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September 5, 2010 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Only in Japan, Real Men Go to a Hotel With Virtual Girlfriends: Dating-Simulation Game a Last Resort For Honeymoon Town and Its Lonely Guests. "Some devoted fans will go so far as to pay twice the rate—most hotels in Japan charge per guest not per room—to indulge the fantasy that they are not there alone. A night's stay, at most, can cost $500 though many rooms are cheaper. In Atami, the Love Plus+ fans—mostly men in their twenties and thirties—stand out. Unlike the deeply tanned beach crowd wearing very little, they are often pasty and overdressed for the heat in heavy jeans and button-down shirts."

The men are real. The girls are cartoon characters on a screen. The trips are actual, can be expensive and aim to re-create the virtual weekend outing featured in the game, a product of Konami Corp. played on Nintendo Co.'s DS videogame system. LovePlus Official site, in Japanese only.

"Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn't just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

After choosing one of three female characters—goodie-goodie Manaka, sassy Rinko or big-sister type Nene—to be a steady girlfriend, the player taps a stylus on the DS touch-screen in order to walk hand-in-hand to school, exchange flirtatious text messages and even meet in the school courtyard for a little afternoon kiss. Using the device's built-in microphone, the player can carry on sweet, albeit mundane, conversations."
posted by Fizz (49 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn't just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

So do you break up every week or two?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:29 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


So how do you say the game's name (in English, that is): Is it "Love Plus" or "Love Plus Plus"?
posted by limeonaire at 10:30 AM on September 5, 2010


The wikipedia page has the name of the game listed simply as LovePlus (ラブプラス Rabu Purasu).
posted by Fizz at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2010


"Alas, the boom ends this month, when the imaginary characters have to go back to school."

OK, I was trying to be all ok, win-win for everyone, sure, I can dig it, but then that sentence made my WTF-O-Meter assplode. I'm not even sure why.
posted by umberto at 10:35 AM on September 5, 2010 [4 favorites]




lol lonely people
posted by LogicalDash at 10:40 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only in Japan, Real Men Go to a Hotel With Virtual Girlfriends

Apparently the WSJ is hoping that "Only in Japan..." will be the next "In Soviet Russia..."
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:41 AM on September 5, 2010


But who will the lonely virtual boys date? :(
posted by LordSludge at 10:44 AM on September 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Horace, I felt odd copying that but I usually clip the headlines when I post, it makes everything simpler.

It does have an odd ring to it, as if "only in Japan could something so fucked up happen". Very condescending...I'm sure there are men in North America and Europe who are just as willing to lose themselves in fantasy and gaming as these men in Japan do.
posted by Fizz at 10:44 AM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


More seriously, these games are just high budget romance novels. If you've ever fantasized about marrying a fictional character, you are no better than these men. Well, okay, you probably didn't spend thousands of dollars on the most immersive fake romance experience in the world, but that just makes it another in the very long list of very expensive entertainments that rich people use to feel rich.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:48 AM on September 5, 2010


Can someone explain to me what exactly the real-life resort is offering? Is it just a simulacrum of the sights and sounds from the in-game resort?
posted by roll truck roll at 10:50 AM on September 5, 2010


LogicalDash: These men are not rich. This is simply what they are choosing to spend their limited vacation time and discretionary income on, assuming this article is anything more than the typical LOLJAPAN sensationalism, which I lay about 50/50 odds it is.

roll truck roll: Based on my understanding of (and limited, but not non-existent experience with) games of this type, there are in-game events that take place in the game-world version of Atami. Presumably players find that being physically present in the real-world versions of those locations while the corresponding in-game events are playing out enhances the narrative the game is presenting you with, i.e. that you are out on a date with your girlfriend.

Seriously, though, watching a culture choose extinction is a fascinating process.
posted by pts at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seriously, though, watching a culture choose extinction is a fascinating process.

And let us not forget that it's not specifically the Japanese culture that is choosing this extinction, but North America, South America, Europe, and the rest. Think of all those 23 hour gaming sessions of WoW or those who are more attuned to their Second Life account than they are their own. *sigh.
posted by Fizz at 11:03 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am certainly familiar with being overwhelmed by loneliness and having no possibility whatsoever of any sort of romantic contact with another human being, but this is just bizarre.
posted by planet at 11:13 AM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am certainly familiar with being overwhelmed by loneliness and having no possibility whatsoever of any sort of romantic contact with another human being, but this is just bizarre.

I think that is what makes the tone of the article somewhat insulting. It really is not that bizarre at all. People throw themselves into some THING all the time. It can be a video game, or a sport, or a hobby of some kind. I will admit that this distraction seems somewhat excessive but it's just another way of dealing or NOT dealing with the loneliness.
posted by Fizz at 11:21 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Horace, I felt odd copying that but I usually clip the headlines when I post, it makes everything simpler.

