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Your character may speak of destiny and true love, but you as the player know better and are keeping a meta tally of all your conquests.
Japanese cultural critic Hiroki Azuma wrote in his translated book Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals about the contradiction of the dual desire for small narratives and grand non-narrative databases, little quantum set-pieces at the expense of a linear canon story.
He pointed out the lack of gravity a character's death has in these kind of games, stemming from seeing the main character and surrounding characters die so many times and how to work with it.
"So basically, rather than the desire of 'I don't want the character to die, so I'll try to avoid it,' we put emphasis on the desire 'I don't want this story to die as is, so I'll try to avoid it,'" he explained.
The first ending many people experience when playing notorious pigeon dating sim Hatoful Boyfriend involves being ambushed by ninjas for "failing to display sufficient intimacy with the birds." You are unceremoniously killed and brought back to the main menu to start over from the beginning or are forced to resume from an earlier save point.
Dating simulation games like Hatoful Boyfriend most often take the form of visual novels, interactive text adventures with images and animations accompanying the branching story.
Some dating sims even go as far as avoiding a common-route affection rating approach entirely, like that found in Hatoful Boyfriend, by prompting the explicit choice of what character you want to pursue during the beginning of the game.
This is usually done after a short introductory prologue and being given a narrative reason for the choice presentation, such as picking a classmate for a school project.
It isn't a good game because it’s hilarious to date pigeons, it's a good game because of what it does to you after you become attached to all the pigeons and then play again one last time in order to "fulfill the promise." The epilogue is the real story.
Since dramatic romances are often the main focus of these games and are necessary to lead the stories along their branching paths, you are expected to fulfill your obligation as a good sport and at least attempt to fall in love.
Or else the game really won't know what to do with you, and thus you will be punished. Non-romantic visual novels do exist for those who don't want to opt in to this particular character-focused experience, but for this article we’ll be limiting ourselves to the love simulation variety.
It’s a troubling view of human relations in general but it’s one that simple gameplay mechanics can handle.
So now we come upon the quantum conundrum of dating sims.