Erotic Japanese Games: Can Kids Play Them?

Posted by | January 08, 2014 | Tips for Parents | 3 Comments
Cradle Song Visual Novel GameSource: And So He Said

We’ve talked about sex in video games before, with the aim of reassuring families that it’s unusual and really nothing to worry about. However, there is one aspect of sex in gaming that parents may want to be aware of, particularly if kids are into anime and manga or other Japanese media—and that is eroge, or erotic games.

Welcome to Part 2 of our Sex in Video Games series: I’ve gathered the important terms, explained some of them in further detail, and added a few insights and tips for families toward the end of the article.

Terminology

There is some debate around the meaning of each of these words, and what forms of entertainment they apply to. This is largely due to differences in regional labeling, linguistic barriers, and cultural ideas about what constitutes “adult content.” This guide is simply an introduction to the basics behind each term, but you may run into misuses or different interpretations.

In short: each term has a very specific meaning, but in English-speaking circles, the distinctions become extremely muddy. Don’t take anything at face value!

Hentai: Japanese term for “perverted”—any game with the term hentai associated with it will have sexual content. (Sometimes erotic games are called Hentai games, or H-games.) Hentai is simply an adjective, and can be used to describe anything from games to people to actions.

Eroge: Erotic Game—a game, often a visual novel (see below) which includes erotic content. These range from well-thought-out stories with deep characterization to straight-up pornography. H-game and eroge are used interchangeably.

Dating Sim: A romance simulation. Usually refers to a game where dating and romance is the primary focus, but any game may include elements of dating sims. Many dating sims are visual novels (see below). They can include sexual content, but often do not.

Interactive novel: A game, typically text-based, where a player interacts with the environment in order to receive the story. This often results in choose-your-own-adventure type of gameplay, with multiple endings to the narrative. The interactive elements of most interactive novels are minimal; players click and choose dialogue or action options from a list, then watch as the story unfolds.

Visual novel (VN): Like an interactive novel, but with specifically anime or manga-like art stylings. In the United States, the term visual novel is often broadly used to refer to eroge, but visual novels can be any genre  and need not have sex or even dating. The term refers to format rather than content.

One game developer's diagram of how this whole thing works. If we were to superimpose eroge on here, it would look like a bunch of spots both inside and outside of the diagram. Source:  coldacid.tumblr.com

One game developer’s diagram of how this whole thing works. If we were to superimpose eroge on here, it would look like a bunch of spots both inside and outside of the circles. Source: coldacid.tumblr.com

Details, Please

Eroge

Eroge (pronounced eh-ro-gay) is a Japanese portmanteau for “erotic game,” sometimes referred to as H-games or hentai games—hentai meaning perverted or lewd. The definition of eroge is a game that contains sexual content, but there are many types of eroge.  Sexual content is often presented as a reward for completing parts of the game.

The first eroge were released in the early 1980s, and they were primarily semi-interactive pornography. Since then, story has become a much greater and more important focus for most, though straight-forward games can still be found. Some of these games are extremely thoughtful and complex, particularly when in the visual novel format. One commenter pointed out that thinking of eroge as porn is like equating an erotic movie with pornography—they both contain sex scenes, but otherwise they’re very different. (Actually, many eroge aren’t even all that visually explicit.)

Eroge are PC-exclusive and often Indie, because Japanese game companies prefer not to release adult games for all-age consoles. There are usually also censored (age 15+) versions of eroge available for younger gamers and those who play for the story rather than the sexual content. In fact, many eroge are later made into all-ages anime, manga, and even live-action films containing little to none of the original erotic elements.

Some eroge involve controversial subjects, including abuse, incest, and even bestiality, though most are much more tame. These more controversial themes are condemned by many in Japan as well as around the world, and are considered a very niche market. The melding of psychological horror with pornography in a snuff-film type of game genre isn’t suitable to most people’s tastes, and doesn’t represent the eroge industry as a whole—and certainly not the videogame industry, any more than snuff horror movies represent film.

