japan love game bishojo tech
One of Japan’s many bishōjo games. Photo: Benoit Palop

Are Japan’s Ultra-Interactive ‘Love’ Games Getting a Little Too Real?

Bishōjo games have been generating virtual relationships for decades, and we're likely going even deeper with the latest tech.

Japan’s ultra-interactive bishōjo games are getting a little too real. 

For the uninitiated, bishōjo games (which literally means “cute girl games”) are video games that typically involve romantic or sexual interactions between the player and video game characters. They’ve been popular among hardcore anime fans and niche Japanese audiences since the 80s but have since become more mainstream, moving from floppy disks with games such as Tenshitachi no Gogo, to the 90s hardwares with classics such as Tokimeki Memorial, and the digital gaming platforms of today. Though they first only targeted men, there are now genres dedicated to women and the LGBTQ community.  


For most of these games, the goal is simple: Get your digi-crush to fall for you. Players interact with the in-game characters through narratives and dialogue-heavy quests, much like “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. But with blockchain, NFTs, AI, and the metaverse, new worlds are starting to emerge. 

On Web3 games, players can work together to shape these worlds and create unique gameplay and storytelling experiences that are engaging, personalized, and rewarding. For example, players can now buy and customize their virtual land and build their own environments. They can also create and showcase their own content, such as art galleries, music festivals, and fashion shows, and monetize them through NFTs. As blockchain technology continues to evolve, we can expect these kinds of innovative features and functionalities to eventually appear in bishōjo games as well, generating exciting and immersive date experiences.

“That can be an endless loop, and I think that’s where we’re moving. It’s going towards a place where the game doesn’t have to end and where everyone can participate,” Patrick W. Galbraith, an anthropologist, associate professor at Senshū University in Tokyo, and author of several books on otaku culture. VICE met him in Tokyo’s iconic otaku hub Akihabara, where he explained that these games create parallel fictional realities that can be inhabited and explored by players, providing a sense of escapism and immersion into alternative romantic worlds. 

japan love game bishojo tech

The streets of Akihabara. Photo: Benoit Palop

There are also advancements in virtual reality. For example, in VR Kanojo, users can interact with a 3D model of a virtual girlfriend named Sakura in a highly realistic environment. The game uses advanced motion tracking technology to simulate physical interaction with the virtual character, allowing players to experience a more immersive and engaging gameplay experience.

“It won’t be a girl on a screen anymore, but a girl standing beside you while you wear a VR headset or have some contacts in,” Sara Guisto, a Tokyo-based game enthusiast who’s part of a team behind a popular virtual influencer, told VICE about the advancements in bishōjo games. 

While these are technologically impressive, some are concerned about what might happen when the line between reality and fantasy continues to blur. 

In 1986, side-scrolling arcade game 177 was criticized for its violent and erotic content. This backlash, along with those against other similar video games, ultimately led to the establishment of a more comprehensive video game classification system called the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) in 2002, which aimed to regulate and rate video games based on their content and suitability for different age groups. However, this system has also faced criticism for not being strict enough regarding violence and sexual content. 


Now, critics say new tech in bishōjo games could further exacerbate addiction and harm towards vulnerable players, particularly younger audiences. These games are known for their highly engaging nature, with compelling storylines and characters that players can become emotionally invested in. These games and their sexually suggestive content tend to distort reality and facilitate unrealistic stereotypes. 

“They portray ideal women who are submissive, big breasts, big hips, and always interested in you, which is probably only a 1 percent chance in real life, while 100 percent in these games,” Guisto said. 

Some players have gone as far as giving up on real-life relationships. 

“Some of my friends who play otome games (dating simulation games for women) have a hard time dating men because they already have a ‘perfect’ boyfriend on their phone or PC. So I see they go into fewer relationships than my other friends who do not obsess over 2D boyfriends,” Guisto said. “But perhaps men, in general, should step up, and that’s the problem?”

In 2018, a man made headlines when he held a wedding ceremony with a hologram of the virtual diva Hatsune Miku. He spent around $18,000 to rent a wedding hall, buy a formal suit, and create a wedding certificate for the ceremony. Although the marriage is not legally recognized, he said that he felt a genuine connection with the forever 16-year-old virtual character and that he hoped his wedding would help raise awareness about social isolation in Japan. 


“Some people playing these sorts of games might have a limited connection with real girls. They might interact with women only by playing bishōjo games and learn how to deal with the other gender that way,” bishōjo game player Yasushi Harada told VICE. “To some extent, I would say these games can sometimes have a negative effect because some people might misunderstand how to act gently with women in real life.” 

Some see it differently. A considerable part of the genre’s fanbase say they stay connected to reality and use bishōjo games as training for dates, IRL. “Most players can learn through bishōjo by making (virtual and harmless) mistakes,” Yasushi said.

For Galbraith, it’s all  about setting limits.

“One must understand the difference between fiction and reality,” he said. “This becomes even more crucial when the lines between the two become blurred and compromise our play experience. Social learning studies have shown that we can collectively draw and insist on these lines.” 

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