Time Manipulation, Public Discourse, and Otome Video Games

Curator's Note

Otome is a popular category of role-playing video games specifically designed for and played by female gamers. In Otome, players navigate first-person through a “choose your own adventure” style visual novel where the main goal is to build a romantic relationship with one of the male characters encountered along the way. Successful relationship-building leads to “happy endings” and satisfying conclusions to the storylines. Failed relationships lead to “neutral” or “bad endings,” where the storylines take a negative turn, or the main character ends up alone.

Because the games are romance-based, Otome is often dismissed for being too girly or too fluffy, implying romance-based media only offer consumers superficial stories or feel-good escapism. A study of online Otome fan sites, however, shows Otome games operate as effective catalysts for inspiring girls and young women to participate in complex public conversations about love, romance, friendship, dating, and sex, and what is needed for a healthy relationships to occur.

Why do Otome games, which look like superficial love stories on the outside, actually lead to quality online discussions about romance and dating? One reason is the way Otome game narratives manipulate time.  

Otome uses linear time to progress a game’s overarching storyline. But within this linear framework, the individual romance routes can be started and stopped, rewound to try different choices, switched, or even abandoned altogether before reaching the technical “end” of the game. As such, players primarily experience Otome game time as repetitive and circular, not linear, and gameplay involves looping key story elements until players reach a desired romantic ending. 

Repetitive gameplay in Otome games gives the player the ability to compare and contrast different romantic activities, communication choices, and outcomes as they play. This experience with comparable narratives and the subsequent desire to discuss in-game differences with other players is what first brings players to fan forums. Then, because Otome are fundamentally role-playing games, those discussions expand to include personal thoughts, feelings, and preferences about commitment, friendship, intimacy, and love - what players discovered about themselves, and their communities, while they played. 

In these ways, time manipulation acts as an important game mechanic in Otome video games. Without this time element and the narrative comparisons it brings, Otome games would not have the kind of content that personalizes the gaming experience enough to inspire public discourse about the genre’s key rom

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