A short post on a visual novel I came across. [link to game]
I retraced my browsing history as to how I came to this visual novel. Please note that the link contained spoilers. So, I passed by Critical Distance where I spotted something about videogame ethics link at the Escapist, then to gamesetwatch where it linked to the game’s download page, then the author’s blog, gamasutra, jayisgames, and finally Rock, Paper, Shotgun.
The visual novel has three endings and plot variations in regards to the status relationships between characters. This near-spoiler review is based on my first playthrough.
The game is a visual novel (i.e. interactive fiction) set in a high school in the not-so-distant future. The protagonist is John Rook, a recently hired 38-year old high school teacher who was divorced twice and is dealing with his class’ drama. The drama is the relationships between seven high schoolers that John Rook is keeping track through his interactions with them and, more importantly, monitoring their online interactions through a social networking site, called Amieconnect. As a visual novel, the player’s control is limited to choosing options at key events. These options are very limited in that they were contextualized around John Rook’s personality and circumstances rather than the player’s “agentic” input. That is, the player may possibly disagree with any of the choices they are presented or with the protagonist’s behaviours.
The game follows the design conventions of the visual novel which can be jarring for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese pop culture (see Cavallaro, 2010). The characters are drawn in anime style, which means that the male characters are bishounens (i.e. pretty boys), including John Rook. The characters’ colour schema, physical appearance and behaviours follow some of the anime’s archetypes which aid the player to relate to them, hence creating an invested interest in their well-being (explore tv tropes). There’s a reticent female character and a romantic teacher-student relationship which is common in Japanese fiction, it can be troubling in the West. The protagonist’s teaching material is a self-referential reflection of the current work which for some odd reason does not adversely impact my playthrough. However, the underbelly of internet culture is in full force through the students’ annoying usage of internet slang, otaku references and the game forcing the player to experience the protagonist’s perusing students’ postings and “relaxing” at an imageboard. Nevertheless, there are teenage-related themes, such as homosexuality, love, suicide, and privacy, are explored and the treatment was quite immersive (IMO) which kept me from doing anything else.
The visual novel is a prophesising story that looks forward in regards to our current cultural, social and technological trends. My reactions are similar to the protagonist’s at the end of the seventh chapter, possibly because he and I are in the same generation and the teenagers grew up in a far different world. According to Dani Cavallaro (2010), the visual novel blends the contingent present with the legendary past or rather in this case, the futuristic utopia. The game may need some attention from CMC and social networking researchers in whether the story may have any connections to the ongoing changes. Second, the game may have some educational value for my generation in what we could expect in the future and perhaps entertain some meaningful discussion among today’s undergraduates.
By the way, if you are grad student or a T.A. you will sympathize with John much more.
Cavallaro, D. (2010). Anime and the Visual Novel. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, inc..