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How Erotic Games Learned To Cry

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In the new book Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, our very own Kotaku Senior Contributing Editor Brian Ashcraft and co-author Shoko Ueda explore how Japanese schoolgirls have changed Japanese society.

Featuring interviews with numerous celebrities, pundits and students, the book traces their impact of Japanese schoolgirls on movies, music, magazines, fine art, anime, manga, fashion, technology, and more. This excerpt examines how adult computer games, in which companies like Enix of Square Enix fame got their start, have evolved:


As the number of adult games for PCs increased, more and more of them were ported to home consoles. "In keeping with the strict guidelines for home console titles, any PC games with erotic content were given a drastic full-scale overhaul," says Munehiro Tada, development director at HuneX, a game developer known for porting PC games to home consoles. When edited versions of adult games appeared on home consoles during the late 1980s and early 1990s, players could tell something was missing, because the edited-out erotic elements had been the main content. But as more and more titles emerged that did not simply feature sex and actually had stories you could follow (such as Kanon or CLANNAD), they reached a wider audience.

However, since these kind of games deal with romance and even adult situations among high school students, it is difficult to bring visual novels and their "over-eighteen" content to a Western game-playing audience-especially as the characters in the game are younger than the age required to purchase the games. "I think because of the religious morals in the West," says Tada, "certain themes have a hard time being accepted." Yet in Japan visual novels make up the vast majority of the PC games market and the inevitable anime and manga spin-offs mean these games are inching closer to the mainstream. And while not all feature schoolgirls, they do dominate.


School settings are a logical choice for dating games-for both male and female players, alike. "'Schoolgirls' is a keyword that recalls a nostalgic period all Japanese people share," says Hirohiko Yoshida, CEO of PC game company ACID. "That time of junior high and high school is, in particular, a transitional period," Yoshida continues. "There are people who feel they've lost something, who feel that they didn't want to grow up, or didn't think they'd end up like they have," he adds. "The fantasy of returning to the days of their youth makes for an easy place to play."

These games are typically played by adult males, but that doesn't mean they are playing the games as adult males. Most guys have their first crush on a girl at high school-when teenage hormones are raging-so it's not really any surprise that bishoujo games set in high school often feature sexual content. But that's not all these games are about: it is just one aspect of game play, just as it is one aspect of being a teenager. "In visual novels, as in adventure games, the protagonist is the player," says Yoshida. "The game is played from the first person perspective so it's very immersive." The players effectively become their high school-aged avatar. But the characters are drawn in an anime-style and often have blue, purple, and green hair so the fantasy element is pronounced. Even so, the games are quite regressive and the cute illustrated schoolgirls can have a powerful effect on players' emotions. Some players report being moved to tears-and these games have become widely known as nakige (crying games).

Nakige are known for their sense of melancholy. Take 2001's Kimi ga Nozomu Eien (The Eternity You Desire), for example, which was released by eroge label âge, a division of ACID. Soon after high school student Takayuki Narumi falls for his classmate Haruka Suzumiya, she goes into a coma after a car accident. Depressed and shocked, Takayuki develops post-traumatic stress disorder and becomes involved with Haruka's best friend, Mitsuki. "To put it simply, a nakige brings players to tears as they read the in-game text," says Yoshida. "In the past, adult games were seen as pornography in Japan, so were called nukige, or games to masturbate to." However, while Kimi ga Nozomu Eien features adult scenes, that's not what the players connect with. "For players, nakige aren't about sexual climax, but about relieving stress via shedding tears," Yoshida says. "In other words, nakige put less importance on matters of the flesh and more on matters of the heart."

Brian Ashcraft is a Senior Contributing Editor at His work has appeared in Wired Magazine, Popular Science, The Japan Times, T3 and design publication Metropolis Magazine. He authored Arcade Mania, a book Warren Ellis called, "A fascinating, funny, and sharp-eyed look at the place where they play-test the future."