Article: Pigeons, Pudding, and Dating Sims

Ryouta Kawara, Sakuya Le Bel Shirogane, Yuuya Sakazaki, and Anghel Higure.

These are the names of my favorite birdies (in no particular order) from the popular pigeon dating game, Hatoful Boyfriend.

Yes. You heard me. Pigeon dating game.

Probably one of the most bizarre games that I played during my undergraduate years (because who needs to study when you can date doves?), Hatoful Boyfriend allows you to get your own birdie bae in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by avians.

Whatever you say, my adorable lil dove muffin.

And, believe it or not, it’s a brilliant game. Just make sure you date all the birds and then play the true ending. Trust me, it gets off-the-wall crazy (in the best of ways).

Although Hatoful Boyfriend is a complete parody dating game (I mean, the creator put his own bird in there and his dating quest is to find the one true pigeon, for coo’s sake), dating sims are a real thing, and they have quite the popular following.

They’re also a topic that fascinates me and which I personally think get a bad rep.

So, let’s learn more about this interesting gaming genre together and consider what merit it has in terms of sex, romance, and, yes, even love.

What Is A Dating Sim?

A dating SIM, also known as a relationship stimulation roleplaying game (RS-RPG), is a type of video game where the objective is to successfully gain (and sometimes maintain) a romantic relationship.

These games are most popular in Japan where, if I’m being honest, the dating sim genre is just so much better than in the Western world. By that I mean that Japanese dating sims tend to have multiple features, intricate achievement and time-based systems, and a general respect for the genre which then feeds in to deeper storylines and more considered romantic engagements.

Because, at their core, dating sims aren’t just a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun (as they often are in the West), they’re an interactive dating novel which allows you to choose and earn your own outcomes.

What Can You Do In A Dating Sim?

The obvious answer is date, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

Dating sims will most typically give you multiple individuals from which you can select your preferred crush and proceed to find out their interests, woo them, and really get to know them as a person…well, digital person, but whatever.

Dating sims are so well known that they’ve frequently fallen in to the realm of parody.

The point is that each character will have their own personality, story to tell, and unique way to show their affections. Even when I was playing Hatoful Boyfriend I found myself captivated by the personal struggles of everybirdie that I chose to pursue, and that sense of discovery led to genuine attachment.

Of course, you don’t necessarily need to have a dating sim to form such deep relationships with a character. Many people get attached to their favourite movie, book, or TV character. And, of course, a lot of modern RPG games now give the option to romance one of your team members to gain in-game perks.

But, instead of being part of a side quest, or a way to gain an achievement or perk, with dating sim games the simple act of being with someone is the objective, and this is a literal game-changer.

Partner Plus

The king among these dating games in Japan, from what I hear, is LovePlus.

I am, of course, going by word of mouth here, because LovePlus has never been released outside of Japan, and this makes me extremely sad.

LovePlus essentially takes dating sims to the next level.

Each of the characters presented in LovePlus have well defined character traits, aspirations, and a routine they like you to maintain.

And, most importantly, once you’ve achieved that ‘dating’ status with your chosen sweetheart you then actually get to continue and build your relationship—playing to stat building strategies and a system of time management tasks. In addition to this, the game has mini games, character customisation, and is built for long term play. All the things you would want from a dating game.

LovePlus has become so popular that some individuals have even taken their LovePlus partner as their primary partner—taking them out with them in real life and treating them with the same level of respect as they would any other partner.

Beneath the Surface

I, personally, can’t help but grin whenever I think of dating sims, and the experience they offer—and it is an experience. Dedicated players aren’t just running through the motions of a game or going for some for of completionist goals; they’re living the game and going through the emotional attachments as with any other relationship.

Does it really matter that the person that they’ve chosen to bond with is digital? I don’t think so, but there has been somewhat of a negative backlash or almost mocking approach to dedicated dating sim players in Western media.

In this there is a disrespect of people’s romantic preferences and, perhaps, an overlooking of some of the core reasons that people might chose dating sims as their romantic preference.

The ‘work hard’ culture of Japan is so well-known that it’s infamous. Ganbaru (doing one’s best) is practiced to the extreme and sometimes even used to shame people in to what we would consider as unethical workplace commitments.

In such a work-driven climate, initiating dates and then maintaining a conventional relationship is incredibly difficult, may add stress to an already exhausting life, and perhaps do everyone involved a grave injustice in terms of time spent together and overall affection.

Comparatively a dating sim may have time commitments, but they are easy enough to manage (especially when you can carry your partner in your pocket with you).

What a dating sim offers is the benefits and mental well being of being in a happy relationship for those who may otherwise not be able to access that, and that’s friggin awesome.

Final Thoughts

So, really, who are we to judge? As long as it makes those involved happy and no one is getting hurt can we really dictate whether or not these people are maintaining a valid relationship?

My amazing pigeon partners may be the result of a parody sim (and therefore nowhere near as serious nor in depth as a fully-fledged dating sim) but I still got attached to them, and I still finished the game with my heart a flutter and my eyes teary.

Anything that allows people to experience emotional enrichment in life is fine by me, critics be damned!