I am playing Ganguro Girl (NSFW), a free hentai dating sim. It’s been over ten years since the last time I played it. I’m a different man now.
This game has been played over 21 million times since its release; that’s nearly 5,000 people a day who’ve decided to have a go. It is a game, ostensibly, about seducing a woman. That’s simple enough. It’s a particular kind of woman, too – a Ganguro Girl, a member of a Japanese subculture that engages in absurd makeup, ultra-bright clothing and levels of fake tan that can only really be described as inadvisable; they look a little like Essex clowns, if you can imagine such a thing.
Anyway. You have the mad hots for Ganguro Girls. Time to get it on.
CHAP IN SUNGLASSES
You are a chap, a chap in sunglasses, and that (aside from the raging boner you have for women done up like nightmare circus strippers*) is pretty much the entirety of your character. You have three stats – charm, strength and intelligence – which largely affect how much money you earn from one of three jobs, namely: telemarketing, tech support, or thinly-veiled mafia enforcement. You spend money on dates and presents for the girls, you see, so money is important.
You can level up your stats, too. Charm – the one I focused on – runs off drinking beer, so every beer you drink permanently increases your charm score. Just like real life! (That’s my secret, ladies.) This lead to a loop where I would peel myself out of bed, go for a couple of breakfast beers, spend several hours lying to people over the phone, then hit the club to try and score.
(I don’t think being drunk helps you answer phones. Not in real life.)
There is one girl available in the free version of the game so you talk to her, day in and day out, in the same club, at the same time, hungover from the morning’s drinking. Her name is Saori. The first few times you meet her, she refuses to give you the time of day. That’s fine; that’s fair. I don’t much fancy myself either, here, as I’m an unshaven telesales drunkard. To lure her in, you simply have to meet her a bunch of times.
You have to bother her. Bother her until she gives in and talks to you.
“Talk”is a generous phrase; she simply states facts, facts about herself. You barely say anything. You are nothing: you have no past, no present, no future goals aside from the way that you want to get off with this girl so hard that you’re willing to run your life into the ground to do so. You are a ghost, an empty thing, rendered down to a cross between a penis and a fly trying to escape through a closed window, just buzzing, bumping, over and over.
I remembered from my previous playthrough, back in 2003, that you have to remember these facts, so I started to write them down in Sharpie on a stack of napkins left on the table from last night’s takeaway burger. Here are some facts about Saori:
Her favourite shop is Toyku, and her favourite brand of clothing is Egoist
She is a Gemini and has blood type AB
She has a 54cm waist
Her favourite band is Pizzicato 5
And, and. and. I am a married man. I know these things now, about a woman that does not exist and is not even especially well-drawn.
However, you must charm her further still (perish the thought), so you bring her gifts. Gifts range from a DVD to a handbag to a pair of knee-high platform boots and nothing in-between. These are your options. After chatting to her for a while, I dropped a handbag in her lap, and she agreed to a date.
I take her out to a cigar bar; the other options available are the park and a trip on a bullet train, and I don’t know about you, but I’m a sophisticated man and I like it when a woman smells like a carpet fire, so the way forward was clear.
Saori joins me, done up all fancy in a white dress, and she looks… embarrassed? Angry? Upset? Some sort of generic anime negative emotion, anyway. I try talking to her. I try taking a picture with her. She asks to do something else the whole time.
And I’m like, why’d you come out, Saori, if you hate cigars, and me, so much.
I stumble out of the date, and into bed and sleep; then two breakfast beers, work, club. Gotta keep trying. Throw handbags at her. Throw shoes at her. Write down her goddamn hip measurements in case they come up later. She agrees to another date, finally, a week later.
Don’t I have anything better to do? Doesn’t she? If this was going to happen, shouldn’t we have hit if off, already, rather than me slamming myself against her like she’s a game of fucking Breakout?
