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.

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