Not Getting the Full Combo: Gender and Agency in Mobile Idol Games

I am still in idol hell.

It’s been three months since my criticism of Love Live: School Idol Festival, and my opinions really haven’t changed that much. I just have to admit it to myself: I like the game mechanics despite the problematic material. Though I may not have replied to all the comments, I have read through all of them, and I do appreciate all the points that you, the commenters, brought up. Reading through them, though, one topic continued festering in my mind: are there any female-marketed equivalents to SIF? I have a phone incapable of running mobile games (and BlueStacks is especially hard on my poor laptop) so I haven’t exactly had the opportunity to go delving; however, sometimes life just drops a gift on your doorstep, and heaven forbid I ignore it. I present for your comparison pleasure: I-Chu.

Hello darkness my old friend... via visual-novels-are-life @ Tumblr

Hello darkness my old friend…
via visual-novels-are-life @ Tumblr

As you can probably guess, I-Chu takes the same kind of game mechanics, but instead of playing as Muse (the band from Love Live), the player takes on the role of a producer/teacher, watching over a whole wealth of bands featuring boys of many different types and cultures. Game mechanics-wise, the games are roughly similar: tap circles, score points, idolize idols, scout for better idols. Story-wise, however, is where the two diverge, and I think this game better illustrates some of what makes SIF slightly more problematic than I-Chu.

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Love Live: School Idol Festival and Trends That Should Not Be Trending In the Consumption of Cartoons

TW: Discussion of child sexual abuse and child pornography

The other day my friends finally dragged me into idol hell. To some of you, you know exactly what this means. To others, let me introduce you to Love Live School Idol Festival, based off the current popular anime Love Live. I have not watched the anime myself—everything I know is strictly from the game and what other people have told me—but I don’t believe the plot would be that much different. In the anime, nine high school girls band together to create an idol group. Idol Festival takes that plotline and makes it into the most addicting rhythm game ever.

Love Live School Idol Festival GameplayIdol Festival’s game mechanics are, perhaps unsurprisingly, simple. On the screen, a set of nine dots are laid out. As the music plays, the player, in turn, must tap the corresponding circle when they are highlighted: it’s kind of like DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) for your fingers, for lack of a better game to compare it to. You get more points by leveling up your idols; represented by different girls on cards; the usefulness of these cards represented by if they’re canon characters or not. The non-canon characters are there to allow beginners to fill their parties, but will eventually become useless as it’s impossible to reach certain ranks of completion without canon character cards. The idols are then leveled up by “practicing” with other idols (essentially “feeding” other idols to one to make that specific idol stronger), and leveled up even more—to an “idolized” state—when they practice with the same exact card. And… that’s it. It’s a fun tablet game, or computer if you run BlueStacks, but nothing terribly out of the ordinary. However, as I was playing through, unlocking different character stories and just shitting around, I noticed a trend that is also indicative of a worrying cultural shift in cartoon consumption both in Japan and in America. Continue reading