Tall, Dark, and Overdone: Shall We Date?

Shall We Date? dating simulator games have been making positive changes in their storytelling and character development over the past few years, until a popularity contest shows that perhaps their progress isn't enough.

It’s hard to enjoy dating games when the developers have to cater to the type of people who enjoy dating games. There are some exceptions: Dream Daddy, of course, as a parody, and HuniePop, which could also be a parody—or not. It’s hard to call “Bejeweled then sexy-times” a form of dating, but maybe I haven’t experienced all the world has to offer.

But I have experienced Shall We Date?, a  series of mobile dating simulator games developed by NTT Solmare Corporation. NTT Solmare Corporation is a Japanese company that has been around since 2002, and they’ve got a plethora of games, settings and eligible bachelors to choose from, ranging from Alice in Wonderland to vampires and werewolves.

Sometimes the apps cost money to unlock the full game, and sometimes they cost patience and perseverance if players don’t want to spend real money to progress faster through the story. While Shall We Date?’s earlier games don’t have the best editing or character development, a few of their current games boast a head-strong heroine who doesn’t apologize after every conversation and doesn’t literally say the words “take me” when it’s time for the hero to, er, take her (ahem, Destiny Ninja).

In 2016, Shall We Date? had a Mr. Shall We Date? contest where players from three of their games, Wizardess Heart+, Blood in Roses+, and Destiny Ninja 2, added points to their favorite bachelor over a course of a few weeks, after which the winner would be selected with the highest points from all three games.

Having played Wizardess Heart+ and Blood in Roses+ for the better part of the year, I was excited to see how other players felt about the bachelors and if our favorites synced up. Instead, I discovered that I lack morals when it comes to prizes (I voted for whoever was first in the category on the off chance they’d win, wherein the game would then reward all those who voted for the winner) and that players seemed to really love Klaus Goldstein from Wizardess Heart+. Seriously. Loved him. He won the contest with more than five million points on his game alone, and over at least a million from the other games. Like, damn. I hadn’t played his track yet, but after the contest, consider my interest was piqued.

I should have known.

I’ve been playing dating games for over three years. I should have known what type of guy would win a contest like that, what type of guy catered to an audience of hopeless romantics.

Klaus Goldstein, a prefect at wizarding school Gedonelune, is strict, smart, and talented. Sorry, I mean tall, dark, and handsome. Sorry, I mean powerful, possessive, and kind of a dick. After wasting a month reading his story (patience is a virtue and money is tight), I couldn’t tell you what I remember of the plot, so it must not have been very good.

I remember that his special pictures (pictures players get with each bachelor as soon as they pass certain points in the storyline) were beautiful, but I could say that about any of the guys. I could tell you that he called the heroine “Bunnyhead” the entire game (what, just Bunny wasn’t good enough?). I could tell you that he probably said, “She’s mine” and any other variation thereof throughout all his fourteen chapters. I think he kissed the heroine’s forehead while she was sleeping once. Might have told her he loved her. When he wasn’t berating and belittling her.

All that progress I had witnessed in the game on the other bachelors’ tracks—the heroine standing up for herself, the heroine being likeable, the bachelors being nice—gone. Reduced once again to a possessive man who “took what was his” and “stopped at nothing that got in his way.”

Why didn’t Joel Crawford from Wizardess Heart+ win? The childhood friend, the guy who loved her his entire life, even when she thought he was a girl? Why didn’t Spade from Blood in Roses+ win? Spade, a shapeshifter who was forced to watch the heroine die countless times, where he had to sacrifice his life and freedom in order to go back in time and try to save her? (I would take this time to add someone from Destiny Ninja 2 except when I tried that game, the prologue picture of the heroine surrounded by ninjas while she had a distressed look on her face did not bode well.)

Why did it have to be the guy who bossed his love around just because he could, and why did the heroine submit so willingly? Because he’s handsome? Commanding? Smart?

His type of character is common in dating games—and movies, and books, and TV shows. You'll notice most popular media have guys like him: Edward Cullen, as a staple example. And Christian Grey from Fifty Shades of Grey, which, lol, is Twilight fanfiction. 

I understand the appeal, but I also understand that society learns from what they see, and if viewers and gamers continue to see possessive and domineering guys in a romantic spotlight, the good ones, the ones worth admiring, worth swooning for, get shadowed by people who go with the flow rather than follow their own morals. They are hidden from people who don’t know any better because the only stories being told are the ones that need to stop being told so much.

Klaus Goldstein isn’t awful. The Shall We Date? games are becoming more progressive, appealing to a broader audience—stories I seriously consider spending money on because I don’t want to wait for my energy to fill up again.

But the fact I still have to sit through a heroine saying, “No,” and her love interest replying, “Do as I say,” is all it takes for her to do as he says needs to change. Give me a tall, dark, and handsome dude. But give me a heroine who knows how to stand up for herself, and give me some goddamned character development so when the guy says he’s sorry for being a dick, I actually believe it.

Published Nov. 6th 2017

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