The ongoing discussion about gender equality can be found in any aspect of daily life. One can’t imagine nowadays’ life without media being part of it, as media reflects society as well as we are influenced by the depiction of world through media that we are consuming every day. In that way, it is necessary to also take a look at video games and how they are influenced by ongoing circumstances of cultural, historical and economic developments but also in what kind of way they influence our daily life in return.
In this paper I am going to give an overview on the state of research concerning gender issues and its influence on video game industry. Research shows that there is not only a necessity for deeper consideration of ongoing inequality that women are still confronted with, but that the gender discourse itself created a gender specific mindset that highlights but also strengthens prejudices. In terms of video game industry, the invention of “women’s games” in that way is both a benefit and a problematic issue.
To give an impression on the function and influence of “women’s games”, I am going to introduce the Japanese dating simulation game “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love” and describe in what way there is a depiction of the ideal woman within the game. Except Tina Richards there aren’t any scientists that analyze “women’s game”, specifically dating simulation game in terms of femininity and gender inequality. In my conclusion I am combining the aspects of the game with current research state concerning the above mentioned problematic issue of gender construction that can be applied to any aspect of nowadays’ society, as I am going to show, to video game industry as well.
For further consideration, applying these results to the real world and not just considering the woman inside the game but also the one playing the game, the influence of “women’s games” on women’s self-perception is a fruitful topic for discussion.
2 Video games and gender
2.1 Construction of gender
The assumption that the world of video games is predominantly an area of male game players is still quite wide-spread. Concerning gender issues, the fact that many video games are created by male designers and target male players have been realized and analyzed by quite a lot of scientists. Not just video games but technological tools in general are still not that famous around women. Attempts to make jobs in technological industry, the internet or video games appear more interesting to a female audience have been made quite often. In that context, the problem that always comes to mind are gender issues, most commonly gender inequality that still seems to be a predominant problem when it comes to nowadays’ life aspects where women don’t seem to have equal opportunities in approach and acknowledgement.
On the one hand, we are aiming for a state of gender equality in any sphere of life and given the fact that women still feel inferiority in many areas of daily life surely is a problem that should be overcome in the future. Yet still, scientists began to realize that the ongoing discourse on gender inequality and its expansion on any aspect of life might even strengthen the already existing prejudices and highlight the “construction of a gendered identity” (Jenson/de Castell 2010: 54). In terms of technology, especially for this study in terms of video games, a certain mindset created by the constant discussion on gender issues makes it necessary to take a closer look at video game industry from a critical gender specific point of view. In that case, not just taking the problem of female inferiority into account, but also to what extent the discussion on gender inequality forms an obstacle in itself.
2.2 Women and video games
Research on gender and technology describes the field of computer science as still being male-dominated with little percentage of women working in technology industry as well as showing interest in gaming in their free time (Jenson/de Castell 2010: 53). As mentioned before, Jenson and de Castell see one of the reasons for that in the fact that for many years masculinity and femininity in terms of technological skills and interests has been constructed. In that way, men are expected to have good skills in technological field and broad interest in leisure activities like video games. On the contrary, women are confronted with the perception of being “less able”, “less competent” and as a result less interested in technological tools (Jenson/de Castell 2010: 54). Even if they were interested, they wouldn’t have a choice because of lack of skill and the social expectations to perform according to the construction of feminine patterns. Referring to Jenson and de Castell, that construction of femininity influences women in their own self-perception in a way that can be found in many aspects of daily life:
“Technological competence, so seen, has less to do with actual skills and more to do with construction of a gendered identity—that is, women lack technological competence to the extent that they seek to appropriately perform femininity; correlatively, men are technologically competent by virtue of their performance of masculinity.” (Jenson/de Castell 2010: 54)
Being forced into a certain role that has been created over the course of ongoing discussion on gender issues, women have gotten used to performing the role they think is appropriate for them. Valerie Walkerdine realized the dispute women find themselves in concerning expected performance of femininity and chances of individual self-realization.
