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Zakamutt

Who Cares About The Visual Novel Category?

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I first started writing this in like 2018 and I finished half of it now but I didn't do it the way I was planning back then and it's a bit of a disjointed mess. I hope it's good enough anyway.

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There have been some arguments as to what the definition of a visual novel should be, and that's well and good. But let's look at it from the other direction: what works should our definition of visual novels include?

Let us begin our journey with a silly, myopic statement I will nevertheless repeat until @Palas finally calls a hit on me: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is not a visual novel.

Okay, bullets fired, I feel better already. But why am I trying to define the boundaries of the visual novel category to exclude the pretty good adventure game series Ace Attorney, and what kinds of criteria am I using? Furthermore, why would anyone disagree with me when I am obviously right?

...Okay, let's back up a bit. Why do I care so much about categories at all?

Categories

Categories are useful because they allow us to make predictions about something assigned to that category. In the visual novel community, there are there are several important predictions to make:

1. I am likely to enjoy this work if it executes its aesthetic well
2. I would consider a person who reads/plays/likes this more a part of the community than one that does not
3. I would probably enjoy talking to someone who reads this work {about visual novels}

We can see straight away that different parts of this would be important to different people. If you want to be part of a close-knit community, getting 2 and 3 right matters a lot. If you can find the visual novels you enjoy without community assistance, 1 matters little.

The VN category helps us determine what things are acceptable to discuss, and what things are not our (main) concern. Similarly, the category helps us determine what people will be in our community, and what people will not. It's generally more entertaining to discuss things you care about, and it's better when the people you discuss with are more in tune with you. As such, there are real stakes, and real reasons to want to avoid being maximally inclusive.

But what draws people to VNs, and what does that draw mean for their desired definition of the VN category? Let me attempt a list of categories:

Archetypes of attraction to VNs

Weebs
The Weeb likes some part of Japanese culture. The Weeb is very skeptical and/or dismissive of visual novels not made in Japan, though the Weeb might make an exception for things made in Korea or China (Indonesia is probably too Western, however). If we asked the Weeb, the main problem with the visual novel category right now would be that too many people see fit to include a flood of shitty EVNs. The Weeb might grudgingly accept Katawa Shoujo depending on the Weeb's other preferences.

Moefuck
The Moefuck reads visual novels because they really like cute girls or boys. Often personal aesthetics play a big part here and specific preferences are hard to predict, for example certain Moefucks may reject an entire artist or company due to the artstyle in their works being unacceptable. The Moefuck cluster is often seen as an amorphous, rainbow-vomiting blob ruining visual novels by the more seriously afflicted storycucks, but in truth there is more variation in it than they may expect. Moefucks are not necessarily hostile to works with serious stories, they just prefer those stories to also have cute girls.

Storycucks
The Storycuck wants to experience good stories, and finds VNs to be a source of such stories. In terminal cases, the Storycuck may not be able to deal with the large amount of filler in many visual novels and bounce right out into the community periphery after initially being hooked by some particularly well-paced VN. The perfectly horrible case is the Storycuck that is too distracted to watch shows, unable to get into books due to lack of visual stimulus, yet also unable to deal with SoL content. Is there any being more cursed? Anyway, I digress. The Storycuck doesn't really care that much about medium conventions like moe or superficial presentation style or whatever: they want a compelling narrative. If we ask a Storycuck, one problem with the visual novel category right now is that it doesn't admit other related genres like walking simulators, or things like Actual Sunlight and To The Moon. Their perspective on more extreme extensions like Phoenix Wright or even JRPGs will depend on their evaluation of gameplay.

Degenerate Fappers
These gender-neutral guys just wanna have fun, in a way that generally requires at least one hand to be free for use. You're unlikely to actually see pure Fappers in the community as they don't really have stories to discuss. I'd try the f95zone or whatever if I were looking. In mixes with other types, this manifests as disinterest in anything that does not have porn. In their eyes, if it's got no ero, it has no place calling itself a VN — after all, if it can't be fapped to, there's no point in reading it!

Ero-JRPG fanboys
So now you're thinking to yourself - these guys (still gender-neutral) have got to have a lot of overlap with the Degenerate Fappers. I agree, but I think it's worth separating out the two. The Degenerate Fappers don't really have a need for the visual novel category because of their DF association — they'll be arguing mostly from another type's perspective, with a modifier of Horny — but the Ero-JRPG fanboys have a lot to lose if their objects of passion are cut out of the VN category. Why? Because the wider JRPG community often has a serious intolerance of porn in their games. There _are_ places that specify in just Ero-JRPGs [nekohen], but there aren't that many games in the category, and focus for some may be less on the story contents (often machine translated!) and more on the gameplay (ui only patches!) and porn. This leads to wishing to classify Ero-JRPGs like Toushin Toshi II, Evenicle, etc. as VNs despite them being basically equivalent to your average JRPG if one ignores the sex scenes. The pure Ero-JRPG fanboy doesn't really like to read for long stretches without interaction, and if it could remove something from the definition, it would probably pick first choice-free visual novels, then extensionally VNs with few enough choices to be bothersome.

Autists
The motivation of the Autist when it comes to the visual novel category is that it be clear and defined by a definition that is as Not Bullshit as possible. This is a meta-motivation that may cause people to go against the naive interests of their other types. For example, observe the Storycuck Zaka's high Autism interaction as he proclaims walking simulators should not be considered VNs, despite him having liked Gone Home quite a bit and being interested in more of the genre. The Autist's greatest gripe is when people goddamn try to shove things in the FUCKING category that obviously don't fit PLEASE STOP IT DAMN YOU.

VN Evangelists
The VN Evangelist wants to spread the word of visual novels by any means possible, and is not afraid to butt heads with some stuffy Autist if they have to. They can and will use imprecise language like "it's like playing an anime, man", wide definitions (expect Phoenix Wright to be on their list of 'VNs' to play for beginners), and such villainy to attempt to get more people into visual novels. A community member in favor of more exclusion may cringe at their methods and predict that they will overwhelmingly attract annoying orbitals who will finish DDLC or whatever and then fuck up discussion with their terrible, uninformed opinions. The Evangelist will tell said member to loosen the fuck up and not be so elitist, and who knows maybe DDLC-kun will be a productive member of the community one day NOT THAT THEY AREN'T ALREADY BUT ANYWAY. And so on. The VN Evangelist wishes more things were on vndb in general so it could have more arguments to get people to try other 'VNs' out.

Artistes
The Artiste is probably making a VN. Or two. It's got culture up to here. VNs are a medium, but it's so boring if you just take the conventions for granted, right? They want to break and remake in a Shivan storm of creation, never settling for the mediocrity of the established form. They resent criteria that restrict their medium-busting ambitions, and would like for you to abandon your silly notions of traditional presentation methods. The Artiste wants you to fucking chill out on insisting on any definition, but okay can we have like, The Walking Dead in the category please? (Zaka: No.) Oh and Actual Sunlight should definitely be in the category. (Zaka: Sure)

Incredibly half-arsed conclusion

Speaking as a person who is a Storycuck and Autist, but has low amounts of Weeb, Moefuck, and Horny, I think we should have a somewhat restrictive definition of visual novels, but we should welcome diverse artstyles and embrace EVNs. As I don't value gameplay highly, I consider the _choiceless visual novel_ the best way to ground the category, even though this is arguably ahistorical. Choices are fine, intrusive gameplay only good if it serves the narrative, and things that are OBVIOUSLY JRPGs FOR CHRIST'S SAKE should frankly just be taken out of VNDB right this minute. That said if something is very close to a VN and also story heavy and honestly it kind of reads like a VN? fuck it IS a VN fuck you include Actual Sunlight actually... then uhh yeah... Maybe we can compromise my ideals.