No criticism of you or your post intended, Fizz. There's hardly any story about Japan and technology that doesn't have the same trope as its subtext, although apparently they couldn't be bothered with such niceties and went straight to text instead.

Besides, I'm sure the Journal is right. It's not like anything that those crazy Japanese like has ever been popular here in America.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:22 AM on September 5, 2010


People can be so desperate to be loved.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:30 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I programmed with LovePlus+. The memory management is terrible, but it's pretty fast otherwise.
posted by hellojed at 11:39 AM on September 5, 2010


I programmed with LovePlus+. The memory management is terrible, but it's pretty fast otherwise.

That's what she said. I couldn't resist, my apologies.
posted by Fizz at 11:43 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


And let us not forget that it's not specifically the Japanese culture that is choosing this extinction, but North America, South America, Europe, and the rest. Think of all those 23 hour gaming sessions of WoW or those who are more attuned to their Second Life account than they are their own. *sigh. posted by Fizz.

Immersion is inevitable. Is spending money on strip clubs any better, or any more genuine? You get touch, to an extent, but it's so stunted that you could probably do better with an innovative video game platform. Anyone else remember Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 for the Playstation 1? I used to rig up a circular grind pipe, turn it on two-player mode, turn the rumble packs on, and grind the hell out of those controllers while thumbing through Playboy or thinking of some girl at school.

But I digress; setting aside strip clubs, you have immersion in thousands of unhealthier things occurring every day. These guys are hurting no one, and while the actions are pathetic to most, if it's what satisfies them, so be it. Years from now we will probably have a -philia for anime/cartoon characters.

It simply seems to me yet another indicator that humanity is addicted to illusion. At least these men do not corrupt others with their delusions. I do wonder what the creator of this company is like; the same defenses cannot be made for him (I assume it's a him, although it'd be delicious were it a female who devised this).
posted by Alcibiades. at 11:46 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


The article frames LovePlus-related tourism as an absolutely bizarre and unprecedented phenomenon, but is it? It sounds like the game recreates the town of Atami in faithful detail, so it makes sense that hardcore fans of the game would want to visit. We humans enjoy doing that. Any lover of Proust who has visited Illiers-Combray, or any "Da Vinci Code" fan who has toured the Vatican has done something similar, minus the LARP/Nintendo DS hybrid aspect.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 11:50 AM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Japan, one of the chief appeals of hot spring resorts like Atami is sex tourism. Banging a prostitute in your hotel room is also kind of removed from the realities of the human heart.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


So how do you say the game's name (in English, that is): Is it "Love Plus" or "Love Plus Plus"?

Did you see the article's image? It's "LovePlusPlus". I gather it's an updated version of the original Love Plus adding (according to Wikipedia) "Field trips, fitness modes, and sick days, [...] with many new ways to interact with your girls."

Can someone explain to me what exactly the real-life resort is offering? Is it just a simulacrum of the sights and sounds from the in-game resort?

There are barcodes you can scan to unlock in-game content, from what I've read. For example you climb to a secluded spot overlooking the town, scan a barcode, and the in-game girl is pictured in the same secluded spot overlooking the town.

To be fair, there are plenty of computer games where you can unlock content with "achievements" - just in most games this involves doing something in-game, instead of something in real life. It can't hurt these guys to get out the house and go to the beach - even if they have slightly odd reasons for doing it.

Very condescending...I'm sure there are men in North America and Europe who are just as willing to lose themselves in fantasy and gaming as these men in Japan do.

Perhaps in the future there'll be World Of Warcraft power-ups you can only get by scanning barcodes for things like attending your university lectures, getting into work on time, and so on.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:10 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Advancing technology will only make this worse. Or better, depending.
posted by rocket88 at 12:35 PM on September 5, 2010


Akari Uchida is the showrunner for Love Plus+ - a chap, FWIW.

As far as I can tell what these hoteliers and support industries are doing is offering a themed holiday - like an A-Team fan cruise. Quakecon gets thousands of people turning up for LAN parties over a single weekend every year, so 1,500 people doesn't sound like a huge amount in a month, especially given that Love Plus+ is a big seller - 1,500 is a lot less than 1% of the people who've bought a copy.

It feels rather LOLJapanese and a bit LOLGamer, and I suspect it's a tongue-in-cheek Konami publicity stunt that's being reported "straight" by the Western media - they did girlfriend-themed Christmas cakes for Love Plus, if memory serves. Dating sims aren't very popular in the West, so activities around dating sims look weird. Train simulators are also more popular in Japan than the West, but since they don't involve pictures of schoolgirls they don't get picked up on by the Western media as much. I'm not sure what that says about whom, really.
posted by DNye at 12:36 PM on September 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Becoming emotionally dependent on some electronic abstraction of a relationship with other humans is pathetic. Now give me some favorites.
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 PM on September 5, 2010 [17 favorites]


Banging a prostitute in your hotel room is also kind of removed from the realities of the human heart.

