Katawa Shoujo eats your heart out

I’m blogging, and something beautiful is happening at 4Chan. Rare.

Katawa Shoujo was released ten days ago. It’s a choose-your-own adventure game where your main task is to decide which of five disabled girls you want to have sex with. 4chan responded to the game like this.

Those words link to the most honest man on the internet, and he’s not alone. I’m not normally a 4chan man, but I’ve been following the Katawa Shoujo threads with fascination. Go to /a/ or /v/ now and you might be quick enough to find one of these downpours of emotion. Confessions, tears, hearfelt promises to start exercising. All coming in meme-laced english from people who booted the game up looking for masturbation material. “I was prepared to fap, 4chan,” sobs one poster, “BUT I WASN’T PREPARED TO FEEL.”

This is the most amazing reaction to a game I’ve ever seen. It’s even more incredible because I’m certain this game is terrible.

The best bit is 4chan's unique way of dealing with emotions. "Why the fuck am I crying?"

I don’t want to disengage myself just to laugh at the raw honesty people are putting forth here. I say this because I believe it’s true: the game is terribly written. Every time it presents an idea it’ll spend three sentences making sure you didn’t miss it’s meaning. At one point the protagonist complains “Looking at them communicate is terrible, like looking at a man being tortured by drilling his head open while blasting pop music at full volume at the same time.” I know how he feels.

Yet, despite how much time I spent yelling at the screen, this game moved me. I looked at the end credits doing a kind of half laugh, half sobbing thing. It was even more pitiful because I knew this game was shit.

Does it matter if something you’re moved by is bad? I was once deeply moved by Kingdom Hearts. I look back on it now and I know it’s not good in any meaningful sense. Yet I cared about it’s stupid plotline, and there’s a massive online community of people who still do. The internet makes it obvious just how many people out there are dedicating their lives to terrible art. Is that a waste of emotion?

I’ve come to believe that art is made to serve you, not the other way around. A transcendent experience doesn’t lose any worth because it came out of a worthless game. Now, anyone who intends to create something still needs to keep a vice-like grip on what Quality is, but if you understand what’s wrong with the things you love I don’t think it matters how bad they are. If you can get something out of a game, you’ve won.

Katawa Shoujo is bad, but it’s got a good soul. It’s a Mills and Boon for men, with a take-away message that goes something like “Disabled people are beautiful too.” I think it’s ok to fall in love with that game. There’s a chance it could teach you more than Kingdom Hearts taught me, anyway.

All the 4chan threads seem to be winding down now. You can’t live in a game forever. Talk turns to moving on.

“I guess I’ll never feel that same breathless mix of anxiety and jubilation again. I’m gonna miss the way this story made me feel, the first time I played it, and I’m gonna miss lurking here, while seemingly hundreds of outspoken individuals resonated the same frequency of the wounded heart. So now it’s over, and I have nothing to show for my time here, playing this game, and talking about “them feels bro”.

But every once and a while, I think we’ll all be able to recall this single fleeting week, where we weren’t alone in our loneliness.”

The way 4chan works means that this post is already lost, and no-one can ever know who wrote it. There’ll be records, of course, in Wikipedia and meme-tracking sites and the game’s website, but I feel like I’ve been witness to some fleeting moment of laughable, stupid beauty.

Maybe it was worth something.

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About Jack McNamee

In the third year of a game design course in Queensland, Australia. Thinking a whole lot about games. Scrabbling desperately against the oncoming future.
This entry was posted in NPC's I have loved and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Katawa Shoujo eats your heart out

  1. BeamSplashX says:

    It reminds me of a moment when I was playing Star Ocean 3 in high school and just feeling giddy about the whole thing, versus when I eventually started over and finished in in college and said “That was kinda stupid. Oh well. It was some fun.”