“Not only must the fiction of the gendered splitting be taken apart, but the psychic struggle engaged in by girls and women to live out the impossibly contradictory positions accorded to us must be addressed, as must the paranoias of the powerful that understand women's success as a (conscious or unconscious) threat to their position of superiority.” (Walkerdine 1989: 277)
Taking that issue into account, women struggle to find a balance between their real interests – that might be, contrary to the overall prejudice, technological tools like video games – and what the constructed perception of femininity demands them to do, feel and think. Gender discourse in terms of the problem of inequality of women only takes into account that there is a lack of women in fields that are said to be typically men’s area of interest as well as skill.
In terms of video game industry, the lack of female players led to the invention of games intentionally created for girls and women according to their probable interests. The goal was to on the one hand make them familiar with technological tools and gain economical profit from female workforce, but also to give them a chance to feel “identification and gratification as women” in technological field (Kim 2009: 166). Various studies have shown that women seem to have different preferences in terms of video game content. For example, instead of violence and competition they find it important to have detailed characters, stories and the possibility to build relationships in an ongoing story throughout the gameplay (Kim 2009: 167). Also, women seem to have problems with identification in the already existing video game industry. There is an overall lack of women in the role of the casual super heroes in video games and even if women play an important role in a certain game, stereotypes and sexualization are still problematic issues.
Moreover, as mentioned above, it is uncertain if the invention of video games according to female preferences really reflects their true interests or more or less stresses the patterns of femininity that are expected from women due to ongoing gender constructions.
2.3 “Women’s Games”
According to the aspects described earlier, to make video games more appealing for the female audience, “women’s games” (乙女ゲーム otome gēmu) according to the interests and preferences of girls and young women were established by the Japanese video game industry. The first otome game is said to be “Angelique” which was published in 1994 by an all-female team of Japanese software company Koei. Visualized in a style of shōjo manga2 to make it look familiar for young Japanese women, the main goal of otome games is usually for the female main character “to form interpersonal (romantic) relationships with the (overwhelmingly male) game characters” (Kim 2009: 170). Considering the earlier mentioned presumptions of lack of ability in female players, otome games are simple in usage and related to other multimedia products that make promotion and access for rather unexperienced female players easier (Kim 2009: 170). Moreover, conversations play an important role as the player interacts through dialogues with the characters and usually has to make choices like picking answers that change the ongoing course of the game.
On the one hand, otome games make it possible for women to identify and express themselves in the medium of video games. Yet still, as described earlier, prejudices that have been created due to construction of gender identities might be preserved through such gender-specific game content that draws focus on aspects like dating, fashion, conversation and relationship-building, which are said to be typical feminine.
In the following, I will take a closer look at one of the famous otome games called “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st love”. Taking mentioned discussion on gender-specific games into account, I am going to analyze the picture of women that is created in this specific dating simulation game.
3 Tokimeki Memorial
3.1 From boy’s to girl’s version
The game series of Tokimeki Memorial by Japanese game publisher Konami started 1994 with publishing the first dating simulation game where one plays the character of a fresh high school boy. In the game the player has to handle the usual daily life as a high school student consisting of studying for exams, club activities, part time jobs, hobbies and falling in love. The goal of the game is to gain points in various categories like intelligence, athletics, charisma and so on to impress the potential female dating paper and end up in a happy relationship with one of the high school girls one gets to know through the gameplay. The game series belongs to the genre of “visual novel” (ビジュアルノベル bijuaru noberu) whereas it contains a lot of dialogues and decisions the player has to make to influence the procedure and final outcome of the game.
The game series gained such great success that Konami expanded it to various platforms as PC, Playstation, Nintendo and mobile devices and numerous new seasons are constantly published. Also, there were several manga, anime and merchandises based on the series published.
In 2002 the first female version, “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side” was released continuing with 3 more sequels. The Girl’s Side series now made it possible to play the character of a high school girl and to choose among a few male dating partners. Referring to online portals, Konami made some certain changes in the structure of the game to make it more appealing to a female audience in terms of going shopping and adding the possibility to become friends with other female students.
