I’m a feminist. Not the quiet kind, either. I’m the marching, campagning, political, in-your-face kind of feminist. “What?”, you inquire. “Otome games and feminism? How does that even work?” Well, no surprises there, ’cause it doesn’t. It doesn’t work in the same fashion that movies, particularly romantic comedies, don’t work. A lot of music has similar issues. Books are easier to navigate, but rest assured, I have some highly problematic favourites.
Yes, it’s difficult. Yet there’s method to the madness, in a way.
The Overall Concept
The story is always the same: girl meets a series of boys, picks one, experiences love at the end of roughly 13 to 16 chapters. During the process, the girl is mostly dragged along, quite often against her will, or at least devoid of her will, in the sense that the situation is beyond her control. Rare are the instances where she initiates anything at all, even with the “softer” men. The main character could easily be described as the main accessory to whatever drives the man in question.
The genre is replete with the highly questionable tropes that make our interpersonal relationships so difficult. A lot of the time it revolves around a male character who is an asshole, ending up being redeemed through love. He starts out abrasive, condescending, domineering, and generally unpleasant. He might hate women outright. Of course, there’s usually some underlying childhood trauma. Maybe his mother left/died. Something like that. And only the love of the main character can lead him back into the light. I know, right?
Other types that need love and redemption are the silent ones who suck at communicating, or the philanderers whose heart is closed off to real emotion. One game has an outright demon. Probably more than one game. You get the idea.
Last but not least, the most horrible of beasts: rape culture. I try not to impose my European sensibilities onto a different cultural context. At the same time, I know how difficult it is for Japanese women to fight sexual abuse, both in the private and the professional area. For a developed country, Japan’s rape problem is shameful, even more so than that of the rest of us. So, given that Japanese women have very few options when they have become the victim of sexual assault, it strikes me as highly problematic that the tropes in these games invariably include some form of sexual assault, especially since the female main character is explicitly described as saying “no” when she means “yes”. We know this, because we are in her head. Exactly. We all know where that leads.
So yes, how do I deal with that?
Like an adult who knows the difference between fiction and reality. While I have my reservations about some of the story-lines and the reactions of the MC – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the writing – I do enjoy the stories. I treat them largely like I do BDSM: there is consent in my head to be this shrinking violet for the duration of the story. I tend to pick the worst of the bunch, anyway (wait till I write my review of My Last First Kiss), and at least I, as a player, give my informed consent.
I also reserve the right to like what I like. I recognize the problems that arise when people, for inexplicable reasons, cannot tell life from make-believe. Yet people like to give themselves easy outs.
Because honestly, there is no reason to think that Edward’s behavior in the Twilight movies is okay in real life, when you are actually aware that you cannot fly a motorbike through flaming hoops, Vin Diesel-style. Let’s not pretend we know that one is fake, but not the other.
As T1J says, that’s just me, though. I completely understand anyone who finds this stuff offensive and/or triggering.
And how do YOU deal with that?
However you like. Listen to yourself. If you’re uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons – much like in BDSM, there are deliciously good reasons to be uncomfortable – stop reading. Pick a different story, or stop altogether. Maybe check out some reviews first, so that you know to avoid Ichinomiya Eisuke. Yes, he is ostensibly the worst of the bunch. (I personally do not think so. Ota is the worst.) But to be fair, the premise is extreme to begin with.
If, however, you happen to like this kind of story, don’t let yourself be shamed out of a thing you enjoy. This, much as your preferences in the rest of your life, are nobody’s business but your own.
I mean, I heard there are people who like their steak well-done. Whatever I may think of that, I have no right to tell them how horribly, utterly, completely wrong they are, now do I?
Until I start writing my own games, I’m well entertained with what I am offered. I will occasionally roll my eyes, but that’s a default setting, anyway.
And once I do write my own, I’ll let you know. It’ll be awesome. Most importantly, there will be the option of “punching him in the face”. I know we can all use it.