Header Image from Riddle Joker.
In this two-part post, I will be comparing the purported barriers I proposed in an old article of mine with the cultural barrier Emily Taylor proposes in her academic peer-reviewed article Dating-simulation games: leisure and gaming of Japanese youth culture (2007). Before I compare them in part two, let me first explain Emily Taylor’s article. I know a lot of people don’t have access to it via their institution so I’ll do my best to summarize her article. Note that her focus was specifically on Japanese dating-sims (of the bishoujo variety), not VNs as a whole.
Past the abstract, Taylor first includes a section which justifies her study of dating sims. She asks the main question of why dating-sims aren’t popular abroad and brings up the lack of spotlight dating sims have in academic literature. This is despite the frequency of articles seeking to study otaku and hikikomori. She emphasizes the point further by pointing out that dating sims encompass three important categories of study: “(1) Japanese dating and personal relationships, (2) Japanese gaming and leisure, and (3) obscenity and pornography in Japan” (p. 193). Thus, the overlap which dating sims represent should call for further research.
The next section will not be summarized as its purpose is to define dating sims. I expect, and I don’t believe that this is unreasonable, that those who are reading this already know what they are. Once again though, I will reiterate two facts she puts forth. The first being that the focus of Taylor’s article is on bishoujo dating sims. The second that dating sims represent a significant proportion of the Japanese gaming market’s sales as opposed to overseas in America and Europe.
The subsequent section lists the four dating sims which “reveal the complexities and possibilities of the genre…” with summaries of them (p. 195). I opt to directly quote Taylor here as I find the phrasing interesting. The following then serve as the bedrock of the article:
- [Touching Fan Favorite] Kana Imouto（加奈～いもうと）
- [Eroge] Sensei 2（せ・ん・せ・い２）
- [Eroge] Tsuki ~ Possession （憑き～Possession）
- [Light Hearted Rom-Com] Tottemo! Pheromone（とってもフェロモン）
[Author’s Note] There are some discrepancies between the English titles and the redirects to JAST USA, specifically with Kana Imouto and Tottemo! Pheromone. Kana Okaeri is a revamped version of the original Kana Imouto. Target Pheromone on the other is a discrepancy I cannot explain.
Taylor then classifies dating sims- what she terms an “ambiguous genre” (p. 197) and makes the important connection between dating sims, video games, anime and manga, and Japanese pornography. She begins by calling dating-sims overall a type of video game given their availability on consoles as well as computers. The extended length of time between choices within dating-sims evokes an atmosphere similar to anime- Besides a similar structure, e.g., anime and dating sims both containing an animated opening and transitions using still frames there are also shared story elements between dating sims, anime, and manga. For the comparison to poronography, she similarly lists shared tropes.
“I propose, therefore, that dating-sims games be considered interactive anime/manga with erotic content, a classification recognizing that dating-sim games combine both the voyerusitic aspect of (pornographic) anime or manga with the participatory aspect of video games” (p. 198).
Next, a very important part of the article, explains the common appearance and nature of male characters in dating-sims. Usually they’re young enough to be in school, high school or college, and heterosexual with a realistic daily routine. Their physical features are generally Japanese (“usually dark hair and light-colored skin” p. 198) with the caveat that their facial features are rarely shown. This is exemplified by hair covering the eyes. On the basis of personality, they’re rather plain and serve as a self-insert. While not many dating-sims allow for players to change the name of the main character, the name itself is quite generic.
Interestingly, male characters are characterized by Taylor as “the opposite of shōjo” [少女 shoujo or young girl] (p. 199).
“[D]ating-sim games protect otaku from the risk of being labeled as shōjo, a pejorative appellation that is a result of being feminized through watching romance-comedy anime and from being sexually inexperienced, unmarried consumers” (p. 203).”
[Author’s Note] Contemporarily, in the western anime scene, shoujo is recognized only by its literal definition. Usually it’s referred to in conjunction with other mediums: shoujo manga or anime, denoting the audience they’re aimed at.
Shoujo in this context alludes to a lack of sexual experience and, to an extent, femininity or rather a lack of traditional masculinity. Therefore, male characters are actually portrayed as quite sexually experienced compared to the females. This holds true even if the female character is older and has had sexual experience before. Additionally, male characters rarely show outbursts of emotion.
