Hatoful Boyfriend: Game or Book?

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Hatoful Boyfriend is an interactive text-based otome visual novel that follows branching storylines, each story with different choices leading up to a different ending. It was written and produced by Moa Hato in Japan. The story involves a human girl in a dystopian universe where she goes to a high school of pigeons and meets different characters. It was advertised as an otome game because of the multiple male characters the female character would meet throughout the game. Hatoful Boyfriend and multiple other content under the genre of visual novel have had a sort of identity crisis throughout the years. Visual novel have been argued to be games or to just be visual, interactive books. The definitions of both lead me to believe that visual novels can be both a book and a game. I argue that visual novel aren’t either a novel or a game but both because of the definitions provided for both types of content.

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First, in class, we have discussed multiple different ways to define what a game is. Overall, each definition seems to have three similar conclusions. Game have to be interactive with rules and goals that come from those rules. Merriam Webster defines a game as “a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other”. In this case, games involve activity, rules and multiple people involved. We know that games can involve just one person. So, for this instance, the definition I will use is content that in interactive, goal oriented and involves certain rules to achieve these goals. In the context of Hatoful Boyfriend. As you can see by the picture above, visual novels involve elements of interaction. The player has to decide whether they want to “Conquer the world by force”, “Rule the world from the shadows” or “Become a famous artist”. The player makes a decision that results in a certain action happening. A person can choose “conquer the world by force” and have a completely different ending than if they had chosen “Become a famous artist”. Throughout the game, there are certain endings with emphasis on multiple characters. One results in your character dying because they had decided to meet the doctor instead of other characters. Because of this, the player has to start over and go through a different ending to learn more about the universe. Hatoful Boyfriend has all these elements of the game present in it. It has interaction, rules and goals. A person can make decisions. There are certain rules that govern what a person can and can’t choose and there are rules that govern what a person’s decisions result in. Also, the decisions result in endings. Each decision made as a goal involved. In this sense, Hatoful Boyfriend is a game.

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The definition of a novel is “A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters.” In the game, there are occasions where there are descriptions of the setting. The plot is unfolded by the actions, speech and thoughts of the characters. Each of the endings has elements of the plot that come back in the true ending. The one thing that would be different than an paper based novel would be the lack of lots of description. The story still has the first person point of view of the character but doesn’t have large descriptive paragraphs of the scene. The scene will be briefly described and the player is shown a picture of the scene and the characters. The interaction that the player has with the story drives the plot but the plot also has definite scenes that result from the decisions. Within Hatoful Boyfriend, there also isn’t as much interaction of the player than there would be in a game like Halo or Bioshock. So, because of the interaction and intensive storyline, visual novel like Hatoful Boyfriend fall under the category of both a fictional novel and a game.

In conclusion, Hatoful Boyfriend is interactive, and goal oriented that involves certain rules for each ending. It is also a story with descriptive prose, and actions and characters that drive the plot. There is a definite lack of interaction within visual novel games in comparison to some consul style games. In its’ place is the inclusion of more story based content. Because of the mix of interaction and fiction novel style content within the game, I believe that Hatoful Boyfriend and visual novels in general can be classified as both fictional novels and games.

  8 comments for “Hatoful Boyfriend: Game or Book?

  1. blindedwithscience
    April 3, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this, because I’ve been trying to figure out just what this game is for the past couple of months. I think games like Hatoful Boyfriend are like animated “Choose Your Own Adventure Books,” which I feel totally counts as a game. It brings to mind games like Adventure, where it really was just the animated verison of Colossal Cave Adventure. So, yeah, I think it’s save to say that these sorts of games can fall into both categories.

  2. mbolters
    April 15, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    I currently am making a novel based game for my project in class. Though there is less imagery I use, I agree and intend to support this concept that story/textual/visual novel systems can indeed be games. The company TellTale makes very similar story driven games and has become significantly popular and uses the game as an episodic form as if you are purchasing the next release of a book series. The issue is that Hatoful Boyfriend fulfills more of the textual substance to a story form while TellTale games involves more action in the games. I am still on the fence as to whether games can still be considered novels when they involve higher interaction base like the TellTale games.

  3. silver
    April 16, 2015 at 12:05 am

    I agree that visual novels are very much a game. Looking back at other titles we consider to be games, there are choices that we make as characters, such as walking over to the castle, fighting the wolves, talking to the princess, etc., that are very similar to what we would see in a visual novel. The visual novel itself is a simplified version of this format of gaming, as instead of tilting the joystick to walk to a new location, you click on a place on the map (depending on the visual novel). If anything, visual novels may be considered more of a “game” than other titles. What we consider to be a game usually depends on the amount of interaction we make with the world and the effect we may have on it. By reading a book we change nothing, the action carries out the same no matter who reads it. Playing a game means there may be differing endings depending on how the player acts out their role. Hatoful Boyfriend’s ending may vary, showing a real reliance on the player. With this, it fulfills the basic understanding of what it means to be a game.

  4. Aspen
    April 16, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    “I argue that visual novel aren’t either a novel or a game but both because of the definitions provided for both types of content.” I really enjoyed that bit of your article because I agree, there is a narrative and story involved, but because the character can make decisions and choices that affect the game, the interaction creates it into a game, not just a visual novel. While I really enjoyed this, I wish there was a bit more about the game. I enjoyed your definitions of arguing your point, which you did very well but I still think there needed to be more info about the actual game. Or at least I would have liked to read more. Other than that, great job!

  5. Andrew Boswell
    April 16, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    As an avid visual novel reader/player, I have seen people argue whether visual novels are games or novels on various forums and in many articles. Similar to you, I believe that they can be considered both. However, for the ones that don’t have choices or do not allow you the affect the ending in some sort of way are bit harder to argue for. Without some sort of interaction, I feel like those types of visual novels are more of a novel than they are a video game. What do you think?

  6. ppalisin
    April 17, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Visual novels are a form of media I had only recently discovered. While my experiences with them have been comparatively brief, I believe your delineation of Hatoful Boyfriend is accurate. Visual novels often contain opportunities for choice-making, though even those with less of a focus on this still include elements of player interaction and the necessity of the player’s presence to move the story forward. It can still be said that, due to lack of effective input past activation of the story’s progression, these are more akin to fancy electronic storybooks, but on the whole visual novels can and should be considered a tie-together of both, as you have put it.

  7. mclark6
    April 17, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    I would agree with your conclusion! I would argue that it’s more of a game than a novel because of how the player is able to interact with the medium. For example, in Hatoful Boyfriend you have to play several different games in order to unlock each ending, and some of the birds have more than one possible ending (or at least an extended ending). This makes it more game-like because, in order to advance the plot and not get a “game over”, you have to choose the right interactions. However, like you said, it still contains many elements of novel.

    This makes me want to know what separates games from visual novels. In the same way that some people find anti-games or non-games (like walking simulators) to be separate from “regular” games, what qualities do visual novels possess that make them “not games”?

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