—But your reasons for being into VNs may be very different. And this is why we must fight. I can only hope I will one day prevail, or at least see Actual Sunlight (kino) included on VNDB. Until then, I will attempt to appeal to the Autism in both of us to at least get a sensible — if fragile — boundary established.

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5 hours ago, Zakamutt said:

The perfectly horrible case is the Storycuck that is too distracted to watch shows, unable to get into books due to lack of visual stimulus, yet also unable to deal with SoL content. Is there any being more cursed?

Literally me. But to give a more serious reply since I really like this thread and haven't been this entertained by a forum post for a while, I'll throw in my two-cents. 

I am in large agreement with media theorist Marshall Mcluhan. In particular I think he is correct that new mediums never have a solid identity early on, and therefore end up taking on the identity of mediums that came before them. Take photography as an example. When it was new, it defined itself according to painting, in particular it was focused on capturing the reality that painting had before been tasked to capture. Essentially defining itself with the content of the medium it is replacing. And then years later with different creative people experimenting outside of those limitations, you start getting interesting photos which play around with the assumed conventions, like the photographs by Man Ray.

Okay, so why does this matter for VNs. Well as you mentioned Ace Attorney is a Japanese adventure game, which is its own thing. I think this video does a good job explaining why JPN Adventure games and VNs are different: The Origins of Visual Novels. Assuming that perspective, then you can look at VNs as an evolutionary branch of the Japanese adventure game genre. And because new mediums tend to absorb the content of their parent medium, it makes sense that VNs often have a lot in common with Japanese adventure games. 

My biggest stance, is that I think choices tend to work against most VNs. Now this might be because I am a cursed Storycuck, but generally for me choices break my immersion. I don't care about interacting with the story, if I did I would be playing a game. I want to experience the author's vision, much like when reading a book. So when I get invested in a scene, and I feel like my consciousness is absorbed in the story, and then a choice tree presents itself to me, my immersion is broken. I am no longer an audience member enjoying the show, now I am a participant. This is why I have always defined VNs as multi-sensory novels. Like a novel, they are a narrative-prose base experience. Get rid of the visuals and audio, and you would still know what is going on. Get rid of the writing but include the audio and visuals, and you lost the core substance. 

TL;DR- I don't see Ace Attorney games as VNs. 

 

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Personally, I don't care about categories much because I also play all kinds of video games (except MMORPGs) and read books- heck I even have a book blog. I care about a good story sure, but I'm also fine with a nice, fluffy romance. I don't even care about other Japanese media like manga or anime to be honest. I don't watch anime, I don't read manga. I got into Visual Novels because I like reading and I like stories with choices and endings I can influence, the same way I like Western RPGs more than JRPGs. Personally, I don't care to categorize myself all that much because I'm open to reading different kinds of visual novels.

If once asks me, I'm glad the EVN scene is growing and we're getting stuff more influenced by the likes of Bioware than Japanese adventure games or other VNs. It makes for a more diverse genre, and helps it grow more. There's more experimentation, more pushing the boundaries. Anime art styles are nice and all, but variation is good and western art styles are beautiful too. I love indie otome games for example, some of them definitely feel more Bioware-influenced and I like that more are implementing customization options. 

Should there be a more restrictive definition of what a visual novel is? Sure, otherwise the line between a VN and an RPG or an Adventure game gets a little blurry. I think VNs that have mini-games or stat-raising elements are still VNs because those don't take up the majority of the medium. Visual Novels are more like a distinct genre for me, a mix between a movie and a game, although there are VNs with more game-y elements. 

That said, even if I like having stories where my choices matter, I'm not opposed to Kinetic Novels either. I liked the two episodes of Higurashi I've read. I just prefer the ones where my choices do matter. Of course, this might also be influenced by me also being a book reader where protagonists make annoying decisions or choose the worst person. In that sense, it kinda feels natural for me to turn to visual novels where the choices I make for the protagonist can make up for the things that annoy me in traditional media.

Edited by Daydreamer97

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I think otome and BL fangirls deserve their own place on the archetype list. :>

The one thing tying all the categories outside of the storycuck and the autist is convenience. People are willing to accept obviously "false" categorisation because they reflect the kinds of games that tie the community together. Ejecting only things that stretch the definitions of the genre beyond that point of utility. Just like Erogamescape lists all those obviously non-ero games, because they appeal to similar audiences and use similar storytelling conventions as eroge.

Because, in practice, we use VN both as a genre description, with a very precise set of storytelling conventions and mechanics (basically the Key/Type-Moon formula), and as an umbrella term. What Palas was trying to do was to justify the use of the umbrella term by coming up with a legitimate definition for it. Something that can't really be done in a strict manner, but can work to inform the boundaries the community sets for itself. I think I even used the "pure story or gameplay serving the story" idea in an academic paper I wrote... But that was only justifiable because I was focusing on the community and fan translations, and not trying to push a legitimate genre definition.

So, Zaka, I feel sorry for you and every other genre-definition-pedant, but I think that as long as we don't separate the narrow genre definition from the umbrella term, your position is utterly hopeless and you're meant to suffer for all eternity from AAs and Danganronpas of this world being miscategorized. :sachi:

Edited by Plk_Lesiak

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12 hours ago, Zakamutt said:

If we asked the Weeb, the main problem with the visual novel category right now would be that too many people see fit to include a flood of shitty EVNs.

I just want people to stop using that godawful 3D Visual Novel Maker that's on steam. Is that really too much to ask?

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Just now, tahu157 said:

I just want people to stop using that godawful 3D Visual Novel Maker that's on steam. Is that really too much to ask?

Welp, just like wanting people to stop throwing Unity asset packs on Steam as original games... Shovelware will be Shovelware. Quite likely the only reason you don't get fed up with miserable-quality crap made by Japanese people is that it doesn't show up in the storefronts/sites you use. :P

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21 minutes ago, tahu157 said:

I just want people to stop using that godawful 3D Visual Novel Maker that's on steam. Is that really too much to ask?

This and TyranoBuilder. I don't like it and its save system. Visual Novel Maker and TyranoBuilder games don't feel nearly as nice to play as Ren'Py games for some reason. Ren'Py requires some coding but the games built on it are usually more user-friendly and polished.

 

21 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

I think otome and BL fangirls deserve their own place on the archetype list. :>

I think we're a little bit used to being ignored by the general VN fandom lol. The otome and bl community have some overlap, but not that much and do tend to be more insular. I do wish more people would pay attention though, especially since both communities have thriving indie scenes that are very far from the common misconception of what the EVN scene looks like.

Edited by Daydreamer97

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2 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

I think otome and BL fangirls deserve their own place on the archetype list. :>

I've always considered the Romancedude a subtype of the Moefuck that specifically wants the romance content in VNs. Part of the appeal for (western) men here is that the romance genre is generally either gender-neutral or female-centered, especially in erotica (or at least that is my perception - and that counts!). A lot of arrow gay are very explicitly male-oriented, which can be hard to get anywhere else. But it's not like otome/bl isn't a thing too — however the Otome/bl/yuri fan is Actually just a subtype of Romancedude (gender neutral dude, remember).

That said, while there is so much overlap b/w Moefuck and Romancedude that I'm conglomerating them, we can see examples of the pure Romancedude that doesn't really care for moe that much. Possibly the preponderance of the Romancedude-Moefuck combination is due to the medium primarily offering just that!

2 hours ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

So, Zaka, I feel sorry for you and every other genre-definition-pedant, but I think that as long as we don't separate the narrow genre definition from the umbrella term, your position is utterly hopeless and you're meant to suffer for all eternity from AAs and Danganronpas of this world being miscategorized.

Yeah, but imagine how bad it could be if we didn't push back?????????

Anyway, autism is actually pretty high on VNDB, which has pseudo-authority status, so I'm still hoping for AA to get taken off sometime. Any year now!!!

The real solution, of course, is to just not be as engaged in a community of such plebs as would call AA VN to begin with. Considering that such a community will likely also be newbie-friendly and thus filled with such cringe as one so denoted brings, this is a natural motion as one gains experience anyway. It can even be fun to rally around how cringe all the dumb mainstream articles are.

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5 minutes ago, Zakamutt said:

I've always considered the Romancedude a subtype of the Moefuck that specifically wants the romance content in VNs. Part of the appeal for men here is that the romance genre is generally either gender-neutral or female-centered, especially in erotica (or at least that is my perception - and that counts!). A lot of arrow gay are very explicitly male-oriented, which can be hard to get anywhere else. But it's not like otome/bl isn't a thing too. The Otome/bl/yuri fan is Actually just a subtype of Romancedude(gender neutral dude, remember). That said, while there is so much overlap b/w Moefuck and and Romancedude that I'm conglomerating them, we can see examples of the pure Romancedude that doesn't really care for moe that much. Possibly the preponderance of the Romancedude-Moefuck combination is due to the medium primarily offering just that!

Wow, with so many subtypes this makes it a three-layered category! We should implement these categories to user profiles on VNDB and make everyone even more miserable/confused. :mare:

Edited by Plk_Lesiak

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37 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

Welp, just like wanting people to stop throwing Unity asset packs on Steam as original games... Shovelware will be Shovelware. Quite likely the only reason you don't get fed up with miserable-quality crap made by Japanese people is that it doesn't show up in the storefronts/sites you use. :P

Fair enough about the shovelware thing. I actually do frequent DLsite's doujin section fairly often and while there is plenty of shovelware to sift through none of their artwork ever hits the bottom of the uncanny valley the way that the 3D VNs do. The sheer repulsiveness of the 3D artwork is mainly what gets to me. I actually don't encounter many VNs on steam at all. My interaction with them (EDIT: the 3D VNs specifically) is limited mostly to seeing them clog the Just Released feed on VNDB with a public version, a patreon version, an android version, and an incest patch all at once which is also irksome. There's plenty of Japenese shovelware flowing through there too, obviously, but at least they usually only take up one slot.

Edited by tahu157

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5 minutes ago, Plk_Lesiak said:

Wow, with so many subtypes this makes it a three-layered category! We should implement these categories to user profiles on VNDB and make everyone even more miserable. :mare:

The original draft of the post I had in my head was more specific on noting that we should consider the archetypes more a "motivating quality" for inclusion or exclusion that would operate on a sliding scale. As such, you need to be able to assign some kind of intensity to every category to really make it work. Would be lit af to give myself the ol' Autist 9/10 tho

The thing that motivated me to actually finish the post was unironically a philosophy-adjacent article, though I ended up realizing I was sort of incorporating the viewpoint anyway in my draft and not feeling like making the definition explicit. The starting motivation was another philosophy-adjacent article, fwiw.

Edited by Zakamutt
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1 hour ago, Zakamutt said:

I've always considered the Romancedude a subtype of the Moefuck that specifically wants the romance content in VNs. Part of the appeal for men here is that the romance genre is generally either gender-neutral or female-centered, especially in erotica (or at least that is my perception - and that counts!). A lot of arrow gay are very explicitly male-oriented, which can be hard to get anywhere else. But it's not like otome/bl isn't a thing too — however the Otome/bl/yuri fan is Actually just a subtype of Romancedude (gender neutral dude, remember).

はいはい to add credibility to this essay, let me, a very loud specimen (gender neutral) of the often neglected otomefolk tribe, affirm this definition is quite accurate. We're just romancedudes  (gender neutral) that plays under slight different set of rules, but the pursuit of a moenirvana is all the same.

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1 hour ago, Happiness+ said:

Honestly I don't care. I have more of a cancerous opinion anyway regarding visual novels vs games.

More power to you @Zakamutt, when the time comes, read our VNs here and give us your hot takes:meguface:

I tried Our Home and it had a grammatical error on like, line 4 or some shit

6oArxPg.jpg

Not sure why I bounced off quick but from what I remember, the art was less than optimal and the prose kinda lame

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15 hours ago, Zalor said:

My biggest stance, is that I think choices tend to work against most VNs. Now this might be because I am a cursed Storycuck, but generally for me choices break my immersion. I don't care about interacting with the story, if I did I would be playing a game. I want to experience the author's vision, much like when reading a book. So when I get invested in a scene, and I feel like my consciousness is absorbed in the story, and then a choice tree presents itself to me, my immersion is broken. I am no longer an audience member enjoying the show, now I am a participant. This is why I have always defined VNs as multi-sensory novels. Like a novel, they are a narrative-prose base experience. Get rid of the visuals and audio, and you would still know what is going on. Get rid of the writing but include the audio and visuals, and you lost the core substance. 

It's such a weird feeling that I agree and disagree with something at the same time. On one hand, I'm pretty much a "storycuck" myself, and I kind of agree that there is a big number of VNs that would work better if they were linear. At the same time, I personally quite like having choices in VNs, as long as these choices aren't so confusing that I'd have to use a walkthrough. I quite often enjoy experimenting with the choices in VNs, trying to do things a bit differently to see if it makes any difference. Moreover, I'd say, a good system of choices can complement the story quite well. Take Fate, for example. This VN has a massive amounts of bad endings, and some choices that lead to these bad endings are pretty random, but that's exactly the point. It shows just how close to failure the characters always are, and makes the plot armor basically nonexistent. As a result, the reader feels that the route where they avoid death is just one of the many. The anime adaptations can't do that, for obvious reasons.

PS. Most likely, AA and Danganronpa are indeed not VNs. I don't really have anything against having them on vndb though.

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1 hour ago, EroHataVNI said:

Wish you would put as much work in TLing more lines over making magna-autistic posts :kek:

そっちとこっちは別腹だ!(指?
obligatory tl: they pull from different resource pools my dude

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7 hours ago, Dreamysyu said:

It's such a weird feeling that I agree and disagree with something at the same time. On one hand, I'm pretty much a "storycuck" myself, and I kind of agree that there is a big number of VNs that would work better if they were linear. At the same time, I personally quite like having choices in VNs, as long as these choices aren't so confusing that I'd have to use a walkthrough. I quite often enjoy experimenting with the choices in VNs, trying to do things a bit differently to see if it makes any difference. Moreover, I'd say, a good system of choices can complement the story quite well. Take Fate, for example. This VN has a massive amounts of bad endings, and some choices that lead to these bad endings are pretty random, but that's exactly the point. It shows just how close to failure the characters always are, and makes the plot armor basically nonexistent. As a result, the reader feels that the route where they avoid death is just one of the many. The anime adaptations can't do that, for obvious reasons.

PS. Most likely, AA and Danganronpa are indeed not VNs. I don't really have anything against having them on vndb though.

I should have probably been a little more vague with my claim. My real issue is how many VN devs seem to feel pressure to include choices "because that's just what you do in a VN". Having choices just because its an industry standard can detract from the merits of a plotge. For instance, I think Higurashi and Umineko would have been compromised a lot if they had choices. The writing and story is so gripping choices would have been distracting, since the main reason I am reading those stories is to find out what happens. Not because I want to influence what happens. 

Then there are other plotge which do have choices, and usually for those I find the choices add little to the experience. But I'll grant you that there are some that manage to utilize it well. I never got into Fate, but the bad endings in G-Senjou no Maou were interesting since they showed you just how morally bankrupt the MC could become. 

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