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Otome Games: Empowering Gamer Girls Through Virtual Romance

There are multitudes of genres and subgenres within the medium of video games. There are action-packed first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Overwatch, racing games like the Mario Kart and Forza Horizon series, and rhythm games like Beat Saber and Guitar Hero. This grand scale of variety has allowed certain types of video games to draw different demographics into the gaming space—a good case in point being otome games and their female audience.

Originating from Japan and coming to be during the mid-1990s, the otome game is a genre of narrative-focused video games aimed at women. An otome game has the players play as a female protagonist surrounded by handsome male characters who serve as potential love interests. The goal of an otome game is to develop a romantic relationship with one of these male characters.

Otome games are rooted in the anime-manga subculture in Japan. Most otome love interests take cues from the typical 'Dere' anime archetypes like the shy dandere and the obsessive yandere. Otome games also take a page from the manga playbook for character designs. The connection doesn't stop there because of the otome-to-anime pipeline-where many otome games receive anime adaptations like Diabolik Lovers and Hakuoki. 

The appeal of otome games comes from how they cater to their female audiences. Similar to how games like God of War feed into a power fantasy for male gamers in which they are unbeatable and powerful, otome games curate a romantic reverie for female gamers where they are desired and loved. Like Bella Swan from the Twilight series, otome protagonists are avatars for the audience to interpolate themselves into to experience an idealized romance with an attractive man. Otome games are like romance novels in that they curate a reality in which the female gamer's emotional needs and romantic desires are satisfied.

As mentioned before, most otome games are visual novels. Visual novels present the story and dialogue in text boxes that players click on to continue the story. In this format, otome games have little gameplay besides the dialogue/action options that will appear on the screen at certain times. In those times, the player has to choose from among the presented options to continue the story, and these options affect what direction the story takes, including which of the love interests' routes the player takes during a playthrough. 

When playing one of the male interest's routes, the dialogue/action options become significant as they determine what kind of ending you'll get on that route. All routes in an otome game have multiple endings. Choosing particular options will either get you the route's good ending, where you live happily ever after or the bad ending, where the story ends tragically. This gameplay allows gamers to focus on immersing themselves in the story.

In the past, otome games were hard to access in the West due to geographic and language barriers. In this drought, many Western fans had to make do with fanmade translations and watching game walkthroughs on YouTube to engage with any otome content. Fortunately, this has changed in the past decade due to companies like Akys Games that translate and localize Japanese video games for English-speaking audiences. Being responsible for the Western localization of otome games like Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth and Norn9: Vars Commons, Akys Games has become to otome games what Netflix is to Korean dramas-a distributor who brings cultural products to international audiences. Akys Games continues its streak of distributing otome games to the West as the company prepares to release Norn:9 Last Era and Shuuen no Virche -ErroR: salvation- on Nintendo Switch this upcoming fall.

Otome games can be emancipating for women in the real world. This thought is an implication picked up by the history of otome games and their impact. The first ever otome game was Angelique in 1994. Released by video game developer Koei, Angelique was brought to life by an all-female team called Ruby Party. Both Ruby Party and Angelique were the brainchildren of Koei cofounder Keiko Erikawa, who wanted to make games for a female audience and for there to be more women in the gaming industry. The game was successful and birthed the otome game genre-which revolutionized the industry. Angelique and other otome games have led many female fans to take an interest in the typically male pursuits of science, technology, and game development.

As more otome games come over to the West, Western otome fans are excited and celebratory. They are eager to see if their favorite otome franchises get any Western releases. This phenomenon shows that the gaming industry is starting to value the female perspective. That is significant due to the long history of sexual objectification of female characters in video games, the pattern of sexism across the gaming industry, and the prevalence of toxic misogyny amongst the gaming community. While the localization of the otome games will not bring solutions to these pressing issues, it does suggest that there has been a shift in how the gaming world regards women who engage in it and their perspective.

Edited by Shawn 

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Tags: #Women #Video Games


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