Yandere Simulator isn't even out yet, but already it's polarised opinion. Set in a school, your task is to eliminate barely pubescent girls who are infatuated with the guy you're also stalking. Knife in hand, you slice their throats. Dressed in an archetypal uniform, you drag their bodies, cartoon blood smearing the ground in a trail behind you. Your task, though there currently aren't "win" or "lose" conditions programmed, is simply not to get caught. If you choose to, you can sexually harass these girls – "panty shots" become a form of currency. Sounds grim, right?
Controversial games are nothing new. For example, Super Columbine Massacre RPG! was released in 2005 on the sixth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. It took a full year before the media picked up on it – intended as a critique of the mainstream media's infatuation with seeing video games as a cause for violent acts, it saw players acting out the horrific crimes of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Yandere Simulator – "yandere" essentially means a character that is sweet and gentle one moment, and psychotic the next – is a game where you kill hyper-unrealistic girls in an anime-styled school. Though the use of young girls as victims is arguably appalling, it's not like video games don't have us brutally killing people all the time. In God of War III we pummelled Hercules' face so much that the flesh gave way to bone. In Manhunt 2 we were instructed to crack someone's skull apart with a crowbar.
But video games don't normally kill school kids. We, as the players, can't sexually harass them, using their panty shots as currency to bribe them. This is entirely at odds with what games typically provide, yet Yandere Simulator encourages these acts, and I wanted to find out why. It's being developed by just one man, a 26-year-old Los Angeles resident called Alex, aka "YandereDev" to the title's fanbase.
VICE: What one element of Yandere Simulator do you see as being the most "fun"?
Alex: As a developer, I look at Yandere Simulator as a collection of tasks that are either complete or incomplete; it hasn't become "fun" to me yet, because it doesn't actually qualify as a game yet – there is presently no "win" condition, for example. I imagine that, eventually, the challenge of eliminating a victim without any witnesses might be the most fun part of the game to me, although I'll give equal emphasis to all of the other aspects, regardless of whatever I enjoy the most personally.
Amongst those other elements is a persistent reputation system. If you're caught doing anything incriminating, students will gossip and whisper about you, and a low reputation means that your fellow pupils will be cautious around you. When it's high, however, they will allow you closer and be more willing to help you. Equally intriguing is an Eternal Darkness-style effect where every violent act causes you to lose your sanity slightly – and the more that's stripped away, the more insane your character becomes. If the boy you desire above the lives of your friends finds you in an insane state, he will never love you back and the game will be over. Also, the more insane you become, the more sloppy the deaths. Stay in control and your murders will be carried out efficiently; but when you've lost everything, the animations will be "long, brutal and sadistic".
Have you noticed any initial resistance to the game at all?
I'm definitely not in denial about the fact that I'm developing a game where the player is capable of slaughtering schoolchildren and sexually harassing underage girls. However, I don't feel ashamed about this, because it's entirely fictional; no real person is getting killed, no real girl is being abused. I think that the overwhelmingly positive reception that the game has been getting is proof that most of the world can tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and that most well-adjusted, sensible people don't get offended about what happens to virtual, make-believe characters. I've read a handful of "Ew, this is gross" comments on a couple of sites, but fortunately, about 99 percent of the comments that I've read about Yandere Simulator have ranged from neutral to positive, with only one percent expressing disapproval based on subject matter alone.
Do you feel that there should be a limit on taste when it comes to video games, or any expression of art?
No, I think it's fine for developers to create games that aren't "tasteful" or "classy". Those things are subjective, anyway. I don't like the idea of a game industry regulated to be entirely inoffensive, politically correct and family-friendly. I want game developers to have complete and total freedom to make whatever kinds of games they want. As long as a game's content isn't breaking any laws, I don't see a problem.
Why include the panty shots feature, which you use as a kind of currency, to bribe other characters?
I chose panty shots because it's been a very popular anime trope for several decades. It's so absurd and silly and cliché that I absolutely have to include it in the game. It almost feels mandatory. I felt that it would be appropriate for an anime-styled, anime-themed game that is named after an anime character archetype to transform a cliché anime trope into a gameplay mechanic.
He makes a valid point, to some extent. This is a game that loses its cultural significance when viewed by people unfamiliar with the culture it's born from. It's not meant to be as culturally inclusive as the likes of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. It wants to tap into signifiers which are exclusively anime of grounding which, like it or not, includes yandere.
"Occasionally, I am contacted by someone who tells me that some of the content in the game makes them feel uncomfortable – like panty shots, bullying, suicide, references to domestic abuse," Alex tells me. "They'll ask me to remove touchy or taboo subjects from the game. But I always tell them – as politely as possible – that I don't intend to avoid touchy subjects that might remind people of traumatic experiences, I don't intend to limit my game's content to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable, and I don't intend to compromise my vision of the game because it's too disturbing for some individuals.
"I'm not going to attempt to make a game that is shocking for the sake of controversy, or a game that is 'edgy' for the sake of being 'edgy', but I'm not going to shy away from realistic or genuinely tragic subject matter. I don't believe there is anything from real life that should be kept out of video games, or anything that should be considered too taboo or offensive to appear in the medium. I'm against the trend of attempting to sanitise games and make them more politically correct; I believe that video games should be whatever the developers want them to be, rather than be as sanitary and inoffensive as possible.
"In Yandere Simulator, players will control a manipulative sociopathic murderer who uses social sabotage and brutal violence to achieve her goals, and can slaughter schoolchildren. I've been up-front about this since the game's inception. If anyone has come under the impression that this was going to be a bright-and-cheerful, happy-go-lucky satire game, they were mistaken."
It's easy to want to condemn Yandere Simulator, but I think there's some subtlety here: cultural nuances which might not hit home in the Western gaming world where killing each other as macho men is seen as the norm. All the same, these girls aren't adults. Their deaths are not like the many of Leon S. Kennedy in Resident Evil 4, whose head can be severed by a man wielding a chainsaw in that game's opening moments. Nor are they targets from Hitman, meticulously assassinated and (usually) deserving of it. These are young students with innocent intentions. Which makes the issue a question of agency. The player is one of them, but attempting to plot their downfalls.
Yandere Simulator is some way from being a fully playable game. Its plot might eventually justify its actions, in some way. At the moment all we're seeing is avatars acting without a bigger-picture goal evident. But even at that stage, we will control our character's motives, drives and deeds. In effect, we will be responsible for the deaths of so many young girls. And even with such a surreal render applied to what's unfolding on screen, distancing reality from fantasy in a way that only art can manage, that's the main reason why this game feels so shocking. It's not ugly aliens or enemy soldiers we're putting to the slaughter – it's mirror images of the role we're willingly playing, and that can only ever cut close to controversy.
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