Love Interest: Sakazaki Yuuya, the Parody
Mattie Brice picks a date from a visual novel and breaks down how they represent culture’s expression of sexuality. Today she talks about her time with Sakazaki Yuuya from MIST[PSI]PRESS’s Hatoful Boyfriend. Spoilers ahoy!
Sometimes it takes a parody to understand convention, laying out the quirks and foibles where the most strident of fans would find the most humor. In short, the recently translated Hatoful Boyfriend reveals the inner workings of otome games better than the typical example could. The English audience has few to choose from, but the appearance of Hatoful Boyfriend notes that otome games have their place in gaming culture. You’re a high school student that goes to a well-off private school… of pigeons. Yes, all of your romance options are pigeons, and the main character is still human. She doesn’t feel out of place, however, and actually can end up romancing most of the pigeons she meets. One is the debonair Sakazaki Yuuya, the popular boy at school with mysterious interests. His playthrough blurs the line between parody and a serious dating sim; you may not be attracted to pigeons, but why do you care enough to learn about him and plan your game to romance him?
Having pigeons as the dating options isn’t serving an obscure niche but playing up the contrast between otome games and dating sims for men. Yuuya is suave and overly flirtatious, but we’re not exactly repulsed because we’re responding to the personality archetype, not the physicality. As they are often known for, men’s dating sims revolve around attaining a sex scene, which often has the player assessing their romance options by physical/sexual archetype. This is a convention of limited sexuality the genre perpetuates, assuming women are going to games to be romanced and not pursue their sexual interests. The reason Yuuya is so confident in his charm is because he knew I’d eventually forget that he’s a pigeon and start to care about his situation. That’s not because I, or any woman, don’t have a sex drive or ignore looks, but because I’m trained by the genre of what I find attractive in games. When Yuuya makes a veiled come-on, I went “Oh stop, you” not “Um, you’re a pigeon.” He actually reminded me of my inaugural date on Love Interest, Derek, the somewhat-damaged playboy with a heart of gold. Hatoful Boyfriend uses this against its audience, giving us pigeons because any graphic would do as long as they performed the correct role. The high school of pigeons lets the player see exactly what’s going on in dating sims, speaking to how we emotionally invest and manage our time in these games.
Yuuya’s path also dramatically changes the main character’s life, rather than the other way around as we usually find in men’s dating sims. This is most likely dating sims attempting to simulate the conventional dynamic of the chase, or being chased, however it becomes ironic in otome games. How are you chased while ludically chasing your love interest? This paradox defines the main character’s relationship with Yuuya, who will hit on her every time they meet, but hastily run off to some urgent matter. Going through his story, you find yourself stalked by gunmen and calling Yuuya out of hiding until he reveals his identity as a secret agent spying on unethical experiments going on at the school. Though this is the first scene he actually talks about himself and shows any other emotion besides flirty, the main character decides to give up her entire life and run away with him forever. There’s no reversal scene typical for this kind of character, which shows vulnerability and a need for the heroine to “fix” him. Instead of leaving room for the player to fantasize in, it’s all about Yuuya. It might seem less absurd inside a game of romancing pigeons, but shows otome games might not know what they are doing while inside a genre made for men.
Hatoful Boyfriend also questions whether this sort of parody could succeed in men’s dating sims, because the convention demands that they bring their sexual interests into the game. Whereas reactions to this game is more along the WTF line, I suspect if there was a Hatoful Girlfriend instead, there would be an element of disgust in this reception. As well, this parody shows how it’s possible to have an idea of romance largely informed by video games, similar to how deeply pornography influences our ideas of sexuality. Why exactly is there such a separation of dating sims for men and women, and does this imply another section for queer players? Need to spend more time at St. PigeoNation’s Institute to find out!
Know a visual novel with awesome love interests? Does your visual novel have awesome love interests? Leave a comment or contact me to suggest one! In the mean time, go date Yuuya at Hatoful Boyfriend.