You say that like it's a bad thing.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 1:35 PM on September 5, 2010


And let us not forget that it's not specifically the Japanese culture that is choosing this extinction, but North America, South America, Europe, and the rest. Think of all those 23 hour gaming sessions of WoW or those who are more attuned to their Second Life account than they are their own. *sigh.

Uh, I think pts is referring to the actual extinction of Japan, as illustrated by this lovely population graph. The way it looks right now, the Japanese will pretty much go extinct in a hundred and fifty years or so.
posted by signalnine at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2010


Hmm. I know I had no idea how to relate to women as a teenager (or indeed relate to anyone other than my narrow group of white teenage dude friends). I think I could have learned a thing or two from a well-implemented virtual girlfriend at that age. A level where you have to ask a girl out or meet her dad might have been good practice too. But no matter what, the virtual girl should break things off after a week or two!
posted by miyabo at 2:14 PM on September 5, 2010


Uh, I think pts is referring to the actual extinction of Japan, as illustrated by this lovely population graph. The way it looks right now, the Japanese will pretty much go extinct in a hundred and fifty years or so.

I realize that he was referring to the aging(ed) population that exists in Japan and the economic labour crisis they are facing as a result of it. But I also think that this type of LOLJapan story is somewhat targeted and profiled. I was simply offering up that it's not just Japan that is slowly relying on the internet and losing ourselves in another online world
posted by Fizz at 2:21 PM on September 5, 2010


Yeah I tweeted this story a few days ago asking "Why do only the stupid bits of William Gibson novels come true?".

This article from Metropolis is pretty good. (Same writer as Zabuni's link above).
posted by w0mbat at 2:31 PM on September 5, 2010


I was simply offering up that it's not just Japan that is slowly relying on the internet and losing ourselves in another online world

But people meet on Second Life, get together, have sex and have children. People meet in World of Warcraft, get together, have sex and have children. People use Internet services to meet people, with whom to have sex and have children. Given that Japan is currently one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and accepts almost no refugees from other countries, I very much doubt that the key trigger in altering the Japanese population curve is getting 0.001% of the population to stop taking holidays with their DSes. A little less time spent creating robots to bathe and smile at old people and a little more time spent getting used to the idea of foreigners bathing and smiling at old people would probably do a lot more good.
posted by DNye at 2:49 PM on September 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the real controversy with games like Loveplus is not that they blur distinctions between reality and fantasy (this has been the purpose of art since for ever), but that they reveal how easy it is for fantasy to substitute for reality

I think he doesn't go far enough here. The controversy is generated because this social phenomenon is not some kind of perversion of "normal" romantic relationships, but rather the truth of normal relationships, which always involve an essential minimum degree of idealization and virtualization of the Other. The contrast between "real" and "fantasy" relationships is a false one, all relationships are by definition fantasies. The problem with this is that idealized love always carries a suppressed hatred which comes out when the Other exposes him or herself as not really living up to the ideal, so that I love you only when you are you, when you conform to my image of you. When you appear to me as "not you", then I might hate you.

The LovePlus guys avoid this problem by dating an image with all the undesirable realities of the object of desire edited out, which is not very different from what most people do in real relationships, attempt to edit out their partner's undesirable attributes in order to sustain the fantasy. But, if we were to give up the fantasy and try to "accept them for who they are", this would mean the end of desire itself. Tibetan Buddhist monks are celibate, and when they have sexual fantasies, they are instructed to meditate on disgusting images of decaying corpses, bones and flesh. In other words, getting rid of the fantasy completely and experiencing real reality is a horrifying & traumatic experience.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:57 PM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's a little disturbing to know that if someone created a virtual boyfriend or a pet to indulge with virtual cookies and scan barcodes to take them to virtual locations I'd probably spend a significant part of my income doing it. And talk to it.
posted by Phalene at 3:37 PM on September 5, 2010


> Perhaps in the future there'll be World Of Warcraft power-ups you can only get by scanning barcodes for things like attending your university lectures, getting into work on time, and so on.

We're getting there.
posted by ardgedee at 5:53 PM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


this lovely population graph.

I would be very suspicious of any graph that features one very clear trend labeled "historical data", and another, completely opposite trend labeled "projected data". You can look at the source data here. But projecting a doomsday scenario for population growth-- something notoriously dependent on external factors-- and extrapolating that one hundred years into the future? I call sensationalist horseshit shenanigans.
posted by phooky at 6:37 PM on September 5, 2010


It's a little disturbing to know that if someone created a virtual boyfriend or a pet to indulge with virtual cookies and scan barcodes to take them to virtual locations I'd probably spend a significant part of my income doing it. And talk to it.

