I’m the type of gamer that loves to be immersed into fantasy worlds, or take control of the world. I tend to enjoy games like “The Sims” wherein I can control and create the world. Recently, I’ve been enjoying the “Atelier” series as I’m further exploring Japanese RPG’s. Aside from PC and console gaming, I do enjoy my mobile gaming; Disney’s TsumTsum game has me coveting real life plush versions of beloved Disney characters. That stupid cat collecting game has filled in downtime in the office. At Anime Expo, I recently discovered Voltage’s series of otome games – dating simulation games targeted towards a female audience. In addition to training school idols for some festival on the horizon, I wouldn’t mind adding some steamy romance to my gaming leisure time. Who will I choose? Who will be my dream date? It’s a very girlish premise, akin to the Mystery Date, Girl Talk, etc board games. I’m always up for stupid fun.
At the time of this writing, I’ve played a few otome games by said company – “Baddest Bidder,” “My Forged Wedding,” the one with the boyband, and “Slepless Cinderella.” Unfortunately, these titles have a common thread. There’s usually a sexual harassment subplot in which your female protagonist is saved by the male. Romantic? Well, I don’t mind a cute guy saving my butt every now and then. However, the context of it is what creeps me out a bit more. These plots are used to advance the story and further develop the relationship between your protagonist and your dream dude.
As mentioned above, I like games wherein I can forget about the real world. We live in an age where people want more “let’s make this look more like reality!” opinion editorials on gaming and gaming culture. When it comes to a romance game targeted to the “josei” market, I don’t want to be reminded of creepy people or situations. For example, in the boyband game, your creepy boss gets very handsy with you in the prologue. The prologue is something you can’t skip in gameplay. He’s as creepy looking as Sex Offender #1 in an H game. It’s not until members of the boyband save the day from your perverted boss. After seeing where this was going, I decided to just delete said boyband game. Besides…the other games looked promising…maybe?
While on different romantic routes in “My Forged Wedding” and “Sleepless Cinderella,” both routes I’ve played do have a sexual harassment subplot. In “Sleepless Cinderella,” during one route you see someone getting harassed in a private part of the casino. You do have the option do something. Of course, I step in and do something, but that choice leads you being a target…until your dream hunk steps in. And he will also scold you for…heavens forbid…doing the right thing! In “My Forged Wedding,” your protagonist is lured to a warehouse (this doesn’t sound suspicious at all…) wherein you are threatened by a jealous lover and her goons. The hired goons have shady intentions as you’re tied up to a chair….that is until your husband saves you…and then scolds you for being in that situation. Can we just go full meta and blame the writers for not giving me the option of, “Meet at the coffee shop” or “Block this bitch’s number?” or “pack fruit knife?” If this was part of hard boiled detective themed game, I’d give it a pass. However, this is a game built around romantic fluff. I mean, just look at the marketing materials all in pink and flowers:
Maybe I’m having bad luck with what routes I take. I’m still open trying out other routes…but having a near rape scene in a romance game…a game that’s targeted at women from a country of origin wherein separate trains are for females to avoid groping from salacious commuters…it just seems out of place. It’s like having an alpaca raising game in the Metal Gear series (in real high def…so fluffy…so cuddly!). “Otacon…my alpaca is not happy.” “Have you tried hugging and feeding it, Snake?”
I think the worst was “Baddest Bidder” wherein your protagonist is a blue collar hotel maid. The opening sequence pretty much sums up all the cringe – your protagonist is hand cuffed in a cage and up for human auctioning without their consent. This is material I’d expect out of the most extreme hentai, but I can’t imagine any woman going into this thinking this is going to be some sexy adventure. If your opening sets that type of tone, I’m out. However, a part of me is willing to give this a shot – the men you can choose are hot crime syndicate gents. However, to advance in the story, you gotta pay up (literally) to read on. Most of these games operate on a freemium service.
Otome games have promise for a female audience who want to be immersed in romance and smut. However, when it comes to the target audience, we don’t need to be reminded of victimization and creepyness. I see Jezebel and Feministing articles posted on my Facebook feed all the time critiquing the patriarchy; I don’t need my brain to stop and unpack when I’m reading a fantasy. I wouldn’t mind an otome game wherein you could be promiscuous or monogamous or somewhere in between. However, I wish these writers wouldn’t make the main protagonist derpy; I get that she’s supposed to be 1 (or 2) dimensional to have the player to be immersed, but women aren’t that dumb either.
Overall, I do admit the “stupid, but fun” game play of Voltage otome games. Call it a guilty pleasure. I do like the graphics and character designs. However, I could do without a vapidly written protagonist and the use of creepers to advance story or relationships. Until then, I’ll be looking forward to Asagao Academy.
– Eri Kagami