3.2 Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love
As a general introduction, “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love” is played as the character of a girl who starts as a high school student and deals with her daily life for the upcoming 3 school years until graduation. Referring to online fan portals, playing through the whole game takes up around 5 to 10 hours depending on the individual choices each player makes. In general, a huge number of fan pages and playthrough advices exist on the internet because it is difficult to play the game successfully and end up with the dating partner of choice without having information on each of the male characters concerning their characteristics, interests and most importantly what they search for in a girl in terms of looks, behavior and the right choice of answer they want to hear in the dialogues. The various types of male dating partners make it possible for the player to play the game several times and always experience new dates and – at best – different kinds of happy endings.
3.2.1 Basic structure of the game
The game starts with choosing the name, birthday and blood type of the girl character and the player has a choice between 4 different types of bedrooms which are shown as pictures. The chosen blood type influences the horoscope of the character that one can check anytime and gives information on current chances of luck concerning several aspects of the character’s life. The different types of bedrooms influence the points the character starts with in the categories, for example the bedroom that looks quite girly with soft toys in the background will start with more points in “charm” category, whereas a tidy room with books in it will make the character have a higher intelligence level right from the beginning. Still, one can’t choose the looks of the girl character concerning face, hair and eyes which in the first place seems to put the focus on other aspects apart from outward appearance. Also, in the dialogues one can’t hear one’s own characters voice but only read along the things the character is saying while all the other persons in the game have voices who read out what they are saying in the dialogues.
The game starts right before the beginning of the first semester of high school and shows the character’s own room with the activities one can choose to do and a table of the certain categories in which one can gain points to make a rather good impression on the potential dating partners the character is going to meet throughout the gameplay.
The categories shown on the left side of the screen stand for “stress”, which is the only one that should be kept as low as possible to not be stressed out and appear exhausted in front of the dating partner, “intelligence”, “athletics”, “sense of fashion”, “financial wealth”, “talents in arts”, “attentiveness” and “charm”. Through the game one has to gain as many points as possible in the given categories and, depending on the characteristics of the dating partner, different categories are of greater importance than others. For example, a boy who’s into literature and pays a lot of attention on intelligence in a girl will only fall in love with the character if the intelligence category is high enough. Also, there are several dating partners one can only meet after having earned enough points in a certain category and taking part in a special club activity or part-time job. Through the selection on the right side of the screen one can choose between different activities to work on the statistics of the categories of the character. This contains “sleeping”, “studying”, “painting”, “sports”, “reading magazines”, “checking your looks in front of the mirror”, “activities with your female girlfriends”, “changing your outfit”, “checking the internet”, “calendar”, “mails” and “options” where one can save and load and change the settings of the game. Later in the game there will be some icons added like when the character takes part in a club activity one can practice for it or on the weekend one can do phone calls, visit the character’s brother and ask him for advice or go on a trip to the city to go shopping.
Besides the potential male dating partners the character gets to know by chance - as described earlier, in some cases one first has to fulfill a certain amount of points in the categories mentioned above or join a certain club activity to be able to meet the boys – as the character literally stumbles over them throughout the game, one can also have a few female friends which are high school students as well. The character can do sports with them, hang out and chat or study together. Those other female characters also develop romantic interests in the boys the main character is able to date, so there is a possibility that former friends become rivals if she finds out the character is on good terms with the boy of her choice. In that case the friendship is over right away.
Another character in the game is the character’s little brother Tsukushi who lets the character know right in the beginning that one can always come and ask him for advice. Throughout the game the player realizes that Tsukushi only cares about his sister’s love life and is always worried the character might not find a boyfriend. He always shows up in the character’s room on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, White Day4, Christmas or New Year’s Day to ask whether his sister have been invited on a date and seems really concerned if she didn’t. On weekends one has the possibility to choose amongst the activities to visit Tsukushi in his room. The topics the character can ask him for advice are either getting information on the potential dating partners like characteristics and hobbies or take a look at the barometers that show a graph about how much each boy and female friend likes the character, separated in friendship and love. This aspect of the game is called “rating” (評価 hyōka).
