Ro­mance Gam­ing Apps: the Next Big Thing in Dat­ing?

Imagine a world where a for­bid­den af­fair with a co­worker or a sexy thief would have a happy end­ing nine times out of 10. Wel­come to the world of ro­mance gam­ing apps.

CLEO (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Think gam­ing apps, and chances are, the first thing that springs to mind are the Tsum Tsums and cook­ing games of your youth. But now gam­ing is all grown up – and wildly pop­u­lar here in Asia. Sim­u­lat­ing high-oc­tane love dra­mas, these games are pro­vid­ing women with the op­por­tu­nity to date a boyfriend who never falls short of your ex­pec­ta­tions.

In Ja­pan, ro­mance gam­ing apps for men – called “bishoujo” – have been pop­u­lar for decades. But in the late 1990s, de­vel­op­ers started mak­ing these apps for women. The trend re­ally took off in 2006 when Ja­panese busi­ness­woman Nanako Hi­gashi and her hus­band, Yuzi Tsu­tani, re­leased My Lover is The No.1 Host. It was an in­stant hit.

“Be­fore that, when we started pro­duc­ing ro­mance apps, we had less en­ter­tain­ment for women in Ja­pan com­pared to men be­cause women didn’t earn as much money to spend on games,” says Emi Tanaka, spokesper­son for Volt­age. “But re­cently, more women work as much as men. And as women work more, they also get more stressed and

need to be dis­tracted.” To date, their com­pany Volt­age has re­leased 99 ti­tles for women, which have been played by 50 mil­lion users around the world. In 2017, Volt­age made more than $100 mil­lion.

How it works

The games work like choose-your-own-ad­ven­ture manga sto­ries, with floppy-haired men of all sorts (in­clud­ing sa­mu­rai, nerds and bad boys) ap­pear­ing at un­usu­ally reg­u­lar in­ter­vals with flir­ta­tious propo­si­tions that could lead to love. Play­ers de­cide which in­vi­ta­tions to ac­cept over a se­ries of love chal­lenges to “live hap­pily ever after”.

In Ja­pan, where 44.2 per­cent of women are vir­gins and 60 per­cent of un­mar­ried women aged 18 to 34 are not in re­la­tion­ships, the games have been a huge hit. “Nowa­days, Ja­panese women are mak­ing more in­de­pen­dent de­ci­sions, and may be bored by a real world pur­suit of love,” says Dr Nancy Snow, a pro­fes­sor of public diplo­macy at Ky­oto Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies and au­thor of Ja­pan’s In­for­ma­tion War. “Also, men may not be able to af­ford to ro­mance like they could dur­ing Ja­pan’s eco­nomic hey­day, so women may think: ‘Why not spend time try­ing out dif­fer­ent types of guys on­line?’ It’s not re­ally that taboo any­more.”

Wel­come to Sin­ga­pore

But their pop­u­lar­ity isn’t lim­ited to Ja­pan. In China, women there spent more than $40 mil­lion on a ro­mance gam­ing app called Love and

Pro­ducer in Jan­uary 2018 alone, mak­ing it the top­gross­ing app in Ap­ple’s China App Store. De­vel­oped by Pape Games in Shang­hai, the dat­ing sim­u­la­tor has more than two mil­lion daily ac­tive users who are mostly women in their 20s, ac­cord­ing to re­search firm Jiguang. The apps are also big in South Korea, and those by Volt­age – which is by far the mar­ket leader in ro­mance gam­ing apps tar­geted at women – have a growing fol­low­ing in Sin­ga­pore.

Sin­ga­pore­ans make up the fifth largest cus­tomer base of Volt­age’s Love 365 app, which pulls to­gether a va­ri­ety of sto­ries for play­ers to choose from. Emi thinks these apps are big in Sin­ga­pore (and Asia in gen­eral) be­cause anime and manga cul­ture are al­ready pop­u­lar here, so there’s a sense of fa­mil­iar­ity.

Another rea­son could be the rise in sin­gle Sin­ga­pore­ans. About 63 per­cent of women aged be­tween 25 and 29 are sin­gle in Sin­ga­pore, ac­cord­ing to the 2015 Gen­eral House­hold sur­vey. Most cited putting their ca­reer be­fore re­la­tion­ships as the rea­son for their cur­rent sta­tus. Sin­ga­pore­ans are also be­com­ing more ac­cus­tomed to mixing their ro­man­tic pur­suits with tech­nol­ogy, due to the rise of dat­ing apps such as Tin­der and the lo­cal­ly­made Pak­tor.

But given that there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween go­ing on­line to find a real boyfriend and sim­u­lat­ing a ro­mance with a vir­tual part­ner, should we be wor­ried? Vir­tual vs real Psy­chol­o­gist Jean Shashi, direc­tor of coun­selling ser­vice Re­la­tion­ship Mat­ters, be­lieves such apps could po­ten­tially play an ed­u­ca­tional role in a user’s real love life if ap­proached with the right frame of mind. “If you have sim­u­lated some­one that you feel com­fort­able with, you’re do­ing a self-dis­cov­ery process, and that’s a won­der­ful thing. Even­tu­ally, when you find your real part­ner, you’ll be able to com­mu­ni­cate your own needs bet­ter,” she says.

The dan­ger, Jean cau­tions, is when the lines be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity are blurred. Dr Snow agrees. “Peo­ple who take it too far and lose the abil­ity to distin­guish be­tween real and vir­tual are ad­dicts, plain and sim­ple. If they are com­pul­sively en­gaged in this ac­tiv­ity, that’s a trou­bling sign.” Like any ad­dic­tion, it’s im­por­tant to dis­en­gage when you’re be­com­ing re­liant on it. How­ever, Emi says it’s not a com­mon oc­cur­rence and that half of the women who play Volt­age’s games have a spouse in the real world. “They un­der­stand the fan­tasy story and re­al­ity are to­tally sep­a­rate,” she adds.

Another dan­ger is that the fix­a­tion on find­ing the “per­fect man” in a game can trans­fer to bad dat­ing habits and warped ex­pec­ta­tions in real life. “Tech­nol­ogy is feed­ing the need for con­stant at­ten­tion and thrill to es­cape from ev­ery­day mun­dan­ity. What real world boyfriend can ful­fil a woman’s needs as of­ten as a vir­tual boyfriend?’ asks Dr Snow.

But at the end of the day, as Jean points out, there’s ul­ti­mately no sub­sti­tute for a face-to-face con­nec­tion. “Ro­mance is about how a cou­ple in­ter­acts with each other and trust each other enough to share their feel­ings.” And that’s some­thing a vir­tual boyfriend isn’t so per­fect at after all.

“Peo­ple who take it too far and lose the abil­ity to distin­guish be­tween real and vir­tual are ad­dicts, plain and sim­ple. If they are com­pul­sively en­gaged in this ac­tiv­ity, that’s a trou­bling sign.”

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