Recently, something with a potentially important impact on my life has occurred. No, it’s not the announcement of the final Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC (although I am literally still screaming from the PAX trailer, and will be until it comes out on the 8th), but it does have to do with video games.
As many of us in the gaming sphere are well aware of by this point, the culture surrounding video games isn’t always welcoming to its ladies, both in and outside of the games themselves. From lady characters getting shafted in the name of more male exposure (re: Ubi’s ignoring of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate’s Evie at E3) to pathetic attempts to silence the ever-growing voice of the female gaming community, there’s a lot of shit to sift through. Arguably, progress has been made over the last decade, but I think the recent release of a certain game on Steam could be a sign of even more positive progress in the inclusion of lady gamers. Last week, otome game fans rejoiced as Idea Factory was finally able to release a fully translated version of their game, Amnesia: Memories.
For those unacquainted with the genre, otome games at their very base are dating sims. However, please don’t lump them in with the Newgrounds clickbait games like Ganguro Girl or another Steam dating sim that recently got some exposure, Sakura Spirit. While not necessarily taking on the strategy of earlier dating sims like the Tokimeki Memorial series, otome games, as a genre, stick out because they are exclusively catered to ladies of all ages (though, of course, not limited to a female audience). And make no mistake about it: these games are immensely popular. In fact, one mobile otome game, Midnight Cinderella, boasts a player-base of over three million!
Plot-wise, otome games follow the story of a young woman—high school is a popular choice of setting—usually trying to overcome some struggle in her life, while also meeting some cute guys on the side that she can date. In the case of Amnesia, the struggle is pretty self-explanatory. While, yes, these games are usually very straight in terms of relationships, what it does offer is a space for girls to be the stars of a story and explore different facets of the characters (main and secondary) while also learning more about themselves. (Also, it creates a safe environment for girls to experience more romantically and sexually explicit material which is presented in a way that isn’t focused through the male gaze. In short, the person who gets pleasure is the girl, not the guy.)
Given their story-like nature, otome games are also sometimes referred to as “visual novels”, and though you may not have heard of otome games before, I’m sure “visual novel” has crossed your path once or twice. If you’re a fan of Phoenix Wright, you know what I’m talking about. You may, though, be surprised to learn that the market for otome games has been tested before, and the test failed. …Or that’s my speculation. Back in 2004, Ubisoft released the game Sprung for the DS. The player could pick from a male or female protagonist, and basically went through the game forging relationships and maybe getting lucky by the end of it. The game really, really sucked—in both my personal opinion and in general opinion. However, it was this game’s failure that, most likely, gave pause to more visual novels in this vein from even being considered by larger developers.
Sprung’s failure, I think, can be attributed to a general lack of knowledge of the genre (on both the parts of the developers and the audience), and that everything in that game, even the female lead’s story, was so male gaze-y. Which is part of the reason why Amnesia’s success is so important to me. Idea Factory is taking a risk releasing the game to an English-speaking audience; if the game fails, then they must take the losses from that themselves. However, the failure of this game also presents the picture that not only are dating sims not marketable overseas, but that game genres catered to women are also not marketable or profitable. Obviously, I’m not saying that the entire future of the female gaming sphere is hinging on the success of this one game, or that all lady gamers should, or need to, enjoy dating sims/otome games; however, it is important that while girls who game in any genre are made more prominent, genres that appeal to a more female audience should also be respected as an actual genre and utilized as the female-driven spaces they are. Unfortunately, that is usually determined by the overall success as determined by an outside public. I mean, how many of us think those “games for girls” displays in Gamestop are a joke and don’t look into it further than that because they’re largely considered flops or “not real games”?
On a slightly different, more business-minded level, I’m invested in the success of this game because of what opportunities it could bring in the future. I would be ecstatic if otome games became a thriving genre overseas because I enjoy playing them, but also because I would love to translate them. For those of us who enjoy translating and localizing, our jobs can be rather scarce or relegated to freelancing. While this may not have too large of an impact overall, it would be nice to have a potentially steady stream of games coming in that are in need of translators and localizers. Seeing as the lack of popularity of this genre led to Idea Factory doing their own in-house translations (that actually look pretty good from what I’ve seen, but would it would probably be appreciated if it wasn’t the best option available due to a lack of resources or funds to spend), an increase in popularity could only help them and other translators.
At the time of this article publishing, unfortunately the sale deal on Amnesia will have expired, but if you’re interested, I still implore you to purchase it. As with any form of media, otome games and its fandom have their own share of problems (including misogyny), but I do believe that despite these issues, it’s important for these games to get their chance in the sun. For the price of a Sims expansion (30 bucks) you can let them know that yes, people overseas are interested in these types of games, and help nurture another vital female space for gamers that could attract more women and girls into gaming.