On the right side one can see all the characters the player met throughout the game, those with a blue background being the male potential dating partners and those with the red backgrounds show the female friends. Choosing a character on the right side, on the left one can see the “Tokimeki Panel” showing what the chosen character thinks about the main character concerning friendship and love. For the female characters there will only be a friendship graph because the main character can’t develop love relationships with female characters. Right next to the pictures of the characters one can shortly see a smiley showing different faces depending on the relationship between the two characters. In general, the “Tokimeki Panel” always offers the chance to check about the dating partner’s opinion on the character without having them directly telling and, if necessary, work on the characteristics to get a higher rate of appeal.
The potential dating partners are all in the same year of high school as the main character, except one of them who is one year below. In general, the dating partners have various types of outward appearance, interests and characteristics. Typical for otome games, the characters are all portrayed in anime style.
Moreover, another character of the game who seems to be a potential dating partner is the homeroom teacher of the character’s class. The main character isn’t able to ask him out on dates by calling him on the weekends like one can do with the other boys, but there are quite often school trips outside of the school he invites his students on. There the character always has to answer one question concerning the trip to either make a good impression or be scolded by him. Also, the teacher will sometimes show up after getting exam results and comments on the character’s skills. Sometimes one gets the chance to accompany the teacher on his way home and join him in his car where the character will have a more personal conversation with him or even be taken on a little trip. In order to be liked by the teacher, the character of course has to work on intelligence points, get high scores at the exams, participate as often as possible in the school trips and choose the most accurate answer when he asks a question.
One more character is an elderly, very friendly and charismatic but also mysterious man the character will meet a few times by chance and who hides his name and his identity but doesn’t hesitate to show his affection as he brings flowers and often compliments the character. As the player doesn’t know any information about him one can’t influence the chance to meet him or act appealing to his demands or preferences. There a several hints in the game that reveal him as the principal of the school.
If the character wants to go on a date with one of the boys, there is the chance to call them on the weekends and invite them. The player has to choose the day, which can only be when there is no school or part time job or any other occasion already planned, and the location. There is a range of different spots to choose, as for example a few parks, going to the shopping mall together, cinema, karaoke or games center, amusement park, zoo or swimming pool and the beach. After making an offer, the dating partner decides whether he wants to go or not which mostly depends on whether he likes the location the player has chosen. If he agrees and the day of the date finally comes, before leaving the house the player first has to choose an outfit amongst the clothes the character has bought throughout the gameplay. Meeting the dating partner at the location, the greeting is quite short. In case the choice of outfit was right, the character will get a compliment from the dating partner about it. But all the same, the opposite can happen. If the dating partner doesn’t really like the outfit he will just not mention it but if the character happens to wear the same outfit as on the date before, he will have a disappointed look on his face and comment on it in a negative way.
For example, going to the swimming pool with the dating partner, the choice of swimwear seems to be of great importance. Depending on the preferences of the specific dating partner, he will express his discontentment right away as shown in the picture above. The term “色気なし (irokenashi)” might in that case most probably mean that the character, wearing a bathing suit, doesn’t have enough sex appeal in the eyes of the dating partner who might have wished for an outfit showing off more skin of the female body. Looking at the expression on his face, one can see that he is very concerned and unhappy about that incident.
In the process of the date, there is usually one question where the dating partner asks for the character’s opinion. In that case one can choose between 3 different options to answer. Right after answering, one can tell by the expression on the dating partner’s face whether the answer was pleasing him or not. For example, going to the shopping mall, he might ask for the character’s opinion on a piece of fashion he wants to buy for himself. In that case, agreeing on his choice always brings a smile on his face.
At the end of the date, the dating partner will give a short feedback on whether he liked the date or not. If he didn’t, he will simply say goodbye and leave without any further explanation. Reaching a higher level on the “Tokimeki Panel” the character might be lucky enough to have the dating partner bringing her home to make sure she arrives safe.
An extra feature one sometimes gets throughout the gameplay while interacting with one of the dating partners is called “skinship”. There the player has the chance to touch his dating partner somewhere on his torso or head. This action also might be problematic if the player is not yet sure about the current relationship status and whether the dating partner likes being touched on a certain part of his body. If he does so, little hearts will appear after touching him. If the opposite is the case, those hearts will also appear but be broken into two parts.