Apologies in advance.
posted by shii at 6:38 PM on September 5, 2010


Uh, I think pts is referring to the actual extinction of Japan, as illustrated by this lovely population graph. The way it looks right now, the Japanese will pretty much go extinct in a hundred and fifty years or so.

As a gay man, I always get a little squicked out by people talking about lack of breeding causing human extinction and so on. It's probably the number one secular anti-gay argument: that gays aren't doing their part, we aren't doing our fair share to contribute to the survival of humanity.

I honestly think that worrying about a severe drop in the human population (or worse, our kinds of people being replaced by their kinds of people) is really worrying about the wrong thing. Ultimately, extinction will happen to us whether we want it or not, much in the same way that death will always happen to individual humans no matter how much we wish it didn't. The Japanese aren't choosing extinction by not breeding anymore than gays are choosing extinction by not breeding either. Actually, we're just choosing to be who we are.
posted by Avenger at 7:37 PM on September 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Better than impregnating three women, deserting them when the fire is gone and not paying child support to any of them. Or giving them herpes.
posted by anniecat at 8:37 PM on September 5, 2010


Did losing WWII emasculate Japanese men?
posted by plexi at 9:58 PM on September 5, 2010


People can be so desperate to have someone to love.
posted by LordSludge at 10:20 PM on September 5, 2010


But people meet on Second Life, get together, have sex and have children. People meet in World of Warcraft, get together, have sex and have children. People use Internet services to meet people, with whom to have sex and have children.

How I read this comment:
First sentence: yes, of course, obviously that is the case.
Second sentence: hadn't heard that before, but seems totally plausible.
Third sentence: wait a sec, I don't think he's talking about in-game children.

It's a good thing you added that last sentence, because the first two were definitely ambiguous.
posted by ryanrs at 10:45 PM on September 5, 2010


Sounds a bit like Twilight tourism.
posted by Tenuki at 3:16 AM on September 6, 2010


Banging a prostitute in your hotel room is also kind of removed from the realities of the human heart.

Mmmkay, but believe it or not, prostitutes are actually human beings.
posted by parrot_person at 5:04 AM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Japanese aren't choosing extinction by not breeding anymore than gays are choosing extinction by not breeding either. Actually, we're just choosing to be who we are.

I think that the bit about extinction is more figurative than literal, referring to the way that human civilizations down through history so often are destroyed by their own hand. Like the way that Minoans or Easter Islanders caused their own extinction through deforestation, for example. They didn't choose extinction, they just kept cutting down trees.

The discussion does have creepy undertones, though, it's kind of like Victorian eugenicists' talk of "racial suicide."
posted by XMLicious at 7:32 AM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think pts is referring to the actual extinction of Japan, as illustrated by this lovely population graph. The way it looks right now, the Japanese will pretty much go extinct in a hundred and fifty years or so.

My Hobby: Extrapolating
posted by grouse at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2010


The US would face extinction too, without immigrants (who have more children for several generations after they arrive). Japan's biggest problem is that it's so unwelcoming to immigrants. But I think that will change in the next few decades, as the country imports workers from other parts of Asia by necessity.
posted by miyabo at 8:15 PM on September 6, 2010


I think that the bit about extinction is more figurative than literal, referring to the way that human civilizations down through history so often are destroyed by their own hand. Like the way that Minoans or Easter Islanders caused their own extinction through deforestation, for example. They didn't choose extinction, they just kept cutting down trees.

OT, but wasn't the eruption of Santorini a significant factor in the fall of Minoan civilisation? This before we get onto the whole Linear A/B, Sea Peoples, were the Myceneans just the lower-class Cretans thing...

Anyhow, I think what signalnine is saying is that the demographic curve suggests the literal, rather than metaphorical, extinction of quote-unquote Japan, through an ageing population, people taking longer to have children, more people going through their lives single, and so on. As Miyabo just mentioned, many industrialised nations resolve these issues through immigration rather than trying to get their current inhabitants to get married earlier and have more children.

To be honest, the idea that Japan the country will become extinct because ethnically/culturally Japanese people aren't having enough ethnically/culturally Japanese children I find pretty disquieting. Putting that extinction at the door of dating sims is, in comparison, merely odd.
posted by DNye at 11:06 AM on September 7, 2010


OT, but wasn't the eruption of Santorini a significant factor in the fall of Minoan civilisation? This before we get onto the whole Linear A/B, Sea Peoples, were the Myceneans just the lower-class Cretans thing...

Hmm. Well, I thought at least that the depopulation of Crete at the end of the Minoan era was attributed to deforestation, so I probably should have said it that way. But reading around, yeah, it does appear that current opinion is that the decline of the Minoan empire and sea trade was a consequence of the Thera eruption. (Which, it seems to me, might have been the cause of the deforestation if they had a high population but became unable to import wood from overseas.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:42 AM on September 7, 2010


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