The XX Factor

When a Man Loves a Computer Screen

A few months back, the New York Times ran an alternately fascinating and creepy story about Japanese men who were in love with their life-size anime plush dolls, and shamelessly took them everywhere-to the beach, to karaoke (perhaps singing Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll”?), to the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Today, Boing Boing touches on another bizarre Japanese dating trend, this one two-dimensional: a video game girlfriend .

Boing Boing interviews Koh and Yurie, a Japanese couple newly transplanted to San Francisco, who dealt with some relationship issues when Koh found himself getting sucked into Love Plus, a popular Nintendo DS dating game, during a business trip to Toyko this September. Love Plus starts the player off with three mini-skirt donning, high-school-age girlfriends to court, and eventually the player whittles his choice down to just one. While most other dating sims end there, Love Plus continues with the chosen girl whispering sweet nothings, eventually mimicking the player’s likes and dislikes, and demanding physical affection. Yep, physical affection:

Q: Koh, what do you and Rinko do together?

Koh: OK, this is pretty embarrassing. The DS has a mic and a touchscreen, so … one time, she asked me to say “I love you” a hundred times into the mic. I was on the airplane when she asked me that, so I was like, no way. There was also this part where you have to hold her hand on the touchscreen. If you touch her hand with the stylus, you get to hold her hand. And then there’s the part where you have to kiss her.

Q: Did you do it?

Koh: No, no! The girl’s face shows up on the screen, and you have to touch her lips to give her a kiss. That’s pretty weird … this is embarrassing. I’m sweating right now just talking about it.

Koh’s wife Yurie seems to be only slightly fazed by Koh’s virtual indiscretions, commenting, “If we were to get into a fight over this, it would be less about the content of the game and more about how much time he spends playing it.” As someone who’s passed by a Best Buy on the day of a big Xbox release before, I’m alert to the great, mostly harmless love between a man and his console. But this particular case seems to straddle the line between permissible hobby and cheating of sorts. (Tangentially, I’m pretty sure Liz Lemon would call this kind of high-level video game addiction a big DEALBREAKER.) It seems that the crux of the issue is whether one can really develop feelings for what amounts to a computer program.

And according to Koh, one can:

Koh: The danger I felt when I almost got sucked into Love Plus was very human. If I was single and had gotten too into this … I don’t know, I recognized that there was a me in there that could have a real attachment to this artificial character on the other side of the DS screen.