Life 2.0
Japanese games take reality one step further

They aren't easy to find, but if you look hard enough you might get lucky and score what could be, to American eyes at least, the strangest computer games ever -- Japanese Life Simulation games.

See also...
... by M. Christian
... in the Whoa! section
... from November 9, 1999

Not satisfied with our brand of gun-totin', bitmapped blood and gore, the Japanese have entire genres of games where the object is... well, more reality-based.

For example, there's the genre of dating games. In these games, the object isn't to defeat the alien bug monsters from beyond the next galaxy, but rather to date doe-eyed anime cuties. In Can Can Bunny Premier 2, you are aided in your pursuit of a variety of Japanese babes by two obnoxious "goddesses" who let you in on how your potential girlfriends are feeling about you and occasionally throw some "luck" your way. In Roommate Ryoko, you're "entertaining" a young lady in your apartment -- and you have three years to "get to know her better" (three years?!).

By the way, put aside your filthy fantasies: Although the goal is to acquire a girlfriend, the relationships are frustratingly chaste in most of these life-sim games.

One twisted game, Bloody Bride, throws in a goth angle where the player becomes a creature of the night in pursuit of a mortal ... date. No neck biting in this one, folks, but rather the slow, tedious struggle to win the smile of yet another huge-eyed girl. At least in this one you have your vampiric "embarrassments" to overcome -- as only the Japanese would do it. For instance, in this game vampires don't eat cookies for some reason. So how does a Creature of the Night deal with a potentially humiliating faux pas when offered a plate of Fig Newtons? Play the game and find out.

For those craving a bit more meat, there are less innocent games where the goals might be similar but the rewards are more titillating. Web sites such as J-List and are crammed with games that are a lot more visceral, and (especially for Americans used to first-date fucks) much more interesting. In these virtual lover games, the idea is not just to score (literally) but to keep her coming back for more. Better watch what you say though: One wrong phrase and your little Japanese hottie might run off with the first geek with a bigger joystick she sees.

Sexy games are obvious, but one of the truly more surreal games is The Conveni. This terrifying game has a concept that would send many of us screaming off into the night: The player becomes (the horror, the horror!) manager of a convenience store.

In The Conveni, you are the owner of a small store somewhere in Japan. Your job is to stock your shelves, deal with taxes, set your hours, decide what to put on sale, what to mark up, along with many more painfully realistic details. At the end of the game you have the satisfaction of having spent dozens of hours virtually doing something that causes real convenience store clerks to swallow the barrel of a pistol, or at least piss in the soda fountains.

Even more surreal games lurk beyond The Conveni, games where the goal is to study for exams, manage other kinds of businesses, or -- in a moment of supreme surrealism -- design computer games.

With games like these, who needs real life?

M. Christian writes and edits fiction and nonfiction. His collection of short stories, Dirty Words, is due out in 2000 from Alyson Books.