We go to the park, this time. She wears a t-shirt. She looks happier. We talk, and what this means is that she asks a series of questions about herself that I must answer correctly to raise her mood level. Which is weird.
Still, this isn’t about healthy relationships, is it? It’s an exercise in fetishisation, about a man being attracted to a subculture, to an aesthetic, and about the woman who he chooses as an avatar of that group. It doesn’t have to be Saori. She just has to wear fake tan and eventually agree to go out with him.
Anyway; I answer her questions correctly, I throw another pair of shoes at her, I take her picture, and we kiss.
We are boyfriend and girlfriend now. Saori seems down for a serious thing; that’s cool, I am too. (Lies! I am only interested in having sex with her! She is the only souce of sex available! She is the only other woman in this entire game!)
(And; could that be a comment on how it feels to be in love with someone, to care about them so much that they just supercede all other elements in your life, and that there might as well be no other women in the world? Yes. Is it? No. A hundred times no. This game is the product of viewing women not only as an acquirable commodity but indeed a sort of challenge, a set of rules to follow with a reward at the end, you Put The Money In and The Sex Comes Out, like half the human fucking race is a sort of vending machine for rentable vaginas)
STEP IT UP
Now our relationship XP can only increase when we are on dates. That’s… fair, I suppose? That makes sense. You have to step it up. You have to take it to the next level. You have to spend time alone.
Getting her to agree to go on dates is another matter entirely; while I can ask her any time I want, I have to pick a day of the week to take her out. If she’s not free on that day, I am immediately kicked out of the club, and what. Sometimes you can talk to her and she might reveal a day when she’s free, but not often. Most of the time I am fumbling in the dark or, alternatively, hanging around the mall in the vain hope that I’ll bump into her there and be presented with the option of spending $800 on a pair of shoes so she’ll agree to go on a date with me.
I am starting to get… angry, I suppose, with her, and that should be a point in the game’s favour, coming at it from a postmodernist, death of the author perspective, because it manages to skew the view of this woman into that of the sort of MRA dickhole who thinks that they are, at any point in their lives, owed sex.
I bought you shoes, Saori. I spend a thousand dollars on those shoes. They are, and I am not exaggerating here, fucking amazing shoes. I learned all about you. I know your waist measurements! I know your phone number off by heart! I did everything I was told to do. I took you on dates, and you stand around looking furious and upset, and I don’t know what you want from me, fucking women, how dare they, I don’t understand them at all, why do they make this so difficult
It’s masterful; it locks you into a loop of drinking and work and endless, frantic, useless seduction, like “getting with a girl” is the only useful thing you can do with your life, it’s all you’ve been programmed to do, and all your tools are malformed and broken, and every problem up until now has been solvable through the application of a series of logical steps, so surely this is the right way to solve this?
Fittingly, I look up a strategy guide online. It turns out that, when your girlfriend is upset/angry/embarrassed on dates, you are supposed to give her cosmetic items to counteract this. Is she nervous? Give her hair dye. Is she furious? Try slipping her some fake tan.
Next date, I try it, and as she looks ashamed at me as we stand in front of the bullet train I wordlessly hand her a tube of lipstick. “Thankyou,” she says. “You’re so considerate.” The game informs me that her mood has “returned to normal.” Good stuff. Cracking. Perfect. An excellent portrayal of human interaction. Shame is a status effect and women can counteract it by applying a mana potion. Put on your makeup, love. Fix your hair. Brave face.
Anyway. The dates continue. I max out my charm score – I literally cannot fit any more beer inside me – and, one day, when we’re at the love hotel (which is a Japanese thing I’m not bothered enough to look up but I think it’s a sort of private couples’ hotel where you go to be intimate without waking up your neighbours, who because this is Tokyo presumably live four inches away from you in a tiny apartment hidden in the cupboard under your bed) and I’m laying on the charm thick and fast and suddenly, bang, she’s ready.
