Ever heard of romance gaming? Most of the guys who are hooked on their phones playing video games must have tried it. Romance games are life simulation games where the players play as one of the characters and try to pursue a romantic relationship. The games usually include virtual flirting, dating, or even sexual plays. Some are even adapted to and from manga novels and popular anime series.
Recently, there has been a rising trend of women actively playing this kind of games. There are companies creating romance games with female lead characters catering to female gamers. They are targeted towards single women who want to have the perfect relationship and thousands of Japanese women are actually downloading them to find their virtual boyfriends. Interestingly, this trend is spreading from Japan to other countries as well.
Otome games are female-oriented games with many plot goals including romance. These are either based on real-life situations or inspired from novels and stories. While originally targeted towards teenage girls and young women in their twenties, many single women and otaku girls of all ages are increasingly playing these games. Although the plots vary from game to game, the romantic elements in them are their major selling point. The women characters in the games should make their chosen partner fall in love with their looks, style, talent, or intelligence. Women players can choose different types of men, from simple guys to princes in the castles.
After years of targeting the male demographic, video game companies are diversifying their market by understanding the female perception of dating. The wide success of female-oriented games over recent years has proven that a lucrative niche surely exists in the video game industry. There are many businesswomen who banked on this niche market by creating some of the coolest games targeting women. One of the earliest video games that broke the tradition is Angelique (アンジェリーク) by the Japanese company Koei, which has been regarded as one of the earliest pioneers of otome gaming.
To create an otome game, the designers or coders need not be only female. Due to the immense popularity these games have been attaining, it is evident that many video game companies with more male employees are also releasing interesting otome games. “Bishoujo” or male-centric apps are not a norm anymore. Some of the famous otome games are as follows: Princess Debut (お姫様デビュー), Hakuoki (薄桜鬼), Hiiro no Kakera (緋色の欠片), Uta no Prince-sama (うたの☆プリンスさまっ♪), Meine Liebe (マイネリーベ), and so on. Some of the games such as Meine Liebe are inspired by manga series, while some such as Uta no Prince-sama are adapted to anime. Some of the independent characters from a few otome games get so popular that they even get featured on magazines, mostly on “dojinshi,” which is the Japanese term for self-published amateur art collections.
Why are Japanese women getting interested more and more in virtual dating games? There are many reasons for that, especially from a cultural point of view. We are all familiar with how Japan is going through a crisis where aging and low birth rates are shrinking its population. On top of that, the attitudes towards dating and marriage among youngsters have been changing dramatically. Some young Japanese women feel that they do not need to be married to be happy, while there are some who feel that Japanese men are shy and do not approach them in a flattering way. Although modern in many ways, Japanese society is still very conservative to the core. It is reported that many Japanese single women are staying as virgins until their 30s. All of these factors create a need for simulated intimacy.
One of the other reasons for the occurrence of simulated intimacy is the rise of expectations among many Japanese women towards men. Japan is a developed country with one of the lowest income inequalities in the world. Japanese women enjoy a stable life with decent educations, steady incomes, and quality lives. This also could be a factor on how Japanese women choose their partners. An ideal boyfriend in Japan should have everything – from looks to wealth and personality.
Female romance games give players the opportunity to select from a wide variety of male characters with interesting personalities. These games are designed with cool plots including finding potential suitors, performing sexual acts, going out for dinners, impressing your man with fashion, saving the family from danger, and so on. These things connect with the Japanese female audience really well and now, these games are being made in other countries such as the United States where there are many female gamers.
Many video game manufacturers say that Japanese female gamers choose male characters that are soft and sweet, whereas many American women choose strong and macho men. Some gaming companies are making unique products using audiovisual interaction tools where your virtual boyfriend replies to your voice messages or send you love letters through email, etc. One of the reasons for the success of these games is that there is a perfect guy for every woman player and that there are a lot of men to choose from.
The trend of romance gaming has hit different sectors of Japan. For example, there are new “host clubs” being opened where women could walk in and get wooed by attractive men dressed in their favorite game characters. Although a real-life boyfriend cannot be replaced, many women do find virtual boyfriends more desirable. Many women feel that these virtual men are sweet and connecting. Whatever might be the reason, many companies out there are cashing up on women’s expectations. It is estimated that Japan’s annual gaming revenue stands at 6.2 billion USD according to American news channel, CNN. China and the US are other two huge video game markets.
Voltage is a famous Japanese company that specializes in creating female-oriented romance games. Targeting otaku women, this company has made 96 million USD so far in revenue. It is said that more than 50 million people have played their games worldwide. The company’s presence has also increased in North America where games are translated into English and French, adapting to American culture. However, in the US, Cheritz is a major gaming company that Voltage has to compete with.
The leaders of the aforementioned firms believe that the rise in romance gaming has to do solely with culture and societal pressures. The alienated lives of people are pushing them towards wanting more connectable romantic partnerships. Many men and women find these game characters to be providing solace when they are needing company. One of the popular games of Voltage is Samurai Love Ballad: PARTY wherein the female protagonist has to choose among 12 Sengoku-era samurai warriors.
In spite its increasing popularity, many social scientists see this phenomenon in a negative way. They say that romance gaming may affect behaviors of young women. Many female gamers who were interviewed expressed changes in their views of dating, including a rise of expectations towards real-life men. Some women even find real-life men to be completely bland compared to their favorite virtual characters. However, romance gaming is yielding millions of dollars of revenue for video game companies globally.