The VR Waifu Problem
In which VRFocus explores what the deal is with all these virtual dating simulators, and why they are so awkward.
There is a commonly cited ‘fact’ that the VHS format won the home videotape format wars because it allowed pornography to use the format, while Betamax would not. This is actually an apocryphal story, but nonetheless feeds into the idea that any new form of video storage and distribution will, inevitably, be used for porn. Inevitably, pornography has begun to appear in virtual reality (VR) and even augmented reality (AR). Along with that has come another trend, something I have dubbed ‘Waifu Simulators’.
The most famous of these is Summer Lesson, the PlayStation VR title which had the premise of the player giving lessons to a young woman over the Summer break. As the VRFocus preview noted, this often led to the player being put in awkward psuedo-romantic situations, with the sense of immersion giving the feeling that you are invading the personal space of someone you barely know – this is especially cringe-worthy if the player is much older that the depicted age of the character in Summer Lesson.
There was, predictably, a lot of people commenting that the reviewer, our own Kevin Joyce, didn’t ‘Get’ the videogame and the culture that created it. While they might have a point regarding different cultural viewpoints, there are a number of ways this type of videogame can be described as awkward at best and downright creepy at worst.
There are quite a number of these ‘waifu simulators’ around. Many of which take popular characters from videogames like Shining Resonance, or vocaloid character Hatsune Miku and let players view them in various poses, in different outfits or go on stilted ‘virtual dates’.
Firstly, its notable that the characters featured in these types of videogames are almost always very young, often teenagers. Considering the average age of a PlayStation 4 users is 35, this does raise some red flags.
Secondly, these type of videogames always seem to make an uncomfortable number of assumptions about the player – namely, assuming that they are A) Male B) Straight.
This was particularly odd in Megadimension Neptunia VIIR. Like a lot of RPGs, the Neptunia series draws a lot of female fans, and there are also a lot of LGBT fans of the series. Why then, does its first VR title revert to this straight male default, when its audience is considerably more diverse?
The assumption seems to be that players view these female characters as surrogate girlfriends at best, and objects at worst. There doesn’t seem to be an option to just make friends with these characters, such as the systems in titles such as Persona. Instead you sit through excruciating ‘flirty’ dialogue or accusations you are perving on the characters.
Dating simulators have their place, and when used cleverly the systems in them can even be fun, or even frightening (see Doki Doki Literature Club for an example… or don’t if you are of delicate constitution) but the use of female characters as ‘bait’ to draw in a specific audience feels deeply uncomfortable and regressive.
VR videogames can do so much better than this when it comes to creating relationships with fictional characters. We don’t need them to pose in skimpy outfits to feel close to them.