« Dating Sim With a Sanity Meter » (english)

A conversation with Angie Gallant

Here’s the original interview with the always cheerful Mrs Gallant, the queen of funny dating sims AAR. For the french translation and a brief presentation, this way please. Read Angie Gallant’s brilliant Let’s Play ! Tokimeki Memorial Girl is right there, Hatoful Boyfriend the pigeon dating-sim is over there, and if you want to know whether Jane Austen’s works translate well in videogames, look no further than her Matches & Matrimony AAR.

Merlanfrit : So, who are you and what do you do ? Just to give our readers a little context.

Angie Gallant : Well, I am a 31 year old mother of one from Texas. I’m a cancer survivor, an avid gamer, and I do quality assurance by day and post silly stuff to the internet by night.

Angelique, série-fleuve

How did you discover the dating sim genre ? Which are your favourite titles ?

Man, I first heard about dating games ages ago. I’d say that Angelique is probably what really piqued my interest in the genre. I had heard of and seen some of the games targetting men, but Angelique was the first dating sim for women that I heard about. Even though it wasn’t translated into English, I was fascinated enough with the concept to give it a try, using a Geocities fansite to navigate the Japanese menus.

My favorite titles would have to be the Tokimeki Memorial Girls Side] games. I like the variety of events and gameplay features they give you, and there’s certainly some very memorable characters. From the swoon-worthy Mr. Himuro and Shiba Katsumi, to the aggravation of Saeki, and even the unspeakable terror inspired by the bearer of the pedostache and lurker-in-bushes Amanohashi.

Mr Amanahoshi et sa fameuse pédostache

Are dating sims really games ? They don’t seem that interactive, especially when it comes to visual novels.

That’s definitely a difficult question ! My taste in dating games leans towards the lifesim side of things, and the more difficult it is to maintain your life/romance balance, the more I like them. You can also find dating-sim mechanics married to other style of game. A lot of RPGs these days have some sort of relationship mechanic, even if the relationships aren’t necessarily romantic, but you can them find turn-based strategy games as well.

« If your definition of ’game’ requires more than reading/listening for 30 minutes and making a choice, visual novels probably won’t be for you »

I think it’s difficult to say if the visual novel-style dating sims are games or not. You certainly have an element of choice, and pretty much all of them have failure states even if they don’t have gloriously over-the-top Bad Ends. However, if your definition of ’game’ requires more than reading/listening for 30 minutes and making a choice, visual novels probably won’t be for you. I find them to be a pretty decent way to relax after a long day, but they aren’t the kind of game that really lights a fire in me and gets me playing for 10 hours without stop.

Katawa Shoujo

Who’s into dating games ? From an outsider’s point of view, they look like chick lit for otakus. Are they « girly » games, though ? They seem to be pretty popular with a vast array of internet dwellers, as the massive reactions to RPS’s coverage of Katawa Shoujo show. It’s hard to pinpoint the actual audience they have.

The genre basically started targeting men, and the genre remains popular with men in Japan, but I think we’ve seen more embrace of it by women in the West. Who plays dating games ? Anyone who likes romance and isn’t afraid of being judged for it ? I find that once people find out that it’s not all adult games that devolve into the worst of what the Internet has to offer, a lot of people are interested. Most of the otome games, girl’s dating games, that I play are targetted at teen-to-early-twenties women. But as long as you don’t take it or yourself too seriously, I think anyone can find something to enjoy about these games.

Do you enjoy the dating games in earnest, or do you take them with a large dose of irony ? Your Let’s Play are always making fun of the games, and I guess a lot of people enjoy them while they would never touch the games themselves.

I don’t really have a hard line between enjoying something in earnest and making fun of it. I’ve been a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for most of my life and their kind of philosophy of ribbing something with love has become part of the way I take in media. Yes, I make fun of the games, but I am also very honest when something is actually emotionally affecting me. I certainly didn’t expect to start caring about the childhood friend pigeon in Hatoful Boyfriend, but I didn’t try to hide it when it happened.

