations play out in media and I really didn’t see the difference, except that otomes seemed to have the potential of being much more annoying.
There’s still a general misconception about what otomes and dating sims actually are among non players, and what role they fill. I think this is keeping a lot of people from trying them out. I’m not saying you’ll be filled with regret and emptiness if you skip out on the experience but it is a pretty unique form of entertainment.
Curiosity and some odd aversion to dismissing anything without trying it, finally led me to my first otome. There are a few things I’ve chosen to dismiss without trying mind you, like murder. I am all over the place today! What I discovered with that first dating sim (Tokimeki girls side) is that I’m a short sighted individual. Dating sims aren’t for hopeless romantics and lonely hearts. In fact, most of them bear little to no resemblance to actual dating. Just like any genre there are great ones and horrible ones but you should know what you’re in for.
I’ve played both traditional harem dating sims (of various levels of naughtiness) as well as otomes (always wholesome), and a few Yuri titles. Contrary to popular belief I have never played an actual yaoi dating sim. In my experience, Yaoi visual novels are tense action adventure narratives with some random gay sexy times thrown in and very little to no romance. You can take out the Yaoi element all together with very little effect on the story as a whole. Closest I got to a Yaoi dating experience, was Hustle Cat which lets you choose the pronoun of your player character. This is a little weird. I found an underserved market. Make a cute bl otome, you’ll make bank!
But back to the subject at hand. You have no clue what that is? Can’t blame you, I seem to have forgotten as well. Oh yeah, why you should try out dating sims. First, let’s be very clear about this, dating sims do not try to simulate what it’s like to date someone. They simulate what it’s like to Like to be the main character in a ridiculously overblown telenovela exclusively filled with beautiful drawings. The aim is either comedy or comedy through over exaggerated drama. If you’re looking for earnest vicarious feelings, well… No, this really isn’t the right place.
Make no mistake though, characters are designed and written to be perfect fantasy personifications of whatever demographic they happened to be aimed at and you will occasionally find a truly interesting one. For the most part though, they are highly accessorized walking tropes. And that’s great.
You know those characters that shamelessly exploit all your weak points but you don’t want to admit you like them cause it’s blantan manipulation aimed at the weak. So you secretly buy merch you keep in your secret merch drawer. Well you can finally embrace your inner fangirl because all the characters are like that. Abandon all pride, ye who enter here! It’s cool…
The games are really just fluffy, pulpy fun, generally uninterested in analyzing your relationship issues or teaching you anything. It’s a new format of soap operas for a next generation. There’s a reason soap operas in one form or another have been consistently popular since the dawn of entertainment. They’re fun, easy to engage with on a superficial level and great low grade escapism for when you don’t want to do too much work.
As for what you can get out of them. Well, in a way, it’s about you. See a well written dating sim isn’t so much about your potential love interests. It’s about the protagonist. Because of the emphasis on slice of life storytelling and conversation, these games demand that you embody the mc in a much more mundane and intimate way. They force role play on you like few other mediums can. Even traditional video games have layers of lore and gameplay mechanics between you and your player character. You really get to know what type of person the protagonist is, and what you want them to be!
Most of the time the answer is: really, really stupid. That’s the type of person those main characters are. But it also helps me realize the type of person I want to be. Screening at my screen because I can’t have a smart ass sarcastic response or because I’m forced to be tone deaf and insensitive makes me consider how I respond to people in real life. The fact that I love magnificent bastards but hate them the second they fall into the just bastard category has shown me how fickle I can get. I rag a lot on meek, agreeable female characters, yet I go after them in harem games every time!…
These little diversions have done absolutely nothing to prepare me for a relationship but I doubt any other category of games has led to such introspection. Also they’re often so stupid they’re hilarious you guys. If you like movies like The Room, you need to play a bad Dating sim at some point in your life.
Here are some people that can point you in the right direction: