There’s nothing wrong with playing otome games for “virtual boyfriends” or “fake anime boyfriends”. In fact, if you’ve been in the otome gaming community long enough, you’d know that it’s a reason that many people play them in the first place.
In the community, it’s known as “self-inserting”, in which you pretend that the heroine is you. So when the guys go on to confess their love to the heroine, tell her how much she means to them, shows her how much they love her, they are all doing and saying these things to you.
And while it may not sound like a big deal, it’s been the start of discussions for having diverse heroines. Many Japanese otome games, specifically mobile games that have been localized for the English market, usually feature a “faceless” heroine with brown hair (usually medium or long length) and fair skin. It’s always good to have diversity so that players can connect better with the characters, though most of the discussions are along the lines of, “She doesn’t look like me, so I can’t pretend it’s me.”
But I’m not one of those people. That’s not to say I haven’t tried it, because I have (and it didn’t work out for me for many reasons). And just as there are players who play otome games to self-insert, I’m not alone.
I have said it before, though I don’t recall where and how many times, but I’ll say it here. I do not play otome games because I want a fake anime boyfriend. I don’t play otome games because I want a boyfriend, either. I don’t play them because I want any kind of romantic relationship (right now, at least) whether it’s fake or real.
But while playing for some sort of romantic relationship of any kind or not isn’t a bad thing, I can’t go about freely telling people that I play otome games. It’s not because I’m ashamed of it. I’ve been interested in/playing otome games for about five years now, and it’s no secret here online or to my closest friends.
To give an idea as to why I keep my otome gaming hobby a secret, here’s something that actually happened when I told a friend about it:
I was playing Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side, and a friend had sat down with me during a break. The Tokimeki Memorial games are stat raisers, meaning that as you progress in the game, you need to raise certain stat points in several areas in order get the ending/endings that you want or need. And I don’t like stat raisers. So when my friend asked what I was doing, I told her I was playing an otome game. I explained to her what it is; it’s a game directed towards girls where the focus is usually to “romantically end up with a guy”. I also explained that there were “friend ends”, where the heroine doesn’t end up with a guy but instead gains a female friend instead. I explained the way the game is played, the types of stats that needed to be raised and the time management needed to get them, and that I was having trouble with the game even with a walkthrough because the walkthrough wasn’t very helpful in terms of telling me what I had to do, and it usually just told me what the end result of my stats needed to be.
Her reaction: “So, you date 2D anime guys?” while giving me a look like I was the weirdest thing she’d ever seen.
Needless to say, I never spoke about it to her again.
You see, while I was playing Tokimeki Memorial as a game to pass the time, she saw it as me trying to get into a romantic relationship with a guy. In a video game. On a Nintendo DS. This coming from someone who enjoys reading supernatural romance novels and is a huge anime fan, and she somehow couldn’t see what I was doing as anything other than me trying to seriously romance 2D people.
When I play otome games, I play them in the same way as I play any other genre of game. The same way as I watch any movie or TV show, or read any book or comic. I play otome games as entertainment.
I don’t play otome games expecting to fall in love with a guy or for the guys to fall in love with me. I play them more for the story. When I play an otome game, I am reading a story in the same way that I read a novel. I am reading a love story in the same way that I read a romance novel. These stories give me emotions like happiness and sadness in the same way that a movie or book will. When one of the guys expresses his love for the heroine, I don’t see it as him expressing his love to me.
Instead, I think, “This man loves this woman so much,” and I feel happy for them, just like I would for any type of media where two people fall in love with each other and are happy together.
As such, the most important aspect for me is the story. The story has to be good. The writing, pacing, and character development have to be good. Just like any game, book, movie, or TV show, if the writing is bland or mediocre, then I won’t like it. If the story development is too fast, then I won’t like it. If the character development is too fast or there isn’t any at all, then I won’t like it. It doesn’t matter how attractive the men are or how sexy the scenes with them are. A bad story is a bad story, bad writing is bad writing, and if the characters aren’t interesting or loveable enough to redeem it in some way, then I’ll kick it to the curb.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with playing otome games for “virtual boyfriends” or “fake anime boyfriends”. There’s nothing wrong with self-inserting or playing the games and seeing it as the guys interacting with you. I’m just disappointed that that’s the only type of portrayal the media is giving of the players. I have yet to see any mention in these articles of players just playing otome games because, well, they enjoy the type of set-up, story, and genre. Instead, the only “coverage” that otome games have apparently been getting here is that women are playing these games for “boyfriends”, and that’s not the case. Women aren’t the only ones playing otome games, and not everyone playing otome games are doing it for a romantic partner.
Because, believe it or not, there are people who just like otome games. That’s it.
(I wrote this after I read these two articles on Vogue.com and Broadly, but hadn’t had the time to post it. This is not a criticism or attack on such articles. I just felt like getting my thoughts out as someone who plays otome games for a different reason than what is said in the articles.)