What are Dating Sims?
How many games that you know of ended up in a parliament discussion? Dating sims are one of the most controversial game genres out there, starting from pornography roots and rising to be one of the most popular genres for girls, swarming the mobile gaming market and taking it by storm.
As soon as first personal computers became popular in Japan, games revolving around sexy girls appeared. Strangely enough, they were numerous, almost all of them very crude pornographic stuff, actually and they weren’t popular at all.
However, they did kick the ball rolling and from those first crude eroge (erotic game, later dubbed hentai), dating sim games evolved. What’s also very interesting is that even at this early stage, it was the real life girls and women that made things better.
Garden girls and tennis stars
One of the very first dating sims was published in 1984, Girl’s Garden and the story revolved around simple country girl, Papri. Her boyfriend Minto spotted this new hussie Cocco and Papri needs to keep her guy by collecting ten different flowers for a bouquet. Bees were her allies, making the flowers bloom and leaving helpful items. Bears were her foes, but she could drop honey to waylay them. Good events would bump her LOVE meter up and fails would decrease it.
This was the early example of Ren’Ai (romantic love) games which will later encompass visual novel-style games as well as simulations, and branch into many subgenres, of which some would remain eroge.
So yeah, I know it can be confusing terminology, because Dating Sims have invaded visual novels so much so that all the visual novels are often lumped as some sort of dating sims. Also not all ren’ai games are Dating Sims.
And moreover (to make things extra confusing), the way games are made in Japan is quite different from the rest of the world, so West have only seen narrow slice of what real ren’ai games are.
After Girl’s Garden, next prominent Dating Sim was Tenshitachi no Gogo. And of course, it had elements of porn. Player sets out to seduce the star girl of the tennis club, Yumiko. To do so, player needs to talk to her friends, probably seduce and do naughty things to them as well. Although it sported early 16-bit graphics and recognizably typical anime style, it was more of an adventure game, paving way for Dating Sim infiltration in the visual novel genre. Fun fact, this was the first game to feature girl with big eyes, tiny nose and regular mouth. Before this game, girls were generally drawn either as adults or as chibi.
Don’t join the dark side!
Now comes the dark part of the story about Dating Sims. Views on sex and sexuality in Japan are quite different from the norms in the West.
Not going into details, but mostly because of different approach to religion and what’s considered immoral, Japanese culture had fewer limits in terms of censorship. When you add cultural customs about role of a woman, plus the fact that games were so young medium that they were mostly under the radar of censorship (which in Japan was relying on a single legal act dating from 1907), you get glimpse behind the reasons for many bishoujo games to be quite brutal in depictions of sexual acts.
Situation escalated in 1986 when game 177 was published with player in role of a rapist. It wasn’t the first extreme fetish game on the market, but it was gruesomely explicit and caused debate in Japanese parliament. While there was no ban enforced (Japan’s censorship laws are still lax compared to rules of entertainment industry in the West), the game itself was recalled and stripped of the most controversial scenes.
Girls save the day
Why am I telling you this story? Because fast forward some thirty years forward, Dating Sims are very popular genre in the whole world. Otome games, while in the strict sense of the word are still big in Japan only, have actually grown huge in gaming markets. Demographic of gaming changed dramatically, with huge influx of gamer girls older than 18 and total percentage of females interested in games bumped to nearly 50-50 equal status with boys.
Romance genre has gained huge following on mobile market, as girls prefer mobile games to PCs and consoles. With 13 percent share in total mobile gaming, romance games are big deal and growing bigger.
For those who find 13 percent to be small number, let me put things in perspective. Half of all games made are, so called casual games (time management, match 3 and the like – again dominated by girl audiences).
Now… brace for this… every day 100 games are added to App Store market only. Every. Day. Hundred. Games. That’s only App Store. There are about million games at Google Play already. It means there are more than 100.000 Dating Sim games out there!!!
With such demand, publishers moved away from making porn Dating Sims and now most of the genre is clean, thanks to girls. Of course people still make adult games, but the niche is mostly populated by fan-made games.
Dating Sims everywhere
Again it was the Japanese who spearheaded the trend of adopting Dating Sim elements to other game genres. Role playing games and tactical turn based games like Final Fantasy and Fire Emblem series started adding ‘shipping’ e.g making relationships between ingame characters. Moreover, Fire Emblem developed a system of support where picking particular couple of lovers would assign boosts and buffs.
Western game developers transplanted this, so nowadays it’s hard to imagine RPG game without the ‘romance options’. Even since before Baldur’s Gate II, inter party or player x NPC romance was known.
However it was the popularity of Bioware’s titles that brought this aspect forward to the point where if a game is NOT featuring romance options, it’s frowned upon. Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and of course Mass Effect and Dragon Age were the games prominently featuring pursuing of romance.
Which brings me back to the point that Dating Sims are so ingrained in visual novels and RPG genres that it’s not always easy to say which is which. Therefore if the game is flowing through dialogues and narration through text and images, then it’s a visual novel of Dating Sim subgenre. If the game has elaborate statistics and main goal is to win girls (or boys) by gameplay itself, then it’s a true Dating Simulator.
Example, if it’s about dialogues primarily, like Always Remember Me, then it’s a visual novel/dating sim, while if it’s playing games (mini games or puzzles) that gets you dates, like in HuniePop, then it’s a Dating Sim.
While it might seem that CloudNovel is made of nothing but romance games, there are games that are specifically tailored to be dating sims. From funny parody Donald Trump Dating Sim by our own Sonya, to very cute Bisexual Dating Sim by AsukaGhost, to the games rated mature which we will leave for you to find…
But with our new system of bars (vertical and horizontal) and amazing map feature with buttons that jump straight to scenes, there is a huge potential of making all kinds of Dating Sim games. So what are you waiting for? Come and join us on our Cloud and let’s make cool games together!