Sunday, September 05, 2010

At Least They're Getting Out of the House

Latest Newspaper Column:

Back in the days before writing books began to take up so much of what I used to call "leisure time," I played a lot of computer games.

By computer games, I mean games on the PC, not a "console" like the PlayStation or Nintendo. I spent hours flying through the virtual skies battling Nazi bombers, Russian MiG-29s and German World War I Triplanes.

I invaded Europe at the head of a German Army, liberated it at the head of an American one, stormed castles and led my legions against the Celts. I conquered the planet several times over while advancing my civilization to spacefaring capability, after which I proceeded to conquer the galaxy as well.

I mowed down entire divisions of demonic baddies and fragged thousands of virtual bad guys behind an array of science-fictional weapons, keeping one eye on my "health bar" to make sure that the damage I was taking from my enemies didn't reach fatal levels that would necessitate hitting the restart button.

Yes. I was a complete geek. Still am, in some ways.

But I will say one thing in my defense, pathetic as it may be: I never played a "dating simulation."

Dating simulations are apparently quite the rage these days in Japan. One very popular such game for the Nintendo DS hand-held gaming system is called "Love Plus."

In "Love Plus," the player takes on the persona of a boy who transfers to a new high school, where you/he meets three comely young lasses. You/he picks one, pursues her by having various (apparently nonromantic) encounters and conversations. If all goes well, the "girl" eventually "declares her feelings" for you. Or for him.

That's where a lot of these games end. But, according to an article in Discovery News online, in "Love Plus" that's just the beginning. You have to maintain the relationship by paying attention to your new virtual amour, conversing with her, paying her compliments, and all of the hard work that goes into actual romance.

It's sort of like those "virtual pets" that were all the rage a few years ago, except with cute Japanese girls with big eyes and schoolgirl uniforms who get pouty and dump you if you don't pay attention to them, rather than dying like the pets.

I know what you're probably thinking, but I haven't read anything that indicates that the (ahem) physical aspects of a dating relationship are modeled in the game, so I assume that that part is left out. I am, for some reason, extremely relieved by this.

As all guys know, if you have a girlfriend, even a virtual one, eventually she's going to start complaining if you never take her on vacation. Well, thanks to Japanese ingenuity, the "Love Plus" Romeo has an answer for his silicon sweetheart.

It seems that the seaside resort of Atami, southwest of Tokyo, has developed a partnership with game company Konami, maker of "Love Plus," to sponsor vacation trips where young aficionados of the game can frolic, after a fashion, with their chosen one.

Various locations around the resort have embedded bar codes which the humans can scan, which generates a photo of them and their virtual dream girl in the location on the player's game machine or smart phone.

"Look," a 23-year-old told a Discovery News reporter, "it's like I'm in a snapshot with her." He then proudly "showed off his iPhone display, featuring himself next to the image of a doe-eyed cartoon character named Rinko, a smiling high school girl."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Or shudder. I think I'll do all three. On the other hand, I suppose if you're going to spend all your time on a computer game, it's better to make love, not war.

But it does raise a question:

Advocates of stricter controls or warnings on video and computer games insist that too much virtual violence can lead to more violence in real life. Too much time playing "shooter" games, they insist, may turn players into remorseless hyper-efficient killing machines wreaking havoc in the halls of the local high school like the Terminator.

So would the converse apply to "dating simulations"? Would reaching the highest level of "Love Plus" make you an awesome boyfriend?

Sadly, the world may never know.