July 04, 2011

Life is a sim

Any missionary who has served in Japan quickly learns the expression, "Rusu desu." It means, "Nobody's home." Japan is a nation of 128 million introverts. The novelist Hyakken Uchida summed up the near-universal sentiment when he posted a parody of an old tanka poem on his front door:

There is no greater joy
than receiving a visitor
But I don't mean you

On this side of the Pacific, it's an extrovert's world, so they get to define the terms of the debate, expressed as anything from rolled eyes to "call the men in the white coats" exasperation to unbridled rage at all those activities introverts enjoy doing that don't involve, you know, them.

In Japan, if you shut yourself in your room and don't come out for a year, okay, you're probably an "introvert." Otherwise, you're "normal," and "normal" activities have been extended and refined to introverted degrees that shock extroverted sensibilities all the more, such as the dating sim.

The dating sim evolved out of the "interactive novel," one of those technologies that has forever remained stubbornly over the horizon--except in Japan, where it has merged with the manga/anime aesthetic and narrative style and succeeded amazingly well.

One of the most popular dating sims is Love Plus (Peter Payne touches upon it here), cited in some translated 2ch responses to this by-the-numbers rant about how Japan's whole problem is the "fantasy world of comics, video games and animated pornography."

Oh, and its OK to be obsessed with movies and books then?
• Make reality more interesting than games, please.
• Yeah, I can live on games alone.
• If everybody became obsessed with games, then we would live in a peaceful society.
• Reality does not want to deal with me, you idiot.
• The world in the monitor is reality. The world we live in is just imaginary.
• To be honest, I don't want a (real) woman.
Love Plus IS reality.
• But the 2D world is ideal.
• My [2D] girlfriend is Aika-san. She lets me meet her whenever I want and greets me with a smile if I forget a date, and she does not cost money. Thats all I need.
• I'm 30 and earn 3.5 million yen [$40K USD]--how am I supposed to get married?
• I tried to face reality and it became Love Plus.
• A country of Neets [England] being worried about Japan?
• Girls in games won't cheat on us.
• The solution is simple: make it so that anime and manga characters can get pregnant.
There are too many Japanese people anyway, so decreasing the population would be just right.

As the first point makes clear, as with slams of romance novels, these kinds of criticisms ultimately boil down to snobbery: my ways of wasting time are more refined than your ways of wasting time. Not to mention that wasting it in a group is always deemed more productive than wasting it alone.

That last one is an important demographic point that the "birth dearth" people utterly fail to comprehend: the Japanese are choosing to not gallop mindlessly into a Malthusian catastrophe. Just to make this point clear:

• Japan has a population of 128 million.
• And is the approximate size of California, with less arable land (and even less than that since the March tsunami and Fukushima meltdown).
• The current population of California (37 million) is about that of Japan two hundred years ago.

Even so, as stubborn contrarian Eamonn Fingleton insists, no ostensibly "dying nation" has ever done so well as Japan.

I'm not a game player, so I can't offer any opinions in that department. But Kanon and Clannad--based on dating sims--are in my top ten list. The KimiKiss manga are pretty good too (very Jack Weyland-ish). Game-play imposes a structure on the narratives that lend to solid plotting.

Here is a Love Plus trailer.

Related posts

Understanding Japanese women (and introverts)
Fumiko's Confession (how a dating sim is not supposed to turn out)

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