Rabu, 01 September 2010

School Days: it could happen to you

The Japanese video game industry, particularly the eroge segment of it, has produced some odd storyline and characters over the years. Games of this sort, generally labeled as “dating sims” by unaware Western audiences, have a set of stock character archetypes that developers tend to inevitably draw upon. Games of this sort also tend to be set in idyllic, happy high school settings, far removed from the social anxiety and performance anxiety that Japanese youths feel during that age. Games that deviate from the formula do appear, but they hardly make a major impact. That was the case until 0verflow, a moderately known eroge developer, came out with “School Days.”

Eroge players from inside and outside Japan have praised “School Days” for two reasons. First, it took the risk of being the first fully-animated game of this sort. This move is sometimes seen as a result of the status anxiety that developers have felt since eroge games have started to be converted into animation by Japanese networks. However, it is the second reason for the praise that has people talking about the game a full year after the initial release.

That second reason is that, barring three of the 21 different endings available in the game, characters act with the same social anxiety and status anxiety problems that Japanese teenagers experience. In fact, aside from the occasional reference to performance anxiety on Japan's infamously difficult standardized tests, the characters could be of virtually any nationality or culture. The realistic depiction is heavily focused on the emotional turmoil of the game's multiple possible story arcs, depending on the player's decisions at certain points of the game.

Central to the story of “School Days” is the main character, Makoto, whose actions are actually controlled by the player by determining the courses of action throughout the story. Aside from being considered as one of the most impulsive, hated, and unlikable lead characters the genre has ever produced, Makoto is also a representation. He is an aloof loner, a well-meaning loser, or an overachieving Romeo. He represents the average, hormone-controlled teenage male, thrust into a situation involving two (possibly more, depending on the player's actions) attractive females. He also showed mild signs of status anxiety early on in his relationship with one of the lead females, well aware of her family having a higher social status than his.

Players and critics have also praised Kotonoha, one of the lead females, for being among the most realistic and developed members of the cast. Her character initially starts out showing the same signs of social anxiety that many Japanese girls feel, particularly if there is something about them that makes them stand out immediately. In Kotonoha's case, as pointed out by several other characters, it was the fact that her bust size was larger than the average Japanese girl's. She also suffers from a form of performance anxiety in certain routes in the game when she feels her relationship is threatened, consciously questioning whether she is performing her role as a girlfriend properly. She also exhibits signs of status anxiety, seemingly uncertain of where she stood after the revelation that her boyfriend, the aforementioned Makoto, was cheating on her.

It is difficult to explain the realism of the game, as that would involve explaining the nature of how the game is played. Since there are multiple endings and multiple in-game “routes” by which those endings can be achieved, the task is a complex one. However, “School Days” shines because the characters stay true to their personalities, exhibiting the natural evolutions of their own unique psychological make-ups as the story goes along. The game, like life, shows little mercy to the characters on certain routes.

While extreme, three of the possible resolutions are still arguably realistic. Since events in the game, when applied to the real world, can result in severe emotional and psychological instability, it is arguable that the violent resolutions are also realistic. After all, given the right combination of psychological factors, the possibility of temporary insanity, and emotional instability, and even a sweet schoolgirl can commit murder.

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