Date Ariane 10th Anniversary Part 2
Date Ariane (first released 2004) may not have been the first dating sim to only have a single character, though I don’t know any that predate it, and I wasn’t influenced by any.
Date Ariane may not have been the first dating sim done in 3D graphics, thought I don’t know of any that predate it, and I wasn’t influenced by any.
It is even possible that it is not the first dating sim with one character and in 3D, but it was the first to gain popularity, and directly or indirectly inspire dozens of similar games, mostly by independent creators like myself.
Because the one thing I can take away from all this is this: I invented a genre, or at least a subgenre (or a subgenre of a subgenre). OK, “invented” is not the right word, because genres only become genres if other people are contributing. Is “inspired” a better word? Still not accurate. How about “created a work original enough to influence the creation of” a subgenre. OK, more accurate.
One of the goals of every artist to do exactly this! Achievement unlocked, I guess I can call myself an artist. (The other goal of every artist is to sell a work for a lot of money so they don’t have to work again. So far that one has eluded me.)
So I am going to tell you how I created a game that inspired many other games. Short version: I did it by accident.
I heard the term “Dating Simulator” as a type of game popular in Japan, “Dating Simulator” is a bad translation of japanese “ren’ai shimyureshon gemu” (more accurately a romantic simulation game).
But I was intrigued about the idea of a “Date Simulator” and instead of tracking one down and finding out what they are like, I just took the term “Date Simulator” literally, and created my own.
In 2001, I invented the “Ariane Barnes” online persona in hopes of creating an Alternate Reality Game based on her. That turned out too ambitious, so I created a “choose your own adventure” game based on the concept of simulating a date with Ariane Barnes. Turns out what I created was a visual novel, a popular gaming genre in Japan, romance simulation is a subgenre of the visual novel. Anyone familiar with the subgenre knows that they are always done with 2D manga style art, and almost always involve multiple partners to choose from.
I didn’t know any of this when I created Date Ariane, which is why DA defies so many conventions of traditional visual novels, like how it loops upon itself, has no coherent story, and involves a bunch of events that can be done in different order. I have been using Poser since the late 90’s, which is why I used 3D graphics instead of Manga art.
So I released my “Dating Simulator” on the web in 2004, and made improvements as I went. I did not advertise it except through word of mouth in a few virtual world communities I was a part of at the time. And then in 2007 it went viral, 3 millions “dates” from January to March of that year. Complaints from my host forced me to release an offline version that people could play without spamming my website.
In August of that year, the first post about my game appeared on the Sharks Lagoon forum. The cool thing about that forum is that it is dedicated to 3D sexy games and their development. At the time most “erotic” games were either of the arcade variety, or the “Adult Interactive Fiction” variety (text based adventures with occasional graphics). Date Ariane sort of bridges the gap between the two, more visual than an AIF, and more complex than an arcade sex game.
Shark’s Lagoon is where the vast majority of the 100+ games similar to Date Ariane got their start. The “single character date simulator” (for lack of a better term) is a perfect type of game for independent game makers: it is simple enough to make that one person can do it themselves, its a fun type of game to make, and it is also a fun type of game to play. So it is no surprise that a lot of people joined in on the fun.
One creator Tlaero, even wrote an “Adventure Creator” engine you can use to build your own online single character date simulator. More info here.
The one thing the genre lacks is complexity, which is why it only takes one or two people to make a game like this. That, plus the general public bias in favor of violent games and against sex in games, means that creating a commercially successful game in this genre is damn near impossible. That’s what is standing in the way of wide genre recognition.
Sex Games vs. Violent Games
But I knew this going in. One of my continuing motivations for even dabbling in sexy games is my belief that the general population’s attitude towards sex and violence is completely backwards. Sex is something we all engage in, and yet it is viewed in the public’s eye as dirty and shameful, while violence, something most decent people never engage in, is glorified and revered. No where is this more true than in the world of gaming.
In movies, this double standard is understandable because we know that movie violence is fake, while movie sex involves actor nudity and touching that cannot be faked (actually it can, but let’s not go there now). In gaming, sex and nudity are 100% fake, just like the violence. And yet pixel nudity, or worse an animated sex scene will get your game an AO rating, the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in the movies, even if similar scenes in movies can still get a PG-13 rating.
This is because of the strange bias that video games are for kids, this despite the fact that 68% of all gamers are over 18. “Kids play games, therefore games can’t contain sex or nudity.” This is a horrible double standard.
If violent games reduce violent crime, I’m willing to bet sex games will reduce sex crimes. We already know this is true with the wider availability of porn, we have also seen incidental reports of reduced sex crimes in Japan where erotic games are more widely available, though I could not find any actual studies. Illogical cultural bias is the only thing standing in the way of erotic games becoming commercially successful.
To the future…
While I’d love for one of my games to be a commercial success, I’m not holding my breath, and if it happens, it will happen the same way the genre was created: by accident.
My #1 objective is having fun creating. It’s my geeky hobby. My #2 objective is making a game that is fun to play. My only criteria is to make a game that is fun for me to play, and if others enjoy it, well that’s just icing.
Meanwhile, anyone interested in other “Single Character Dating Sims” especially of the erotic kind can check out the following places. WARNING: These links are Not Safe For Work and not appropriate for those under 18. Some are financed by subscription models.