Back in 2012, Christine Love, a Toronto-based game developer released her first commercial game in the form of Analogue: A Hate Story.1 She had made some games before then, like don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story and Digital: A Love Story, but these were free to download. You may remember me mentioning Analogue before. Indeed I enjoyed it quite a lot. It seems like a lot of people, who enjoyed Analogue, were also curious to learn the story of how the society on the Mugungwha had degraded to such an extend, which sparked the sequel, Hate Plus. The sequel delivered on that front and it was definitely an interesting ride seeing how Love envisioned the erosion would go.
I won’t, however, linger on how I found the game nor my thoughts on said erosion. Maybe I will at some point write a review of it to discuss those elements. For now, though, I wish to discuss a very specific part in the game that takes place during Hyun-ae’s route. During the third and final day of the game, when the player boots up the computer again to continue his or her journey with Hyun-ae through the newly discovered logs, Hyun-ae begins by asking whether the player will bake a cake to share with her. The previous day had ended with the player and Hyun-ae discovering the ultimate fate of *Mute during Year 0. Hyun-ae wishes to lighten the atmosphere with cake as she is still in shock over what she had learned.
The game lets you agree to this, disagree politely, or disagree rudely. I first tried to disagree politely only to have Hyun-ae (and by extension the game) arm lock me into it if I didn’t want to be a jerk. So I agreed and was presented with 3 choices: the fancy chocolate cake, the 5-minute microwave otaku cake, or my own thing. I went with the 5-minute one. The game asked me to check if I had the ingredients. I immediately clicked yes. Hyun-ae scolded me saying there is no way I could have checked so quickly and breaking the fourth wall, told me I better get off my ass and go check (in more polite terms of course). I didn’t. I waited a few minutes and then clicked again. This time the game let me progress to the recipe. Again I waited a few minutes and clicked that I was done. Now Hyun-ae asked whether I had really gone down and baked a cake. Feeling somewhat guilty, I admitted I had not in fact baked a cake. Oh boy, the game fully broke the fourth wall specifically calling out me, the player, and insulting me for assuming this was another “cheap ero game” and that relationships weren’t just about picking the right dialogue boxes. Then I was back to square one. I had to once again, recheck the ingredients by waiting just long enough, and again by “baking the cake”. And once again Hyun-ae asked me if I had really baked the cake. Being a silly sentimentalist, I felt guilty, but I picked that I had. The game finally progressed from there.
This is definitely an interesting game mechanic Ms.Love implemented. It is further reinforced by a locked achievement that will only be granted to you if you should take a picture of the cake you are sharing with Hyun-ae and send it to Ms.Love herself. It’s interesting, but I can’t help but feel mixed about it. The aim here, of course, is to deconstruct date sims. By going to such lengths to prod the player to actively do something above and beyond the game itself, Ms.Love is, I theorize, attempting to convey that emotional attachment takes effort. And I want to applaud this design choice, I do, in theory it is an awesome way to get the player to engage with the idea of emotional investment with a fictional character. Is baking a real cake for Hyun-ae silly? If it is, why bother playing date sims at all? Granted that the player is willing to engage with the game, there is some sort of answer, whether consciously or not, that the player arrives at by choosing one or the other option.
Now to fully understand my particular problems with the above game design, I need to delve into some personal information. Not so long ago I had a surgery that removed my entire gall bladder. It was a chronic condition that had worsened to the point where it was inflamed and removal was the only option. Now before I had the thing removed, I had for about a little over a month abstained from a large variety of foods. At first it was basically everything except for grains, a few veggies, and soft-boiled eggs as I wasn’t sure what was wrong with me and I had to wait for results. Once we (my doctor and I) knew it was the gall bladder, I had only to abstain from anything fatty. Since my gall bladder was in a rough state, even something that was only somewhat fattening like chicken and yogurt would trigger milder pains and discomfort. So I basically ate only fruits, veggies, and grains. Eggs were pretty much the only fat-containing food I could eat since they only had omega-3 fat, which actually lowers inflammation. Regardless it was tough at first, but I grew accustomed to my new diet. The first couple of days following the surgery were rough and I can honestly say I never want to have surgery again. As a result, this whole experience has made me take my health very seriously. I no longer eat much of processed, sweet, or fatty foods even though I can theoretically eat all that stuff now. So when Hate Plus demanded I bake (or buy) a cake and eat it with Hyun-ae, I felt like the game was being a bit unfair. Sure I could theoretically eat a cake, but what about if I was still awaiting my surgery at the time I decided to play. What about anyone diabetic who cannot eat any foods with processed sugar? Would a plain loaf of bread count as cake? Especially given that toasting a loaf of bread isn’t exactly equivalent in terms of effort to baking a sweet pastry.
I could have, of course, just ignore this whole cake bit and laughed it off as silly. After all, it’s a well known meme and joke at this point to have a cake with your fictional 2-D waifu. But I’m a sentimentalist who likes to engage on an emotional level with stories, and I wanted to politely decline. To ask Hyun-ae if there were other options, but the game didn’t let me. I felt like a jerk, but I ultimately just cheated and pretended to bake the cake. Because yes, I do fall into the category that thinks yes, you can have an emotional attachment with a fictional character. It’s not love like the stereotypical idea of an otaku and his 2D waifu, but you can sympathize and identify with fictional characters. You can want them to be happy. In particular for date sims, while I generally do not self-insert, I still do try to create a player character that at least has human decency. I wanted my player character to be honest, to tell Hyun-ae that no I didn’t bake the cake, but even when I picked that option I was arm locked into baking the cake. I could have baked/brought something else, but I’d still be cheating by clicking the option that “yes Hyun-ae, I baked you a cake”. I was lying regardless. In the end, I had to distance myself from this section of the game and treated it as entirely separate because I couldn’t engage it, especially after the dialogue that followed the admission of not baking a cake.
Thus I’m left with these very mixed feelings. The idea of having the player go beyond the game itself is intriguing, but at the same time, because this was just a game, I couldn’t reason with Hyun-ae. The game had wanted me to consider the effort of real intimacy, but it only left me feeling how very shallow it was. Because the game assumes the player has no good reason to refuse Hyun-ae, this experiment in going beyond simple input/output ended up highlighting just that problem. Hyun-ae felt entirely fake and made up because there was no other options than bake the cake or be a jerk. In fact, trying to say no led to a series of almost emotionally manipulative lines. It definitely was not Ms.Love’s intention, but I ended up feeling so terrible for even attempting to try and decline.2 It probably would not have affected me as much if I had not gotten emotionally invested in the game and if Hyun-ae did not intentionally call me out and not my player character. Because she’s not abusing Ms. Investigator for refusing to bake the cake, she’s passing judgement on you the player behind the screen. And that did sting. I did feel uncomfortable with that. Theoretically all this is interesting and worthwhile in terms of game design, but the end result ended up being not so great.
Has anyone else played Hate Plus? What were your reactions to this baking cake segment? I’m super interested in seeing other reactions as I know my circumstances are a bit unique.
- Wikipedia also credits her with helping in development of commercial English otoge, Love and Order, but Love’s own site makes no mention of it. As such, I am going to continue to consider Analogue as Love’s first commercial game.
- The otaku cake option and the references to “cheap ero games” when you refuse to bake the cake highlight that Ms.Love is solely attempting to deconstruct otaku culture where your dream wives are perfect 2D ladies that don’t require anything of you. I do honestly believe she had no intention of being emotionally manipulative. This is entirely a personal reaction on my part that arose from my personality, emotional investment in the game, and unique perspective/circumstances.