Games that center around love, romance, relationships and sex aren't anything particularly new, though they do tend to fall some distance away from "mainstream" awareness for various reasons.
Strangely, despite the fact that romance novels, movies and TV shows are stereotypically regarded as something to appeal to heterosexual women, most computer and video games that focus on relationships are actually aimed at a heterosexual male perspective, and sometimes referred to as bishoujo (Japanese for "pretty girl") games.
The largely male-centric focus in the world of visual novels, dating sims and otherwise "romantic" games doesn't mean that there isn't scope for other combinations of gender and sexuality, though; nor does it mean that these titles aren't getting made at all. Japanese media has a thriving "yaoi" scene, for example -- also referred to as "boys' love" or "BL" -- aimed at both homosexual males and heterosexual females, and visual novels and dating sims specifically aimed at heterosexual females are called otome (Japanese for "maiden" in this context) games.
Visual novels and dating sims are still a primarily Japanese form of interactive entertainment, but over the last few years we've started to see more Western developers take on the challenge of creating these non-violent experiences that focus exclusively on characterization, interpersonal relationships and storytelling. These Western developers often choose to cater to markets other than the highly visible heterosexual male demographic, but in many cases manage to do so without being exclusionary.
Torontonian indie developer Christine Love, for example, has made a number of games -- the most well-known of which is her most recent, Analogue: A Hate Story -- where the gender and sexuality of the player character is left deliberately ambiguous, allowing them to appeal to a broad audience. Meanwhile the US-born UK-resident developer Georgina Bensley has created a number of titles featuring female protagonists, including the excellent Harry Potter-style life sim Magical Diary, and the brutally difficult Princess Maker-esque Long Live the Queen. Similarly, Celso Riva, the creative mind behind many of Winter Wolves Games' titles, focuses almost exclusively on the otome game market.
The Vancouver-based Silicon Sisters Interactive was set up by a number of industry veterans in an attempt to create experiences specifically for women. The studio's last project, School 26, was aimed at teen and tween girls and enjoyed a modest 700,000 downloads in 30 countries. Now, the company is taking aim at the adult female market with its upcoming new project, known as Everlove.
Everlove is, in the creators' words, "a casual game designed to appeal to the more than 74 million people who read romance fiction each year." It's an interactive romance novel set to initially release on iPhone, iPad and Android next month, with PC and Mac versions to follow.
"Look at the splash Fifty Shades of Grey made last year," says studio co-founder and CEO Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch. "Romance fiction has a huge audience that no-one else in the game industry is trying to reach. Video games traditionally explore male fantasies: winning a fight, competing in sports, saving the princess. We at Silicon Sisters love some of those games, as do plenty of other women. But a game that specifically delves into female fantasies: what is that game like? That's a question we're trying to answer with Everlove."
Everlove will take the form of a dating sim/adventure/visual novel/hidden object game hybrid that puts players in the role of a young woman named Rose undergoing past-life regression. Through her interactions and relationships with other characters in the dream world, the player will help to define the character of Rose in the modern day. The eventual outcome of the game will depend on the paths chosen during the exploration of her past life.
While specifically designed to appeal to women, the project as a whole sounds like it has potential to be an interesting narrative- and character-driven game that may be of interest to anyone who enjoys this particular breed of non-violent interactive entertainment. Keep an eye on the game's official Facebook page to follow its progress and find out more details ahead of its release later in August.