More Than Just Interactive Reading

After looking through the articles on this site in trying to decide what to write on, I stumbled upon this article addressing whether or not the visual novel Hatoful Boyfriend could be considered a game or a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story based around the concept of dating pretty (pigeon) boys. It allowed me to revisit one of the more controversial questions in the video game and electronic literature communities, one that our class shared during our conversation about Gone Home: should a visual novel be considered a game? Just as I have discussed visual novels as a form of electronic literature, I believe that visual novels can be considered video games in some unique circumstances, especially since Steam is now selling them on its site.

Little Busters baseball minigame
Little Busters baseball mini-game

When one thinks about the interactivity of a visual novel, their mind usually goes to making specific choices that can alter the game’s story and may even lead to certain ends; this is popular in romance VN’s where you can choose certain romantic interests and the choices you make can win favor with them. However, there are some visual novels that utilize mini-games with having minor to no impact on the main plot. As seen in the image above, in Little Busters the player can engage in playing baseball with the main characters or even take part in fights, including using ridiculous items to fight. These games allow the player to increase their “stats,” which contributes to the protagonist near the end of the game. There is also a hanafuta card game in Fate/hollow ataraxia that has no bearing on the actual gameplay except to unlock concept art and screensavers; you also can move around the town and depending on where you go changes how the game’s story is affected. These mini-games allow the player to interact with the VN beyond making choices and thus offering a goals for victory in these games. The game Fate/Extra is a combination of battle game and visual novel. Even in games such as Dangan Ronpa or Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, where the action is mostly speaking, there are moments where you play “mini-games” that contribute to the story by solving a mystery.

A choice in the "Heaven's Feel" route of Fate/stay night
A choice in the “Heaven’s Feel” route of Fate/stay night

Even though it may not feel like visual novels are a game due to the limited gameplay we tend to associate with video games, that doesn’t mean the player doesn’t feel like they are completely reading a story. The choices made in the games do have consequences in the story and unless you save prior to the choices, often times the ending the player gets is what they get. I agree with Uchikoshi Kotaro, the writer of the visual novel game 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors, who says that “game stores can certainly sell visual novels, but they should also be sold in bookstores;” why must we classify visual novels as just video games or just electronic literature? Why can’t they be considered both, because they do have the best of both worlds and have the potential market as seen in the popularity of games such as Type-Moon’s games, Hatoful Boyfriend and many more. So, what do you think: should visual novels be considered video games or are they just a niche form of e-lit? Or why not both?

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