  2. Jacob Martin says:

    This game makes me feel… weird. No doubt it’s a step in the right direction, one of the most progressive depictions of the disabled in a long-arse time… but when I look at the kind of men women tend to idealise in their entertainment… I don’t think disabled GUYS are on their list amongst your Edward Cullens and Winchester Twins in terms of lady-wank material. This might be because guys in their minds are people they expect to be able to look after themselves (or them) rather than somebody they have to make sure takes their meds every morning or needs help with their wheelchair.

    This is a weird situation for me all round because it’s the first time I feel like I legitimately have a non-white guy privilege stance on an issue in a video game aimed at a general gamer audience. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.

  3. Patrick says:

    This is some of the greatest insight ever. I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out Katawa Shoujo as a terribly made game (you’re right to complain about the writing, but some Japanese visual novels take excessive wordiness to new hilariously bad heights). This is the sort of thing that could only happen in the world of anonymous-ish Internet 4chan world. That makes me kinda happy.

  4. Jack says:

    I’m so glad people still read this thing, thought I’d managed to chase you all off. Good to see you again, BeamSplashX. Thank you all.

    @Jacob Martin

    I gotta say, I think women would be all over Katawa Shounen. Most of the guys currently bawling their eyes out over Katawa Shoujo would have scoffed at it before they tried it. Plus, Adam Jensen is a dish.

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  7. Ff says:

    I know this is old, and KS is some srsly old news by now, but I just wanted to chime in.
    While I agree that a creative does -need- that vice-like grip on quality, I feel it’s a little unfair to call this game ‘terrible.’

    I played it, and yeah, there were shit ton of places where the writing made me roll my eyes because it was plain bad. But, at least to me, I felt like it wasn’t so much bad, as it was young. Inexperienced. It had the flabby feel of a writer who’s beginning their works.

    I enjoyed the game, found it very touching at times, but I don’t think it should be written off as a bad product that was lucky enough to be good at heart. (I do like that line though, bad with a good soul.)

    And I’m dropping in here, like six months too late, because the notion struck something in me. I know I’ve encountered this before, and I’d like to think others have as well, where you wrestle with your feelings about a particular work, about how deeply it touched you, because, by objective standards, it should be considered bad, awful, or even downright horrible.

    I first felt this sort of thing when I discovered Lovecraft way back in high school. I was fascinated, but I didn’t know why, and I just held onto his stuff. I’m still fascinated, but I’ve grown in ways that allow me to see, often, just how bad some of what I’m looking at should be. The writing is dense, purple, difficult to swallow sometimes (I actually really enjoy hearing them in Audio Book form, but that’s just a bonus.), but there’s still something in that jumble of whatthefuck, that touches me. Something below the surface of what was supposed to be. It’s happened, a lot, since with different sources, but it remains a very personal thing, at its core.

    Essentially, what I’m saying, why I bothered to chirp up on a blog I’ve just stumbled upon, is that I want to encourage folks not to dismiss something that has flaws -immediately-. That isn’t to say “nothing is bad and everything is always valuable!!11!,” but more that if we find that something is touching people, or ourselves, in a very personal way we can’t be afraid to acknowledge that they may have done something good despite not doing it in the best way. I’m not here to rabidly defend the game and get upset that you don’t like it in the right way, I’m here to push for everyone to acknowledge those guilty little pleasures that help us become better creative folks in weird, weird ways.

    I feel that, in the end, our opinions on this are more similar than they are different. But, I wanted to leave this here because, well, because of serendipity. I found this blog, and you made me think. To not reach out and try, at least a little, to get to know you would be a wasted opportunity.

  8. Jack McNamee says:

    @Ff

    Ff, you seem super-cool and I would love to get to know you. I absolutely agree with you, and this post was written to express those exact feelings. Being a fan of something you know is mostly crap is a weird, slightly sad experience.

    I’ve had to admit that almost everything that I love, that inspires me, is mostly crap in one way or another. One night when I was a kid I watched Shrek over and over, almost crying as it got less and less funny each time.

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