Visual novels, or interactive storylines, have seen increasing popularity within the last decade. If the description “interactive storylines” sounds more like “video games” to you, don’t worry. There has been confusion and heated debate within the visual novel community since the beginning of times, and whatever line the community or developers draw in the sand is constantly changing.
For this post, I’ll be referring to the ‘traditional’ visual novels with little to no gameplay. Just dialogue or map options.
According to VNDB statistics, the vast majority of visual novels involve romance — if it isn’t already the main plotline. Men are also the dominant player of visual novels.
Looking away from visual novels for a brief moment, women make up 80% of fiction novels sales, romance being the best selling genre. So… why aren’t women reading more visual novels? If you’ve clicked on that VNDB link I’ve not so sneakily left in the paragraph above, you may have an idea. The only tag higher than romance on VNDB’s statistics is sexual content. Traditional visual novels have been known to be a pornographic medium. It’s important to note that not all visual novels are pornographic in nature, but it does unfortunately help to categorize the medium in a poor and controversial light.
But what about porn in books? 50 Shades of Grey? Anne Rice? Bridgerton? Game of Thrones? You’ve at least heard of two of these. There’s not too much difference between what is written — only how it is treated and who the target audience is.
In the west, “porn for women” is generally marketed as softer, slower, and veiled. The capitalist manifestation of making love. Sometimes it even gets another description — erotica.
“Porn for men” is marketed as aggressive, intense, and over the top. The capitalist manifestation of fucking.
Despite that, there have been efforts in recent years to challenge this notion. This is where print/digital novels and visual novels come into play. More and more print romance novels have been forthcoming about their sexual content, even pushing the content to darker, more risqué topics like BDSM, rape fantasies, etc..
Contrastingly, some of the best selling visual novels in the West are moege or charage — typically stories with the softest type of sexual content available. If you have been with me so far: women, who are supposed to be the ones into ‘softer love’, are more openly exploring the darker side of their sexuality. Meanwhile, men — the so called ‘sexual beasts’ — are engaging in softer sexual storytelling.
I’m going to make the bold assumption that men aren’t likely to turn to traditional paper-and-ink pages for their romantic or sexual gratification. Some say that men are more visually aroused than women; others blame PornHub.
Nonetheless, I see the future as one where visual novels won’t have such gender disparity.
Visual novels — though troublesome to define — have expanded to other genres, many times turning into hybrids with gameplay mechanics. Many directors involved in top-selling video games and TV shows have also dipped their toes into the visual novel medium. Urobuchi Gen (Phantom of Inferno; Saya no Uta) and Okada Akira (The Nonary Games; AI: Somnium Files) are good examples. Non-Japanese developers and writers have also become more open to visual novels as a media. You can see this through Katawa Shoujo, Doki Doki Literature Club, or Christine Love’s work.
As the years go by, the line between pornographic material and storytelling involving explicit sexual content has begun to gradually fade. This also applies to visual novels and video games.
The definition of female and male porn has metamorphosed at a rapid rate. This only emphasizes the need to openly talk about sex. Not dreading, not romanticizing; not hushing it nor obsessing over it. Let’s treat it as the staple of human life it is, and therefore, a staple of human storytelling.
Although sex is a unique experience for everyone, much of our psychology towards it is incredibly similar. This happens regardless of gender identity, sexual attraction or sexual arousal (or lack thereof).
This article was taken from Ouba Academy and edited for Fuwanovel’s use. Please visit the Academy here if you wish to lean more about sex education through media or read more of Maia Mae’s work.