More on female characters, Taylor concludes that they’re quite contrary to male characters. Even in physical appearance, they’re quite exaggerated and rooted in the realm of fantasy with colorful hair and eyes. Moreover, they’re typically written to be weak characters: submissive and subordinate. Therefore, all female characters can be described as shoujo, even if they’re quite mature, due to their portrayal as sexually inexperienced and emotional.
“Thus, in dating-sims, women are presented as either being defenseless playthings for the male character or are reduced to such by the end of the game, essentially reverting to a childlike, shōjo state” (p. 202).
To summarize and finally conclude:
“Additionally, as the otaku figure is becoming increasingly feminized, dating-sim games, through their control and exploitation of weak, shōjo characters, allow (or even encourage) the player to affirm his identity as a non-shōjo, or masculine, thus empowering and reassuring him” (p. 205).
“With these deep connections to Japanese society and culture, therefore, we should not be particularly surprised that such games have not yet been well received abroad. Perhaps gradually increasing levels of popular awareness of Japanese culture in the West will enlarge the market for Japanese-style dating-sims among certain populations abroad; or perhaps producers of dating-sims will modify their approach- the very premise upon which dating-sim games are built, and the very premise that makes games so quintessentially “Japanese” – for foreign markets” (p. 206).
I realize that some people may find speaking about femininity/masculinity in relation to otakus weird. Due to that, let me touch very briefly on a paper that you can find online quite easily: Acquisition of Cultural Competence through Visual Media: Perceptions of Masculinities in Japanese Society by Kaori Yoshida. It looked at three films:
Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai, 1954)
Jingi nakai tatakai (Battles Without Honor and Humanity, 1973)
Densha otoko (Train Man, 2005)
- Historically, Seven Samurai was released post-defeat in World War II.
- Battles Without Honor and Humanity was released during the rapid economic growth that occurred in Japan between the 1960s and the early 1970s.
- Densha Otoko was released after the rapid economic growth which subsequently caused female employees to be sought out due to growth in the service industry.
To summarize the article succinctly:
The first film portrayed Japan as a nation that had been feminized, forced to submit, by the US and a collapse of patriarchal authority. The ending however displayed the resilience of Japan and the survival of traditional masculinity, also associated with physical strength, persisting even its defeat.
The second film portrayed the yakuza and internal betrayal which was analogous to the sentiment of salarymen in Japan. While salarymen worked hard for their company, other individuals sought to pave their own path and abandoned the group in favor of profit. Loyalty and chivalry, also an aspect of traditional masculinity, have been abandoned as well.
The third film portrayed a story of an otaku’s romance, based on a supposedly real story which originally circulated online on Japanese forums. It shows the changing perception of gender norms and the move away from traditional masculinity.
Finally, since otaku’s are the main focus here, I’d like to supplement both Yoshida and Taylor’s article with some points from Susan Napier’s Where Have All the Salarymen Gone? Masculinity Masochism, and the Technomobility in Densha Otoko (2011). Napier talks about how traditional masculinity which values physicality has instead been replaced by technical skills; otakus represent high-level knowledge of cutting-edge technology. Moreover, despite not being muscular, standing up for others is still valued by otaku. Therefore, as more traditional masculinity, represented by the salaryman ideal, is slowly being phased out in Japanese society, new forms of masculinity as represented by otaku, among others like “bishōnen (beautiful boys), aggressive young entrepreneurs… or the creative ‘cooking man’…” (p. 133), are replacing it.
I hope you enjoyed this look at three academic sources! It was a joy to write and a bit of a delve into science communication and practice in academic summaries. I’m sure all of you can draw a lot of ideas from these and of course feel free to do so. References to said sources in APA format below. Part 2 to follow.
Napier, S. (2011). Where Have All the Salarymen Gone?: Masculinity, Masochism, and Technomobility in Densha Otoko. In Recreating Japanese Men (1st ed., p. 154–). University of California Press
Taylor, E. (2007). Dating-simulation games: leisure and gaming of Japanese youth culture. Southeast Review of Asian Studies, 29, 192–208.
Yoshida, K. (2012) “Acquisition of Cultural Competence through Visual Media: Perceptions of Masculinities in Japanese Society,” Journal CAJLE, Vol. 13, 135–152.