Tiny Use Case 1 Part III: Eyes Wide Open – Tareme and Tsurime as predictors of character demeanor

Part I of this blogpost left us with the question of whether there is a specificity to visual novel game characters. Part II concluded with an invitation to compare two specific design elements, tareme and tsurime, in light of the player’s position during the gaming experience and the data available on the VNDB repository. In this third and final part we will summarize the analysis of data pertaining to tareme and tsurime leads us.

First, we need to remind ourselves that the exchange of gazes between the player and the character is one of the defining elements of a visual novel game’s experience. A visual novel game is played in a first-person perspective: the prose is written in the first person and character sprites are generally depicted as looking at the player.

This digression has been necessary to highlight the importance that the first person and the gaze have in generating the experience, and in turn re-highlight the potential importance of eyes in the construction of the characters. This brings us once more to tareme and tsurime and what kind of demeanor they communicate. According to their description on VNDB.orgtareme suggests a gentler and caring demeanor, opposed to tsurime, which suggests a demeanor that is more distant and generally non-friendly.

A character’s demeanor is a vital element to determine which kind of relationship can be imagined with the character, and how to bring the character to life with imaginative action. Thus, under the assumption that eye shape is predictive of specific demeanor, it can be expected to raise expectations in the user about what kind of character they are about to interact with.

To see what the data has to tell us, we’ll do a co-occurence analysis: we’ll take the character traits for tareme and tsurime as catalogued on VNDB.org and examine what traits pertaining to character demeanor (in the form of personality traits) occur together with them in the same character.

Trait co-occuring with Tareme (female characters)Co-occurence count
Kind 1378
Energic 726
Refined 428
Hardworker 405
Deredere [1] 395
Trait co-occuring with Tareme (male characters)Co-occurence count
Kind 112
Timid 30
Honest 27
Proactive 27
Outgoing 25
Trait co-occuring with Tsurime (female characters)Co-occurence count
Serious 246
Kind 189
Stoic 155
Refined 153
Arrogant 151
Trait co-occuring with Tsurime (male characters)Co-occurence count
Kind 51
Proactive 46
Serious 39
Smart 33
Pervert 31

The four tables show interesting results, even after the difference in scope between the number of female and male characters (there are many more female characters than male characters) is taken into account. First, there are traits which recur across both male and female characters and both eye shapes, such as ‘kind’. Second, there are key differences in what traits pertaining to demeanor co-occur with tareme eyes and what traits co-occur with tsurime eyes.

In female characters whose eyes have the tareme shape , we have traits indicating sweetness (in the form of the deredere trait, which points to a sweet personality) and commitment (hardworker). On the other hand, we have traits pointing to seriousness, arrogance and firmness in female characters whose eyes have the tsurime shape. In male characters with tareme eye shape we have traits related to shyness and commitment (honest, proactive), while we can find traits pertaining to either seriousness or an unhealthy fascination with sex in characters with tsurime eyes.

While the specific implications of each demeanor are not something we can fully appraise within this blogpost, the differences offer specific suggestions about visual novel characters. The most prominent is the existence of a difference between characters with tareme eyes and tsurime eyes. This underlines the importance of exchanging gazes with the character and the implications that looking at the character can bring. The player, as they look at the character, is treated to a first impression on what kind of relationship they will entertain with the character.

The importance of eye shapes in determining what kind of relationship can be entertained with the character  suggests that there are some design elements which, in practice, tend to imply further characteristics in the character’s design, calling to other design elements. The connection with other design elements both echoes and contrasts the position of Azuma Hiroki on character design elements. While character design elements in the field of visual novel games can be envisioned as interconnected nodes, the field is not completely flat (cf. Database Animals, pp. xvi, 34-47) .

The difference in co-occurence suggest that certain connections between design elements, such as those between eye shape and demeanor, have a different prominence. The differences in gender are also of note. While there is nothing that prevents character designers from using design elements freely, co-occurences show that the field possess a somewhat definitive heading at least. The field might not be completely lacking in an ordering principle or flat. In fact, some kind of underlying ordering principle might exist, in a way that is distinct from other sectors of Japanese visual media, as the focus of intimacy can show.

Intimacy provides a distinct perspective on characters in visual novel games, which, while in aesthetic continuity with the wider field of anime and manga, has its own specificity. Emphasizing the kind of intimate experience that can be communicated via character design exposes a different focus in production and consumption practices within the field of visual novel games. Visual novel game users are placed in direct relationship with characters and vice-versa. The experience is not passive, and characters created within the field of Japanese visual novels communicate a specific, personal experience, which cannot be generally said of other media such as anime and manga, which imply a more detached reading.

Communicating intimate experiences directly to the user/reader responds to different needs and exposes affordances different from passive media, and in turn calls for a different direction than anime/manga, or even other games with a similar mechanical framework which do not share the same focus on intimacy as visual novel games. Highlighting design elements geared towards communicating character-based intimacy has the potential to reveal more about the presence (or lack thereof) of an ordering principle in the field.

  • [1] a character whose demeanor is characterized being being sweet and lovestruck from the very beginning. This is opposed to design elements such as tsundere, which suggests initial coldness in spite of internal affection towards the main character, and yandere, which suggest sweetness concealing homicidal jealousy.