Sometimes when stumbling over one of the potential dating partners by accident, one gets the possibility to choose among quite a few different nicknames to call them. Choosing the appropriate one might sometimes be tricky. Being too polite might cause an unnecessary distance between the two characters but also choosing quite an intimate nickname might cause problems. Going for a nickname that doesn’t appeal to the dating partner, he might be angry and leave without further explanation. As it is a Japanese video game, honorifics play quite an important role and might be difficult to handle for players that aren’t familiar with Japanese culture and patterns.
Also, when it’s the birthday of one of the potential dating partners, the character gets the chance to go and buy them a present. Same is for Valentine’s Day where one can give them self-made chocolate. Concerning the birthday present, the player also has to choose amongst a few options which present might be most suitable for each specific dating partner. Handing it over to him, besides being disappointed he might even say he likes it but one can see in his facial expression that he actually does not. For the self-made chocolate, the character has to spend the night before Valentine’s Day awake to create the most delicious Chocolate for the dating partner. For the player, there is a minigame integrated at that point.
3.3.3 Love confession
Referring to online forums, after graduation ceremony at the end of the game, the main character will get a romantic love confession from the boy who fell in love with her. In case the “Tokimeki Panel” isn’t high enough for any of the boys, instead of getting a love confession, the character’s best female friend confesses how grateful she is about the friendship. Instead of pointing out the fact that the character didn’t reach the actual goal of the game, it ends with quite an optimistic prospect on the future concerning friendship and academical goals.
3.3.4 Being a woman in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st love”
Taking the aspects of the game described above into account, one can create an image about the type of girl or woman that is portrayed in the game.
In general, the goal of the game is to get a dating partner and a love confession in the end in order to not end up alone. In that way, being a girl in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st love”, the only thing that matters for the girl is to appeal to the potential dating partners and to gain as many points as possible with any action throughout the game. The overall scenario might be the typical life of a high school girl including school, friends, boys, club activities and earning some money in a part time job. Still, whatever the character is doing, it is for the sake of getting a partner. One gets the impression that going to school and learning for exams isn’t really for the girl’s own sake and future career, but only to impress the teacher or one of the dating partners who pays attention on intelligence in the girl of his choice. Also, the fact that the girl is earning some money on her own isn’t for the sake of her to afford making a living. The only thing in the game that one can spend money on is to go shopping and buy clothes which is another aspect that is only necessary to make a good impression when going on a date. The necessity of going shopping to have as many options as possible to change your outfits appealing to the dating partner’s preferences emphasizes the importance of outward appearance in a girl when it comes to dating. As described earlier, the dating partner realizes and complains if the girl wears the same outfit twice. This means not just that he is very concerned and pays attention to a girl’s outward appearance but also that the girl herself has to do so to remember what clothes she has been wearing on each date and prevent wearing the same again. Moreover, it stresses the prejudice that all girls and women are or at least should be interested into shopping.
To underline the importance for a girl to find a partner, there is the character of the brother, Tsukushi, who only deals as some kind of tool for the character to get to know about her own chances with each of the potential dating partners. Whenever there is a dialogue between Tsukushi and the character, he expresses his discontentment about the fact that she isn’t in a happy relationship. Other aspects of her life that might be bothering her don’t even come to his mind. Not to mention that it is usually quite untypical for a younger brother to have more experience and be concerned about the older sister’s love life in such a distinctive way.
Concerning the dialogues between the girl and the dating partners, the real meaning of the discussion doesn’t seem to have any importance as the partner only shows contentment when the girl answers according to his opinion. Not agreeing with him, even if it might be the honest opinion of the girl herself, will only bring discontentment, a lower rank on the “Tokimeki Panel” and shrinking chances to end up in a relationship with the desired dating partner. This aspect can definitely be interpreted as submission of the girl towards the boy.
Another quite remarkable situation is when the principal, whose identity is officially hidden, takes the main character on a drive with his car without explaining who he is or what his intentions are. Worth mentioning is that the player doesn’t have a choice to decline his offer, the character gets in the car and just vaguely expresses her uneasiness with the situation. The mysterious man answers as shown in the picture above: “Such kind of caution and carefulness is exactly accurate for a lady” (レデイはそれくらい慎重で丁度いい redi wa sore kurai shinchō de chōdo ii). This is quite a paradox because on the one hand he wants - or even makes the girl to do so because the player doesn’t have any choice - the “lady” to do as he pleases but still likes careful and gentle behavior for a woman.