« I certainly didn’t expect to start caring about the childhood friend pigeon »

I do find a lot of it to just be silly, goofy fun. I think that helps me enjoy it even more when a character says something that is incredibly sweet, or I find myself really invested in helping a character out. It also makes it more shocking when a storyline turns sour, like with Saeki constantly hitting Balls Mahoney over the course of Tokimeki Girls Side 2.

I don’t think I could fully enjoy something if I couldn’t make fun of it, but I also think that my joking about something would fall flat if some part of me didn’t love it. So I guess my answer is an incredibly unhelpful "yes."

In your Let’s Play you roleplay with a sort of ironic distance, you try to give character to the protagonist, and of course you give them wonderful names like Balls Mahoney. Is it because you have to tell your own story to feel involved in a story that isn’t that interactive ? Can people without much imagination like me enjoy the genre ?

Oh, I just always fill in the gaps with my own character stories any time I play a video game, it’s how I interact with the medium. I blame it on the old Wizardry games, I made up my own stories as I sat there drawing out maps on graph paper and grinding through the same group of 6 monsters again and again.

« Some sad-eyed bishounen with his hair in his eyes and his shirt saucily unbuttoned »

I think the stories most of these games are interesting enough to stand on their own. They build on stereotypes, but when they are at their best they avoid being stereotypical. It’s definitely a genre that benefits from breathing room between games. I think it’s easy to get dating game burn out and end up throwing your hands up in the air and shouting "I DON’T WANT TO SOLVE ALL YOUR EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS" to some sad-eyed bishounen with his hair in his eyes and his shirt saucily unbuttoned.

Balls Mahoney, très distingué

The name Balls Mahoney comes from a wrestler. I just chose it on a whim while playing one of these games and I got so much amusement from the juxtaposition of Balls Mahoney the wrestler and Balls Mahoney the blushing, innocent maiden. Not to mention how much I laugh every time some doe-eyed guy says something like "I just can’t live without Balls in my life !" I’ve also used Bollocks Mahoney for a Regency-era game and Kintama Mahoney for one set in ancient Japan. It’s the name that keeps on giving.

Some of the visual novels are just out there. Like Hatoful Boyfriend, the pigeon dating sim. Who comes with ideas like that ?

FREAKIN’ GENIUSES. I love the creativity, something like "a dating game.... but the boys are all pigeons !" just makes me instantly want to jump in feet first. I was going to say something like "the weirder, the better" but that isn’t always necessarily true. Hatoful Pigeon is inspired weirdness, where they created a back story that both answers your immediate questions but also makes the game substantially stranger and more hilarious. Sometimes weirdness just for the sake of weirdness doesn’t work out that way, but when it does work, the weirder games end up being some of my favorites.

Mass Effect 2

Do you feel there’s a real potential in cross-breeding the dating genre with more mainstream genres ? The Personas, most Bioware games or even the Sims do that to an extent, but do you think there’s more to explore ?

Absolutely ! There’s very few games where you don’t interact with friendly characters, and adding relationship mechanics where their reaction to you changes based on your choices can breathe some life into them when it’s done right. You don’t even have to make it romantic, people just like to see something about the world change because of something they have done. Knowing that they are getting a different reaction because they chose to kill the foozle instead of saving it can help satisfy that.

« We do a whole lot of killing and exploring in games, but not necessarily a whole lot of loving »

And there’s certainly an audience for romances, as checking the fandoms for any of the games you have listed will easily show. We do a whole lot of killing and exploring in games, but not necessarily a whole lot of loving. Tender moments, when executed well with a character who is worth caring about, can offer a breath of fresh air.

Persona 4

Finally, are you ever tempted to write your own visual novel ? I’d play that !

Ha ! That’s a project I’d love to tackle at some point, though I’m afraid it wouldn’t be as thorough as the Tokimeki games or as bizarre as Hatoful Boyfriend. My dream project would be doing a dating sim with Kate Beaton. Or a Lovecraft-based dating sim, but inspired by his actual works instead of being based on the cutesy anime drawings of his creations turned into little girls. I actually quite like the idea of a dating sim with a sanity meter.

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