Computers, dating, and the "screwfly solution"

Robert S. Thau (
Mon, 25 Nov 1996 18:35:15 -0500

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A while ago, I remember reading an SF short story called "the
screwfly solution", which featured: a (real?) pesticide designed
to get rid of the insect pests by messing up the male flys'
sexual behavior (to raise land values for suburban development),
an increase in UFO sightings, and gangs of homicidal men
deliberately hunting down and killing every woman they could find.
The punch line, if you haven't already guessed, is that the Evil
Aliens were using the same basic technique as the humans were
using on the flies, to reduce the human infestation of land that
*they* wanted to settle on.

Of course, a truly *advanced* race of alien conquerors would
figure out a way to achieve the same effect without messy


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Japan's newest heartthrobs are virtual


AT&T EasyCommerce Services


Japan's newest heartthrobs are virtual

Copyright © 1996
Copyright © 1996 N.Y. Times News Service

TOKYO (Nov 25, 1996 00:06 a.m. EST) -- Shiori Fujisaki is a 17-year-old high school junior with long reddish hair and dreamy eyes who is about to release her first record. Shingo Hagiwara is a 21-year-old college sophomore who idolizes her. He goes to nearly every event at which she appears and has bought calendars, posters, watches and mugs with her picture on them.

"Shiori does everything perfectly," he sighed.

Perfect she might be, but Shiori Fujisaki is not real. She is a character in a video game called "Tokimeki Memorial," the goal of which is to get Shiori or one of her friends to date you and fall in love.

Shingo Hagiwara, on the other hand, is quite real. He is one of a growing legion of young Japanese men who have given their hearts to a virtual girl.

So-called "love simulation" games, normally sold on CD-ROMS, have become one of the hottest categories in Japan's home video game industry.

The girls in such games are animated characters that talk to the players but have only a limited ability to converse. Players cannot type in whatever they want to say. Rather, they use the video game controller merely to pick a topic of conversation or a multiple-choice reply. In most games, the text of the conversation is also printed on the bottom of the screen.

In Ascii Corp.'s "True Love Story," for instance, a player walking home from school with a girl can pick a topic of conversation, like the weather or fashion. Or, he can choose an action, such as to stare at her, praise her, give her a present, take her hand or ask for a date or part ways.

A beating heart and other meters in the upper left corner of the screen indicate the girl's emotional state. Pick a conversation topic that interests her and the heart beats faster. When it is beating fast enough, try to hold her hand. But if the player is too forward, she will blush and say "Sorry, I'm going home."

Some players become so absorbed in their pursuit that the girls become real to them. Some young men send love letters and birthday cards to their favorite characters. "Everybody has one character for whom he could sacrifice his life," said Hagiwara, the college student.

So a strange phenomenon is occurring: the video characters are becoming celebrities. Shiori has an official fan club with 10,000 members and a newsletter. There are Tokimeki gatherings and merchandise.

At a recent news conference, dozens of reporters scribbled with straight faces as Konami Co., which makes Tokimeki Memorial, announced Shiori's first compact disk and previewed the two songs, "Teach Me, Mr. Sky," and "Let's Go With the Wind."

The action is not limited to dating games. Cute girls with fan followings are also appearing in fighting games, car-racing games and adventure games. Horipro, a talent agency, has used computer graphics to develop a virtual teen-age idol singer named Kyoko Date.

There is even a magazine, Virtual Idol, devoted to these girls of the CRT screen. Unlike most video game magazines, Virtual Idol, which says it has a monthly circulation of 150,000, deals not with game-playing strategy but with the hobbies, life experiences and physical measurements of people who do not exist. It also profiles the real women whose voices are used in the video games and on the records.

Virtual Idol "is just the right kind of magazine for a person like me who's not interested in real girls," one reader, T.Y., from Shiga Prefecture, wrote in a letter printed in the October issue.

There have been some slightly similar games in the United States. Sierra Online's Leisure Suit Larry games for personal computers involve trying to pick up women. But in America, where computer communication is more common than in Japan, people tend to do their hunting in on-line chat rooms, where the person at the other end of the line is real, albeit not always what he or she pretends to be.

Another reason for the difference is that role-playing games in general are more popular in Japan, whereas Americans prefer sports and action games. Also, comic books and animations are popular in Japan among adults, not just children. Most of the girls in the love simulation games look exactly like the Lolitas in Japanese comics and cartoons -- with shapely figures but innocent faces and big doe eyes.

The players of the love simulation games are mainly male computer nerds ranging in age from their teens to their 30s. Such people are called "otaku" in Japan, a word that literally means "home" and may refer to the observation that these guys do not leave their rooms very much.

Fans of the games say they can relive their high school days, but with more success than they had back then. Also, rejection is easier to take from a machine.

"I can do things I couldn't do," said Yukio Watanabe, a 25-year-old game developer. Asked what he meant, he said, "I wanted to tell a girl that I liked her but I couldn't."

The game characters also tend to be sweeter than real high school girls and will not tell their awkward suitors to get a life. "That kind of tender girl no longer exists," said Yasunobu Goto, a 19-yea2-old vocational school student.

Some say there is a danger that players will never find real relationships satisfying. "There's something called a two-dimensional complex, which means you fall in love with the animated character and you can't fall in love with a real woman," said Satoshi Suzuki, a 22-year-old post office worker.

Some games have some nudity or suggestions of sex. There are X-rated games as well, mainly for personal computers. But the games like Tokimeki Memorial and True Love Story that are sold for Nintendo, Sega and Sony game machines are generally tame.

The progenitor of the love simulation games was not a dating game at all, but Princess Maker, a child-rearing game that appeared in 1991 and is sold by Gainax.

There are now many dating games, like Graduation, Classmates, M and Noel. But the standard-setter has been Konami's Tokimeki Memorial, which came out in 1994 and has sold 1.1 million copies. Tokimeki is a Japanese word for palpitating or throbbing, as in a heart.

Tokimeki was developed by male programmers based on their fantasies, with no input from women. "The person who created the game wanted to have experiences like this back in his high school days," said Akihiko Nagata, a Konami director.

The object of the game is to win the heart of Shiori, the most popular girl at school, or one of 11 other students with different personalities. But Shiori will only say "I love you" on graduation day, three years from the start of the game. You must first live through your anxiety-prone high school years, week by week, so that the game can take several hours.

Whether Shiori will say the magic words depends on how you get along with her and on characteristics like your grooming, athletic ability, social skills, stress level and knowledge of arts and science.

Choose to concentrate on sports one week, for instance, and your athletic rating goes up but your knowledge level goes down. Study too little and you will flunk your exams, lowering your appeal. You must also play the field wisely.

If you focus too much on one girl, the others will have a low opinion of you. Then, even the girl of your choice will reject you, because no one wants a boyfriend who their friends think is a dweeb.

Periodically you should telephone your male friend, Yoshio, who provides advice on date spots and will tell you how each girl is rating you. You can telephone a girl and propose a time and place for a date.

This time, you're in luck. Even though she barely knows you from a hole in the wall, Shiori has agreed to go to the amusement park with you next Sunday. First you choose a ride. How about the Ferris wheel? "That was a nice view," she says when the ride is over. You reply:

1. "Yes."

2. "I was sleeping."

3. "I was looking only at your face."

Even an otaku can figure out which reply is appropriate here. Choose No. 3 and Shiori looks at you with her doe eyes and says: "I'm embarrassed but I'm happy. It was fun. Please invite me again."

Tokimeki, tokimeki, tokimeki. 

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