Visual novels are a medium, like literature, film, or games. It is a recent medium, a hybrid of games and literature, but does not stand apart from either one.
Dating sims are a genre, like first person shooters, romantic comedies, or military thrillers. Dating sims can be games, or visual novels. If someone writes a CYOA book on romance, it could probably exist under the medium of literature as well.
Please note that genres and media are orthogonal — that is, they vary independently from each other. The medium is the form that something takes. The genre is the style (or styles) of the content of that something.
Just so we’re clear, visual novels are not necessarily dating sims. In fact, most VNs involving relationships aren’t, seeing as the criteria for a dating sim includes management of relationship statistics. So please, journalists, stop confusing the two.
With the recent release of visual novel Katawa Shoujo, I’ve been watching controversy unfold about it. It seems to me that there are a fair number of people who have automatically dismissed it as exploitation porn from 4chan, without bothering to read it for themselves, or even bother doing any research about it. This has me thinking about games featuring social minorities such as the disabled, or even large groups that are treated or ignored as minorities such as the poor or recent immigrants.
I’d like to see more games featuring the world from their perspectives. Through the interactive medium of gaming, I want to be able to experience life through the eyes of someone who can’t walk, or the poor of a third world country, or even here in Canada. I want to know what it’s like to be a new immigrant, unaware of cultural differences and scorned or pitied for it.
Why, though? Why do I want to play something that sounds so unenjoyable?
Because it helps me understand others better.
Games like Katawa Shoujo, or a wheelchair simulator, let me realize how life can be for others. I can better comprehend their perspectives, understand their challenges, and experience the lives that they have.
But I doubt that many would even consider trying such games, writing them off as they have with Katawa Shoujo. Because people don’t want to experience things that may make them uncomfortable, or potentially shift their own world-views.
That, frankly, is terrible.
By passing off Katawa Shoujo as “cripple porn”, people bolster their own bigotry against others with disabilities, denying that the disabled could have rich and full lives. By dismissing a game about third world living as exploitative, they can more easily ignore the crimes committed against such people by their own governments and our first world businesses. By ignoring a game demonstrating life on the streets, they can keep writing off the unfortunate as lazy bums who just don’t try.
I hate that kind of thing about people. But it’s that thinking that makes games putting us in the shoes of the minority all the more important.