Dating Sims

Dating Sims (simulations) are often thrown in with eroge, but they really aren’t equatable. Dating sims needn’t have sexual content, while the very definition of eroge is that they contain sexual content. Dating sims are typically focused on achieving a romantic relationship, and sex isn’t a necessity. Other types of game can have a dating sim element without being exclusively driven by romance—an example would be the Persona series, in which player characters can build a romantic relationship with other cast members if they choose to, but it is not an essential part of the games. Some English-language games—particularly the Bioware games, Mass Effect and Dragon Age—also have dating sim elements.

Some would argue that the dialogue sections of Mass Effect are basically visual novels rendered in 3D. Source: IGN

Some would argue that the dialogue sections of Mass Effect are basically visual novels rendered in 3D. The romance aspect makes the games effective dating sims, even though they’re largely about space, loyalty, and politics. Source: IGN

Common game mechanics in dating sims include daily time limits, appearance boosters, and an “attraction meter,” which increases or decreases depending on how attractive the player-character is to individual cast members. Attraction is typically achieved by engaging in conversation with cast members. The mechanical goal is to win the affection of the player’s chosen cast member, and the reward is marriage or true love—and occasionally sex—but the emotional goal is often to simply enjoy the story.

Visual Novels

There are tons of visual novels out there, and sex—even dating—is in no way a requirement for the genre. A visual novel is a type of interactive fiction that includes images, animation, and sometimes voice acting. Because visual novel is a predominantly Japanese format, most contain anime or manga art stylings. For gamers who enjoy story above gameplay mechanics, visual novels can be a revolutionary discovery. The interactivity is often limited to choosing dialogue or action options and letting them play out, though some have more action-adventure or RPG elements. Visual novels have often been compared to choose-your-own-adventure novels, and typically have multiple possible endings, depending on the choices made during gameplay. The format allows for mature and complex storytelling and characterization.

One artist's rendition of the way dialogue usually works in visual novels. Source:  Pandaepan

One artist’s rendition of the way dialogue usually works in visual novels. Source: Pandaepan

These games—some gamers hesitate to even give them the term “game”—are rare outside of Japan, and most fans are more familiar with their anime or manga adaptations than they are with the original game. The game Fate/stay night, for instance, is also a very popular anime with Western audiences. (It was, in fact, originally an erotic game, but a 15+ censored version became extremely well-loved.) Ace Attorney is another fan favorite, is based on the Japanese legal system (sort of), and has no erotic content.

Visual novels get a bad rep with Western audiences because of their implicit association with eroge, but there are hundreds of titles out there that may be perfect for teens.

Where Parents Come In

Some things families might want to know:

  • Visual novels and dating sims don’t necessarily include sexual content. Eroge and hentai games do. A game can be both a visual novel and an eroge; one is a format, and the other is a content descriptor.
  • Visual novels are great for encouraging reading.
  • These games aren’t that easy to come by outside of Japan. You won’t find them in any major retailer, and very few are even made for consoles. The main source for Americans is digital downloads.
  • Most of these games aren’t legally imported to the United States, and most don’t have translated versions. However, some may be subtitled in English, whether officially or by bilingual fans. Many that are imported are censored.
  • Be aware that just because a game looks cartoony and features teenagers or kids as characters doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for teens and kids—especially if it’s Japanese. Japan doesn’t consider animation a kids-only medium.
  • Japanese cultural sensibilities surrounding sex may be different from American ones (or, at least, cultural morays when it comes to the making and selling of adult games may be different). Some stories may contain very sensitive topics. If your kids express interest in any kind of dating sim, erotic or otherwise, make sure to do your research. Even if the game doesn’t have explicit sexual content, uncomfortable situations (for instance, extreme age differences) may still turn you off the story.

If you have a question about a specific game, shoot us an email at admin@pixelkin.org and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

(Part 1) Sex in Videogames: A Series

Keezy Young

About Keezy Young

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.