ラブプラス

7 Nov

Hello, all!

Lately I’ve been working on my research project for my Contemporary Culture in Japan class. Today, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the ren’ai simulation game, LovePlus–the focus of my research.

loveplus

First of all, what is a ren’ai simulation game? The word ren’ai means “romance,” and these game simulate romantic relationships. In these games, the player plays as a single character and interacts with others, choosing from possible conversational topics, responses, actions, etc. in order to develop a relationship. Depending on the game, you can play any gender combination (guy pursuing girl, girl pursuing guy, girl pursuing girl, guy pursuing guy). The setting can take realistic or fantastic form, and the goal ranges from getting the guy/girl, getting married, getting to the end of a story, or just hooking up. Often there are multiple potential romantic interests. These games can be super-innocent, but they can also be extremely pornographic.

Ren’ai games are on a continuum of unscripted and scripted role-playing games. The most heavily scripted are called visual novels, some of which give you little to no choice and tell a story with still images, sound, and text. On the other end of the spectrum is what I’ve decided to call a “pure” romantic simulation, where the world is your sandbox: you choose what your name is, what kind of things you do, where you go, and what you say.

LovePlus for the Nintendo DS is a relatively new game from Konami that brought the concept of unscripted ren’ai games to a whole new level. In this game, like other “pure” romantic simulations, you have tons of choices. What sets this game apart is that there’s no end, and no goal. You see, once you win over one of the three girls and begin dating, the credits roll, and a whole new type of gameplay is opened up. From now on, you are dating this girl. You live a life, go to school, take tests, have dates, and deepen your relationship.

gameplay

Once you start dating, some very unique functions become available. First of all, although you can choose to play casually, you can also set the game to real time mode. This means that if you make a date with your girl at 6:00pm, you have to switch on your DS and meet her. The girls themselves are ridiculously realistic, although certainly stylized. They move realistically, are fully-voiced, and can even say your name. Your girlfriend’s personality and appearance will change over the course of the game depending on things you say or suggestions you give her.

Another very interesting feature is called “skinship” mode, (slightly weird video, not quite appropriate for the workplace) which is meant to simulate a physical relationship without being pornographic. You essentially touch your girlfriend’s face, neck, ears, etc. with the stylus, and receive feedback in giggles and sighs. There is also a kissing function that works in a similar manner.

On top of all of this, you can use your iPhone to take photos of your girlfriend in real-life settings. There is a map on the Konami website where users can post photos and comments. A particularly sweet (some might call it crazy) photo has a guy’s DS with his girlfriend propped up next to a meal at a restaurant. The comment reads “Nene [girlfriend’s name], how do you like the meal? Oh good, I’m glad.”

People who enjoy fantasies like this were also able to take part in a campaign this last summer where they could visit the romantic destination of Atami city with their virtual girlfriend. When they checked into participating hotels, they would be greeted as couples. During their stay, they would play through a corresponding game scenario, simulating a vacation with their beloved.

Overall, the game is exceptionally realistic, and in not offering a goal as well as offering all kinds of simulation options, it becomes less of a game and more of a reality. In fact, one man by the name of Sal9000 actually went as far as to have a wedding ceremony for himself and his virtual girlfriend. Although quite a few people thought it was a publicity stunt, in all of his statements he appears very earnest. Clearly, this game has a strong effect on its players.

sal9000

Konami recently released a new version of the game, LovePlus+, which includes a few extras. One of these extras has the potential to do quite a lot of good: the SOS button. If, in your conversation choices and such, the game detects a negative change in your mood, an SOS button will become available. If you are in crisis, you can press this button (you can only do it once, so it’s truly for emergencies) and your girlfriend will talk you down with a moving speech about how important you are to her and everyone else you know.

Now, after reading all of that, I’m sure some people are cracking up, some people are puking, and some people are just completely dumbfounded. The LovePlus phenomenon is something that would never happen anywhere but Japan. I can’t do a really amazing analysis here, but I will offer some theories on why it “works” in this country.

First of all, the Japanese are stressed out. They work hard, and are under lots of different pressures. LovePlus can provide an outlet. A lot of peoples’ jobs take up tons of their time, and there’s just no time for real relationships, ones that you can’t just turn off. On top of that, marriage for a woman often means losing her job and taking on the role of housewife, something many women are just not okay with. So a lot of people just aren’t getting married: they’re too focused on other parts of their lives. Another thing is that in Japan, it isn’t so strange to see an adult playing on a DS on the train. Here, unlike in the States, the DS is an acceptable diversion for adults as well as children.

Finally, there’s kawaii culture. Kawaii is loosely translated as “cute,” but its meaning extends a bit farther, to concepts like “childish” and “dependent.” In the States, there’s an age limit to kawaii. If you’re an adult who’s childish and dependent, it’s not cute. But–according to Kanai Haruka of Waseda University (Cute Culture and People in Japan: What Makes Japan Cute?)–in Japan, the concept of kawaii is somewhat of a method of acceptance in any age group. Kawaii is practiced and appreciated by everyone, not just children.  Therefore, it seems that it’s a bit more acceptable to enjoy what others might call a childish fantasy, despite being an adult.

This is mostly from my observation, and as a gaijin, I’m not particularly well-informed. But it definitely says a lot about Japan, that LovePlus is so popular. Although it seems a bit strange, I don’t think it should be written off too quickly. There are merits to LovePlus and other games like it: they bring some kind of joy to people like Sal9000, and I think that’s important.

~~~~

For further reading, I recommend this website. It has a full English walkthrough of the game’s features.

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One Response to “ラブプラス”

  1. Carole Deily November 14, 2010 at 5:53 am #

    Thanks for this fascinating information, Diane! Without you, we never would have known about this phenonenon.
    Have a wonderful time with your visitors arriving this week.
    Love,
    Carole

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