I am a shy Japanese librarian who lives a solitary life until two handsome strangers named Fox Eyes and Black Hair arrive at my doorstep.
I don’t know this when I first meet them, but I have been born with a special, otherworldly power (what this power specifically entails is unclear) that renders me irresistible to special, otherworldly beings called "ayakashi." Fox Eyes and Black Hair are such ayakashi, and they’ve come to inform me that I will be destroyed unless I give up my special power to one of them in the form of a kiss.
To an American feminist, a narrative centering around a weak-willed female protagonist swept off her feet by a mysterious, verbally abusive, floppy-haired stranger sounds ridiculous, if not outright offensive; it also sounds like the plotline of a mediocre True Blood spec script. Enchanted in the Moonlight is an English-language version of a game by the company Voltage, Inc., which creates virtual dating and romance apps that are extremely popular among young Japanese women. Like Enchanted in the Moonlight and My Forged Wedding, most of Voltage’s games feature shy, weak-willed female protagonists swept off their feet by eerie, verbally abusive, high-cheekboned androygynes. Yet Voltage is enormously popular among young women in Japan and elsewhere, with more than 22 million people playing their games worldwide.
The question is, though: Will these somewhat esoteric, dime store paperback-esque virtual narratives translate to an audience of North American women?
My Forged Wedding and Enchanted in the Moonlight are examples of otome games, a genre of dating sims targeted at young Japanese women that emerged in the mid-90s, around the time that mobile gaming started to catch on in Japan. Otome games feature a wide range of different scenarios—some take place in high schools and apartment buildings, while others like Enchanted in the Moonlight have more supernatural themes.
It’s the younger audience that Voltage is trying to reach in the United States, where virtual dating apps, let alone otome games, have not nearly caught on to the extent that they have in Japan. For starters, there are a number of tropes in popular otome games like Enchanted in the Moonlight that simply wouldn’t fly for an American market.
The heroes of otome games, like the aforementioned Fox Eyes and Black Hair, also have different characteristics than their Western counterparts. But by far the most problematic trope associated with otome games, not to mention manga and anime in general, is the element of rape fantasy and non-consensuality, which runs throughout even SFW games like My Forged Wedding and Enchanted in the Moonlight. Even if Voltage’s games don’t feature explicit, let alone non-consensual, sex, there is nonetheless something problematic about the gender dynamics at play in the games. Tsutsami says that for the North American releases of Voltage games, the damsel-in-distress trope will be destressed, if not eliminated entirely, to benefit a Western audience.

But it’s unclear exactly how these cross-cultural translations will go over with American audiences, particularly for pre-existing English-speaking otome fans, who already issue vociferous objections to the Westernization of the games on Tumblr: “I think it's particularly important that the translations don't try to localize out the 'Japaneseness' of the games, as it's this element that a lot of fans find most attractive,” Blackpool says. But Tsutsami says he’s confident that the themes explored in Voltage games are universal enough to have worldwide appeal.
While these are all pretty weird, none of them are quite as bizarre as My Forged Wedding, a dating sim where players pretend to have a pretend wedding. Here’s the premise: You’re a recent college grad with no employment prospects traveling to Tokyo to stay with your uncle, who is the “president of one of those tech companies that is so hot right now.” (Timely! After you get off the train, you meet a sexy, mysterious stranger who asks you to be his fake bride.
I chose Kyoichi, the “big shot diplomat,” because his cheekbones reminded me of Christian Bale and because the other characters’ storylines were $3.99 each. As you play the game, it turns into a choose-your-own-adventure-type story that culminates in the two of you falling in love and raising a family together. My Forged Marriage is brought to you by Voltage Inc., the maker of such other dating sims as Kissed By The Baddest Bidder, 10 Days with my Devil, and Be My Princess. They have broad shoulders, impossibly high cheekbones, and the same hairstyle as the skater boys I wanted to make out with in eighth grade.
Yet this is the story behind Enchanted in the Moonlight, an enormously popular English-language romance simulator from Japan.
There are no non-heteronormative relationship options, nor is there the possibility of your avatar having sex with any of her suitors.
Now, with the release of the English language version of Enchanted in the Moonlight and the action-thriller romance app Queen’s Gambit in August, their ninth original US app, Voltage hopes to bring virtual dating apps to a North American market. To answer this question, and to understand the appeal of virtual romance apps in general, we have to take a step back and look at the genre from which they arose. The heroine in Enchanted in the Moonlight, for instance, is a shy, reserved, weak-willed librarian, who’s essentially putty in the hands of her more domineering male pursuers. She speculates that the weakness of the female lead is perhaps intentional, “so that the player doesn’t have to pay too much attention to her as a character, [and so] she acts more as a kind of ‘shell’ for the player to inhabit,” but she admits the trope rubs her the wrong way nonetheless.

There was LovePlus, a game that inspired thousands of men to pledge their everlasting love to virtual (and, surprisingly, volatile) girlfriends. Relevant!) I chose the name “Kimberly Karmichael,” which is the name I used in middle school when I went into chatrooms to cybersex with strangers.
All of them appear to be conceptually similar to My Forged Marriage, and they all seem to cater to the same adolescent girl fantasies of being swept off your feet by a wealthy, high-cheekboned, secretly soft-hearted bad boy. Despite the outdatedness of their coiffures, and their obvious rudeness at showing up in the middle of the night, I find them both devastatingly attractive.
When you play these games, you sort of get the sense they were authored by a 14-year-old girl who regularly writes steamy Divergent fan fiction, but has never actually talked to a boy in her life.
They’re usually far more androgynous in appearance; Fox Eyes and Black Hair, for instance, look more like One Direction band members than the rugged, Marlboro Man masculine ideal so popular in the Western cultural imagination. Lucy Glasspool agrees that there’s very much a “damsel in distress” element to the majority of otome games. The North American releases will also feature more locations that are familiar to Western audiences: For instance, while the Japanese version of one Voltage game takes place in Tokyo, the US release will be set in Los Angeles.
There was Jurassic Heart, where you play a high school girl who falls in love with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. These fantasies are derivative and silly and sexist and totally eyeroll-worthy, but if this is how young Japanese girls are getting their ya-yas out before they start meeting boys and having sex IRL, then more power to them.
At the very least, it’s probably healthier than what Kimberly Karmichael did when she was their age.
But I could easily see how the game, with its meta “pretending to pretend to be married” conceit, would be addictive if you were a 14 year old Japanese girl who was tired of stealing her mom’s translated E.L.

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