I understand that with the quick advancements in technology the line that separates meat-space and virtual space is blurring. The extent of this blur however has just been brought to my attention. Did you know that in Japan there are literally Hotels and Restaurants that cater to a man + his virtual girlfriend?
Let me take a few steps back here. In Japan recently there has been an increase of what has been termed “celibacy syndrome”. A 2013 survey by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact” and more than a quarter of men felt the same way. So if the option of having a real relationship is so unattractive, what do they do? Do they live their lives out in the valley of singledom? No. Many of these digital natives turn to Dating Sims.
Dating sims (or dating simulations) are a video game subgenre. These games are designed for men to try and build relationships with a collection of virtual women and then finish the game either in the form of having sex with one of them or in the form of marriage. There are a few important observations to make quickly before I continue. Firstly, yes I did say these games are designed for men and no I am not being sexist. Due to 45% of the female Japanese population claiming “celibacy syndrome” the options for a man to find a suitable partner are almost halved. But don’t get me wrong the Japanese men aren’t all that interested in settling down either. The same article mentioned previously states that the men in Japan find real girlfriends “too troublesome” and they “can’t be bothered” and the prospect of having a virtual girlfriend is becoming increasingly appealing. One man who calls himself Sal9000 on a dating simulator coined “Love Plus” officially married his virtual girlfriend in an actual church in Japan. These occurrences are further tangling the two worlds.
Furthermore as I mentioned earlier there are Hotels and Restaurants built to accommodate this growing trend. The town of Atami which used to be the ultimate honeymoon destination for Japanese Newlyweds has taken note of the decrease in marriages and the increase in virtual romances and incorporated barcode scanners which allow for the ladies to appear in each location.
When I read about these relationships between a real man and a synthetic woman I question how they become so emotionally attached to these women. These virtual beings aren’t in any way convincing or representative of the real world and in many of the Dating Sims such as Love Plus you don’t have full agency – rather you have a choice between 3 or 4 options of dialogues to select as a reply to the script. When agency is removed there is an immediate disconnect and a challenge for the art of immersion. For me playing these games there is an obvious boundary between the real and the fake and a focus on hypermediacy.
Is this a glimpse of what is to come? Will the line between the online and offline blur so much that the two will actually begin to overlap? Or is the Japanese culture far more digitally involved than the rest?
I can accept that technology will shape the future but we must not let it take over. There is something to be said about person-to-person contact and even if you can construct a partner to do whatever you want, there is nothing healthy about dating an anime.