Updated: Apr 30
Thinking out loud about the adult gaming industry.
Cover art from Big brother: Another story
As an avid gamer, I’m no stranger to game storefronts of all kinds. From good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar shops to today’s ubiquitous online digital shops, I’ve seen how the tides of time have shifted gaming tastes and trends.
VISUAL NOVELS ARE THE FOREFRONT OF CHOICE AND, IN FACT, THEY'RE THE CHAMPIONS OF IT
One such change seems to be in the number of visual novels that are out there. It’s not that visual novels (or VNs) have only recently become a thing. On the contrary, they used to be a niche with a very dedicated fanbase. This is likely because of the perception that visual novels were highly suggestive lewd anime-style games you’d rather nobody ever found out you indulged in. Today, though, these interactive stories are everywhere. You can even find some borderline steamy ones on the Nintendo Switch eShop and there’s only one obvious explanation: they’re selling. But why is that exactly? In a time where people are bombarded by a smorgasbord of TV shows, movies, video games, social media clips, and live streams, it seems unthinkable that anyone would have time to actually - gasp! - read. The thing about VNs, though, is that they’re way beyond a simple reading experience.
Books aren’t exactly out. E-readers, audiobooks, and text-to-speech have made it easier than ever to get cozy with a good book or sneak in a few pages while on your commute. Even though social media arguments are seemingly proving a lot of people aren’t bothering with turning a few pages to learn something, books are still big business. It’s all because there is so much choice on how you can consume them. Visual novels are at the forefront of choice and, in fact, they’re the champions of it. A VN doesn’t need to be read; not necessarily at least. The majority of them come with both on-screen dialogue and voice acting. You can experience stories in any modality you see fit. And the best part is that you don’t need to pay for the same story twice, unlike when you have to buy the Kindle and Audible versions separately. What’s more, is that a lot of VNs will give you the option to change the language. My personal preference when going through an anime-style interactive story is Japanese audio and English text. This gives me the choice to experience the story as it was intended by the original creators while also being able to understand what is going on. If that isn’t enough, the fact that our gaming devices are becoming more connected than ever with the rest of our devices through cross-play, cross-progression, and cloud gaming means we’ve got more ways to play. And the gravy train of visual novels doesn’t just stop there.
VNs are a video game genre. Many gamers will balk at this idea, looking at interactive stories as nothing more than just slideshows with some dialogue options. In truth, some visual novels are like that. However, games are at their finest when they make us feel like we’re the protagonists and characters we pilot in them. Visual novels are some of the best games when it comes to accomplishing this goal. When a good VN gives me meaningful dialogue choices, whether they impact the story or not, it makes me feel like I’m a part of the narrative. In a time where gaming has overtaken every single other entertainment industry by a huge margin, this is a very powerful notion. The fact that more and more of us are choosing to spend our leisure time in interactive entertainment means we don’t just want to be taken on an adventure; we want to live it. This is the heart of my thesis about VNs being today’s book. They offer us the best of all worlds in one singular format that can be stretched across a wide spectrum of design spaces.
WE ALL CAN'T FATHOM NOT HAVING CHOICES THESE DAYS AND THAT'S WHERE VNs SHINE BRIGHTEST
The visual novel as a concept doesn’t need to be thought of simply as a story with voice acting and some interactivity. It can be a larger part of a puzzle or a point-and-click adventure game’s core design. Development teams are also able to play with concepts of time and multiple story perspectives, giving players a more holistic view of a narrative. Some titles are also experimenting with more random elements so that players can play detective and uncover mysteries. I’d also be remiss not to mention that the visual novel storytelling style permeates more than ever in games of all genres, from RPGs to even fighting games. Visual novels are also oftentimes highly replayable. By giving their players choices, VNs can have more than one ending, providing an added reason to experience them more than once. Combining gaming elements and interactivity with a complete audio-visual experience and coupled with decision-making elements is the sheer definition of a whole entertainment package that no other genre and format come close to.
Just like fiction novels and narrative-based books took storytelling to a new level, visual novels are elevating the experience of reading fiction to new heights. Their ability to create a more complete experience through multi-modality and interactivity makes enjoying stories more engaging and accessible. More than simply enjoying a story, VNs are about choice being integrated directly into the experience. We all can’t fathom not having choices these days and that’s where VNs shine brightest. You may be thinking that you want to dive in but you’re not into lewd content so visual novels aren’t for you. However, you’d be surprised at how many visual novels out there exist for all tastes and preferences. There’s a growing number of developers and writers who’re making VNs in a variety of art styles that go beyond the classic Japanese anime form. And even if you happen upon something a bit steamier than you expected, remember that it’s all art at the end of the day. We don’t have to take what the artist is giving us at face value; rather, we must experience and engage with it on our own terms.
What are your top VN's you love to play? Share them with us in the comments belwo or on our discord