WisCon Recap Part I: Academic Panel on Feminine Agencies in Steampunk, Anime, and Video Games

Wiscon 2015 was amazing and inspiring.  It will take me a couple of posts to process everything I saw, but let me begin my saying that never have I made so many smart, charming, friendly people in one place! My first act at the convention was to give my academic paper.  The conference has two tracks: one is made up of panels and readings and workshops proposed by volunteers.  The second is a traditional academic track in which papers are selected by a panel. My academic paper was one of my first forays into my second research project on artificial intelligences. My title and abstract “The Video Games of Christine Love: Hacking the Harem-Style Visual Novel”

Harem-style visual novels are a genre of video games in which women are mysterious pre-programmed black box objects and men are hackers who must figure out through trial and error which inputs are necessary to achieve a desirable output (typically construed as making the girl put out).  Analogue: A Hate Story and its sequel Hate Plus are independently produced visual novels by Christine Love that turn the tropes of harem games on their head, forcing players to confront the idea that women’s hearts aren’t problems for men to solve.  They are the vehicles of their own agency.

Some key terms from the talk include Manic Pixie Dream Girl

According to film critic Nathan Rabin, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

Manic Pixie Digital Girl

A term I’ve coined to refer to female artificial intelligences in fiction, film, and video games who perform the function of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. They are especially appealing because, since they are not “really” intelligent, they can be exploited, objectified, and manipulated without guilt.

Bishojuo

“beautiful young girl” – a stock character type in anime, manga, and visual novels

Dating Sim Visual Novel

a video game in which the protagonist is typically a young man who is trying to earn the love of one or more bishojuo. Often, there are secret endings in which the young man can earn a “harem” composed of all the available girls in the game.

And my thesis

Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus are Christine Love’s queer feminist dating sims designed to critique the Manic Pixie Digital Girl. One of her game play tools is the “achievement,” a badge of status amongst gamers that demonstrates mastery and accomplishment in a game. Christine Love uses achievements to both incentivize behaviors by the player that run counter to typical relationship between a protagonist and a Manic Pixie Digital Girl and, in the case of an achievement that is included in the game but is literally impossible to achieve, to highlight the feelings of entitlement and ownership that comes with the gamification of relationships.

The other speakers and the audience members also clued me in to some anime titles about virtual worlds that I’m going to have to check out including Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars and Sword Art Online. Finally, I used the panel as a chance to discuss my forthcoming game, which now has a title!

“Chasing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Game about Love, Consent, and Respect”

Furthermore, I’m thinking about turning this talk into an academic paper in dual formats: one would be a traditional paper and the other would be a short visual novel or twine, a Choose Your Own Academic Paper, if you will.

Thanks to everyone who came out!  Your comments and questions were extremely thought-provoking and I know my project is better because of them.

For any who are interested, I’m attaching the images I used during my talk here.

The Video Games of Christine Love

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