Despite the mentioned aspects that describe the portrayed woman in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side” in a relatively subordinate role, there is one of the main aspects that shows the woman as an active part of the gameplay. That is the fact that the girl herself is the one who invites the potential dating partners out on a date. There are very few times where the character stumbles over one of the dating partners and gets invited by him. But predominantly the girl makes the first move to call the dating partner, decides on the time and location for the date. The partner can still decide whether he wants to go or not but the active part of planning and realizing the date is on the girl’s side. Yet still, the choices she makes concerning location, outfit and so on are always influenced by the interests and preferences of the male dating partner.
Despite being a “visual novel game” that is built on dialogues, the possibilities for the player to influence the course of the game by choosing amongst different variations of answers or statements are very few. Also, the dialogues are often repeated and concerning the course of dating and getting to know each other, they are not at all rich in content. For the sake of the process of dating to find a suitable dating partner, communication doesn’t play an important role.
Taken as a whole, to get a closer and more detailed impression on every aspect of the game that gives information on the depiction of women, one should play through the game several times and try out different scenarios with each one of the dating partners.
4 Conclusion and Outlook
To sum up, the role of the woman portrayed in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love” is to find a dating partner. In order to do so, she has to work on her characteristics and skills to impress the dating partner but also has to learn about them and adjust her own opinions to please them. Other aspects of her daily life aren’t taken into account as the only goal for a girl is to find a good partner. Of course, as the game belongs to the genre of dating simulation, it is understandable that the focus is on dating and striving to end up in a happy relationship. But as the intention of the game was to target young girls and women one should pay attention to in what kind of way young women use this game and the portrayed subordinate role of women to refer it to their own real life. For further analysis, one could examine the influence of such games on the female player’s self-concept and whether it is depicting patterns of the nowadays’ real dating situation or rather creating a desired ideal of how it should be.
Referring to the mentioned issue of gender constructions, the woman portrayed in “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love” complies many aspects of the image of femininity that has been created through ongoing gender discussion. As many researchers show, the consumer of media, especially those of movies, series and games, often invest emotionally in the context and identify with the characters they are playing (Richards 2015). Concerning the invention of “Women’s Games”, the possibility of identification and expression of themselves as a woman was exactly the intention of games that target a female audience. Yet still it is necessary to pay attention whether the depiction of women in “Women’s Games” isn’t another outcome of the construction of gender that strengthens prejudices and prevents women’s self-realization.
List of Literature
GAMESFAQS (2010): “Tokimeki Memorial: Girl’s Side: 1st Love FAQ/Walkthrough”. Link: https://gamefaqs.gamespot.com/ds/934799-tokimekimemorial-girls-side-1st-love/faqs/48851 (Viewed 22.02.2018).
JENSON, Jennifer/ DE CASTELL, Suzanne (2010): „Gender, Simulation, and Gaming: Research Review and Redirections”. In: Simulation & Gaming41(1), 51-71.
KIM, Hyeshin (2009): “Women’s Games in Japan: Gendered Identity and Narrative Construction”. In: Theory, Culture, and Society26(2-3), 165-188.
KONAMI (2007): “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side 1st Love” [NDS]. (Played 2018).
KONAMI (2012): “Tokimeki Memorial portal site”. Link: http://www.konami.jp/gs/game/tokimeki/index.html (Viewed 22.02.2018).
KONAMI (2009): “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: 1st Love official homepage”. Link: http://www.konami.jp/gs/game/Girls_Side/1st_Love/index.html (Viewed 22.02.2018).
RICHARDS, Tina (2015): “Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side: Enacting femininity to avoid dying alone”. Link: http://todigra.org/index.php/todigra/article/view/43/82 (Viewed 22.02.2018).
WALKERDINE, Valerie (1989): “Femininity as Performance”. In: Oxford Review of Education15(3), 267-279.