It really is an identity crisis.
Perhaps the best way to look at my fascination in terms of categorical attractions (content, then gameplay), explain why identity is important, and bounce the ball back to you. I apologize if I am going to get kind of down and dirty in this rant, but I might as well come clean.
I mentioned Graduation 2 in my earlier rant on the topic. It isn’t really the start or the finish in making me a “prospective fan” of the genre but an arbitrary midpoint. Being born Chinese means not only I have used or/and pirated software, but maybe I have more of a natural affinity for this kind of gameplay. It is probably the first time I bought a game of this sort, though. I also mentioned Graduation 2 because it rests on a precarious area where the gameplay intersects with content. It is this intersection that pinpoints the games I want to play.
Which, I confess, I’ve played a handful of the more pornographic variety of these games. It feels as if I have played more than I actually did because I have also seen even more ripped images from these porn games (as they are rightfully called). But why am I turning this into a confession? Probably because Japan needs to confess–the majority of games that fall into this genre is pornographic. Some are really, really bad. I hope you know what I mean so I won’t have to describe it.
The sad economic truth is that porn does sell. As a new content delivery system bishoujo gaming (as I use this term as I did in my earlier rant) is driven by this stuff. You can even see the mark it left in the annuals of gaming. What was the date on that? 1992? I think I was playing Knights of Xentar back in 1994? It’s been a while, pardon my poor recollection. The point is, it’s been with us for a long time now.
But just as porn drives delivery systems, delivery systems grow from the ashes of lesser things and into more relevant, interesting material. We have games like Princess Maker 2 (probably one of the most wide-spread English-language bishoujo game, and one of the better ones–now that it’s basically abandonware), Konami’s Tokimeki Memorial games, and many others–like Graduation 2. There were a lot of different types of porn games too, as the genre was in the process of finding itself.
Here is where my story branches. Porn games have been with us for a long time, and what I said about delivery systems just now applies to every kind of game we know–platformers, RPGs, tactical games, etc. All on top of what we usually know such as casino games or some of the more creative flash game type stuff. Well, even as I say this, where is the porno version of FF7? Or Starcraft? Appearently, they kind of exist. Why? Mainly because Japan needs to confess, it manages to have a rather diverse and healthy porn game industry compared to the US.
Honestly, however, I’m talking about porn games only because bishoujo gaming is like that solitary, delicious shiitake growing off a pile of cow dung that we know is the porn game industry. And that analogy applies as to how to make this genre proliferate outside of Japan. Quite simply, for that kind of stuff to sustain itself in the mainstream, it has to either live with its cow-dung underpinning like what these folks have done, or grow it independently. I don’t really want to play porn games, believe it or not; and certainly aside from my copy of Tsukibako I will never spend money on it.
And to that end, I am also honest about these kind of games–I only play ones that are fun. Graduation 2 was pretty fun. Harvest Moon is pretty fun. Tokimemo is pretty amusing, and especially the latter ones like 2 and 3. I suppose I could say the same about Baldr Force but I haven’t had the chance, despite the pornographic stuff. Tsukihime is pretty fun, but my Japanese skills are insufficient. I am all for the growth of the bishoujo gaming genre independent of pornography.
Which is why Insani’s All Together efforts are the bomb–they port not only legally less-grey doujinshi games, they are also not pornographic for the most part. They convey what is fun to play about these kinds of games in the unique gameplay varieties rather than catering to familiar content. Fact is, porno Super Mario is still Super Mario. But a visual novel is a novel; and a dating sim is not at all like any other sim in that Sim City is no more or less different than Sim Tower, for example. I think this definition should please the Ren’ai gaming fans (to me, it just means people who like games with romantic narrative underpinnings)?
So, back to you. What can we do to grow bishoujo gaming? What can we do to resolve its identity crisis? I suppose we should be open-minded. If people want to play their erogee, they should be able to. While that means it is both extra work for the rest of us in trying to differentiate the gaming image (kind of like how anime has to escape the hentai taint categorically), it also probably helps the bottom line of companies and encourage more commercial effort in this area. Certainly, if companies are porting games over that is in that narrow pinnacle within the gameplay axis that intersects with the bishoujo motif, we should support them however we can–both pirating and by buying? Sure.
I think it’s only fair to end this little crisis on a positive note. With things like the demo for Polyphonica available to us for free, and things like Ever 17 for a moderate cost, it is definitely the best time to be a bishoujo gaming fan today than ever before. It doesn’t even matter where you stand on software piracy! Go kick some ass with your moon powers!