Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Japanese Firm Selling Videogames to Women, Using Sex

CHIBA, Japan — Miho, an office worker from Tokyo, is backed against a wall. Two men in suits approach her. “Do I frighten you?” one asks. Quite suddenly, one of them extends his arm. It hits the wall with a thud. Miho is trapped as he leans toward her…
This aggressive move, popular with fictional Japanese tough guys, is calledkabedon—”wall-thump.” If a stranger were to corner her like this on the street outside the Makuhari Messe convention center, Miho might have been afraid for her life. Here inside the Tokyo Game Show, it’s all part of the show. In fact, she waited in line to experience being so aggressively hit on.
“It’s very exciting,” she said afterward. Her coworker Ayaka agreed: “They say such sweet things.”
The two women told me they’ve never before attended Tokyo Game Show, but they came this year specifically because they play dating sim videogames made byVoltage, which hosted this interactive fantasy. Voltage was but one of the game publishers showing their games in the Romance Game Corner, a section dedicated to dating simulation games aimed at women.
Dating sims are among the few game genres in Japan designed for, and actively marketed to, women. Last year’s inaugural Romance Game Corner was a small booth on the periphery of Japan’s big gaming convention. This year, it was front and center in the main hall. The exhibitors capitalized on this by packing their booths with eye-grabbing attractions featuring attractive male models.
The romantic fantasies playing out  in the Romance Game Corner certainly used sex to sell products, but in sharp contrast to how videogame conventions usually use sex appeal. Every other booth at Tokyo Game Show featured a phalanx of women serving only as eye candy for the men. The Romance Game Corner was sexy but not lewd, and everything fit the context of the games being advertised.
Promotional still from Class Trip Crush, a Voltage dating sim game released in English on iOS.
Promotional still from Class Trip Crush, a Voltage dating sim game released in English on iOS. Voltage, Inc.
The games were barely present—many are free-to-play smartphone apps already available, so few people had any need to wait in line to play them. The publishers focused instead on recreating the fantasy within their games.
Voltage’s booth offered a different scenario in each corner. Not only did each “interact with a hot guy” situation have its own stable of male models, but visitors could vote for their favorite hunk in a booth-wide election. Talk-show stage events were held with popular television actors, who read romantic lines submitted by fans through Voltage’s website.
Besides the kabedon booth, other women waited for a more exotic fantasy: Meeting a blond American in New York.
To promote an app tied to the TV show Gossip Girl, Voltage had handsome men sitting on a couch to chat up women visiting the booth, which featured pink lights, a veil of crystals and a disco ball.
“We’re basically hitting on them, without being too forward,” said Kyle Card, an actor and model who lives in Tokyo. “A lot of the reactions are hands over the face, unable to speak, laughing to themselves. Lots of silence.”
Not all the visitors are so shy, he says. “There’s the odd girl who’s been surprising to us, with deep eye gazing and coming right back with the compliments.”
“I think I want to play this game now,” Tomomi, a programmer from Chiba who attends the Tokyo Game Show every year, said after her encounter on the couch.
For a completely different fantasy, game publisher Sunsoft had a booth with a bed to promote Gokumen, a game where all the male characters actually are women. The booth was staffed with women dressed in suits.
The Gokumen experience was considerably more hands-on than the Voltage scenarios. Visitors would sit down with a model for a quick chat, which would end with the model pushing them down by the shoulders, flat onto the bed.
“Do you love me?” the women would whisper into their ears. “Just leave everything to me.”
A representative from Voltage said that the company has established a branch in the US and is localizing its Japanese apps into English, as well as developing games specifically aimed at American women.
Would kabedon play outside Japan? I met one Brazilian student named Luane who seemed thrilled by the experience. I asked her what the actor said to her as she was pinned against the wall.
“I don’t know, he spoke in Japanese,” she said. “But he is beautiful.”

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