Tiny Use Case 3 Part II: Stratifying Our Dataset

During the first part of this blogpost, we outlined our investigation into recurring practices of character design in visual novel games employing character data from The Visual Novel Database (VNDB). To map these practices, we visualized our dataset as a network of nodes, and examined its modularity and the eigenvector centrality of its subnetworks. Through the combined examination of modularity and eigenvector centrality, we were able to observe patterns of trait distribution across our dataset. We identified three trait communities, one of which included the near totality of character traits describing character sexual activity and pornographic depictions. The gendered distribution of types of pornography in the field of visual novel games elicited us to stratify our dataset according to characters’ intended audiences. This second part of our blogpost describes the results of our data stratification.

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Tiny Use Case 3 Part I: A Bottom Up Approach to Visual Novel Game Characters

The process of designing characters for a visual novel game relies on shared conventions for drawing character clothes, hairstyles, accessories, for articulating character demeanor (through visual and other cues) and more. In some cases, certain character types are conventionally depicted with certain visually recognizable traits. For example, a character’s hair could be drawn so that it sports a strand of hair which moves according to the character’s mood, this is called an ‘ahoge‘(idiot hair), and signifies a correspondingly whimsical personality. Another character might treat their love interest coldly while secretly harboring affections for them, struggling in the contradiction, a ‘tsundere’ demeanor, which does not necessarily have a corresponding outward visual trait to signify this personality type. Ahoge and tsundere are two of hundreds of templates for character design, which combine to shape a character’s identity.

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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.

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Tiny Use Case 1 Part II: Data from vndb.org and the Player’s position

At the end of part I of this blogpost, we were asking ourselves whenever we could use data from The Visual Novel Database to further our investigation into visual novel game characters. First, let us look at the numbers of vndb.org: the site catalogues over 91240 visual novel characters via a system of 2140 traits. These characters come from a grand total of over 27951 distinct visual novel game titles. The Visual Novel Database’s trait system is a rich apparatus with which fans can catalogue characters in visual novels on the basis of specific categories. There are trait trees pertaining to a character’s hair, a character’s eyes, their body shape, their clothes, personal items, personality, their role in the game’s narrative, what they do and what is done to them, with separate trees for sexual activity.

To employ such a system in a meaningful manner, we first decided to consider the position of the player as they play through a visual novel game. During the course of the game, the player is (usually) first introduced to each of the game’s characters, and then presented with the first of many choices to steer the gameplay experience towards one character or another. Intimacy is gradually built through discovery of a character’s personal narrative, which articulates conventional design elements known to fans and producers into the game’s specific narrative context. By knowing the character more and more, the player can make decisions that are more in accord with a specific character.

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Tiny Use Case 1 Part I: Investigating Japanese Visual Novel Characters

The first Tiny Use Case undertaken within the JVMG was about Japanese visual novel games and their characters. Japanese Visual Novel Games are prose-heavy interactive experiences whose main goal is to win the affections of one or more characters. Visual novel games feature situations and interaction proper of Japanese anime and manga, which the player navigates by choosing which path to take through the narrative at specific points. These points are presented as choices between multiple options, each of which will steer the player towards one character or another, or even towards a failure state. The player progress towards a character’s affection through a series of narrative events, until physical intimacy is reached. When intimacy gets physical, it is usually represented in pornographic fashion, with situations proper of pornographic manga and anime.

Japanese Visual novel games present an interesting research object in the form of character design elements. within visual novel works, we can observe usage of moe, shōjo manga and BL (Boys Love) aesthetics as an integral part of the gamic experience. In particular, character eyes and gazes are central to depiction of intimacy between characters. Do the eyes of visual novel characters code some patterned ways of relating to them? How can we employ the JVMG data gathering efforts to garner insights into the characters of visual novel games, especially regarding character eyes and gaze? Can we test this against knowledge from both the researchers and scholars in the field?

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