METRICS FOR LOVE
She’s ready to take our relationship to the next level. Up until this point it’s just been kissing. We have hired a hotel room specifically for kissing.
“I think I’m in love with him,” the game tells me that she thinks to herself, and why, all I’ve done is answer a series of questions about your breast measurement and bought you enough shoes to outfit an army and what kind of a weird person are you, Saori, that these are your metrics for love? What is it you love about me? What have I possibly demonstrated that’s worthy of love? I am PUTTING MONEY IN until the SEX COMES OUT.
There is a final exam – she sits on the bed, skirt off, and I answer questions about her, and then, finally, it’s time. It has been sixty-four in-game days; we have seen each other every day for two months (not counting Sundays, when the club is closed so I just work an extra telemarketing shift to get more shoe money) and now, finally, the sex comes out.
ARRHYTHMIC, FALTERING JERKS
The sex is the best thing about this game. The sex is hilariously, inadvertently, accurate.
There are two positions; in one, you are penetrating her with your fingers, and in another, you are engaging in some good old-fashioned penis-in-vagina sex in a spooning position. (You do not remove your sunglasses at any point during the act. I should make this clear: Saori has never seen your eyes.) The second option is the best for reasons that I will explain now**:
There is an “orgasm meter” on the side of the screen that fills when you push the up arrow key. It’s not a rhythmic thing; when you push the button, you frantically thrust inside her. When you stop pressing the button, you stop. It’s all accompanied by a (badly) animated loop of sex, so if you want to watch it for longer than two seconds, you have to sort of feather the up button, and resort to a series of arrhythmic, faltering jerks inside her.
I figured that when it filled up – went all the way red – that you were doing it wrong, maybe too hard, that she wasn’t into that. But no; when it fills up, you turbofuck her for a few seconds then change position to missionary. When it fills up a second time, you pull out and ejaculate on her, and the game’s over. Bam. Credits. Thank you for playing, ladies and gentlemen, please leave the theatre by the side door.
And I’m all, is that it? I played a game for upwards of a bloody hour to get six seconds of sex, and not even a GOOD six seconds; six seconds stretched out into half a minute of blind, mute pumping. But that’s what sex is, isn’t it, when you’re young and godawful at it – something you’re supposed to deal with, a challenge. The point of sex is orgasm. I remember being told that it was important to have sex as soon as humanly possible to get my first time “out of the way.”
(Here’s a fun fact: I don’t remember my first time. They say you do, but I don’t. I remember eating a sandwich with my girlfriend in town the day after; I remember secretly holding hands with her in her family car when we thought no-one could see; I remember taking photographs in the passport machine at the airport when I left to return home, the tears, the heart-wrenching pain of leaving. Not the sex. But, shit, you gotta have sex, right? Not worth it otherwise.)
It is a perfect punchline to an awful game; the promise of something far greater than is delivered, hours and hours spent obsessing over a girl culminating in a disappointing handful of seconds and then, nothing, fade-to-black, the story is over. Not interested in what comes after; you’ve won, you remembered facts about her, you bought her things, you had the minimum amount of sex, this is done. Crucially, it is not erotic.
Look: I wasn’t expecting Ganguro Girl to have gotten any better with age – it was shit when it came out thirteen years ago, and it’s still shit now. But I’d not realised how messed up it was when I’d played it, and I’m scared to think that it resonated with me enough to leave an impression; that some part of fifteen-year-old me thought that, while this was obviously an exaggeration, that was how you interacted with people that you found attractive. That romance was more like unlocking a door than exploring some new, undiscovered land; that the knack was finding the right combination codes to unlock people, rather than finding someone who resonates in harmony with you.
*Just wanna make this clear; I don’t want to police women’s fashion choices. People can wear whatever they want; it’s not for me, it’s for them, and more power to ‘em. That said, I think Ganguro fashion looks daft.
**You do, I should state for the record, bring Saori to orgasm in the first option. So that’s something, at least.