When I first came to Japan in the mid-2000’s, there was one thing that shocked me more than anything else: dating sims (in Japanese these are referred to as ‘ren’ai’ simulations). Now, today because of YouTube and the Internet we all know about dating sims, but back then I had never heard of dating sims, and at first I thought it was really weird and kinda creepy. But today, I realize that these games provide fun and stress relief to many people, and recently I came across some evidence that Dating Sims can help you to become more successful in relationships.
Dating sims are a sub-genre of visual novels. Visual novels are a game combined with a novel. Generally, the game is played with dialogue trees, with large blocks of text over static backgrounds. This genre originates with Yuji Horii, He took existing American Adventure games, like Kings Quest, and adapted them to Japanese sensibilities. The grand-daddy of visual novels is The Portopia Serial Murder Case. Once these games started to catch on, they began to delve into different subjects, and what are people more interested in than love?
In a standard dating sim your character, usually a man, is surrounded by potential mates, usually women, and your decisions will affect the score you receive. The higher your score the more successful your relationship will be. Now, I do want to make one thing clear. Dating Sims aren’t only for men. While most dating sims are geared toward men, especially the more sexually explicit ones, dating sims aimed at a female audience are also very popular. For example, the game popular among YouTubers Haotoful Boyfriend.
So now that we know what dating sims are, how can they help us? Well below are some ways that dating sims can help you. Also, a special thanks to MatPat at The Game Theorists channel on YouTube, please check out his videos on this topic for a lot more useful information.
In most dating sims you have a score. Your score goes up and down as you speak, interact, give gifts, and go on dates with your partner(s) in the game. Basically, this score measures your propinquity. Propinquity is the idea that the closer you are with someone the more fondness they will have for you. In other words, you are less likely to have a successful relationship with someone you meet on the street, and more likely to have a successful relationship with someone you see often.
Dating sims teach us that if you want to find love, look around you, and keep in touch often. You’ll notice in some dating games your score will go down if you do not contact the other person in an appropriate amount of time. Text messages, notes, emails, and phone calls will help you to increase your propinquity with the person you are interested in.
Gift giving is an important part of relationships. But you might be thinking to yourself, “What should I give? When should I give it? How much should I spend?” Dating sims can provide a lot of useful information for you as well. In many dating sims with a gift giving mechanic, you can only start giving gifts after achieving a certain score. This is also true to real life. Imagine you go on a date with a certain someone, and right as he/she walks into the restaurant this person gives you keys to a new car, and a fat diamond ring, “No pressure”. He/she says. You run out of there right? It’s too much too soon. Giving big gifts too soon in a relationship make you look weak, lacking confidence, or needy and very few people look for those qualities in their perspective mate.
Furthermore, most gifts in games are not big expensive things. They are often very common things like food, notebooks, soft drinks, flowers, watermelons, etc. The key in gift giving in dating sims is knowing your partner, what they want, and what they are interested in. For example, if your partner says something like, “I love fruit”. If you give him/her a watermelon your score (propinquity) will increase. So it is in real life. More important than giving the person something nice, is giving that person something they like. Finding out what they want and providing it to them shows the person you listen to them and can provide for them.
The most terrible part of any date is the dreadful silence. When you run out of topics to talk about it and sit awkwardly for a few minutes racking your brain for anything to say until you finally blurt out your theory that Chewbacca and Yoda are actually family (no this didn’t happen to me… I swear… Really…). Dating sims can help you here too. In your dialogue trees, you are often given several options. For example:
- A: Hey baby! Let’s hook up!
- B: Let me tell you about my Full Metal Alchemist fanfic…
- C: Tell me, what are you into?
So, it’s pretty obvious which one is the best (option B!). There is an important lesson here. The more you show interest in the other person the more fondness they will feel for you. Furthermore, remembering this information and using it for gifts, ideas for dates, etc., is extremely important! In many dating sims, your significant other will randomly quiz you on their likes and dislikes, answering correctly will greatly increase your score. Shocking as it may seem, listening, showing interest, and remembering pertinent information about your love interest will convince them of your sincere feelings.
While I don’t play dating sims myself, I no longer look down on people who do. I used to buy into the common stereotype that all dating sim players were single men who can’t find a real girlfriend, but after looking into this incredibly interesting genre of gamedom I realize that this stereotype is completely untrue. Dating sims are played by people both young and old, male and female, straight and gay, it is an equal opportunity genre. While dating sims may oversimplify the dating scene, they can be an aid in training people both young and old how to navigate the dangerous waters of love.