Many People Play Dating Video Games for Relationship Skills: Study
Scant research exists on why people court virtual lovers, but answers are beginning to emerge.
For decades, people have played video games in which they romance virtual characters with the goal of beginning a relationship or simulating sex.
As I wrote in my recent article on Tokimeki Memorial, these games are popular around the world, generating more than $100 million in annual profits for the largest publisher Konami. Despite being such a popular medium, however, there has been very little research on why people play these games.
To shed some new light on this phenomenon, researchers at the University of Edinburgh aimed to unpack why people are interested in these games and virtual characters, and if the games can be beneficial for their players.
Love, sex, and video games
Led by Dr. Mayu Koike, researchers at the University of Edinburgh partnered with Osaka University to perform two studies on Japanese participants.
As these games are most popular in Japan, beginning the research in Japan is an important first step in examining the interest in and benefits of dating games globally. The researchers surveyed over 300 people as part of their study, examining what psychological traits impact someone’s interest in playing dating games.
The researchers found that people who feel lonely, and people not in a relationship, have more interest in dating games, which makes sense as these games simulate community and romantic relationships.
Players also have more interest in the games if they think their romantic interest will be positively affected by the touch. This means that, if as part of the game, they are able to touch their love interest, they may be more interested in engaging with the game.
Talk to her
Further, female participants reported that the characters having voice actors makes them more interested in playing the game. Most dating simulators do not have voice acting and are instead only text-based, allowing companies to save costs on production. This shows that when the game attempts to make the characters more human-like, female participants like the games more.
Two key findings were that people think these games will make them happy by playing, so their interest in engaging is partially that the game will make them feel good. This might be because people do not want to play games that make them feel sad, but this also suggests that people think dating simulators will make them happy.
The researchers also found that players believe that playing these games will make them better at dating themselves so that playing the games gives players the skills needed to engage in a positive relationship in real life.
As well as making people happy, players may also think that they might find a real-life partner by playing these games. This is the first study to show such an effect, and it has important implications for the next direction this research can take.
The pursuit of love and happiness
If these findings can be shown in other countries, it would be an important step in understanding why people are being drawn to virtual characters.
Perhaps people view these virtual characters as real, and that they can simulate romantic relationships with them. If people view these characters as real partners, then perhaps people might fall in love with AI sometime in the future.
We also have other questions that research might need to answer in the future.
What happens when the game ends? Does the relationship persevere, or does it feel as though you have broken up? Will people who love their virtual partners go back and play again, to maximize the time they get with their partners.
Studies like these show that humans are able to push the boundaries as to what can be a fulfilling relationship and, given the needs of individuals around the world, this is an important finding. The COVID pandemic will end soon, but face-to-face connections don’t work for everyone and alternative opportunities matter.
As one example, in China, the newest generation is facing a crisis of involuntary singlehood, as most young adults are men, and romantic loneliness is bound to spike the older the generation gets. While virtual partners may not be the best choice for everyone, they can make a meaningful difference in lots of people’s lives, and the creation and advancement of these dating games may make a real difference.
To understand how virtual partners might change the course of romance in the evolving world, more research like that by Dr. Koike and colleagues is necessary.
Image sources: BagoGames